Monday, February 27, 2017

TL;DR: Last Night at Roy's

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 9:47 AM

click to enlarge The neon sign at Roy's, now dark. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • The neon sign at Roy's, now dark.
Busy week? We get it. Here are some highlights from this week's cover story, “Last Night at Roy's,” to get you caught up.

If you noticed the smell of garlic and the glow of neon missing from D Street in Old Town, it's because Roy's Club Italian Restaurant has finally closed, ending the Fanucchi family's 98-year run. For our cover story "Last Night at Roy's," we pulled up a barstool for the long goodbyes and soaked up the stories of gangsters and bootleggers as family, friends and patrons gathered for a last supper.

Here are five takeaways (and a bonus challenge) from our farewell to the speakeasy-turned-landmark.


1. Angelo Fanucchi came to Humboldt in 1906 to work in the lumber industry. Originally from Tassignano, a small town near the walled city of Lucca in the Tuscany region, he met up with and married Teresa, a young woman from his hometown, in Eureka.

2. In 1919, the Fanucchis bought the building at 218 D St. and turned the former sausage factory into a cigar shop with a speakeasy on the side, just in time to sell illegal hooch under Prohibition from 1920 to 1933. The family moved in upstairs and children Roy, Evo and Ida grew up with a view of Eureka's rough-and-tumble decades, when the town was rife with saloons and brothels. Ida remembers occasional raids and a tap that dispensed water if you turned it one way and whiskey (OK, diluted and colored grain alcohol, if we're being picky) if you turned it the other way.

3. Apparently Eureka was a good place for a gangster to lay low for a while. Ida Fanucchi says they knew some serious players were in town when they saw the big black Lincolns roll up. Two notorious characters who showed up were George Francis Barnes, the gangster and kidnapper better known as "Machine Gun Kelly," and Lester Joseph Gillis, aka "Baby Face Nelson," a member of John Dillinger's gang with bank robberies and dead FBI agents on his resume. Not knowing who they were at the time, Ida and Evo Fanucchi played baseball with them in an empty lot by what is now the Shanty.

4. Because they weren't citizens, the Fanucchis couldn't get a liquor license when they went legit after Prohibition's repeal. (Their status as enemy aliens later got them booted from the area near the waterfront for about six months during World War II.) Instead, their son Roy, who was American born, got the license and the place was named Roy's Club. Roy, who died in 1991, ran the kitchen as chef, turning out Humboldt's first pizzas and winning the attentions of legendary singer Billie Holiday during her semi-detox trips to Eureka.

5. Evo Fanucchi tended bar and ran the front of the house from the age of 21. He continued tending bar on Friday afternoons and regaling regulars with tales of local history until last week, at the age of 96. He and his wife, Catherine, who made all the pasta on the premises, are finally retiring. Also taking a break is Kathleen Cross, who started bussing tables at Roy's at the age of 19 and has been waiting tables for more than 30 years.

BONUS: This one didn't make it into the story. Over by the bar, Evo Fanucchi shared one of his greatest memories: meeting his favorite movie star, John Wayne, who he says was gracious and friendly. Fanucchi, along with fellow Navy Seabees, was filmed in uniform for The Fighting Seabees (1944), starring Wayne. He said you can see him in a shot sharing some plans. There's a Journal T-shirt in it for the first reader who sends us a screenshot.
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Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal.

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