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Walnut Street Supper Club: Back to old school

Ralph Berarducci at Portofino restaurant on Walnut Street has gone back to the '40s.

When Ralph Berarducci opened Portofino near 13th and Walnut Streets nearly 40 years ago, it was a far different time.

That part of town - a block off Broad, two blocks from the Forrest - was Philly's theater district, and his mildly upscale Italian restaurant with a stage for singers fit in beautifully. Then disco intervened, and Berarducci's entertainment ideas waned.

Which is where we would have left Ralph and his restaurant - often overlooked, chugging along - if not for a partial roof collapse last summer.

While getting estimates for the repair, he ran into James McManaman, the charismatic founder of the Midtown Village Association. McManaman, a Scottsdale, Ariz., native who opened resorts all around the world, saw potential in Portofino and its location as a '40s-style supper club: a white-tablecloth but unstuffy restaurant with a stage for performers, most of whom are waiters.

Four months later, it's Walnut Street Supper Club (1227 Walnut St., 215-923-8208), opening Dec. 28. Chef Anthony Mignona is back, dishing a mostly Italian menu whose prices are reasonable by Center City standards (fettuccine Alfredo, $17; chicken Parm, $18; filet (the priciest), $29). Menu is here.

"No foams - just great food," says McManaman, unapologetically.

They got many applicants for singing waiters, who will perform nightly from 5 o'clock. Music director Jeremiah Downes will play the piano, and waiters will either take the stage for ballads or perform in the dining room to sing by wireless mic. (Eighty percent of the songbook will be standards.) The dining room is set up with video monitors for patrons who don't have a seat by the stage.

McMenaman says he envisions his clientele - who can be dressed up or dressed down - as couples celebrating anniversaries or other special occasions.