History

If These Walls Could Talk

The original owner of the building which is now IL PORTO RISTORANTE was a retired Sea Captain. He constructed the building like his ship – sturdy and sound in wall and beam. He stocked it with silk from the Far East, silver from Spain, jewels from England and France and – to his misfortune – a valued family heirloom of one of his customers. The unhappy customer had the Captain arrested and tried in the town square. As a result of the Captain’s quick demise, the building had a new owner, Madame LeCleaque who turned it into a House – not a home! Business was brisk until a pesky customer shot the Madame and her girls fled into the night. The building remained empty for years!

After the Civil War, two southern ladies opened a shop to sell family treasures. When they retired, a wine press and distillery were found in the basement. Perhaps the family recipe sold better than the family antiques!

The building then became a butcher shop with graded meat selling for 5¢ a pound. A German artist used the building during World War I as a studio, specializing in painting of the Torpedo Factory.

The Roaring Twenties saw a speakeasy located here, and then during the 40’s a Nazi family moved in and set up a radio network disguised as a fix-it shop. In 1970, it was restored to its natural charm, serving fine Northern Italian food in Alexandria, VA.

The 1980s and 1990s enjoyed an era with the country’s best ragtime piano player of all time, Johnnie Maddox. Over his lifetime, Johnny recorded more than 70 singles and close to 50 albums. Johnny earned 9 gold singles with total sales of over 11 million records. Johnny has his own star on Hollywood Boulevard. His very first single, “St. Louis Tickle” with “Crazy Bone Rag” on the flip side (recorded May 19, 1950), sold over 22,000 copies in a few weeks. Maddox became the first successful artist to record for Dot Records, and his instant first success helped build the Dot into one of the most popular labels in the 1950s. Maddox’s first record to sell over a million copies was probably Bob Wills’s “San Antonio Rose,” around 1951.

The video featured here, is Johnny Maddox, playing his own “Friday Night Stomp” live at Il Porto Ristorante in Alexandria, Virginia – 1985. The tune is based on two of his favorite songs from when he was a kid, “The Stones Rag” and “Ragtime Annie.” “The Stones Rag” was also recorded by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys as “Lone Star Rag.”

Friday nights at Il Porto was standing room only with Johnny Maddox “tickling” the ivories on the 2nd floor, which is now our private party room.