Party at Sammy's Roumanian

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"That's what the band Cracker calls him as well," says my friend L.P. as we discuss our mutual friend and lawyer?plus birthday boy?seated at the table's end.

"He really is Broadway Danny Rose," I say to L.P. "When I first met him I bet he represented only skating penguins and sad clowns. And maybe talking mimes."

We're talking about Andrew Krents. Besides looking like a more handsome version of Woody Allen, he's about the same size, and a total Jew.

L.P. and I should know. We're Jews as well.

We're seated at a large table at "Famous Sammy's Roumanian Steak House" on Chrystie St. When Andy called to invite me to his 35th birthday party ("It's actually the 34th," he later told me. "I'm bad with numbers") at Sammy's, I told him I never heard of the place.

"You've never heard of Sammy's?" he asked. "It's famous. They serve Romanian and Russian food. It's fun."

I told him I'd see him there. Then I forgot about it. Like the rest of the stuff my lawyer tells me.

When my wife Wendy and I arrived on the big night and made our way downstairs to Sammy's entrance below street level, I commented how it looks like a Jewish Wo-Hop. We found Andy and his girlfriend and friends at a large table in the back. The place is not very big, the walls are covered with photos of families and famous people like Cheap Trick, Ed Koch, David Lee Roth and the Unband.

Waiters showed up with two huge bowls of chopped liver, then eggs with onions, then latkes and sliced brains and stuffed cabbage. Every Passover, wedding or funeral I ever went to there's always been a bunch of Jewish people eating. This was no different.

Suddenly a band appears.

Well, almost a band.

Well, two guys. One with a guitar, the other with what looks to be like a 70s electric keyboard. The guitarist, Todd Colburn, has played around Chicago a lot. The other guy is Rob Taube; the first thing he says into the mic as he looks at us is, "Oh, you guys are lucky! You have the orchestra seats."

I'm still hard of hearing from that night. The "band" played a bunch of familiar-sounding Yiddish tunes. I remembered my Uncle Larry and Aunt Selma, cousin Gabe and second cousin Karen with the big matzoh balls on her chest.

The main course appeared. Some got chicken, some fish; Wendy and I got steak. Long steak. Like well over a foot. The meat hung over the sides of the dish. Our Yorkshire terrier P.J. was gonna be eating well for months.

Todd and Rob sang "Happy Birthday" for a gentleman named Bill, who was turning 97 and danced like he's 18. The entire restaurant sang along. Then we sang it for Andy. The "band" rolled into a set of pop tunes by Barry Manilow and such, and a waitress sang "Hey Big Spender." A constant procession of vodka, the bottles encased in blocks of ice, a Sammy's signature.

At some point a Russian gentleman took the stage, borrowed the guitar and sang an old Russian tune to his girlfriend/wife/whatever. The whole place went wild. Later I bought a CD from the "band," Songs My Grandmother Never Taught Me, by "Rob Taube & the Sammy's Orchestra." It rocks in a Yiddish sort of way. It occurred to me that these guys aren't even Jewish?hence the CD's title. Jewish wannabes. That's funny.

On our way out I ran into Bill, the 97-year-old birthday boy. Actually I almost ran over him, he's that small.

"Happy birthday," I said to him and his "younger woman" who, according to the "band," is 90.

He asked if we want to know the secret of a long and healthy life.

"Well," explained Bill, in his polo shirt and light blue trousers, with almost a full head of hair, "it's like this. Every day when I wake up, she puts another brick on my back. Day in and day out. And one day when I remove them, I'm going to feel so good."

Shalom, Bill.

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