Sunday, January 16, 2000

Time for Trixie's artwork is over

Mural a reminder of older Newport

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — I hate to besmirch the dead, but does a guy like Pat Vilardo really belong front and center along Newport's main drag?

        Mr. Vilardo was a notorious character around these parts. He did time for conspiring to torch one of his own businesses. Once he was arrested for carrying brass knuckles at his bar.

        This charmer, who died of cancer in November, appears in a life-sized mural that hangs in the windows of Trixie Delight's, at Eighth and Monmouth streets. About 25 other friends of Trixie are painted into the bar scene, by Cincinnati artist Tom Lohre Jr.

        In the mural, the regulars are having a great time. They go by nicknames like “Nine-Ball Charlie” and “Big Tom.” Undoubtedly, some were pretty good fellows. They look so jolly that you almost wish the bar were still open.

        Then again, maybe not.

        Trixie's owner, Linda Brown, commissioned the mural in 1996 to spruce up her storefront. A year later, her bar was shut down after police found evidence of prostitution, including bodily fluids smattered on the walls.

        Now the building is for sale, Ms. Brown isn't talking and the mural's future is unclear.

        For the time being, its presence is a reminder of the tension between Newport's recent past and its exciting future.

        Just eight blocks from the old gang's immortalization, families flock to the aquarium. The World Peace Bell dangles nearby, in a block that soon may include a park. Across the street at The Syndicate, the illegal gambling that once plagued Newport is now a restaurant theme.

        With all due respect to those who remember the old days fondly, I hope the mural leaves town soon. It's a good painting, but it's got only two women in it: Ms. Brown and the famous dancer Sally Rand, who appears as a tiny image in the background.

        City officials apparently didn't want any others in the painting, for fear of suggesting what the place really was: A business where scantily clad women danced for money.

        As such, Trixie's was one of the last. During the '90s, nearly all of Newport's adult nightclubs closed under pressure. The city passed a tough ordinance outlawing nudity, and developers bought some of the buildings for more wholesome activities.

        Mr. Lohre says the mural project was great fun because it gave him the chance to paint real people. Usually, only the beautiful commission portraits.

        At the same time, “Some people say that's all the gangsters in Newport,” Mr. Lohre says with a wry smile. “They were the regulars at a bar, you know. What kind of people are we talking about here?”

        The subjects include Mr. Vilardo and Donny Brown, who worked together at a strip club called Cocktails and Dreams. Mr. Vilardo owned the place, and Mr. Brown managed.

        In 1991, Mr. Brown was arrested after police caught

        him with cocaine, a slapjack and $2,191 in his pocket.

        Mr. Vilardo was married several times. Court records contain various domestic violence charges against him.

        “Victim said she was laying on the bed when defendant came in, climbed on top of her, said, "I love you so much,' and struck her in the face,” one police report reads.

        Even in death, Mr. Vilardo continues to make trouble.

        An ex-wife claims she remarried him the day before he died. She and one of Mr. Vilardo's sons are pitted against another woman in a battle over his estate. At a probate hearing on Jan. 7, Mr. Vilardo's son was unable to appear — he had been arrested for attempted murder four days earlier, court records show.

        The good news is that Newport's newcomers don't know about any of this. The city's colorful history is fading fast, and to them, the mural is just another bar scene.

        My own education came courtesy of a former stripper who went to college and got out of the life. We were walking past the mural one day, and she stopped to register a complaint.

        There aren't enough women in the painting, she said, even though women made these places possible.

        They endured a lot, my friend said. If anyone deserves recognition, it's them.

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. Her column appears Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at 578-5584, or by e-mail at