You Know Love

Makes the world go 'round.

By Mike Newall
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 8, 2006

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Illustration by Paul Hoppe

If it's late at night and you find yourself in need of a restraining order against your spouse or lover, you see Billy Love. Love is hearing master of the Emergency Protection From Abuse Unit at Philadelphia night court.

It's a tough job. But Love takes solace. "Not to sound corny," he says, "but I feel like I'm helping people sort out their lives."

Love abides by this simple adage: You only live once and don't wanna die with the music still playing. He found that nugget in his favorite book 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace.

About a year ago he found perspective on self-help books he'd been reading after visiting his 90-year-old grandmother Esther at her new Florida retirement community.

Esther is an active woman, and she took Love to see the recreation building. There was a swimming pool, card tables and lots of old people.

"So, Billy, how do you like it?" Esther asked.

Love went frozen-faced, like he'd seen a ghost. It felt like the walls were closing in.

"Mortality hit me," he says, wincing.

Billy Love is a big guy with reddish brown hair. He wears a black leather jacket, a Jeff cap and an earring. He cranes his head sideways and slaps his leg when he laughs. Inside the courtroom he's solemn and judicious. But outside of court there's a punchline at the end of almost everything he says.

But Love wasn't himself after Florida. He wasn't himself at night court, and he wasn't himself at the Friendly Lounge either.

The Friendly is where Billy Love drinks. To really understand him, you have to understand the Friendly, a small corner taproom at Eighth and Washington.

The DiTullio twins, Marco and
Dominick, own the Friendly. Their
maternal grandparents were circus performers, the Famous Firschkes.

Grandpa Firschke would balance a 40-foot pole on his head for grandma to climb atop. Standing on one hand, she'd wave to the cheering crowd. Aunt Trixie was a world-renowned juggler who worked with Fred Astaire in the movie Broadway Melody of 1940.

Everybody called John DiTullio, the Friendly's original proprietor, "the skinny razor." He was a thin guy who dressed sharp.

Skinny first laid eyes on the beautiful Hildegard Firschke when she was juggling in a variety show. Skinny followed Hildegard halfway across the country before she married him.

Back then the Friendly was an upscale rib joint frequented by neighborhood wiseguys and Skinny's favorite jazz musicians and pop singers. Gene Krupa, Louie Prima, Johnny Sax and Joe Valino all hung their hats there. So did Lenny Bruce. And legend has it Sinatra would have Skinny's ribs delivered to his Atlantic City shows.

The Friendly doesn't serve ribs anymore, the hatcheck girl is long retired, and Skinny and Hildegard have passed on. Now there are usually just a few regulars nursing beers in the amber glow of the string lights. Not to say there isn't still an exclusive vibe to the place.

"We've always been a bar for the select few," says Marco proudly. "You'll always have to be of a certain kind of spirit to fit in here."

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