Sam Sapienza, Owner of Sam's Restaurant in NYC's Theatre District, Dead at 71

News   Sam Sapienza, Owner of Sam's Restaurant in NYC's Theatre District, Dead at 71 Sam Sapienza, proprietor of the popular Broadway theatre district restaurant, Sam's, died suddenly May 3 on the same Manhattan street — 45th — where the eatery under his name served tourists, theatregoers and theatre people since 1988.

Sam Sapienza, proprietor of the popular Broadway theatre district restaurant, Sam's, died suddenly May 3 on the same Manhattan street — 45th — where the eatery under his name served tourists, theatregoers and theatre people since 1988.

Ken Lundie , who operates the cabaret portion of Sam's with Dale Badway, told Playbill On-Line Mr. Sapienza, 71, had become ill in the restaurant Thursday afternoon and was being driven to the emergency room when he died.

Mr. Sapienza's association with the restaurant-bar goes back to 1945, when he was known as Sandy and worked there for his bartender father, Pat. In 1947, owner Louis Bergen retired and left the place to Pat Sapienza and chef Carl Cassini. The sign out front for many years simply read, "Theatre Bar and Restaurant." It was a speakeasy in the days of Prohibition, known informally in its early years as "Louie's."

In 1962, Mr. Sapienza took over the management of the Theatre Bar for 10 years. In 1972, he leased it to Charlie Dobson and Charlie Hader who called the place "Charlie's" and ran it to 1988. Mr. Sapienza and his then-wife, Gloria, reclaimed the restaurant in 1988. Mrs. Sapienza died in 1998. They had four daughters.

Mr. Sapienza referred to 45th Street as "Dream Street," said Lundie, because of all the hopes and dreams associated with the Broadway theatres that lined it. When he refurbished his place in 1999 to include a new cabaret stage in the former coat room, the room was redubbed the Dream Street Cabaret. In past years, before the new stage, a chalkboard menu and an upright piano were along the streetside wall and waiters would perform at midnight. Now, following a featured show, the staff performs The Dream Street Cabaret Revue 10:30-12:30 PM. A show devoted to the songs of lyricist Nan Knighton christened the space in 1999.

Mr. Sapienza hosted many cabaret benefits for Broadway Cares/Equity Rights AIDS over the years and matched all contributions. He was nominated for a 2000 Manhattan Association of Cabarets (MAC) Award for The Dream Street Cabaret. He was friendly with many actors and actresses who came to his eatery during their breaks and after shows.

Mr. Sapienza, who was a Brooklyn native, is survived by his wife, Kathy McGowen Sapienza of Piermont, NY. Sam's is currently being managed by daughter Susan Norton and Kathy Sapienza.

Viewing is 2-4 PM and 7-9 PM May 5-6 at Becker Funeral Home in Westwood, NJ, followed by a 9:30 AM May 7 service at St. John's Catholic Church in Piermont, NY. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the American Cancer Society and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

— By Kenneth Jones