John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia, the “Unofficial Mayor of Little Italy,” has died of cancer. The sad news comes from his friend, WOR radio host Joey Reynolds. Cha Cha was a fixture at his eponymous Mulberry Street restaurant, Cha Cha’s In Bocca Al Lupo, a magical place with a back garden and a teddy-bear stuffing machine where the drinks are named after Cha Cha’s friends, like Danny Devito and Tony Danza (whose boxing career he managed), and for the stars of Goodfellas, The Sopranos, and other films in which Cha Cha appeared.
Ciarcia was a man of many hats — though mostly a fedora. He was also the proprietor of a beloved Coney Island dive that hosted countless punk, hardcore, rockabilly, and burlesque shows (JT “Machine Gun Johnny” Thomas, the manager responsible for the shows, died in 2010). The self-declared “Home of Wild Women and Wise Guys” was forced off the boardwalk in 2011 and briefly reopened on Surf Avenue, with a caricature of Ciara’s grinning face serving as the logo. Sadly, it never bounced back from Sandy.
I last spoke with Cha Cha in 2010, when he was fighting an order to vacate his beloved Coney Island bar and said he was “not going to get out without a fight.” He no doubt applied that same spirit in his battle with cancer. Cha Cha was a bon vivant and an unapologetic peddler of cannoli and mozzarella (he and his wife, musician Karen King, also owned Alleva Dairy, which was opened by Cha Cha’s great grandmother in 1892), but he eventually started juicing in an effort to stay healthy. He died at 75 on Friday.
Join us in pouring out a Leonardo DiCaprio Frozen Titanic, or a bottle of Ciarcia’s own Grandpa Cha Cha’s Homestyle Wine.