Anthony “Cy” Ciotti liked to tell a good joke, even if it made fun of his own story.
Once in the early 1970s, it was featured on stage at the Calabrese Club, a legendary nightclub in the Little Italy neighborhood of Erie. Ciotti, who was the club’s entertainment director, took the mic and joked about his previous dealings with law enforcement.
“We appreciate all the excitement here,” Ciotti said, according to a recording of the event. “I remember one time we had the Glenn Miller group… but (they) didn’t show up and (the customers) all left. But we had two bartenders, three waitresses, and 16 FBI agents. The joint was (still) packed. “
Ciotti, who died July 2 at the age of 92, led a colorful life that included serving in the U.S. Coast Guard and booking musical acts at the Calabrese Club and later at the Reflections Bistro in downtown D ‘Erie.
He has also been incarcerated several times and spent two years fleeing law enforcement after failing to report to federal prison in 1983 following a conviction for receiving stolen property.
Federal authorities followed Ciotti around the world before apprehending him in a New York hotel in 1985.
“It’s been a scary two years,” Ciotti’s son Tony said. “When Dad was in jail I could talk to him and even visit him regularly. Not when he was gone for those two years. I heard about (his capture) on the radio.”
Find your true passion
Cy Ciotti was born in Erie in 1928 and has lived most of his adult life in the same two-unit house at 413 Huron Street. At one point, he lived there with his wife, Carmella; their two children; his father and mother-in-law; two of her stepmother’s parents and two of her sisters.
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Ciotti enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1945 after graduating from Tech Memorial High School in 1945.
“He always said ‘No one ever attacked Cleveland while I was on duty,’” Tony Ciotti said.
Following his honorable release from the Coast Guard, Ciotti worked for Marx Toys before setting up several of his own businesses. They included a food truck and several pool halls.
But trips to Las Vegas developed Ciotti’s true passion: bringing big bands and other musical groups from the 1940s and 1950s to Erie.
“My grandfather was president of the Calabrese Club in the 1960s, and my father was able to approach the members and convince them to let my father bring musicals and comedians to the Grill Room,” Tony Ciotti said.
Ciotti has worked with booking agents to hire nationally recognized musicians such as Louis Prima, Jerry Vale, and Maynard Ferguson, often between their concerts in Buffalo and Cleveland.
The Calabrese Club closed in 1980, but Ciotti returned to the entertainment world in 1996 when he was appointed entertainment director of the new Reflections Bistro, 1523 State St.
“When Cy came back to Erie after his absence, people would see him on the street and ask him if he was going to reopen the Cally Club,” said Jeremy Long, a longtime friend of the Ciotti family.
“That’s what he tried with Reflections,” Tony Ciotti said. “Except not as many big names, but more local singers. You can listen to the number, then have a good meal.”
Spending time with dad
Tony Ciotti worked as a bartender at Reflections, which allowed him to spend more time with his father after Cy Ciotti’s years on the run and incarceration.
What Tony Ciotti saw from behind the bar was a man in the early ’70s, impeccably dressed in a suit with matching tie and pocket square, walking from table to table, greeting everyone as if he was his best friend.
“Cy made people feel like they owned the club, like they owned part of it,” said Tony Ciotti.
The reflections ended in 2003 following a raid after law enforcement discovered it had been operating for about a year without a liquor license.
Cy Ciotti’s life slowed down after Reflections closed. Diagnosed with a type of muscular dystrophy that affected his hands and lower legs, he used a cane – and later a walker – to get around.
“He always loved being around people,” Tony Ciotti said. “Cy and her friends would get together at Tops on West 26th Street and all sit on those tin chairs. They would drink coffee, eat sandwiches, and just tell stories.”
These stories continued at LECOM Senior Living Center when Cy Ciotti moved there in 2017 after living at Fairview Manor for about seven years.
Tony Ciotti, 66, visited his father regularly at both locations. They shared dinners and talked about the good old days, including almost 60 years ago, when he visited his father in a prison cell.
“Dad was in a holding cell at Old Town Hall and he asked the guards to take me,” Tony Ciotti said. “He told me to take a look around, then told me I had to go to college and get a degree in something that was legitimate.”
Tony Ciotti did indeed go to college. He worked for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board for 35 years before retiring.
As for his father’s advice?
“It worked,” his son said.