But not all of them could get a coveted table in the Colony Dining Room.
For many of us, it’s probably hard to distinguish our memories of Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber and The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort separately. They are one and both in the same.
If anyone was going to give Kevin Bacon a run for his “six degrees of separation,” it was Murf Klauber. Whether you stayed, ate, played tennis, celebrated a special event or worked at The Colony, practically everyone has some connection to Murf.
Here’s a great example: My best friend, Knickole Barger’s daughter, Katherine Curtis’s grandfather, Paul Curtis, was Murf’s helicopter pilot in the 1980s. Surely there are many similar lineages. That’s also because everyone was Murf’s best friend.
Trust me, I know. That’s what everyone told me when they made reservations in the Colony Dining Room or when they were trying to secure the prestigious Table 50, the corner window table overlooking Longboat Key’s beautiful white beach. I’m sure many of you have special memories of that table.
I took my role as restaurant hostess in the late 1990s and early 2000s seriously. I felt as though I was Murf’s gatekeeper. I was protective of the man with his characteristic unruly eyebrows who would raise both his brightly colored, clothed arms in the air every night when he came in the restaurant for his 5 o’clock cocktail and exclaim with his enthusiastic booming voice, “There she is!” before engulfing me with a big embrace. Plus, we had a bond. We shared the same birthday, Feb. 9.
So no dollar amount or hundred-dollar bill slipped across the hostess stand would convince me that you were actually Murf’s best friend and deserved a prized window table. In fact, I knew exactly who Murf’s best friends were, because we had a list of those VIPs taped to the inside back cover of our reservation book. Whose names were on that list will go with me to the grave. Like I said, I don’t take bribes. OK, maybe I did accept a few Jacksons, but those were rare instances when the nightly VIP count was low. Rare.
“Doc,” as we employees called him, didn’t want to just offer fine dining for his guests. He wanted them to have an experience. Providing this unique experience every evening was orchestrated and choreographed down to every detail. It was a production. The actors were the wait staff divided into teams, each consisting of a busser, runner, front waiter and a captain. These teams worked exclusively with each other. If members of one team couldn’t work, another team was called in.
The lead actors (captains) back in those glory days were Mirco, MooMoo, Alvin and Tito. Dressed in tuxedos, they knew how to put on a show. Mirco was the Italian wine connoisseur. Alvin was the comedian. MooMoo was the teddy bear. And Tito dazzled as the ringmaster, always requested specifically by Murf to wait on him and his guests.
“Doc was very particular about how we told the guests about the specials,” recalled Tito Vitorino, former captain from 1997 to 2000 and restaurant manager from 2000 to 2003 and again from 2005 until its closing in 2010. “We had to name every ingredient in every dish with no notes like a speech.” Before dinner service began, the captains would walk through their tables rehearsing their lines.
Just in time for the show to begin, Murf would take his seat at Table 55. Nestled in the back corner of the Dining Room — nicknamed “The Gallery” where Bill Kelley paintings and awards hung, Murf could take in the expanse of the entire restaurant’s operations.
From there he could watch guests being entertained with tableside preparation of Caesar salad, cherries jubilee, crepes suzette, mixed berries Colony-style or five different coffees flambé. Or for the seasoned guest who knew to order off-the-menu tableside items only by reservation and request: steak and tuna tartar, Steak Diane or steak au poivre. Each tableside act always ended with a round of applause, to which Murf would toast a job well done with a glass of Bushmills Irish Whiskey.
Vitorino remembered that Thanksgiving was a tradition for the Klauber family. It was the only holiday they all would be together and celebrate in the private dining room at the Colony. God works in mysterious ways. Murf died Thanksgiving evening.
Murf and I shared more memories together as my landlord for the Longboat Key waterfront “shack” my sister and I rented from him. He told us $900 a month was a steal! But that’s a whole other story, including bees and pterodactyls (ask my sister, Kate Honea, about that one). I’ll never forget going to pay our rent at his penthouse office where he would show me plans of his new Sarasota Bayfront idea encased in glass or another plan he was concocting. His enthusiasm was contagious.
As I look back, my fondest memories are being cast in each night of Murf’s magnificent production and sharing the special occasions and memories made in the dining room at the Colony Restaurants. I loved it so much that many of my own and family’s momentous occasions were held there, including my wedding in 2006. Now that was a party!
And I saved a special dance for Murf that night. Murf, I sure hope I’m on your VIP list to get in the Pearly Gates, and this time, you’re saving a dance for me.