We all have those kinds of people in our everyday lives that know how to make even the worst day a good day. Whether it’s your best friend, your mother, or maybe even your favorite bartender?
For the loyal customers of Oliver’s restaurant, Louie Leone has become an icon and close friend to so many. He has spent 37 and a half years (which is longer than most restaurants have been around) working weekends behind the bar at the fine dining restaurant. He also worked full time as a Buffalo Public School teacher. His bartending stint at Oliver’s started in the summer of 1983, and from that first weekend, he just never left.
The customers at the restaurant added to the setting that Leone had loved so much. ‘They were all great people- they really became some of my closest friends.” With the bartender traditionally being the first person you see when stepping into a restaurant, it is important to always be on the ball almost 100% of the time, according to Leone, who treated every customer like a long lost friend.
Leone is an “old-school” kind of bartender. “I’m not into the ‘new stuff.’ Making some new kind of drink like a ‘honey bird’ or whatever it’s called can really take away from the customer interaction because it takes so long to make!” That’s why he likes to stick with the classic kind of drinks – his favorite being a muddled old fashioned.
For years, Leone lived for the fur coats and tuxedo kind of night life at Oliver’s. His favorite part of a Friday night shift was watching the room fill with stares and whispers, as men and women secretly competed between themselves for the best dressed couple.
With the times changing, that seemingly timeless essence has been lost, which is part of the reason he has decided to retire from this kind of work.
While Leone took his job seriously, he feels that having a witty sense of humor is just as important. When he was behind the pine, slinging cocktails, customers were greeted with plenty of jokes. And on the rare occasion when a patron wouldn’t capture Leone’s immediate attention, they’d slyly remark, “Aye, Leone, are you mad at me? You didn’t insult me today!”
Leone wasn’t just a teacher in the classroom at school, he was also a teacher behind the bar. With every smile and warm gesture, Leone was teaching everyone he met about kindness, compassion, and patience. He was the kind of man who asked about your wife and kids, and would remember each of their names the next weekend. He truly understood what it meant to be a service industry worker and just what an important role these people play in our everyday lives. Anthony Bourdain once said, “Restaurant work is thankless and fun and messy, and the world would be a kinder place if more people tried it.”
Leone urges new bartenders to remember these words of wisdom, “These people are comin’ out looking for you! Make them happy and so glad that they came to your restaurant. And, most importantly: just be you.”
Leone, who is now 71, is a lifelong Buffalonian. He happily served guests at Oliver’s every weekend for 37 and a half years – always with a genuine smile. To me, the man is a great representation of what makes our city so great.
While goodbye is never easy, Leone says to all of his valued customers and friends, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the memories, for accepting my humor, and for most of all, letting me be me.”