Giovanni Terzulli has worked as a waiter in Little Italy since arriving from his native Bari more than 40 years ago. In the mid-sixties he briefly worked at Florio’s Grill and Cigar Bar, under its namesake owner — seven years ago he returned to work for current owner Ralph Amoruso, who, along with his son Larry, operates an anachronistic cigar bar in the front of the restaurant, despite the city’s efforts to crack down. We were hoping Terzulli would tell us about the upstairs humidor and custom-knife club that can be reached via an apartment-building hallway, but his lips were zipped about it (membership is about $350, in case you’re curious, and you have to either befriend one of the owners or be referred by another member to so much as set your eyes on it). He did, however, tell us a little bit about the movie and military memorabilia gracing his “fame wall.”
Do you get a lot of celebrities?
All the movie stars come over here, like Sofia Loren. A lot of movie stars — Brooke Shields, Johnny Depp. The last person I served was Eva Longoria — she would come every year with her friends before she married the basketball player — we had a lot of fun. Now this year she no come. That’s not nice!
How about athletes?
You know who comes is Mike Piazza. And a lot of football players. I got a picture of Tiki Barber. Come in and see my fame wall!
How is the place allowed to operate as a cigar bar?
The cigar bar was before the law went through — they’re going back and forth with the city, fighting for the license. I don’t like to get into that sort of stuff.
How about the upstairs club? How does one become a member?
That I don’t know — you gotta talk to my boss [Lawrence Amoruso declined to comment about the club]. You’re not allowed to go unless you’re a member.
What sort of cigars do you have? What’s the most expensive one?
We have cigars that are $20, $25, $28. We got cognac hand-rolled. We got a lot of hand-rolled from San Domingo, Honduras. He’s got 2,000 cigars from all over. I’m just a waiter on the floor — when it comes to cigars, I don’t want to be involved.
How old are you? Do you ever feel the effects of working amidst so much smoke?
I’m 66 — very soon I’ll be three sixes and I’ll be the devil! I worked years ago when everybody smoked — I already worked in a smoky area so I don’t worry about it.
You seem to get a lot of military people?
General [Peter] Pace [former Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of staff] was here six months ago. My boss is very friendly with the military bases. He does a lot of benefits for these people. He sends cigars to the troops. Memorial weekend, there was so many military people here, forget about it — marines, the navy, the restaurant jumped day and night. My boss buys drinks for these people and everything. A lot of customers buy dinner for these people. We had a group of 40 people with no legs or arms — my boss gave them free dinner, cigars, and everything.
There’s a photo of Bush on your wall. Do people argue about politics?
My boss likes Republicans, he doesn’t like the Democrats. But you gotta be smart — you don’t talk politics in a restaurant.