Born on Buffalo’s East Side, Philip J. (P.J.) Amigone opened his first business, a haberdashery, at William St. and Michigan Ave when he was only 18. When prohibition ended, Amigone opened the Phoenix Grill at Washington & Tupper, and a night club, the KEP Lounge, on Washington St.
Amigone would give both businesses up a year later when he opened what would become Buffalo’s greatest nighttime hotspot. The Chez Ami, located at 311 Delaware Avenue, opened its door in 1934, and soon won national acclaim as one of the first supper clubs in the nation. Its interior was designed by C. Theodore Macheras (Teddy) who used art-deco elements of mirrors, neon, indirect lighting and plush carpeting to achieve a modern entertainment experience. The centerpiece, evident in all of the Chez Ami’s advertising, was a revolving bar that was invented by Amigone. The bar, the first of its kind in America, took 7 ½ minutes to make a complete cycle.
Macheras would also design the Town Barn, later Town Casino, for Harry Altman and Harry Wallens. Note: The Town Barn was destroyed during a fire in 1945 and rebuilt as the Town Casino in 1946.
For decades the Chez Ami featured top notch national entertainment and royalty-like service to its loyal following of patrons. On Christmas Night 1941, The Chez Ami suffered a fire that destroyed much of its interior. By spring of 1942, the Chez reopened with an enlarged dance floor, expanded balcony seating with bar and a repaired revolving bar.Macheras oversaw the $50,000 rebuild and retained much of the club’s original art-deco decor.
Amigone designed, equipped and established the lounge at Memorial Auditorium in 1941 and held the concession until 1943. He also designed, quipped and established the restaurant and lounge at Kleinhans Music Hall in 1943 and was its restaurant concessionaire until 1964. In addition to being one of Buffalo’s most popular restaurateurs, Amigone owned a Pontiac Dealership located at 285 Southside Parkway in South Buffalo.
In December 1956, Amigone celebrated a $150,000 remodeling of the nightclub. For a third time, C. Theodore Macheras was called upon to remodel the club. Gone this time was the art deco theme, in its place was a new Venetian décor. The building sported a redecorated façade on the outside and a featured a huge 15 foot in diameter chandelier over the dining area.The famous revolving bar, said to be the first in the United States was refurbished. The Chez was back and as popular as ever with the nightclub elite of Buffalo.The Bob Meyer’s Continental Orchestra from New York City entertained while a strolling musical quartet played during the cocktail hour and during dinner.
Many Buffalonians of that era will also remember a Your Host Resturant located next door to the Chez Ami that served up breakfast and coffee as the sun would rise after the nightclub closed its doors at 4am.
During the 60s, the Chez Ami tried to keep up with changes in music and popular culture. An article in the Courier Express on January 31, 1965 herald the transformation of the once swank dinner club into Buffalo’s first discotheque. Gone was the finest in live stage entertainment and dining, replaced by non-stop recorded music catering to the young of Buffalo.
A few months after operating under this new format, the Chez Ami lost its liquor license. On November 23, 1965 vice squared detective claimed that a customer there had solicited him illegally.
A few weeks later, Buffalo was stunned to learn about the death of one of its foremost restaurateurs and showman. On December 29, 1965, Philip Amigone passed away at the age of 65. After his death, the business faltered badly and the lounge passed through two other owners before it closed down finally in 1971.
In the spring of 1974, the wreaking crews demolished the old Chez Ami building. It was the final act in the history of the storied address. The land sat vacant for almost 30 years until 2007 when a 116,800 square foot, five-story office building was erected on the site.
Welcome from a 1942 menu
Menu cover from 1942
Billboard, Jan. 31, 1942
Billboard, Feb. 21, 1942
Billboard, April 11, 1942
Billboard, April 25, 1942
Billboard, May 30, 1942
Billboard, Oct. 21, 1942
“20 Patrons Hurt as Grease Blaze Sweeps Chez Ami.” Buffalo Evening News 26 Dec. 1941, p 18
“Chez Ami, All New but Bar, Will Open Again Tomorrow.” Buffalo Evening News 19 Dec. 1956, p. 72
Lauricella, Mary Ann “Buffalo Gets Beat of the Discotheque.” Courier Express 31 Jan. 1965, sec. D, p.1
“Chez Ami Building Sold to National Gypsum.” Courier Express 1 Aug. 1965, p 12A
“Philip J. Amigone, 65, Dies; Restaurateur, Businessman.” Buffalo Evening News 29 Dec. 1965, p. 18
“P.J. Amigone, Owner of Chez Ami, Dies at 65.” Courier Express 30 Dec. 1965. P. 30
O’Neill, Marty “Razing Final Act in Saga of Former Buffalo Hot Spot.” Buffalo Evening News 6 Apr. 1974, p. 15