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[BN] Food & Drink newsletter for Nov. 11: Louie Leone mixes last 'lemonade' at Oliver's

[BN] Food & Drink newsletter for Nov. 11: Louie Leone mixes last 'lemonade' at Oliver's

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Nov. 11, 2020

Retiring Oliver's bartender Louie Leone (copy) a legend retires

On Saturday, Louie Leone will serve his last martini from behind the horseshoe bar at Oliver’s.

Louie from Oliver's says goodbye

In 1983, Buffalo Public Schools teacher Louie Leone was enjoying his summertime gig tending bar at Andy’s, a Niagara Street clam shack, when his friend Henry Gorino stopped by.

Gorino, who’d opened a restaurant called Valentine’s down by City Hall, had an offer for Leone. How’d he like to bartend at Oliver’s, his new upscale place on Delaware Avenue?

“I said ‘Well, you know, teaching school, I want to do it during the summer,’” Leone recalled telling him. “So I’ll help you get it started in March, but I don't really want the job.”

Thirty-seven years later, on Saturday, Leone will serve his last martini from behind the horseshoe bar at Oliver’s. His temporary job lasted through two owners, two generations of customers, and one recovery from a cracked vertebra.

“From that first weekend, I never left,” said Leone, who retired from teaching in 2004. Gorino insisted on keeping his name on the job while he recovered from a 2007 car crash that could have left him confined to a wheelchair. Instead, it gave him another story to tell as he roamed his domain without sitting down during nightly shifts.

Leone's role eventually earned him a 10% stake in the business, Leone said, which got cashed out when David Schutte bought the restaurant in 2013.

Schutte had a favor to ask, Leone said: “Can you hang out a little bit, because people are going come looking for you, you've been here 30 years?”

Truth be told, Leone always liked going to work, seeing old friends, making new ones, and enlivening evenings in the plush dining room. Over the years, Leone has seen dining change, even at Oliver’s, which used to have a dress code.

“I was there for the whole transition,” Leone said. “From the French cuffs, the fancy suits and the fancy chairs and the fancy cars, smoking cigars. We used to have a have a humidor behind the bar.”

He even came up with a signature cocktail: Louie’s Lemonade, inspired by his grandfather, of anisette, and fresh-squeezed lemon, served over ice.

This weekend, he turns 71, and the arthritis is coming. “I have a hard time getting out of bed Sunday morning,” he said. “I feel the aches and pains.”

Many regulars, hearing the news, have made dinner dates. During a time of coronavirus, those without reservations should think twice about dropping by.

“For everybody that ain't gonna be able to make it, I understand,” Leone said. “I just want to say thanks for the memories, man. We'll have some good times on the other side of the bar.”


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