The Ontario feeder ramp is backed up half a mile and every driver on it gives us the finger. “I don’t know why everybody is just sitting there,” says Fritzy, barreling his red Mercedes down the shoulder. “There’s a whole ‘nother lane here nobody is usin’.” He’s oblivious to the bleating horns.
“When I was a kid I used to hustle whatever it was,” he’s saying. “I’d go to a wedding, I’d grab a tray and start serving drinks, I’d pick up $50 or $60. I was eight or nine, ten years old. I was always aggressive, you know what I mean?”
His gold rings and bracelet sparkle in the sunlight slanting through the windshield. He is, as always, perfectly tan, perfectly dressed, not a hair out of place. “That’s how you sell beer. You don’t give ’em a chance to say no.” And this is how he put Miller Brewing products in every joint on Rush Street. “They saw me grow up, they saw me hustling cars,” he says. “And then, when they see me back in the beer business, they really respected me for being respectable, for dressing very sharp. Some of the people I used to work for, now I’m selling ’em beer.”
Fritzy’s life is a rags-to-riches story, and he’s telling it. He leaves the expressway behind and cruises down Halsted past Maxwell Street, the FRITZY license plate announcing who’s back in the neighborhood. “Oh, man. When I was a kid we used to come down here from 35th. Ride the bus right down here. Used to sell socks and all kinda shit.” He spots a guy on the sidewalk selling tube socks out of a box and yells out the window–“Right there! That’s my guy with the socks!” The vendor stares at the Mercedes, bewildered.
“There they are with the pork chop sandwich, the Polish and the pork chop. Socks, all over they got socks. See! They took over from me, these guys.” It’s as if Fritzy had retired and sold them his franchise. “I used to buy my clothes here. It used to be called Smokey Joe’s.”
Next up, Greektown. “These are all my joints here. My area. I put Miller on the map down here 15 years ago.” He’s pointing out neon. “I’m responsible for all these signs.”
Miller wasn’t down here all along? “Not much. This was Bud country. They love Bud, they got it in Greece and Italy. Here, I made this sign! See how it says ‘Greek Islands’–‘Lite’ underneath it? That’s me, I put that up for ’em.” The car phone rings. “Hello. Hello? I can’t hear you. Yeah, yeah. Hold on. Johnny? Hold on.” Another call has come in and Fritz checks the caller ID. “Goddammit. I don’t want to talk to him. Hold on a minute. Goddammit. Hello? What’s going on, Eddie?”
The phone is beeping like mad. “Goddammit. Hello? Yeah, Eddie, it’s this shitty phone, hold on a minute. Yeah, John. Call up Max, tell him you’re my–you gotta have those today? When is that game, next week? All right, call up Max, tell him you need four and you’re my son.”
He was born John Fritz Konstantelos, but he is almost never called by either his first or last name. Few people know what they are. Says his good friend Jimmy Heideman, a wine rep for Romano Brothers, “Ninety percent of the people in his world think he’s Italian.”
A friend who used to own a racehorse with him says he knew Fritzy five years before he knew his name. His title at Chicago Beverage Systems, which is the largest wholesale distributor of Miller Brewing products in Chicago and enjoys exclusive rights to other brands such as Heineken, Amstel Light, Guinness, Harp, Bass, and Corona, is vice president of on-premise accounts. On-premise accounts are what they sound like–joints where you stop in to drink. Fritzy services them.
“He has a very unique position in our business,” says the president of Chicago Beverage, Jim Doney. “If Fritzy isn’t here we don’t have the position. It is for him. He is Mr. Miller for Chicago. He doesn’t have a specific target list to call on….He keeps his ear to the ground, he finds out what’s going on in town, who’s opening and who’s closing. He’s all over. Everybody else in our company has specific account responsibility, specific sales quotas, specific distribution goals. We don’t do that for Fritzy.”
“My brother was getting married in Minneapolis–we drove the liquor from Chicago,” says Fritzy. “We had a truck bring it down, while the family took a train. When we got there I heard some guys ask the bellman, ‘Where can you get liquor?’ I said, ‘What do you need?’ I went in the truck, emptied it out, sold all the liquor. I was 12 years old. Then I went upstairs and partied with the guys.”
