By Mitch Broder
Rocco is more than a staurant. But at night it looks like a staurant. Which is why its owner has authorized Vintage New York to relay this exclusive offer:
Go to Rocco. Climb a ladder. Put the re back in restaurant. If the owner is happy with your work, he’ll give you dinner free.
This offer developed while the owner, Antonio DaSilva, was acknowledging the importance to the staurant of his suspended vintage neon sign. “That sign is the alert,” he confided. “People sometimes don’t remember what street we’re on, but they see that sign and they say, ‘Oh, that’s it!’”
Except that now they don’t always see that sign, because the sign took a beating in the endless winter that may now finally have ended though I still wouldn’t bet on it. “Sometimes it’s on,” Tony said. “Sometimes it’s not on.” On my visit, one side was not on. The other side said “staurant.”
Both sides are supposed to say “Rocco Restaurant,” which is what the place has been since 1922, when Tony’s great-uncle Rocco Stanziano first opened it. Rocco ran it till 1966, when his nephew Gianni Respinto took over. Gianni ran it till 1992, when his nephew Antonio took over.
Tony doesn’t know when the sign went up but he thinks it was near the beginning, which was around the time that neon signs came to America. Both sides also used to say “Wines-Liquors,” but Tony’s not asking for the world. He’ll be happy if they just say Rocco Restaurant, even if he now calls it Rocco Ristorante.
Then people will again know where to find their Veal Piccata, their Dentice alla Livornese, and their Gnocchi alla Gorgonzola. And they’ll be able to take pictures of the antique sign that look better than mine, though the sign doesn’t actually need to be fixed for that.
Tony did call a neon repairman but the guy didn’t show. That’s what drove him to make his public offering. “Free dinner if you repair the sign,” he said. Then he thought it over. He knew that free dinner might not cover the repair. “OK,” he decided. “Four free dinners.”
Find your way to Rocco Ristorante, at 181 Thompson Street, between Houston and Bleecker streets, in Manhattan.