Papadakis Taverna in San Pedro is nearing its last dance
John Papadakis' restaurant is a lot like its owner -- big, brash and loud. No dim lights, no quiet romantic evening here. On a typical night, the music builds and Papadakis breaks into a Greek dance with a waitress, a pair of belly dancers wriggle through the aisles as the owner tosses dollar bills at them, an 88-year-old tuxedo-clad violinist who played with Frank Sinatra strolls through the restaurant.
Plates break, a dish of saganaki is set on fire. A tap dancer in a baggy suit stomps in front of a self-portrait of Anthony Quinn as Zorba the Greek.
For decades, Papadakis Taverna has been the best-known attraction in San Pedro, not just for its food and atmosphere, but as an out-of-the-way place where celebrities such as Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Hanks and Paula Abdul gathered. It's where Pete Carroll, then-coach of the owner's beloved USC Trojans, would close the deal with high school recruits. It was where Natalie Wood ate the night before she drowned off Santa Catalina in 1981.
How many restaurants show up as answers on "Jeopardy"?
But after 37 years of Greek dancing and plate-smashing, John Papadakis is closing the restaurant Sunday. In a place where people come to watch him as much as they come for the spanakopita and moussaka, "Sometimes I get tired of playing me," he said.
Photo: Owner John Papadakis dances with daughter Angeliki at the restaurant, which is a lot like its owner -- big, brash and loud. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times / January 28, 2010)