That was around the time Fritzy’s parents, first-generation Greek-Americans, moved him from Bridgeport to new digs on the northwest side. He went to Senn High, but dropped out in tenth grade and got married. His parents didn’t think much of this and didn’t talk to him for three months. But then, he was already a breadwinner. A friend’s dad had the parking concession at the Singapore on Rush, and he’d been parking cars there since before he could legally drive. “Democratic Convention–one night I made almost a thousand dollars parking cars. Unbelievable, the money. We were charging $20 a car. We used to park ’em on the street, double-park ’em. I had two, three runners.”
The Singapore was a good place to meet the famous and infamous, who provided Fritzy with other ways to make money. “Movie stars used to come in limos. I used to bring Mickey Mantle–he had two keys to his suite, he used to give me the key, he didn’t want people to know, understand what I’m sayin’? I used to bring the girls. Everybody knew I knew all of ’em. Women of the night. In those days a hundred [dollars] but today a thousand. First-class. They all knew me on a first-name basis….He [Mantle] would leave the Singapore with a bottle of Grant’s or White Label, go right up to the room. I’d tell the girls they had to be there at one o’clock.”
He was 17 and a half years old. He had a wife, a son, and an income. He moved into Streeterville and took over the parking concessions of some people he’d met at the Singapore. “I went to Ontario Street, east of Michigan Avenue. In those days it was the Original Key Club, the Knight Cap, the Surrey, Mike & Pete Fish’s, and Ron of Japan….I was parking cars from all over, making three, four hundred dollars a night.”
Here’s Fritzy seeing old pals back on Rush street. Says one, “He tell ya how he was parkin’ cars? When he got done with ya, you were missin’ your spare tire, your jack. Everything in your trunk was gone.”
Fritzy laughs. “Tires would be on Maxwell Street Sunday morning, 4:30. And they would blame every other doorman on the street but me. They used to come to me, I’d say, ‘That’s that fuckin’ guy down at Adolph’s, he stole ’em.’ I’d tell ’em, ‘Report it to the insurance.'”
The next move was off the street and into the nightclubs. “Tommie O’Leary had bought the Original Key Club at 150 E. Ontario. Tommie O’Leary was a Japanese guy that Dan Ryan, the guy they named the expressway after, took a liking to. Tommie O’Leary, he was the fastest bartender in the city. He said, ‘I’ll teach you how to bar tend–I want you to work behind my bar.’ I told him I didn’t know whether I could give up the parking concessions because I was making so much money. He says, ‘I’ll guarantee you a hundred a day tending bar for me.’ A hundred a day, 1971! It had every sports celebrity and politician in the city of Chicago. I still had the parking outside. I had a coupla kids workin’ for me.
“That was the joint to be at–a lot of deals made up on that second floor. Big deals. Charlie Finley [owner of the Oakland A’s]–I worked all his private parties. He paid for me to go down to Cincinnati for the  Series. He told Jimmy Piersall, he said any tickets Fritz needs–I told him I had a big family there. Jimmy Piersall worked for the A’s in those days. He gave me like 40, 50 tickets to each game.” Did Fritzy go? “Hell no! I sold the tickets. I watched the games in the hotel lobby.”
After the son came a daughter. He was stressed. “Got nervous. I was bettin’ twice as much as I was makin’. I was makin’ two, three hundred a day. I was bettin’ three, four hundred a day. I didn’t feel well. I was on my way to the bank to cash checks and I passed out in the middle of Michigan Avenue. I woke up and I was in intensive care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Tubes in me and everything else. Bleeding ulcer.”
It was 1974 and Fritzy was 22.
“I got out and Eddie Hanley says to me, ‘Where ya been? I haven’t seen ya.’ I says, ‘Ed, I gotta get outta this business, it’s killin’ me.’ He says, ‘Can you get by on $45,000 a year?’ I said, ‘I’ll try to.'” Ed Hanley–who was killed early this year in a highway accident in Wisconsin–was president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. He was Fritzy’s pal.
