Sunday, July 9, 2017

Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

"The gaudiest restaurant in Orange County... a trattoria gone slightly amok." - The Los Angeles Times



It's those words from a 1988 article that capture precisely why I wanted to visit Angelo's and Vinci's, a family restaurant famously known as an "interior designer's nightmare."



I was promised "a gawker's paradise"...



...and, indeed, I got that—even before I walked through the front door.



Although perhaps better known as a "special occasion" destination for birthdays, anniversaries, memorial services, weddings, fundraisers, graduations, and other group events...



...it's art that's inspired this Italian restaurant (named after Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, and featuring reproductions of their works) as much as if not more than Sicilian home cooking.



And there's a reason why it feels like a theater inside.



Its founder was the late Steve Peck, a Brooklyn-born dancer, choreographer, and character actor of Sicilian heritage who'd also opened a dance studio and a repertory theater company in Fullerton.



He started Angelo's and Vinci's in 1976 as a patio cafe in the former Alician Court Theatre complex (now known as the Fox Fullerton Theatre), whose Italian Renaissance-inspired courtyard design embraced both indoor and outdoor spaces. It was part of his Steven Peck Institute, which also included the Jupiter Theater and Apostle Danceworks.



That first location was across the alley from where it's located now—but, in 1992, the business and all of its contents moved a few feet over to the corner, to a two-story garden cafe that was subsequently enclosed, now two doors down from the Fox.



The cavernous building with its cathedral ceilings now gives shelter to Peck's celebrity photo and clippings collection...



...as well as the various themed environments, like the "Family Love Altar"...



...and all the stuff that Steve had collected from Italy.



It's an extravaganza, to say the least.



In its 40-plus-year history, there have been some stories of hauntings—particularly in the basement, which is actually connected to the Fox Theatre (also notoriously haunted) and once served as a dressing room area for stage performers.



That's where you'll find the wine cellar that doubles as a dungeon for spooks and other unsavories.

It makes it feel as though it's Halloween all year, but reportedly, Steve preferred Christmas—and that's why you'll find Santas and multi-colored lights strung up all year long inside of Angelo's and Vinci's.

It's such a time warp in there, it could be snowing out in the middle of summer, and you'd never know it.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Fox Theatre Fullerton, 90 Years Old and Starting Over
Photo Essay: Clifton's Cafeteria of Curiosities