Strong and stout with a gravelly voice, Christakos was straight out of central casting as a Greek Mafioso. In his younger days, he worked as a “collector” in Newport when the city was still run by a combination of local, Cleveland and New York mobsters; and he later ran a craps table in the extensive, opulent and completely illegal gambling facilities at the Beverly Hills Country Club.
Christakos also used his strength as a wrestler. As the pride of the Central Parkway YMCA, he was crowned Cincinnati’s amateur light-heavyweight champ in 1934 and went on to the pros. Wrestling wasn’t much different back then than it is today. Amateurs were part of a disciplined and regulated sport, but “professionals” wore costumes, wrestled under names like “The Terror” and “The Strangler” and made trash-talk, drama and scripts as important as moves or holds. Christakos was good enough to pair up with Jack Londos, the Hulk Hogan of his day. Starting his career as “The Wrestling Plasterer,” Londos changed his wrestling moniker to the catchier “Golden Greek” and became the World Heavyweight Champ. Londos possessed strength of both body and personality. Admired for his handsome, chiseled features, he riled up crowds by challenging wrestlers to matches based on who he thought was ugly.
Christokos only stayed on the road with Londos for a couple of years. He probably had the moves and seems to have even had the looks, but probably lacked the flare for drama to be a good pro wrestler. Family and friends describe him as a decisive “man of few words.” Ken, a former friend of Christakos and bartender at Arnold’s in the ‘60s, says the best of example of this is how he proposed to his wife, Athena. Only having recently met her at a mutual friend’s wedding, Jim called Athena’s mother on the phone. Paraphrasing, Ken recalls that Jim’s end of the conversation was something like, “yeah, I’m a wrestler and I’m not real stable but if you’re daughter’s interested, have her call me.” Apparently she was and she did. Jim and Athena were married a few weeks later.
Having previously run a bar in northern Ohio, Jim and his brother George bought Arnold’s together. In 1961 the Enquirer reported on the brothers’ celebration of Arnold’s 100th anniversary, giving a little history of the bar and of its current owners. The article lightly noted: “Both Jim and George are former wrestlers….George says he can whip Jim.” As it turns out, George was wrong. Chris Christakos, Jim’s son, remembers a heated argument between the brothers one evening. Jim thought George was doing too much late-night carousing and wasn’t pulling his weight and, during the latter part of the discussion, Chris watched George go flying over a living room chair. Chris recalls simply, “I never saw him again after that. He moved to Florida;” and that’s how Jim became the sole proprietor.
Like Ronda and Bret today, Christakos spent most of his time at Arnold’s and the bar was the center of the family’s life. Jim arrived early every morning and worked till close, sometime around 7:30 or 8PM. Athena waited tables, and the kids leant a hand. Chris remembers that the bar used to have a second dumbwaiter. “One day the dumbwaiter broke,” he says, “so at about 12 years old I became the dumb waiter.”
Back then, Arnold’s business model centered mostly around morning drinks for third-shifters and guys on their way to work in the “Mad Men” days, lunch and happy hour. Christakos ran the bar himself and presided over an eclectic collection of professionals, blue-collar shift workers and destitute alcoholics. Now a cliché scene in movies, Ken the former bartender recounts actually having a regular who needed to tie his handkerchief around the wrist of the hand that held the shot glass and slowly pull the first shot of the day up with the other hand so that the shakes wouldn’t spill the liquor in the distance between the bar and his mouth. “He was fine after the first one,” Ken recalls. Like today, proximity to the courthouse and government offices caused a lot of attorneys, judges, and some elected officials to be Arnold’s regulars, but although the lunch was good and the crowd was diverse, the more professional clientele still didn’t like to be seen going in or out of the front door and used the entrance off the alley.
Christakos is remembered as an honest, likable and generally nice guy, but he seems to have earned some of those characteristics through his earlier life. Who would be stupid enough to try to stiff a former professional wrestler with mob ties on a bar tab? And if you discovered that “authentic Greek Spaghetti” doesn’t actually exist anywhere outside of Arnold’s, would you want to be the one to challenge Christakos on this menu item? Of course not, and that’s why it’s still on the menu.