His Kind of Town

In celebration of Frank Sinatra’s centennial, the Fontainebleau tips its hat to Ol’ Blue Eyes.

Singer and actor Frank Sinatra, with his minders and his stand in (who is wearing an identical outfirt to him), arriving at Miami beach while filming, 'The Lady In Cement', 1968. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Getty Images)
Singer and actor Frank Sinatra, with his minders and his stand in (who is wearing an identical outfirt to him), arriving at Miami beach while filming, ‘The Lady In Cement’, 1968. (Photo by Terry O’Neill/Getty Images)

When the Fontainebleau announced that it would be paying tribute to Frank Sinatra’s centennial this year, the phones started ringing. Hundreds of requests were made. Some people offered stories. Others wanted to donate family photos and old Fontainebleau merchandise. One person even showed up with a piece of what he claimed was an original lobby chandelier. Turned out it was authentic.

“I can’t tell you how many people called and wanted to be involved,” said Josh Herman, the Fontainebleau’s director of marketing and public relations.

At first, it was all a little overwhelming, but the hotel came up with a plan: For 100 days—from September 2 through December 12, Sinatra’s birthday—they would, in their own way, celebrate the “Chairman of the Board’s” 100th birthday.

The highlight of the tribute will be a photo exhibition curated by entertainment company 1966 Americas and members of the Sinatra family. Some images have never been shown to the public. Sinatra’s granddaughters Amanda and A.J. will be there to lift the curtains.

There will be other subtle touches as well. During cocktail hour—“we don’t know the exact time yet,” Herman admitted—a nightly toast will take place at the lobby bar. Sinatra Select Jack Daniel’s whiskey will be passed to hotel guests. For two or three minutes, one of his songs will be played. Diners may also notice that some menus have been transformed.

“We uncovered a bunch of old hotel menus,” Herman explained. “[Sinatra] used to do these events called Breakfast With Frankie. It was like dinner theater. So we’re going to do a special whiskey dinner—rotating through all our restaurants—serving a variety of items reminiscent on what was on that menu,” red sauce classics like clams casino, lobster fra diavolo, Monte Cristo squares, shrimp on horseback. For Frank, the dishes he loved to eat when he stayed at the Fontainebleau.

“He lived here every February,” confirmed Herman. He also hosted T.V. shows and performed at the nightclubs. “Just going through our research we estimate that he played here between 350 and 400 times.” There is one performance that was particularly well publicized. One evening, the comedian Shecky Greene had opened for Sinatra at the La Ronde nightclub. Stayed onstage nearly 45 minutes more that he was supposed to. That didn’t sit right with Sinatra. “Sinatra got mad. Real mad,” recalled Bert Sheldon, the Fontainebleau’s entertainment director at the time.

Things happened. Later that night, at around 4 in the morning, five men and Sinatra approached Greene at the hotel’s Poodle Lounge. Some choice words were exchanged. Just as Greene got the message, he was struck by one of Sinatra’s men with a leather blackjack. Greene suddenly fell forward, got pounced on. The following blows to the gut came like cannonballs. When Sinatra was satisfied with the punishment, he uttered a single word and the walloping stopped. Greene was rushed to the hospital. Ribs had been broken. At least for a moment, a spirit was crushed. (Greene would later work this incident into his on-stage routine, perhaps proof that comedy can come from rather dark, uncomfortable places: “Frank Sinatra once saved my life,” Shecky’d often say. “These guys were beating me up and Frank said, ‘Enough.’”)

Still, Sinatra seemed to conduct this nasty business as respectfully as nasty business can be conducted. “I always found Frank to be a real gentleman,” said hotelier Irving Cowan, “especially around my wife. There were a couple times when we were at the Fontainebleau and he pulled me aside and told me that there was going to be a little problem. His goons were going to have to rough somebody up. He told us to leave so my wife wouldn’t have to witness it.”

Of course, life in Miami for Sinatra wasn’t all fits and fisticuffs. The films he made (Tony Rome, A Hole in the Head, The Lady in Cement) and stages he preformed on here excited him. The fans. The energy. It all meant something. Herman pointed out that all the places Sinatra played in Vegas are gone, demolished. But the Fontainebleau still stands. The gigs, the romances, the films, “they really happed here and in the hotel next to us [Eden Roc],” Herman said.

In a way, it is comforting that we can still visit these places. “It’s great for us,” continued Herman. “A lot of the photos we are going to display are of Frank shooting his movies around town. There are some famous scenes of him walking on the boardwalk, playing golf. This was his winter  home. Not just the Fontainebleau, but Miami.”

That photo of Sinatra strolling the boardwalk shows him surrounded by loyal faces. Sunbathers look out in awe. Just yards away from where the photo hangs, past the pools, we can open our eyes and see those same views of the ocean, breathe the same air, walk the same path. We can romanticize it. We can partially relive it. And if we dare, if even for a moment, we can seek out the intoxicating aroma of tobacco and whiskey and sweat and drama and passion. The smell of Sinatra’s Miami.