Customers at Tiny’s of Longboat Key often thought owner/operator Susan “Susie” Vaught was “Tiny,” after whom the bar was named. Although the bar wasn’t named after Vaught, she acknowledged that standing just 4 feet, 10-and-a-half inches tall, she fit the description.
In 2008, Longboat Key Cocktail Lounge, aka Tiny’s, was about to close. Vaught decided that she would be the one to keep it open, because who better than the person people thought was Tiny?
Vaught, a Cortez resident, died Monday, Jan. 25. She was 61.
She had worked in high-end, four-star restaurants for much of her life. But Tiny’s, which she saw as the neighborhood pub, was her true love. She bought the bar in 2008, determined that “the friendliest bar in paradise” would continue to operate.
Born June 19, 1948, in Baltimore, Vaught lived in Elkton, Md., and Canton, Ohio, and worked in hospitality throughout her adult life. After discovering the area on a vacation, she and her husband, Dave, moved to Anna Maria Island in 1990, shortly before they married. They later lived on their sailboat at the Buccaneer Inn. Vaught worked as manager at the Hunt Club and the Buccaneer Inn before she began working at Tiny’s.
“This was her love,” said Tiny’s bartender Deb Messina, who became friends with Vaught in 1992. “It was her baby.”
At Tiny’s, her favorite day was Halloween. Her costumes varied every year. She dressed as a police woman, Raggedy Ann, a lion and a grape. She chose a theme for her staff every year.
“Usually, she kept it a secret until the day of,” said longtime friend Colleen Collandra.
When Vaught learned that that Tiny’s was going to close in September 2008, she sat in a chair by the wall of pictures of Tiny’s customers and cried. Then, she became determined to keep Tiny’s open and bought the bar herself, even though she had to give up its liquor license. On Dec. 5, 2008, Vaught’s dream came true when she took ownership of the bar.
Terry Griffin, a Tiny’s regular, who befriended Vaught more than 20 years ago when she managed the former Hunt Club, said that although giving up the liquor license at Tiny’s cost her some business, loyal customers kept coming back.
“Even if they didn’t drink beer and wine, they would come drink beer and wine just to be with her,” he said.
As Tiny’s regulars gathered at the bar on Tuesday, Messina stood in the spot where she had stood alongside Vaught for years, filling a glass with beer.
“Yes,” she said to those who were wondering. “We’re open for business.”
Vaught is survived by her husband of nearly 20 years, Dave, of Cortez; son, Todd Cook, of New Philadelphia, Ohio; mother, Joyce Newport, of Tucson, Ariz.; brothers, Bob McGough and Tom McGough, of Maryland; sister, Debbie Rinehart, of Maryland; and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be announced at a later date. Visit www.YourObserver.com for details.
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