Dinner at Patsy’s

I’ve gotten e-mails before for the comedian Pat Cooper. Two, really. They both launched into a joke or song and confused the heck out of me until they ended by thanking me for my comedy. I forwarded both to Pat Cooper’s management. It wasn’t a problem, just a benefit for having the name and Web address I had. I’ve done the same with e-mails for children’s author Patrick Cooper and stylist to the stars Patrick Cooper.

With the author and the stylist, we’ve exchanged e-mails and occasionally phone calls. It’s always been kinda fun to talk to someone with the same name. With Patrick falling out of the top 100 boys’ names list this year for the first time since the mid-1900s, we haven’t had the experiences of a John Smith. While our shared name sounds pretty common, it’s never been that way. There have been lots of Patricks and lots of Coopers, but not too many who’ve combined things.

With the comedian, I’ve never heard back after forwarding anything. And I never really expected to hear anything. He wasn’t a young Web-surfing guy.

Not being a Howard Stern listener or Friars’ Club member, I’ve only known who Cooper was through Seinfeld. Thinking of putting Jerry up for memebership, Pat Cooper invited him to lunch at the Club. Jerry got there and wasn’t wearing the required jacket, so the Club lent him one. Gypsy-fueled mayhem and misunderstandings ensued. Pat Cooper was unhappy with him. It was a good episode on its own (full script), and it was a great episode because it informed me about Pat Cooper. When an elderly hot-dog vendor reacted to my name in St. Pete, it helped with the interview.

Anyway. So I visited Rob in New York last weekend. We walked all over the place from his Midtown apartment in the sky, and I got a much better feel for the city than my previous people-come-out-of-a-hole-in-the-ground conception. I’ve now been to the Upper West Side and Hell’s Kitchen. Who knew? Famous geography broadened.

We covered the most amound of ground Saturday afternoon in the rain, with me finding something new every block and him pointing out things all over the place. Finding a William Dean Howells plaque off Central Park, I cursed Hazard of New Fortunes. Walking down a block I didn’t see much in, he pointed out the Friars Club on the other side of the street. Kind of excited, I told the Seinfeld story about Pat Cooper, and he didn’t remember that episode. But it had more reason to stick in my head than his. Onto the next block.

After a little movie-watching that afternoon, we got dinner at Patsy’s, a favorite of Frank Sinatra’s now inevitably described as a “haunt.” It was just down the street from his apartment, with the name bright to our right every time we walked out the lobby door. Heading down to Times Square earlier in the day, some tourists behind us had mentioned it as one of the best pizza places in the city. There were two famous Patsy’s in the city, but the tourist were talking Midtown. Rob and I had ordered pizza the night before, but I was willing to try Patsy’s sauce on other things. I expected overpriced-ness from it, but whatever. It would get Rob to a fancier place in his neighborhood, and it’d satisfy by Sinatra-loving soul. Father of the concept album, I’ve said before, not knowing how many other people had said it before me. (Many.) And I’ve sometimes sung Wee Small Hours to myself when I’ve been down. And that article about Frank when he had a cold (PDF), that was the best story I’d read that whole school year.

So anyway, we went there that night. A Sinatra statue guarded the front of the bar, and his attitude guarded the rest of the house. The Web said casual dress, but our jeans and age clearly marked us. I wouldn’t say we were treated poorly, but shabby came to mind.

Our waiter barely said a word to us. Another waiter leaned on our table as he rounded by us. And we seemed to be the only table in the house for whom the dessert cart remained parked at the front of the restaurant. I ordered a $12 glass of wine as a vaffanculo toward the house. Like the Noyes Street Cafe in 2002 — and no others, hopefully showing you my restraint with this feeling — I wouldn’t go back there, and I’d encourage you to stay away.

And the food was actually pretty good. It wasn’t great, definitely as overpriced as expected, but tasty. The tiramisu was amazing. If only I could’ve seen it scooped from the bowl on that dessert cart.

But there was one great thing. It didn’t have anything to do with the service or the food. Halfway through the meal, in the middle of the four tables of older patrons lined along the mirrored wall in front of me, a gentlemen was talking on his cellphone. Sitting with another other gentlement, the man was making arrangements for later in the evening. Nodding to his companion as he talked into the phone, he said what sounded like, “I’m sitting here with Pat Cooper.”

I stopped my conversation and looked to my brother. He looked up at me like he had heard, and that was something. He’s never been the type of overhear things. That’s always been my thing. If he’s overheard something, you’ve instantly known you’ve heard what you thought you heard. “Did you hear that?” I asked to confirm. He very much had heard it. Whether the man on the phone had said “sitting here with” or “having dinner with,” he had clearly finished the sentence with “Pat Cooper.”

We quickly and quietly went into recognition overdrive. My brother thought both men looked familiar but couldn’t place them for sure. I didn’t recognize the phone man, but the man called Pat Cooper was certasinly the right age and build to be the Pat Cooper. The pair weren’t telling any jokes or laughing hysterically, but I didn’t see why they had to be. If I were an older Italian-American comedian going out to eat with an old friend in an old Italian-Amerrican restaurant, I reasoned to myself, I wouldn’t be Chuckles the Clown either. I’d have a nice dinner. I’d be wearing slacks and an old-man shirt too.

The waiters and the management certainly gave their table more attention than the rest of the room. And when my brother and I had walked in, hadn’t our name seemed to get a little more recognition from the staff than usual? And hadn’t a maitre’d — not the man working the reservation book — said, “Ah, Cooper,” when I’d said our name, like he knew we were coming? And weren’t all these aspects a little much to be combining a few blocks away from the Friars Club?

I glanced over a few more times during the meal. The man had white-ish hair, and Pat Cooper had always seemed to be a dye-job guy. If Cooper had stopped dying his hair, that would have clinched it for me. But only if. After the two men left, I asked our quiet waiter if that man had been the comedian Pat Cooper. The waiter quickly shook his head. “No, no,” he said.

When my brother and I got back to the apartment, we went to Google. I looked and he looked, and we couldn’t find a white-haired Pat Cooper. Pictures as recent as the winter all showed the unnatural brown hair. Without the confirmation, we couldn’t say for sure it was him. We gave up and continued the weekend.

Then this afternoon I saw a headline on Yahoo News. “Friars Club honors, roasts Jerry Lewis,” it said. I read the story briefly and found no mention of Cooper attending. Then I checked the News search and found a picture.

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