“He really helped me, really put me on the map,” says Fritzy. Hanley made him a union organizer and sent him into the south. His first assignment was Atlanta. “My main job in Atlanta was to organize Stouffer’s. They couldn’t organize Stouffer’s in 40 years of union organizing….It was the toughest nut to crack. There wasn’t one hotel in the country that Stouffer’s owned that was unionized. And Eddie Hanley says, ‘You go do it, Fritzy. I know you can.’ There was 780 employees, say 800 employees. I tried to organize ’em. I stood outside and organized the hotel for ten months. We lost the vote by seven votes total. I talked to maids, I went to, like, shacks, I walked right in, ate their food, did everything. Maids, housekeeping crew, doormen–everyone took a liking to me. I was the only guy in the history of the union to this day that came close to winning that election.”
Fritzy had a condo on a golf course. “I never hit a ball in my life. My wife used to go to the clubhouse and sign her name on the tabs. Used to drink, sit by the pool, drink. All day while I was out hustlin’.” A month after the union election, a tornado destroyed the condo. He and his family lost everything they had in Atlanta, but it was already time to go.
“Ed Hanley called me up, says, ‘I want you to go to New Orleans. We’re goin’ to open up the Superdome.'”
Fritzy moved his family into a town house on Lake Pontchartrain. New Orleans was going to christen the Superdome with a preseason game against Houston, and Fritzy showed up in the morning and filled out an application for concessionaire.
“They gave me hot dogs,” he says. “They didn’t know I was a union organizer. I put on the uniform, it was like three o’clock, and in the meantime I was signin’ employees. I told ’em, you’re gonna benefit yourself, you’re not gonna work for this minimum wage. You’re gonna get more percentage for whatever you sell.”
The bosses noticed. “About 8:30 they started to realize that I was a union rep. It was like halftime of the game. And I spotted ’em. And I was on the top row of the Superdome. I had authorization cards. You had to sign ’em. Fill out their name and sign ’em. I had like 40 or 50 pencils in my back pocket. And I had the cards strapped around my waist. Tape. Surgical tape. Authorization cards.” Fritzy pauses to let the drama build. “And I had an outlet outside, that after I got like 70, 50, 60 signed I would go out by the door and hand ’em to the guy. For the union. They chased me, the security, all the way down Canal Street.”
Fritzy discovered he was fighting a two-front war–against the Superdome management, which didn’t want a union, and against the Teamsters, who wanted to be the union. But Fritzy had the signed cards and the Teamsters didn’t. “I went out three, four weeks later, get in my car. Started up my car, and it wouldn’t start up. I called a gas station. They came out, they couldn’t find what was wrong. So I says, ‘Well, tow it in.’ The guy, when I went to the gas station, he says, ‘You got any enemies?’ I said, ‘Not that I know of.’ He says, ‘If I was you I’d get outta here. There’s a hole in the middle of your radiator. By a high-powered gun or rifle.’ That’s when I called Hanley and I said, ‘The heat’s on.’ I left there at 3:30 in the morning on a private plane and flew into Palwaukee. Came home. Never went back to get my clothes, nothin’.”
His family flew home commercial a couple days later.
The downward spiral of Chicago sports franchises has been paralleled by a drop in the ratings of WSCR, the Score. That’s why afternoon host Mike North has attempted to inject some variety into his show. One step he took was to bring an old friend in for the segment that has come to be called “Fritzy’s Night on the Town.” Fritzy takes calls, discussing the city’s bars and restaurants and the characters who inhabit them.
North says, “I met Fritzy in high school. It’s really nothin’ to brag about, but I guess since we made it we can–we dropped out on the same day. Senn High School, over here on the north side. We didn’t care about school–he’d go to the track, I’d go to the beach. We lost touch of each other in our 20s–he got married, he had some other things goin’ on, he was goin’ through wife after wife after wife. I was just tryin’ to keep my head above water, pickin’ up paper for the Park District, makin’ a coupla hundred a week. Then, when I started at the Score, I was goin’ downtown, and for the last eight, nine years we’ve been very, very close.”
On the air, Fritzy and North crack each other up. They’re hooting and hollering about horse racing, casinos, Limp Bizkit, and–could it be?–a couple of dropouts who’ve hoodwinked the world by acting natural. North says to Fritzy, “I’ve never seen you do manual labor and I hope I don’t have to.”
