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Last Cheers!

John Righetti
John Righetti 1913­1997

Photo by Paul Schraub

A final love letter to legendary barkeep John Righetti, an all-round stylish guy

By Christina Waters

WHEN VINTAGE BARKEEP John Righetti died on a Sunday evening two weeks ago at the age of 84, he took with him a lifetime of great memories and a piece of our hearts. Handsome and dapper to the very end, John, whose rich experience interwove the fabric of Santa Cruz during most of the 20th century, truly was a local legend.

Born in Santa Cruz, Righetti was an ace athlete who played competitively around the state with the city's premier ball clubs. One of my father's personal tall tales involves being a starry-eyed kid who once got to play basketball with the older, savvier Righetti.

Today's crop of thirtysomething happy hour celebrants will recall John as the silver fox behind the impeccable martinis at the Sea Cloud, whose bar he graced from its opening day more than a decade ago. Those of us over 40 will remember John spinning yarns as fast as we could listen at the old Red Room during its Golden Age, where he tended bar for his cronies before they all gave up booze and cigarettes.

It was fascinating watching a bar full of guys all in their 60s talking about the early days of longboard surfing, when they were wild and the party mood ran hot in their blood. Looking at John, you were convinced that party mood would never die. Righetti was one of the owners of the Santa Cruz Hotel in its heyday as a family-style Italian restaurant and a meeting place for the high and the mighty as well as just folks.

It was then that he came to know everybody in town--and everyone came to know John as either friend or foe. Nobody remained neutral on the subject of John Righetti. Certainly not women.

John was a charmer, and he never met a woman he didn't make feel twice as beautiful and three times as alive the minute she walked into a room where he held court.

He loved women, and they loved him right back--and I can only imagine just how foxy he must have been when he strutted his stuff as a drummer on the Boardwalk four decades ago, playing with swing and dance combos for summer visitors.

By the time he'd settled behind the bar at the Sea Cloud in the late 1980s, he began to unwind wonderful tales of his adventures as a night owl. And these tales always involved sincere appreciation for the opposite sex. Oh, John loved to flatter women--and while his accounts of his escapades (many of which involved the high and the low of Santa Cruz society) were always colorful, they were never off-color.

I don't know what I'll miss more about this terrific guy--hearing him call out, "Hey there, beautiful!" every time I walk into the Sea Cloud or seeing him tool around town in that ungodly bright aqua pickup truck. Probably a bit of both, and something more that has to do with a life lived with style and gusto.

John loved his family and never tired of talking about his kids, especially as he grew reflective in later years. John is survived by daughter Denise, son Rick, daughter-in-law Wendy Gittings and the town of Santa Cruz he loved so well.

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From the July 2-9, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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