Meet a Fabulous Man: John Russo, The Singing Bartender

Master of his domain, this is one fabulous man who makes everyone he encounters feel wonderful.
Master of his domain, this is one fabulous man who makes everyone he encounters feel wonderful.

This is the story of a very cool cat.

I have been wanting to write about him since the day I met him, but something always stopped me from pursuing an interview with John Russo, The Singing Bartender.

Somehow in learning the details of his life, I’d feared it might diminish the delicious mystery of who he is; the face value experience of sitting at the Il Panificio (pan-uh-FEE-chee-oh) bar in Sarasota, Florida and being transported to the Rat Pack days at a supper club.

But I’ll back up: Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been sharing Seven Resolutions That Changed My Life.  We’re now on #5, which was my resolve to “Affect the lives of those I encounter for GOOD.”  My new friend John immediately sprang to mind as someone who uses his amazing gifts of song (and charm) to make everyone’s day better.

When we moved to Sarasota back in July, we knew no one in this town.  We loved the sun, the beach, the tiki bars and the entirely new vibe of our new life – but it felt a little lonely at times.  The local newspaper became my “go to” source for where to go and what to do – and I saw an article about Panificio that praised its food AND its singing bartender.

With a little reluctance (I have insisted that Duane accompany me to reportedly good restaurants, movies and events in the past that were a waste of time), he agreed to give it a try.  Fortunately, the promise of pizza was involved, which can incentivize my husband to do most anything.

Lucky us – we found two seats at the bar. John Russo greeted us as if we were long lost friends who showed up at his house to break bread.  We only told him once our drinks of choice and to this day, when we have barely parked our car he’s already pouring Duane’s chardonnay and my NA beer.

The warmth and joy he exudes in interacting with his patrons is only surpassed when the music plays and he belts out Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin or Bobby Darin.

He’s serving up piping hot plates of Eggplant Rollotini, mixing martinis and cracking jokes like a maestro; never missing a beat (or a note).  John Russo makes it all look effortless, and has a rare gift:  Men AND women love him.

Like I said; he’s a cool cat – a guy’s guy who easily banters and who would be the first person you’d want to invite over to watch the game.

Ahhhhh…(insert deep sigh)…but he is also a ladies man, kissing hands, making eye contact, noticing a new hair style and – did I fail to mention? – movie-star handsome.  The ladies gaze adoringly at him as he works his magic. (Duane likes him so much I can even admit to John’s swoon-worthiness without it being a problem.  Now THAT’s saying something.)

What is the John Russo effect?  A Sinatra song says it best:

You make me feel so young
You make me feel like spring has sprung
Every time I see you grin
I’m such a happy individual
The moment that you speak
I want to run and play hide-and-seek
I want to go and bounce the moon
Just like a big toy balloon
You and I, we are just like a couple of tots
Running along the meadow
Snatching up all those forget to be nots
You make me feel so young
You make me feel there are songs to be sung
Bells to be rung and a wonderful spring to be sprung
And even when I’m old and gray
I’m gonna feel the way I do today
‘Cause you make me feel so young
You make me feel so young…
OK, you need to hear a little bit of the Russo voice yourself:
Star quality, charisma, swagger and charm – yes, it’s quite the total package.  But it’s not why I write about him today.
Bob Marley said it best:
The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.
John Russo never met a stranger and never left a person’s company without them feeling better about themselves and life in general.
He is generous with his gifts, and gives them away with joy. 

It is such a thrill to watch someone embody what they were put on this earth to do.  And that’s how they fulfill Resolution #5, affecting the lives they encounter for GOOD.

 

I know, I know.  There is SO much more to this man and so many questions that hang in the air, unasked.  How did this little restaurant end up being home to such a huge talent?  What brought this Brooklyn, New Yorker to Sarasota, Florida?  Does he have an agent?  (And, I know you are also thinking:  Does he have a wife?)

 

For now, much will remain a mystery.  Details aren’t as important as the ripple effect of a life that truly makes a difference.  And here’s the lesson, FLUFFIs – you don’t have to be Mother Theresa or Oprah Winfrey (and if that’s your dream then go, girl, go!) – but just be YOU.

 

Embrace what makes you you and give your gifts to the world with abandon.  It may be a smile that knocks peoples’ socks off…or the ability to make chili and cornbread on a cold winter’s night.  With each word I type, my prayer is that these FLUFFI pages will lighten a heart and that a lonely person would instead feel connected.  We all have something!

 

When ANYONE comes to town to visit us, visiting John at Panificio is always on our to-do list.  My sister Shirlee and I approached John as if he were Elvis or the Beatles and asked for a photo.  See the silly, goofy grins on our faces?  That's the Russo effect.
When ANYONE comes to town to visit us, visiting John at Panificio is always on our to-do list. My sister Shirlee and I approached John as if he were Elvis or the Beatles and asked for a photo. See the silly, goofy grins on our faces? That’s the Russo effect.

Be inspired to be the you-est you today, and send out to the world that which only you can give, FLUFFIs.  (This FLUFFI will be cheering you on all the way! ) 

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10 thoughts on “Meet a Fabulous Man: John Russo, The Singing Bartender

  1. Well written Bren. I hope I can have an obit done as well as your tribute to your friend John. You have an extraordinary gift with the pen which gives you a step up on the success ladder in anything you’ve chosen to do in your life. Love ya.😍😘

  2. I have known John for over 7 years… We fell in love over the score from CanCan…and the rest is history… I am blessed to have him in my life…

  3. Wow! You guys are soooooooooooo fortunate to have a place like that to frequent! He sounds amazing and clearly is one amazing individual. Hope to go there one day with you and D.

  4. I’ll take one! John Russo, that is! So glad you found a “forever” friend as soon as you moved to Sarasota. And now I’m headed to my kitchen to bake something, anything, cause that’s what I do best -cook!!! and today you have inspired me to do just that!

    Love to you & Duane, Aunt Joan

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