VENTNOR — When the Sabatinis decided to decorate their garden, they brought in everything but the kitchen sink — and maybe even that.
“One of these sinks may be from the kitchen,” Anna Sabatini said of the two large industrial sinks filled with flowers, not to be confused with several porcelain sinks scattered about the backyard. “The other one is from the bar.”
The sinks, a boiler, a sausage maker and a number of other relics were salvaged from the old Atlantic City restaurant Sabatini’s, a Pacific Avenue institution that famously held off eminent domain for years — the business was in the way of the expansion of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino — and was showcased in everything from talk shows to the comic strip Doonesbury.
On Saturday, the Sabatinis’ garden will be showcased for the first time as part of the Ventnor Gardens Tour, one of 17 gardens open for touring throughout the city.
The gardens feature award-winning hydrangeas, nine kinds of tomatoes, 22 different varieties of roses and 32 different bulb flowers, plus bamboo stalks along the hedges and ginkgo trees surrounding a tropical-themed pool.
But the centerpiece of the gardens, which stretch across what were once three separate properties on Cornwall Avenue, is an original mural by Atlantic City artist Linda Wexler that shows the extended Sabatini family inside the restaurant, which closed its doors in 2005.
“My wife wanted this,” said Anna’s father, Vincent Sabatini. “If I told you what it cost, you wouldn’t believe me, but that’s what she wanted. I said, ‘Go ahead.’”
“Sad to say,” Vincent added, “three of the people in this picture are no longer here” — including his wife, Clare, who died in 2010.
During her illness, Anna said, Doonesbury writer Garry Trudeau and Donald Trump would send her flowers and letters — a gesture that characterized Trump’s relationship with the family near the end.
“When Trump Plaza bought the restaurant, we asked to take the awning,” Vincent said of the original canopy that shields the mural. “It was a lot of work, but they brought it here. I have no disagreement with Trump. He’s been very good to me.”
The awning overlooks an entire simulated restaurant scene, complete with an old-style sausage machine — “You can still make sausage out of it,” Anna said. “With real casings, not those fake ones” — as well as the scales used to weigh the sausage afterward.
Around the corner are instruments used to grind coffee beans by hand to make espresso, lanterns from when Vincent and Claire made wine in the basement, old pots turned into planters, Clare’s childhood flower wagon filled with flowers once again, and a rusted boiler alongside the industrial sinks.
Vincent showed off several of his most prized plants, including fig trees that all sprouted from a mere clipping.
“I had a fellow who worked with me during the summertime, who had owned a restaurant on Missouri Avenue, Red’s Morgans,” Vincent said. “He was with me two or three years, and during that time he brought me a fig tree stick this big” — putting his fingers together to show the tiny size — “and I put in a jar for three weeks, planted it, and now we have five to six fig trees.”
From the sun porch facing the street — itself filled with Sansaveria “snake plants” in old copper pots, an original umbrella stand used as a planter, and a wicker rolling chair once used to decorate the restaurant at Christmastime — Anna talked of how the entire block was once filled with Atlantic City restaurateurs, including the owners of Luigi’s Kitchen, the Knife and Fork Inn and Alfred’s Villa.
“My mother hated to sell the restaurant,” Anna said. “She’s the one that really missed it.”
As for Vincent, “I was 75 years old, and I wanted to retire five years before that,” he said of the 2005 closing. “We had a good run of it.”
If they ever wanted to recreate an evening at Sabatini’s, however, it would not be that difficult. Just sit down at the table next to the mural and beneath the awning, and it all comes alive again.
Contact Steven Lemongello:
The annual Ventnor Gardens Tour will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Seventeen home gardens will be open to the public.
Advance tickets priced at $12 will be available through the end of the business day today at M&M Thrift Emporium, 6616 Ventnor Ave., and AAAA Bike Shop, 5300 Ventnor Ave.
Tickets also will be available on the day of the event for $15 at the Ventnor Library and Cultural Arts Center, 6500 Atlantic Ave. Bicycles will be available at a discounted rate Saturday at AAAA Bike Shop.
For more information, call 609-214-9591.