“I hope I don’t have to either,” says Fritzy. “The only way I’m gettin’ on a forklift is if I have to kill somebody.”
A waitress at Myron & Phil’s calls in to complain on the air that North “never tells anybody how good-looking Fritzy is.”
There have been many loves in Fritzy’s life. “I think I heard he’s been married four times, but once to the same woman twice. Three wives,” says Jim Doney.
Engagements? Fritzy says eight. “That might be a good number–that’s a good over-under,” reasons Jimmy Heideman.
“One of his girlfriends one time had this giant diamond pendant that had these letters,” says Fritzy’s son, John. “It was huge, and the letters said ‘PMOY,’ and I asked her what that stood for, and she just casually says, ‘Playmate of the Year.'” Heideman chimes in, “It cost me a $200 bottle of champagne when they announced the engagement. Then we had an over-under pool on how long it would be before it got called off.”
Fritzy is not reticent about his former loves. “I dated the girl that was on The Price Is Right, the girl from Let’s Make a Deal, Karen LaPierre. Oakland Raiders cheerleaders. Miss Idaho. Oh, I dated Miss California. I was engaged to the Playmate of the Year for Playboy, Cheryl Bachman. You know, I’ve been with many a female celebrity.”
“He brought a Playmate to meet Cardinal Bernardin and didn’t think twice about it,” says Heideman. “Thought it was entertaining, said the cardinal loved her.”
Bernardin used to hold a holiday dinner every year for big contributors to church causes, and Fritzy went to the mansion representing Chicago Beverage. “He took a liking to me. I was invited every year. I brought my mother one year, I brought my kids another year.” And one year he brought the international Miss Bacardi, who to be technical hadn’t been a Playmate though she’d appeared in a couple of lingerie issues. He remembers Bernardin’s reaction. “The Cardinal said, ‘I hope she don’t drop nothin’. If she does we got a problem.’ Because her skirt was about ten inches above her knees.”
He remembers working the crowd during warmups before a Bulls playoff game a few years ago. “An Andy Frain come and grabbed me and said, ‘Come with me, there’s someone who wants to meet ya.’ I says, ‘I don’t want to fuck with anybody right now, I just want to sit and enjoy the game.’ And he says, ‘This is a good one, you’ll wanna meet her.’ And I go, and I don’t know who she is for the first 30 seconds. I say, ‘Hi, I’m Fritzy. Who are you?'”
He brought Madonna down to courtside, where he pulled up an extra folding chair and she watched the game between Fritzy and his friends. “They showed me and her on TV about three or four times that night. And my son is watching the game with some friends in a bar, and a friend of his says, ‘I think that’s your dad on TV with some hot chick.’ And they showed us again and the whole bar started cheering.”
Their picture showed up in the Sun-Times, Fritzy planting one on her cheek.
When he came home from New Orleans in 1975, Fritzy had gone back into the bar business. A pal who’d opened a Mexican restaurant, Hacienda del Sol, at Armitage and Lincoln, asked him if he was interested in the space downstairs. “Johnny Schaffer was my good friend and he says, ‘Go down and look at the place,’ and I walked in and there was two feet of water in the place and I looked at it and said, ‘We can make a disco outta this.’ That’s when disco was startin’ to get hot.” The Silver Fox opened the first week of January 1976, and Fritzy was smack-dab in the middle of a nightlife explosion. The disco was hopping, and Fritzy was raking in dough.
On February 6 a woman who did secretarial work for the Silver Fox and the Hacienda del Sol was shot dead in her car out on Lincoln Avenue. “We thought it was mistaken identity. She walked out at six o’clock at night–whoever killed her was in the front seat of the car with her. She pulled over a block away from the joint and they let her have it.”
The papers said Rita Payonk was found slumped over the wheel of her maroon-and-white 1967 Cadillac. There were four bullets in her chest and two in her head. A week earlier her car had been fired at and hit on the Ontario feeder ramp. The police never cracked the case. “The police came and interviewed me three, four times,” says Fritzy. “They told me it had to do with her boyfriend, with drugs. Gangland-style female slaying, first time in Chicago in like 30 years. But it certainly had nothin’ to do with me.”
Even so, a few months later he was out of business. “Bad publicity, terrible publicity. Headlines and all that bullshit, it was bad, killed the joint. It was a beautiful place, though.”
