THE SPEAKEASY KING
Tony’s speakeasy reached the heights of success like no other speakeasy in New York City during the Prohibition-era. A group of writers who identified themselves members of the Algonquin Round Table made Tony’s their second home, ensuring Tony’s place in history as the most popular speakeasy in the Roaring Twenties. Immigrating from Italy, Tony Soma found a little fame and a lot of fortune in life, including having Anjelica Huston, an Oscar winning actress as a granddaughter.
First settling in Manhattan in 1906, Tony found work as a waiter for most of the city’s elite hotels and restaurants, getting fired from most of them. Staying in America for only three years, in 1910 Tony moved back to his native Italy. Tony returned to New York again, three years later in 1913; with his new bride, aspiring opera singer , actress Angelica Fantoni.
Tony’s first job back, working at Cafe Martini, spotted this busboy who, in his words, “more interested dancing with the dishes, than cleaning them,” this busboy was future silent movie star, Rudolf Valentino.
In 1920, prohibition became law, his landlord, a dentist, received liquor as payment for his services. He asked Tony to take the surplus off his hands. Tony’s speakeasy was born from this alcohol. Politicians, mobsters and actors joined “the club” that was Tony’s. Some of these individuals were: Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Harold Ross, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ogden Stewart, Noel Coward, Lillian Hellman, Heywood Broun, Sigmund Fraud, Irving Berlin, Arnold Rothstein, Cole Porter, Gypsy Rose Lee, Talulah Bankhead, Billie Holiday, James Thurber, John O’Hara, John Huston, and Errol Flynn.
In 1929, aside from the income from his speakeasy, Tony became rich overnight selling three buildings he owned to John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller purchased Tony’s buildings and others, for the purpose of creating an entertainment complex called Rockefeller Center.
Tragedy hit with the deaths of his first child George in 1927, and wife, Angelica in 1932. These events led Tony to discover yoga to cope with his losses. Yoga became the main focus of his life and incorporated yoga in his establishment. Patrons of his restaurant could not believe their eyes; Tony standing on his head while singing Italian opera. This spectacle made Tony known around the world through magazine articles and pictorials.
After prohibition ended, Tony remarried, and opened up a “legitimate” restaurant next door to his speakeasy called, Tony’s Wife.
Tony’s second marriage to a New England socialite, Dorothy Fraser, twenty-years his junior, just months after his first wife’s death; was thwart with difficulties. Tony never fully accepted the death of his beloved Angelica, arguments between Dorothy and Tony ended with Tony blaming Dorothy for not being Angelica.
Liquor now legal presented a new challenge for Tony. He needed another draw for the people to be excited about. Tony decided to turn his new place into a cabaret. Jazz all the rage, he hired singers to entertain his patrons. Once again this attracted another wave of famous patronage; Frank Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, Mel Thorme, Sammy Davis, Rosemary Clooney, Ava Garner, Marlon Brando, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon to name just a few.
Tony’s daughter Ricki Soma, at age eighteen, a prima ballerina, model, aspiring actress, married the legendary director, John Huston. Two children were born from that union; Walter Anthony “Tony” and Anjelica Huston.
Anjelica Huston achieved the dream of becoming a successful actress in Hollywood. A dream her mother and grandmother once had, but sacrificed for their family.