Another vicious blow for group's special dining meetups
That would be the Vicious Circle — a group of gentlemen who have gathered for lunch since 1960 to discuss world topics, complain about many of them and plot revenge.
Actually, the group probably predates 1960, but I remember with clarity the lunches that summer at Fritz Reuter’s Delicatessan in Downtown Willoughby.
There were some 12 or 15 members of the VC who enjoyed observing and dissecting the human condition over lunch. And I was the one who affixed the name to the group, though I will confess in all candor that it was not original with me. The same name gained acclaim at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, where ladies and gentlemen far wittier than any of us gathered to dine and trade insults.
The likes of James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Wolcott Gibbs and Robert Benchley constituted the original Vicious Circle.
There aren’t many of us left in the Willoughby group. Most of the others have shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving only a handful in the pursuit of victuals and stimulating conversation.
Most of them happened to be, for some reason or other over the years, members of the Willoughby Rotary Club. We went to Rotary meetings on Mondays and spent the other four noontimes at other venues.
Well, we lost another meeting place last week. We had been meeting at Dino’s Restaurant on Wednesdays and Fridays, but now it has become a party center/caterer and is open only to groups of 15 to 200.
That lets us out, and looking for another home. I presume the Lake County Police Chiefs will continue meeting once a month at Dino’s, since the group is large enough to qualify, so I will still be enjoying the marvelous chicken parmesian, chicken salads and steak sandwiches on those occasions.
But not with the Vicious Circle.
We got the sad word a week ago Friday from our waitress, Marysa, and the pall that was cast over lunch that day was palpable.
“Where will we go now?” John Nelson lamented. He, along with Bob Riggin and Clark Hill, have been the most faithful of the group in attending. Steve Byron was there whenever he was in the area. I can’t think of any others.
Back in the early days, Willoughby Law Director Wayne Davis insisted on meeting at a place that served homemade pie. Mrs. Smart’s pies were a staple at Fritz’s, but difficult to obtain elsewhere.
We had a large picture of the group in the paper, sitting around a large table, along with a feature story many years ago. I have lost track of my clipping, but it was on display at the funeral of Jim Oddis, a Willoughby dentist, when he passed away.
I have trouble remembering all the people in that picture, but I am sure of Dr. Walt Sargent, Dr. Chuck Hoffecker, Jesse VanOvers, a stockbroker with Prescott Ball, Art Holloway, Dr. Paul Ferris and others I can’t recall without some help to jog my memory.
Of course, Marion Beloat was there. He was always there. What a Great American he was! Nobody dared argue politics with him. He was always right. Perhaps far right. He always knew whereof he spoke.
One of our treasured visitors on many occasions was the late, great Probate Judge Fred Skok. One of the VC, Barry Byron, was Fred’s onetime law partner and his chief assistant when Fred was county prosecutor.
On two occasions, Fred was elected to new six-year terms as probate judge. So he brought his certificates with him (once to East Side Mo’s and once to Intorcio’s) and had me administer oath of office to him, with members of the VC as witnesses.
That is something a notary public has the authority to do (I think it was a notary who swore in Calvin Cooledge as president) and it was something I was proud to do.
The VC observed Ladies Night Out once a year in which we took our ladies to dinner. Fred guided us to a great Slovenian restaurant in Euclid. Another trip took us to the Pine Lake Trout Club in Bainbridge Township. Walt Sargent found a fine ethnic place near Chardon. And we went to Al Nozik’s restaurant in Mentor Lagoons, which is now just a memory. They were all pleasant excursions.
If I tried to enumerate all the places we no longer call “home,” it would be a long list. Frank’s in Downtown Willoughby, Helen’s Sunrise Cafe, the underground Willoughby Lounge Bar and the Brown Derby, are just a few.
And now Dino’s is a “home” of the past — unless we can come up with 15 guys for lunch.
And that is about as likely as the Willoughby Bar reopening, or the razed Brown Derby rising out of the ashes.