Oh, the faces she has seen.
Ol’ Blue Eyes Frank Sinatra. Muhammad Ali. Burn Notice co-star Sharon Gless. Woody Allen. President George W. Bush. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Al Pacino. Billy Joel.
Movie and TV stars. Rock and rollers and jazz sophisticates. Gangsters and the fuzz. Bankers and lawyers. Royalty and their subjects. The rich and those who aspired to be.
Rose McDaniel was the face of the culinary landmark Miami Beach restaurant Joe’s Stone Crab. Just ask Joe’s owner Jo Ann Bass whose grandparents Joe and Jennie Weiss opened its doors in 1913.
“She definitely had a presence,” Bass said. “She was like the face of Joe’s. She would stand at the cash register — a tunnel we call it, a walkway between the main room and the garden room. You’d have to pass that area to get to the table and that’s where she would stand and greet everybody. She was just amazing. She never had her hair out of place. Dressed beautifully. She was a grand dame.”
McDaniel died Wednesday at her daughter’s home in Orlando at 85. But her spirit remains with Joe’s staff and clientele of the tony eatery on the southern tip of Washington Avenue. Her desire was to have her ashes spread at Joe’s so she will rest in Joe’s garden, alongside other Joe’s dignitaries like retired waiter Phil Grier, WPLG anchor Ann Bishop and Bass’ late husband. “Me? I’m heading in another direction,” Bass quipped.
And perhaps the spirit of that tall woman, with the equally regal blond bouffant ’do and “dragon lady nails” and impeccable style, resonates with no one more than Bass.
“We were sister friends for 60 years. She was bawdy and elegant and one of the funniest women. I’m a teetotaler by choice. I can’t stand the taste. But Rosie was a very good drinker and loved socializing at bars and people would mix us up.”
Bass didn’t mind if people mistook McDaniel for Joe’s owner. “But I hate for them to think I’m the one at the bar every night,” she said, chuckling. “She was closer than a sister. She was my mother’s favorite daughter.”
“Mother” was the late Grace Weiss, Joe’s chairman of the board and the woman who married Bass’ father Jesse Weiss after her own mother died when she was 16 months old.
For decades the two women, Weiss, who died at 98 in 2013, and McDaniel, who started out at Joe’s decades ago as a cashier and earned the title of Joe’s “daytime manager,” hit the road every summer bound for California. There were stops along the way. Las Vegas, in particular, where the duo played the slots, and, for a time, schmoozed with Weiss’ old pal, popular song stylist Frankie Laine.
McDaniel, born in Cranston, Kentucky on June 18, 1929, met Bass through a mutual friend. The initial meeting was, well, off to a bumpy start according to author Deeny Kaplan Lorber’s 2013 book, Waiting at Joe’s (Seaside Publishing; $17.96). “When she met me, Jo Ann told me I looked like the ’50s movie actress Jan Sterling. I told Jo Ann I didn’t like Jan Sterling, ‘so I’m not sure I’m going to like you!’”
But like each other, they did.
From Lorber’s book: “I was divorced, and Jo Ann was afraid I didn’t have enough money. She’d come to visit me in Hollywood, where I lived, and she’d put food in my refrigerator. One day she said, ‘Why don’t you come in to help mother at night and be a cashier?’ I told her that it sounded as if it could be fun, and before I knew it, I became a fixture at Joe’s.”
The stars who visited Joe’s loved her back — even when they were bounced out on their rear.
“She threw out Lenny Kravitz,” recalls Joe’s general manager Brian Johnson. “He got a brand new tattoo and was wearing a tank top. We don’t allow tank tops. He borrowed a friend’s sweat shirt and put it on to sit down and eat. Fifteen minutes into the service he took off his sweat shirt, it was rubbing against his tattoo. She said, none so gingerly, ‘You have to leave!’”
Kravitz complied. And, after heading out on a tour, he marveled at how many people came up to him to note how McDaniel threw him out. He was charmed. “We introduced Lenny to Rose formally and they became very good friends,” Johnson said.
Another time, during a South Beach Wine & Food Festival weekend, McDaniel and Johnson chased celeb chef Guy Fieri all around the dining room “trying to put a bus boy’s jacket on him” when he wandered into the main room after chatting up Joe’s chef from the back door.
“She was the strongest, most independent person I’ve ever met in my life, which made me the bitch I am,” teased McDaniel’s daughter Lori Hamric-Miller. “I am identical to her when it comes to independence and strength. She carried a keychain that had ‘Bitch’ on it, which I got her. I say that lovingly. She was the classiest bitch I ever met!
“This was always a joke, but I’d say I came from the milkman. I was the entire opposite of her, not that I can’t have class but I’m a blue jeans girl. Mom was class. Hanky always in her jacket pocket. Always the jewelry. Always perfect,” Hamric-Miller said.
Local film producer, rakontur co-founder Alfred Spellman remembers many a night with McDaniel at the bar at the former Joe Allen on Purdy Avenue, one of her favorite post-work hangouts.
“I spent many nights sitting with her at the bar at Joe Allen and listening to her stories of old Miami. One of the best was when Frank Sinatra took her out on a date. I was always drinking Jack on the rocks and she told me that was Frank’s favorite drink,” Spellman, 36, said.
“We would drink and talk until closing. She was a great storyteller. A real raconteur.”
In addition to her daughter and son-in-law Randy Miller, McDaniel is survived by her grandson, Clay Donovan Hamric, and two great-granddaughters, Ansleigh and Maci Hamric.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.