Bygone boulevard – Toni Bishop. Where are you now?

Rose on the beach

The story of Toni Bishop’s is more than a tale of a long-gone boulevard business; it is a poignant love story.

Rocco’s Tacos Las Olas used to be Smith and Jones and long ago, it was a place called Mario’s East. Wasn’t it Louie Louie once too?

But I remember that in the late nineties it was Toni Bishop’s Restaurant and Jazz Club. In 1998, the place opened, planning to be a huge jazz venue. And during its short life it hosted jazz performers such as Chick Corea, Chuck Mangione, (I was at that gig!)  Arturo Sandoval and Spyra Gyra.

In 1999, in the early hours – the year after its opening – rental trucks arrived at 1313 ELO and emptied the jazz club of everything that wasn’t nailed down. Toni watched – and then disappeared.

Toni been brought up in Hialeah in a close knit family of Italian origin. She married at a young age to a man fourteen years older than herself, but they divorced. She pursued her singing career. She didn’t remarry, but she had a long-standing relationship with her manager, P.J. Samulak

One of the early venues where she performed was the late lamented Musician’s Exchange on Sunrise – and the long gone Cajun House at 230 East Las Olas.

The story has it that at one venue she played, the owner objected to the song she was performing, Evergreen.

Toni had had enough – and walked out.

However, the man who had requested the song never forgot her.  “I’ve been a fan for five years,” he said. “One day I felt brave, and I called up Toni and said, ‘You know, we should open our own jazz club.'”

He was Abe Lang, the Mattress Giant tycoon and he had been a restaurateur. Together they opened the Las Olas venue. He said at the time that opening the jazz club cost him over $1 million. On the opening evening, Toni walked onto the stage and saw a full house. She chatted with the audience – Abe being on the front row –  began her first number.

It was Evergreen.

“I’ve seen my daughter’s name in lights before,” says Anthony Cataudella. “But this has been the best thrill I have had, in watching her go from infancy to where she is now. As far as I’m concerned, that evening was the best. She made me cry.”

However, Abe Lang had serious diabetes and other health problems. In July 1999 Toni and Lang vacationed in Hawaii, where they married – at the top of a volcano.

He died after they had been married for only ten weeks.

Two weeks later, Toni returned to Fort Lauderdale and decided to close the business. “They literally emptied the place out,” says Alan Kipnis, the attorney for Henry Olmino, the building owner.

“The only things that were left were the tables, chairs and dishes. I was sitting across the street at the Floridian,” says the restaurant’s former head waiter, Allen Zapata. “We realized, uh-oh, this is it. We all knew the bankroller was a middle-aged guy with diabetes. As soon as the bankroller goes, we’re all in trouble.”

Toni’s attorney at the time explained that her husband had just died and that she didn’t want to sing any more.

Many of the restaurant’s workers remain loyal to Bishop and Lang to this day. What did Toni Bishop have to say about the night the lights went out on the club that bore her name?

“I can only apologize and say I was in such disarray. I crumbled. I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to sing, and if Toni Bishop couldn’t sing, the place wasn’t going to stay open.”

In January 2001, Bishop received a check for the final settlement of her husband’s estate. The total was $4,192.

I don’t know where Toni Bishop is today. I heard that she sang at the opening of Pastorius Park a few years ago but that’s all I’ve heard.

I hope she’s not alone. I hope she’s singing again. I hope she’s happy again.

Posted by Las Olas Boulevard in : History News,

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    Set midway between Fort Lauderdale Beach and the fabulous Las Olas Boulevard, this quiet and secluded complex is right on the waterfront and enjoys charming Mid-Century Modern features. Fully moder...
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    Las Olas Boulevard - there's no other place quite like it. Las Olas offers you the very best in dining, antiques, shopping, fashion, the arts, history and much more.

    Las Olas Boulevard is located just seconds from the beautiful Fort Lauderdale beach and enjoys the wonderful South Florida weather. When you visit us on the boulevard, why not come by boat? The Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi will bring you right here.

    We have lots of special events which take place throughout the year and some of the nicest people you'll ever wish to meet are right here. If you're planning a destination wedding, there's no better place.

    The boulevard has a lot of history too. Stay at the Riverside Hotel - built in 1936, or visit the Stranahan House Museum and see where Fort Lauderdale itself began. Enjoy breakfast, at any time of day or night, in the historic Floridian diner. See the Elbo Room, the place featured in Where the Boys Are - the iconic Spring Break movie made in 1960.

    Las Olas Boulevard has something to suit all tastes, all ages and all budgets. Dance the night away or enjoy a quiet drink in a relaxing bar. Experience fine dining in one of our many restaurants, or grab a pizza, sandwich, panini or salad. Enjoy cuisine from all over the world right here. And don't miss the treats we have for you - chocolates, ice creams, frozen yogurts, candies, pastries - all made right here on Las Olas. Eat at a sidewalk café, people-watch, visit our world-class museum of art, take the kids to the science museum for a day of fun, sit and watch the water traffic go by on the New River ... there's so much to do.

    Shop for the finest goods - and bargains too. Our stores sell everything from diamonds to dresses, from gowns to garlic bread!

    We have all your needs taken care of on Las Olas. We have a pharmacy, dry-cleaners, a deli, dressmakers, gifts, quality cigars ... in addition to pampering services if you're looking for a massage, a manicure or a magnificent haircut. We even have our own Sunday farmers' market.

    We haven't forgotten the business traveler. If you're in Fort Lauderdale for business, you'll find every service you need on the boulevard and what better place to work? Many of our restaurants have free wifi so you can check your email and write your blog as you sip an Italian coffee and enjoy a snack in a sidewalk café.

    We'll look forward to seeing you on Las Olas!