Fritzy is holding court in House of Fortune, his favorite restaurant in Chinatown. The subject is family life. He explains that when he split from his first wife, Monica, he made up his mind to stay active with his children. “I picked ’em up religiously every weekend.” But the kids–John, who’s now 30, and Christina, who’s 26–weren’t getting along with their stepfather, a Chicago cop. “At that point,” says Christina today, “it was best that we were with my dad.” Fritzy wanted them living with him, and he set out to make it happen. “So we went to court, and the judge gave me temporary custody of my children until she reviewed the whole case. We were fighting back and forth, goin’ to see psychiatrists–state appointed, you know what I’m sayin’? They had an attorney for my children–state appointed, but me payin’. I paid everything, mind you. So I had the kids and it was gettin’ towards the end of the custody case, and I believe the attorneys, the psychiatrists, and whatever, even the judge, wanted me to have custody of my children. So I went to the back of the judge’s chambers. She said, ‘I want you to answer this question, take your time. It might be the most important question you’ve ever answered in your life. What would you do if I ordered the children back to their mother this afternoon?’ I didn’t take one second to answer. I said, ‘If you order the children back to their mother I’m goin’ out that 11th-floor window. I’m not leavin’ here without my daughter and son.'”
Fritzy’s knuckles rap the restaurant table for emphasis. “‘I am not leaving this building without my kids.’ She said, ‘That’s enough said.’ An hour later she made the ruling. I got my kids. No father was ever known for winnin’ the case with the mother. A good mother. She’s a good mother. But I was a better father.”
In 1978 he bought a bar at Pratt and Clark from a guy who’d owned it 30 years. He says nobody expected him to hang on to the Pelican’s old crowd, but he did–and he added a new one. “There was young kids mixin’ with old-timers 70, 75 years old. Everybody got along like it was family. Package out in the front, bar in the back. I doubled, I quadrupled the business. I barbecued hamburgers outside in the street every day for lunch. I served 35 to 50 lunches every day in that little joint. Police came to close me down for the hamburgers outside. I’d give ’em hamburgers so good they’d say, ‘OK, I was here, don’t worry about it.'”
Marty Halston was a bartender at the Pelican. “I always tell Fritzy he taught me how to make money, but unfortunately he also taught me how to spend it, or else I’d have some.” Halston marvels at how Fritzy could bridge the generations. “A typical night of goin’ to the track if Fritzy had a horse goin’ is, you had one guy in the car 75 years old. Fritzy was 32 or 33. And a friend or two of his. And then you had two or three of us. And now you’ve got an age group of 18 to 75 all doin’ the same thing. Of course, none of us won.”
Business got so good that Fritzy opened a second bar and restaurant, Fritzy’s, at Touhy and Western. “Got busted 1982, December the 12th. I took a few bets over the bar, Green Bay and Tampa Bay. Never forget that day. Come in and charged me with bookmakin’. Found the sheets underneath the phone.” Fritzy chuckles. “We were takin’ a few bets, havin’ fun, you know what I mean. And a lady come in and says, ‘Where’s your pay phone?’ And I says, ‘I don’t have a pay phone.’ Which I didn’t. And she was an undercover policewoman. Eight to twelve cops converged on the place.
“My friend John–he was 81 years old and they wouldn’t let him out of the joint because they were searchin’ it. Poor guy couldn’t go home to eat, didn’t get out till 7:30 when they called the paddy wagon to take me away. They wouldn’t let him out–he pissed his pants and everything. I felt so fuckin’ bad.”
The charges were dropped. He decided to sell Fritzy’s, he says, because “I was havin’ troubles with my next wife. I was stayin’ out late, I was workin’ all the time till early mornin’, then goin’ out after that.” Marty Halston recalls, “We’d be sittin’ on the couch at six in the mornin’, drinkin’ Scotch and smokin’ cigarettes. The whole house would smell like smoke. The kids would be gettin’ up–his ma and his wife would be gettin’ the kids ready for school.” Fritzy’s mother, who’s lived under the same roof as him all but eight years of his life, was a godsend; but Fritzy says that sometimes he’d roll in and help get the kids going before he collapsed.
