Inside Vin DePeppo’s man cave, a journey back in time

LAFAYETTE. Known for is Saturday car cruises, Vin DePeppo has collected a variety of items over the years, from Coke bottles to a Marylin Monroe statue.

| 27 Jun 2022 | 01:31
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There’s no one quite like Vin DePeppo. He stands a bit over six feet tall and wears his signature side part coif as he proudly shows visitors his man cave or walks around the weekly Saturday Car Cruise at Friendly’s, which he helps direct. You’d never guess he’s 81. To call his man cave “one of a kind” doesn’t come close to doing it justice, so we’ll start, as he begins, when folks descend the steps into this vintage lair.

Guests are immediately drawn to the 1879 Brunswick Narragansett pool table in the center of the room. DePeppo sits in a classic raised chair at the front of the room and appreciates how it’s admired. He then escorts the visitor to a photo and asks, “Who’s the man in this photo playing pool?” It’s Samuel Clemens, whose pseudonym was Mark Twain, playing pool on what appears to be the exact same pool table.

“That pool table was originally in a mansion in South Orange,” DePeppo said. “I purchased it from a dealer in Newark, N.J., in 1968. I discovered the photo of Mark Twain playing on a Narragansett table in NY while reading a billiard encyclopedia, so I printed the photo and framed it.”

DePeppo has done extensive research that suggests a very high chance it is, indeed, the same table.

Each collectable in the man cave has its own unique story.

“It just goes on and on,” he said. “I’ve always loved classic cars and then I just found myself attracted to and collecting antiques.”

Music from the ‘50s and ‘60s resonates from the 1972 Rock-Ola jukebox. It was the first stereo speaker jukebox and holds 80 45 RPM records. “From time to time, I replace records,” he said, “I occasionally play others on a portable recorder.”

DePeppo purchased his Hires root beer barrel from a pizzeria in Sussex County.

“It is probably from the 1950s,” he said. “I was able to purchase the two spigots for about $50 and the Hires sign for $65 from a seller on eBay.”

In speaking to others about it, he got some deal, as it’s worth thousands.

In one corner of the cave sits a booth from the Chatterbox, the once popular drive-in that was located at Ross’ Corner in Augusta. DePeppo and his classic car buddies used to hold cruises there. The room contains too many items to list but of note, there are two real working slot machines and a player piano.

DePeppo has an ice box from the 1870s and a barber chair from the early ‘30s. He has an old-fashioned Coca Cola counter and behind it, the very cash register that his grandmother worked at, from 1903. He also has an extensive mini car collection, rare Coke bottles and, though he doesn’t drink, a collection of Jim Beam decanters. When the owner of the Chatterbox sold the business, he also gave DePeppo a Marilyn Monroe statue.

He laughs as he tells people, “I met my wife in bed.”

He literally did.

DePeppo was lying in a hospital bed when a nurse, named Joanne, came in. “Vin had broken his nose a number of times from various sports and was in for plastic surgery,” Joanne DePeppo said. “I was a third-year nursing student at St. Michael’s in Newark and we met in the hospital where I was interning.”

Their courtship began, and DePeppo would drive from Staten Island to Nutley to see her. After they married, they decided to search for a home in Sussex County.

“As soon as I saw our house in Lafayette, I knew that three-car garage was going to be my man cave and I saw the perfect spot to build a new garage behind it,” DePeppo said.

He had a long career working for GDS Foods in Sussex, a business that specialized in supplying pizzerias and Italian restaurants in five states.

DePeppo co-founded a Skylark Club 45 years ago. It’s still going strong and has gone worldwide. The DePeppo’s have met countless people from all walks of life through their travels with car cruises and hunting down antiques to add to the man cave.

“I don’t know if we have room for much more,” Joanne said. “But you never know what he’ll find.”

DePeppo’s friend and co-member of the Rodfather Gang Car Club, Jay Villaverde, loves the man cave in his buddy’s home.

“It’s very cool. It’s like a trip back in time,” he said. “From his entire booth from the old Chatterbox to the soda fountain counter, you feel a sense of nostalgia.”

Every Saturday afternoon, from April through September, the Rodfather Gang Car Club holds a cruise (where folks come and display their classic cars) in front of Friendly’s in Newton. DJ “Captain Kirk” spins turns from the ‘50s and ‘60s and DePeppo serves as MC. DePeppo is extremely vested in the group, helping direct the cruises and spending the “off season” obtaining gift cards from local businesses to give away for correctly answered trivia questions at each event.

“The local businesses are a huge support,” he said. “We’re very thankful.”

DePeppo brings his 1953 Buick Skylark each Saturday, which he purchased in 1974 from the original owner, Admiral Ellery W. Stone, who lived in New Jersey.

“He had the car in Italy when he headed the Mediterranean fleet,” DePeppo said.

DePeppo also owns a 1936 Auburn Speedster, which is a recreation by Speedster Motor Cars and the famous Carroll Shelby. He had it built in 1999 and keeps this one garaged except for special occasions.

The DePeppos are parents to four children: Judanna, Susan, Mark and John. They also have eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

DePeppo loves to jokingly flirt with the ladies always saying, “I’m a married man, you know.” And he is, to the true wind beneath his wings and love of his life: Joanne.

“As soon as I saw our house in Lafayette, I knew that three-car garage was going to be my man cave and I saw the perfect spot to build a new garage behind it,” Vin DePeppo said.