South Philly’s music lovers’ rendezvous sings a new verse: YouTube video, opera from the balcony, and takeout!
A family-run neighborhood fixture for over 100 years, Victor Cafe at 1303 Dickinson Street has long provided its customers with a truly memorable dining experience combining Italian cuisine with live opera. Now, the restaurant is trying out some new plot twists: takeout, local delivery, YouTube videos and opera from their balcony.
Started in 1918 by recent immigrant John DiStefano as a RCA Victor gramophone dealership, the business quickly evolved into a meeting place for neighbors to socialize while listening to opera and classical music. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, DiStefano’s Gramophone Shop became a restaurant, The Victor Cafe “Music Lovers Rendezvous,” gradually evolving into what it is today. Since the 1970s, the waitstaff, in addition to serving food and drink, are professional opera singers who perform throughout dinner. Over the years, patrons from around the world have been entertained while being well-fed for a reasonable price.
Victor Cafe closed in March along with other restaurants after the City of Philadelphia announced restrictions on business activity. Dine-in service was no longer allowed. As a result, the restaurant created an emergency fund to help their staff who had not only lost their jobs as servers but also had to deal with the sudden cancellation of performing engagements. To provide inspiration during this difficult time, they gathered virtually and sang a “chorus of hope” from Verdi’s Nabucco which you can view here.
Over the last couple of weeks, Victor Cafe has reopened for takeout and local delivery Thursday to Sunday. Owner Greg DiStefano said, “Literally, 100% of the proceeds, excluding taxes of course, are distributed to the staff that are in most need. So many of our 40 or so employees have donated their share to those that are in not as good of a position, and we are most happy that we were also able to supply our dear vendors with a little bit of business. The cliché, ‘we are a family’ absolutely applies here. I am extremely empathetic to the plight and struggles of all who may not be as fortunate. We have never done takeout before at the café–so even at 62 years old we learned how to do it. It has been a deeply rewarding experience. God knows, I’ve had enough experience in my life eating take-out!” He says that takeout may have to continue after they are allowed to reopen due to the need for reduced seating capacity.
Most recently, music has returned to Victor Cafe. You can now hear opera from the balcony of the restaurant on nights that they are doing takeout. Staff members will be performing arias Thursday to Sunday at 6pm. DiStefano said that it was his sister Pamela’s idea. Enjoy the May 9th performance by her husband, John Packard here.
DiStefano remarked, “Who knows? Maybe a new tradition has been started?…We so look forward to return to our new normal, whatever that may be, and once again fill the hallowed walls of The Victor Cafe with love, food and song!”
For more information on Victor Cafe, please check out their website.