It may seem unlikely, but the Rat Pack – yes, that Rat Pack – played a series of concerts at a hotel nightclub in Wheeling in 1962.

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Today, the hotel that sits on the site where the Villa Venice once was looks like your typical chain hotel. But back in the day, it had character to spare. Photo Credit: Art Shay

Today it looks like a typical chain hotel straight out of central casting: the kind you might stay in for a business meeting and not remember when you go back a few years later.

But now imagine that you could walk into a nightclub on the premises and hear Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra performing – live.

Who could get these guys to play here?

For a short while in the early 1960s, the Villa Venice restaurant at the Hilton in Wheeling was owned by none other than Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana.

From November 26 through December 2, 1962, Giancana hosted Sinatra, Martin, and Davis for a series of concerts that some say were a nod to Giancana from Sinatra for his help in getting John F. Kennedy elected.

When the Rat Pack wasn’t in town, the Villa Venice still offered plenty of Italian glamour, Chicago-style. Check out the menu and its Chicken Vesuvio, or consider the gondola rides the restaurant offered – on the Des Plaines River.

Giancana himself chose to be a witness for the FBI in the 1970s, but police protection was absent when a gunman broke into his Oak Park apartment and shot him in the head – seven times.

And speaking of characters, the people coming and going from Villa Venice didn’t necessarily like having their pictures taken, if you know what we mean. Photo Credit: Art Shay

On the menu: Chicken Vesuvio (a dish not often found outside of Chicago, and definitely not in Italy), whole live Maine lobster, and veal scallopine – certain crowd- pleasers for the connected set, circa 1962.

Also on the menu was entertainment straight out of Vegas. It was a Wheeling version of Brigadoon – it bore no resemblance to reality, and it vanished as quickly as it appeared. Photo Credit: Art Shay