Life after deadline, circa 1980, meant Sol’s Cafe. Your host is front left, looking like he just bonged with Cheech and Chong. This crew entertained you with your morning news.
For several years I spent my July 4th weekend at Sol’s Cafe on Fairfield Avenue, now part of the Bijou Square development Downtown. Sol’s was next to an X-rated movie house. It was tempting to take a peek, even during work hours. It seemed like everyone inside was a fat white guy with gold nip.
Forty years ago I scribed for The Telegram, the morning predecessor of the Connecticut Post, covering the guys and dolls of the gritty city. It was a short walk from 410 State Street newsroom to Sol’s. John Mandanici, a sweet-and-sour Democrat, was mayor. The cunning Joseph A. Walsh was police chief. His initials matched up as JAWs. The federals made Bridgeport a second home.
The shift I initially worked was 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. then segued to 4 to midnight. As working journalists we had a pretty good scam going with the genial owner of Sol’s Cafe, Solomon Roth. Weeknights, although the bars were supposed to be shut down at 1 a.m., he kept the Downtown joint open for us cash-paying liquor-law violators. I mean if anyone called the cops who was gonna write about it? Back then some of the industry giants such as Carpenter Steel still hummed. Every Thursday night Sol had an arrangement with the steel workers. They came to the bar with pay checks, he cashed them. In exchange he’d keep the change reflected on the check. Sol had tens of thousands of dollars on hand Thursday nights. Many stayed and drank heartily. He packed a revolver, just in case.
Sol’s was an inspirational place for stories featuring a diverse group of gypsies, tramps, thieves, demagogues and assassins. The place was dark, red and gossipy. Pull up to the bar and people yapped about all kinds of stuff. I persuaded my editors it was better to be in the thick of the jungle than waste away in the din of keystrokes.
As a police and fire reporter, I perched myself at Sol’s bar. If I saw or heard a fire truck, I chased it. Yes, I was an ambulance-chasing reporter. As a Yankee baseball fan, the place had added value, a black and white television behind the bar.
From Sol’s pay phone I’d call good ol’ Lieutenant Ed Casey who manned the detective bureau phone at night. “Detective Division, Lieutenant Casey!” Casey barked into the phone like a racehorse announcer.
“What’s up, Casey?”
“Ah, just a bunch of Mickey Mouse burglaries.”
If Casey had something I walked up a few blocks and was at the station.
Casey was old Irish, a cop’s cop, that meant protecting cops. One night I’m chatting with Casey in the cop house, a couple walks in whose house had been burgled. Casey searches around for a detective to take a statement. Dagnabbit, no one around. Casey directs the couple to take a seat in another room. Casey looks at me.
“Pull out your notepad. Go in there and take their statement like you’re a cop.”
“Casey, I’m not a cop.”
“Well, you are now!” he commanded.
Casey kept score. He fed me lots of stories. I pulled out my notepad and sat down with the couple. I was 21 years old. I asked them questions as I would anyone else. I never said I was a cop. I simply said Lieutenant Casey asked me to take your statement.
The couple leaves and Casey says, here’s an incident report, go type it up. I’ll get one of the other guys to sign it when they return. Today you’d be locked up for something like that but to Casey’s way of thinking, “Those two would have sat here all night until a dick was available to take that statement.” That’s what detectives were called then … dicks.
So for one night, I was a dick. Of course, I’ve been called plenty of other synonymous things.