He started looking for a job that would let him keep more normal hours. In 1984 he made the hard decision to sell the Pelican. “The guy I sold it to blew it. They sold it to a guy. He was there on the phone Sunday mornin’, a guy came in, he said, ‘I don’t open till 12.’ It was about 11:30. The second guy says, ‘I want a six- pack.’ He said, ‘Fuck you, I’m not servin’ ya.’ The guy left, came back about two minutes later, the guy had his back turned, shot him dead in the head. Killed him. Killed him. In the place I sold. And then they took away the license. Now they sell Communion dresses and stuff for little Hispanic kids.”
Jim Doney was starting out as sales manager for Chicago Beverage back in the 80s. “I probably met Fritzy about ’84,” he says. “Chris Reyes, the owner of Chicago Beverage Systems, and myself, we were out making market calls, and one of my salespeople said, ‘You gotta stop by this account up north. This guy’s a real character, you’ve gotta meet him.”
Doney and Reyes liked Fritzy at once, and they noticed that he seemed to know everybody. They became friends. “Maybe a year or two down the road,” says Doney, “Fritz said he was thinking of selling the businesses and would we be interested in hiring him. We said sure, let us know. We didn’t think he was serious because his places were so successful.” It’s illegal to own a business that sells alcohol and work for a distributor at the same time. “I’d say maybe six months after that, or maybe not even that long, he calls us up and tells us he’s selling. We didn’t know what to do. At that time we were a much smaller company, we really didn’t have a position available. But we knew he could be a valuable addition to our team.”
Fritzy came in and talked for an hour about the people he knew and the joints they owned and the beers they served. A lot of them weren’t doing business with Chicago Beverage. So Reyes and Doney made up a target list of 40 or 50 accounts. “Go out and get these accounts,” they told Fritzy. “If it works out, we’ll see if we can find a spot for you.”
“These were some tough buyers,” Doney remembers. “Ditka’s was one–there were a number of accounts like that. And Fritzy came back in about two or three days and he had all but one or two of them.”
Strangely enough, Fritzy, the type of person who wants only one boss–himself–had sold his businesses and gone to work for somebody else. “I got a pretty good leash,” he says. “You can’t make money in an office. You can’t sell beer in an office. You can’t sell beer at eight in the morning, seven in the morning. You sell beer from one o’clock in the afternoon till four in the morning. When the bar owners are there. You know what I’m sayin’? I had limited expenses, and after the first year they really loosened up the belt when I came in with the results I came in with.
“These were special accounts. The girl that had Ditka’s said, ‘Good luck, big boy. Go get Ditka’s.’ I said, ‘I’ll have that at one o’clock.’ Well, I lied to her. I left there [a staff meeting] at eight o’clock and I called up for the delivery at 11 in the morning. And we had Heineken and Amstel Light in that afternoon.”
Miller High Life had been getting drilled in Chicago by Budweiser and Old Style. Fritzy came on board just as Miller Genuine Draft was rolled out. “The brand really took off for us from the start,” says Doney. “There were places we couldn’t have gotten the brand in initially without Fritz. Sure, our salespeople could have gone out and gotten it in 60 percent, 80 percent of the bars. But there is that 20, 25 percent that you really have to bust your tail to get it in, and it takes time. Fritz has made it a lot easier. He has carte blanche. Never seen anyone better and probably never will.”
Meanwhile, another marriage was falling apart. Despite Fritzy’s best efforts to change his ways, Terri, wife number whatever, moved out. “She moved to California. So she called me. She said, ‘Fritzy, can you let me use a credit card? Whatever it is I’ll pay it, but I need it ’cause I have no identification.’ ‘Cause she went back to her name. I sent her an American Express card with her name on it. I paid for her honeymoon for three days with her husband in Hawaii and didn’t even know it. Till I got the bill.”
Win some, lose some. Fritzy is familiar with the principle. “Single-handedly probably the worst gambler I’ve ever seen,” says Jim Heideman. “If I had to be a bookmaker, one client I want would definitely be him. Because he bets on impulse. He just loves the action. He knows horses–he’s just a bad gambler. He bets favorites all the time. He can tell you the breeding, the jockey, this and that–he just doesn’t know how to bet.”
