The Red Berets

by

11/11/2011

Neighborhood: Midtown, Restaurant Row, Uncategorized

The Red Berets
Photo by John Quilty

In my youth I wore a red beret. Twenty-some years ago, I was a New York City Guardian Angel who patrolled Restaurant Row with Curtis Sliwa and his wife, Lisa, and about ten other vigilantes. We were a small group who made a lot of noise. We also patrolled the “A” train, which we nicknamed the “Muggers’ Express.” Express trains leave lots of time between stops for criminals to get to work on unsuspecting passengers. I think the Angels were visual deterrents more than anything.

Though there was hardcore action, too, as I did raid a crack house in the Bronx with Curtis and a group of reporters from the Washington Times. After scaling a ten-foot wall and entering thru the back door, Curtis threw me a pillow and instructed me to wrap it around my right arm. “For the pitbull!” he yelled.

It was Joe Allen who invited us to Restaurant Row and housed us in an abandoned restaurant he owned next door – Broadway Pasta, now a swanky restaurant called Brazil Brazil. For every four-hour patrol of the street and neighboring parks, we were rewarded with a family meal from one of ten restaurants on the Row. I have been in every one of those kitchens.

If the meal was fish, Joe Allen would personally deliver a burger to me, as I am allergic to seafood. That’s the kind of guy he is! In those days he wore golf shirts and always appeared tan, like he just returned from Florida, or Palm Springs. He had a famous girlfriend, too — Chita Rivera. Chita would call out to the patrol from across the street and yell, “Hola, Fellas!” One time she hiked up her skirt outside the restaurant and danced a minute or two of Jerome Robbins’ choreography from “West Side Story.” I used to think she was mocking us, but I now suspect she was merely reliving her life with a different gang from the West Side. Another story.

There’s little need for Angels in post-Guiliani New York. Joe Allen now has restaurants all over the world. Lisa and Curtis are radio personalities. Chita Rivera went on to win yet another Tony Award. And me, well, sometimes I awake from a bad dream in the dark hours of the morning wrapping a pillow around my arm; but then, more often than not I’m sweetly comforted by the haunting echoes of a woman singing — “I like to live in America!”

John Quilty is a writer who lives in New York City.

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§ 2 Responses to “The Red Berets”

  • mary carswell says:

    I love The Red Berets – Chita Rivera would have loved it too. Yeah Quilty – More stories, please.

  • Elana Haviv says:

    I lived in Hell’s Kitchen in the early 90’s and I always took comfort in the red berets as they marched down 45th st. In fact, on more than one occasion a red beret walked me home from that Express A train and we kicked crack vials aside along the way. I am a bit nostalgic about the Kitchen in the 90’s. We had neighborhood groups outside flashing lights on suspected johns and dealers. There were many unknown and diverse ‘gangs’ – the good and the bad- in Hell’s Kitchen those days…..Do share more stories! Elana

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