Tony Celebrates 95 at Rogers
Happy 95th birthday, Tony! On Saturday, November 26, a man who’s almost as old as the bar itself celebrated his 95th at his favorite watering hole—Rogers. But it wasn’t just another birthday celebration for Tony Sabatino. This time, his family threw the party as a thank you to the many Rockaway friends that make sure Tony is taken care of when he arrives.
Tony Sabatino was looking sharp as ever on Saturday, dressed in a yellow button-down, a brown vest and his signature cap, two days ahead of his actual 95th birthday. But if you go by Tony’s math, he considers November 28 to be the day he turns 96, as he’s going into his 96th year. But nowadays, it’s all the same. “The years went away. I don’t count the years anymore. I’m knocking on a hundred. I hope not, but I’ll probably make it. Who wants to be 100? I’m already an old man, it’s crazy,” he said with a laugh before sipping a shot of Bailey’s someone handed him.
Sabatino was featured in The Rockaway Times last year when his local friends threw him a party for this 94th birthday at Rogers. Sabatino, who lives alone in Woodhaven, started coming to Rockaway to socialize. He would frequent the Kerry Hills until it closed in 2018. Then he found Rogers, where he started visiting even more during Covid, as his local bar, the Woodhaven House had closed. As a regular, Sabatino became a staple at Rogers and quickly made many friends, who make sure he’s okay when he gets off the Q53 bus to sit in the bar for a few hours. Last year, those friends organized a big birthday bash.
Among them is Bernadette O Callaghan. “Every year we have him is a great one,” she said at Tony’s party on Saturday. But this year, she wasn’t the main party organizer. Instead, Tony’s cousins decided to repay the favor and throw Saturday’s 95th birthday party for Tony as a thank you to those in Rockaway who have taken such good care of him. “This year was kind of exceptional in that his family wanted to and insisted on doing the food and all of that, so it’s really nice that they know the community is behind him. Any day where there’s a celebration and not a commiseration is a good one. And it makes Tony happy,” O Callaghan said.
This year’s party was Mexican themed, with catered food from Moe’s provided by Sabatino’s family and cantina decorations by Leslie Thornton of Rockaway. And everyone from his actual family to his Rockaway family were invited for the celebration. Sabatino’s cousins were more than happy to throw the party this year. Some of his second cousins, having attended Stella Maris High School, are no strangers to Rockaway, and were happy to be back for the occasion. “This brings me back. I haven’t been here in a long time, but it’s so nice and lively, I can see why Tony enjoys coming here,” Tony’s cousin Barbara Levi said. Speaking on why they wanted to throw the party this time, Levi said, “We wanted to get to meet all of Tony’s friends and celebrate here with his group. We know that Rogers is Tony’s favorite place to be so we wanted to come where he could be surrounded by his friends.”
Levi explained, as they used to live in Howard Beach, Tony was a regular at their home and very close with their father. “He was my dad’s best bud, so they have a lot of shared memories. Tony is such a sweet part of our family. We’re happy that we can celebrate this special occasion with him,” Levi said. “And everyone loves Tony. He’s a friend to everyone and that’s how he finds so many friends wherever he goes. His friends are like a second family to him.” Her sister, Rachel Lagamba, who also helped plan the party, added, “He’s very family oriented and very friendly—he’s just everybody’s grandpa. And Tony is very blessed to have all of the friends that surround him every day.” Tony agreed. “Friends and family are a blessing to treasure. It doesn’t come easy,” he said. Friends and family come first.”
Levi said Tony’s Rockaway friends are what keep him going at 95 years old and keep him taking the bus from mainland Queens to the peninsula, no matter the weather. “It’s amazing. Rain or shine, nothing holds Tony back from coming out here to socialize and I think that’s what keeps him going. The love and friendship that he feels here, I think gets him on that bus every day. No matter if there’s rain, snow, sleet, or sun, he comes here to be surrounded by friends,” Levi said. And when Tony gets to Rockaway, they know he’s okay. “Everyone looks out for him, and we always know where to find him. If we can’t reach him, we call the bar,” she said.
Not only is Rogers Tony’s favorite place to frequent, but when he arrives, owner Mike McMahon makes sure Tony’s taken care of. So when Tony’s family asked if they could throw another party there, it was no problem. “Mike is always wonderful,” O Callaghan said. “He doesn’t mind when Tony shows up during the week. He’s just happy that he’s here and that’s the kind of place he wants Rogers to be. He gave us use of the party room as long as we drink at his bar!” Lagamba added, “Rogers is very generous in letting us use the party room to host this party today.”
Lagamba said knowing Tony’s in good hands with the people of Rockaway is part of the reason they wanted to throw Saturday’s party as a thank you. “We wanted to celebrate his 95th birthday but also to celebrate all the people who are so generous toward him and help look out for him and it was a way for us to say thank you to everyone for all they have done for us,” Lagamba said. “We don’t live near Tony, so it’s a bit of a struggle for us but it’s a pleasure to hear people calling in saying, ‘we got it, Tony’s good,’ and we wanted to say thank you to everybody.”
As for Tony, between mouthfuls of guacamole and sips of beer, he was enjoying the moment among good company. “I’m enjoying today. Not tomorrow, as tomorrow isn’t promised. Today,” he said. “And I feel good.”