Says Jim Doney, “I know he has a tendency to visit the racetrack and the offtrack. I think that adds to his persona.” But then, Doney reflects, he’s also selling beer to the places where he’s losing money. “A lot, frankly.”
“I don’t want to lie,” says Fritzy. “I always gambled all my life, including the jobs I got and everything else.” But then, he sees life itself as a crapshoot. “That’s what it is,” he says. “If you don’t gamble in life, you’re never going to get anywhere.”
Fritzy has a way of stripping to his underwear in casinos. There are two scenarios. After long nights at the tables, he takes it off because he’s winning so handily he’s burning hot and has to cool down. Or his losses are so bad he tells the dealers to take his shirt and pants as well. One 1997 escapade at the Hollywood Casino in Aurora landed Fritzy in the brig. “We all went aboard and lost our ass,” recalls Heideman. “They hit us hard and early. He took his pants down, the bartender freaked out, called security. We said, ‘Let’s get out of here’–we were literally in the car, pullin’ out. The security jumped out in front of us, pulled him out, they had a two-person jail, they threw him in the jail.” Heideman holds his arms about four feet apart. “It was this big.”
Fritzy remembers too. “I told ’em, ‘Well, you got everything. You got me completely cleaned out.’ I think I had about $2 in my pocket. I took my pants off right out by the front door. And they had me arrested.” It was a night he lost about six or seven thousand.
Fritzy had an interest in some horses for about ten years, but he got out in 1996 because he was “tired of dealin’ with hillbillies, sick of dealin’ with toothless trainers. If I can’t control what I’m doin’ when I got my money invested then I’m not gonna let them control it.” He says, “I’ll tell you a story about a horse we bought called Sorrows Nightwind–we claimed him for $10,000 in Chicago. We entered him three weeks later in Churchill Downs in Kentucky for $25,000. He went off at six to five. A big group of us drove down there. And the assistant trainer forgot to give him the Lasix [for bleeding], and needless to say we came back without enough money to stop at White Castle. I was dyin’ for a White Castle, they didn’t take credit cards, we’re all tapped out, and we’re drivin’ a caravan of Cadillacs.”
Places where Fritzy’s picture hangs on the wall: Tuscany, Lino’s, Stefani’s, Ruth’s Chris, the Palm, Jilly’s, Melvin B’s, Myron & Phil’s. There are six pictures of him in Gibson’s.
Fritzy’s home is weirdly clean. His daughter says he vacuums every time a flake misses the fish tank. Once she called and he told her to call back because he was showing the cleaning lady how to scrub the grout. Marty Halston once saw him curse a smudge on the garage floor; he had the floor repainted.
His mother’s 81 now. “I’ve never been out with him that he didn’t call his mother three or four times a night to check on her,” says Doney. Heideman says, “He’s out till three or four in the mornin’ tryin’ to bang some broad, and then he goes home to his mother. You can’t fathom it. I call my mom–she’s about the same age as his–a coupla times a week. He takes his mom every meal. God forbid when she passes away.” Fritzy worries too. “I bring my mom breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She’s lived with me almost all my life. I take good care of her. She’ll be 82 in March, she almost died last Thanksgiving.” He can barely think about life without her. “It’ll be bad. Real, real bad.”
Doney tells his favorite Fritzy story. Back in the late 80s, Doney and Fritzy were escorting Miller Lite pitchwoman Lee Meredith around town. “We were at Ditka’s, and we walked across the street to Lino’s, and we’re walking across the restaurant. Lee Meredith is quite the attractive lady and everyone is looking at us. And Dan Rostenkowski’s sitting there and he says, ‘Fritzy, oh my God, what are you doing out? Are you still parking cars on Rush Street?’ And Fritzy goes, ‘No, chairman, I’m stealin’ ’em now.”
Jimmy Heideman is pensive. “What’s the matter with the security with this country,” he wonders, “when Fritz and I are allowed to go right up and meet the president?” It happened at the Cultural Center. “He was allowed to walk up and kiss Hillary, and he hugged Clinton and knocked his earpiece out. I thought the Secret Service was going to kill us.”
Did the Clintons actually know who he was? “They’d met him before,” says Heideman. “How could you forget him?”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.