Johnny’s Bar is like that club in Goodfellas: everyone knows everyone and you might spot a mobster or a movie star. While downtowners flock to its swanky cousin, the old-school go to the original Fulton Road location for stiff drinks (“never a complaint,” says owner Bo Santosuosso), classic eats (think veal Parmesan) and lively conversation (often with Santosuosso himself). The lifelong cocktail slinger shares thoughts on life behind Johnny’s Bar on Fulton.
Johnny’s was originally a grocery store, then a restaurant, called Louise’s Gardens. It opened in 1924. My grandmother Louise had one of the first liquor licenses after Prohibition. She’d feed you even if you didn’t have money. She kept it until the mid-‘30s, then my uncle Johnny bought it back and named it Johnny’s in 1952. It fell out of the family again until my father bought it back in 1974.
My mom and dad were in the kitchen on Fridays and Saturdays doing spaghetti dinners. Simple stuff. My brother, Joe, was the comptroller at a spring factory across the street. After work, he’d come here and mess around in the kitchen. He was pretty good. We evolved from a shot-and-beer-type neighborhood lunch spot to what we’re doing today: fine dining, white tablecloth. A few years ago, we tried taking frog legs off the menu. People were pissed. We’re one of the few places that still do them. I never had the desire to venture out of the family business.
I’ve been doing it since 19. My brother Johnny died of cancer six years ago. That’s his urn above the bar. I’m 65 years old, and I can’t see myself slowing down. It’s too much fun. A lady came in one night and goes, “You ought to be really proud of what you’re doing here.” I said, “You know what, we really are.” — as told to Dillon Stewart
When You Go: Johnny’s Bar on Fulton / 3164 Fulton Road, Cleveland, 216-281-0055, johnnysonfulton.com
Read More: Click here to read the full list of 18 Classic Cleveland Restaurants.