Every community has at least one or two civic luminaries who seem to leave a positive impression on just about everyone in town.
In Bayonne, most would say that guy was Vinny Bottino. Bottino, who the New York Times described in 2004 as the “backbone of Bayonne,” was the longtime owner of the Big Apple Sports Palace on Broadway, which was recently replaced by El Aquila Dorada Mexican restaurant after Big Apple closed in 2016.
Bayonne renamed a portion of 19th Street “Vinny Bottino Way” on Oct. 25 in honor of the sports bar’s legendary owner.
He was among the fourth generation of his family to live in Bayonne. Two Bottino generations have become part of the city and Big Apple since.
He said he had the same raison d’etre as George Bailey, the protagonist from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Bottino spent his entire life in his hometown and lived with a spirit of giving.
Along with owning one of Bayonne’s most iconic sports bars, Bottino was known to all as a local philanthropist. He sponsored several sports leagues in the city every year, including the Police Athletic League, Bayonne High School sports, the Bayonne Youth Soccer Association, Bayonne’s Little League, and Cal Ripken League. Beyond that, he was known as a man who would go above and beyond to help anyone who approached him in need.
Pro athletes were known to frequent the Big Apple during its 40-year lifespan. The 1995 Stanley Cup trophy won by the New Jersey Devils was brought to his bar shortly after the victory by the Devils’ PR representative Tommy Shine.
“It was never about him, it was always about everyone else.” — Mayor Jimmy Davis
But Bottino was better known for his impact on the everyday people who gave Bayonne its small town flavor, despite the town’s population reaching roughly 67,000 and counting.
Bottino retired immediately after Big Apple closed. Like many pro athletes, Bottino said he wanted to hang it up while he was still in his prime. He also wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren. But he had only a few golden years. He died on July 28 at only 63 years old.
A crowd of roughly 100 or so of Bottino’s friends and relatives held a dedication ceremony on Oct. 24, where the portion of 19th Street, on the corner of the block where Big Apple once stood, was renamed “Vinny Bottino Way.”
Mayor Jimmy Davis, a longtime friend of Bottino, was given the honor of unveiling the new sign.
“This is for you to remember that your Grandpa Vinny was the best there ever was,” Davis told Bottino’s six grandchildren. “There are none better.”
Davis, who knew Bottino for the majority of his life, said he’d always remember Bottino’s signature wave, whenever he stopped by Big Apple, or when the entire Bottino family cheered on every parade that proceeded down Broadway.
Davis said that Bottino was staunchly against special recognition. Nevertheless, the mayor was among many who wanted to honor him anyway.
“It was never about him, it was always about everyone else,” Davis said. “He’d kill me if I mentioned doing a memorial like this. If he was here, he’d tear that sign down in the middle of the night.”
The New Jersey Devils honored Bottino, whose bar was unmistakably a Devils bar, the day after the ceremony, prior to facing off against the Arizona Coyotes.