Karl Raffurty says he grew up watching “Cheers” and that he always wanted to be Sam Malone. Now, minus the major-league experience, his dream is about to become a reality.
Raffurty, who spent 17 years as a bartender at the Resort at the Longboat Key Club, is opening his own bar and grill, Old School, Thursday, Sept. 5. The bar, located at 1991 Main St., will also serve as a music venue and be open until 2 a.m. daily.
Staff at the Key Club said both guests and employees at the resort will sorely miss him, but, after nearly two decades in one place, Raffurty decided he was ready to tackle a bigger challenge.
“I plateaued a long time ago at the Key Club, and I wanted more,” Raffurty said.
Although starting a business can be a risky venture, Raffurty won’t be going it alone. He’s working with Chuck Johnson, a business owner from Nashville, whom he met at the Key Club five years ago.
Johnson owns several restaurants and two bars in Nashville. When he started talking with Raffurty about opening a bar in Sarasota, he didn’t hesitate to help the bartender along the road to his goal.
“With my background of knowing people and reading people, it was an easy decision to put my investment and time into helping him,” Johnson said.
Their plans expanded beyond a standard bar into a place that would regularly feature live music — Southern rock, classic rock and country will be featured genres.
Johnson, whose Nashville bars also feature live music, said he believes there’s demand in Sarasota for a livelier bar aimed at a younger demographic.
“I was totally surprised when I came here for the first time,” Johnson said. “I thought this was where the old people came, but there’s a young, hip group that comes here.”
The two are on the same page as far as the bar’s atmosphere; “laidback” is clearly a key phrase. The bar will eventually have a capacity of around 350 people, Johnson said, and the two have already developed a vision of the décor.
“We wanted to keep it with nice, cool colors, but also put in some stuff we hadn’t seen in a while — old signs, old records, old kind of stuff,” Johnson said. “Anything from the ’70s or ’80s.”
Raffurty and Johnson encourage people to bring in anything they want to donate that could fit the bar’s theme.
Johnson said the bar will host an invite-only VIP party to introduce themselves to people before officially opening at 9 p.m. Sept. 5.
Raffurty’s former co-workers at the Key Club are convinced his new venture will be a success. Carole McCann, who bartended alongside Raffurty for his entire tenure at the resort, said his genuine and funny personality made him a hit with visitors.
“Thousands of people love him — from all over the world, literally,” McCann said.
Johnson said that, as with any new venture, there are some nerves involved for everyone, but that any anxiety will go away as soon as the first customers enter. If Raffurty is nervous, though, he’s not letting it show.
“It’s my goal,” Raffurty said. “This was what I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s happening right now, so I’m excited.”
“They come back, year after year, and the highlight of their experience was to see Karl.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected].