Rockin’ Out at Belushi’s

SOUTH­WEST FLORIDA'S CELEBRITY-SPIR­ITED COM­EDY AND MU­SIC CLUB IS THE BUZZ

RSWLiving - - Features - BY BAR­BARA LIN­STROM

A club with celebrity power, Belushi’s is the new­est live com­edy and mu­sic venue to open its doors in Fort My­ers. The brain­child of en­ter­tainer Jim Belushi, it pays homage to his brother John Belushi and the fam­ily name.

FOR­GET LONDON. FOR­GET PARIS. FOR A GREAT NIGHT ON THE TOWN,

THE REAL DEAL IS RIGHT HERE IN SOUTH FORT MY­ERS. While a chain of late- night clubs in those famed Euro­pean cap­i­tals is called Belushi’s, those clubs aren’t as­so­ci­ated with the very cool name that we all know and love. But, the new club atop the Tilted Kilt on Tami­ami Trail sure is.

“It’s a great name,” says Jim Belushi, the younger brother of John Belushi, the co­me­dian and mu­si­cian best known for his Satur­day Night Live per­for­mances and role as one of the Blues Brothers. “My brother made it an in­ter­na­tional name, and I’ve been rid­ing his coat­tails ever since.” Jim and his cousin, Chris Karakosta, opened Belushi’s, a live com­edy and mu­sic club, in April 2014 to elicit “magic” amid com­edy, blues, a very cool vibe and some sig­na­ture food and drinks with name­drop­ping items like Guy Fieri’s stuffed burg­ers and Dan Akroyd’s Crys­tal Head Vodka. But for Jim, it’s all about the magic. “I first felt that magic when I saw my brother John open­ing night of Satur­day Night

Live in ’ 76, that magic of live en­ter­tain­ment and how it feels to be part of the au­di­ence. It’s that feel­ing of be­ing right in the mo­ment mak­ing it hap­pen,” ac­cord­ing to Jim, who has made unan­nounced ap­pear­ances once a month since the club opened.

“When Jim comes to visit, he takes the stage— joins the band— and just has a great time talk­ing with the au­di­ence. And, when he checks in on how we’re do­ing, it’s not about the business re­ports. He wants to know if peo­ple

are hav­ing a good time,” says Chris, who is known lo­cally for hav­ing cre­ated well- loved South­west Florida brands such as Mel’s Diner, Ste­vie Tomato’s and Big Al’s Sports Grill.

Turns out th­ese Belushi cousins go way back. All the way back to a small vil­lage in the Old World, where their fa­thers grew up next door to one another in Qytezë, Al­ba­nia, in the 1920s. Just north of Greece, Al­ba­nia re­tains a cul­tural her­itage just as vi­tal.

“Yeah, only Chris’ grand­fa­ther had a much bet­ter con­trac­tor than we did,” jokes Jim, who has pur­chased and is restor­ing his fam­ily’s old home there. “Ours kinda fell down, but Chris’ is still stand­ing”.

In their early teens, each of their fa­thers em­i­grated from Al­ba­nia to Chicago, where sev­eral hun­dred fam­i­lies gath­ered in the 1930s. Both of their dads ended up get­ting into the restau­rant business in the Windy City, where the Belushi boys and their cousin all grew up work­ing.

You can or­der a “Cheeze­borger, Cheeze­borger” with “cheeps” at Belushi’s club in honor of the Satur­day Night Live skit John brought to the show that was based on the way his dad and un­cle dealt with cus­tomers at the Olympia Lunch diner in Chicago.

The sons of th­ese hard- work­ing Al­ba­nian im­mi­grants re­con­nected after Jim opened the House of Blues in Or­lando. “Well, Chris was down in Florida and I had taken a dif­fer­ent route, and we just hadn’t seen each other for years. So it’s re­ally cool to be get­ting to know each other now,” says Jim, who is based in Los An­ge­les but, in the spirit of hard work, is of­ten on the road. “My im­prov group, the Board of Com­edy, we just counted up our shows last year— 52 shows, one in Naples and the Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts,” he adds. “And, my band played about 12 times, plus I did three movies and am now do­ing a mini- se­ries for HBO.”

As busy as Jim is, he and his cousin just spent a whole week in talks with big- name cable chan­nels about a re­al­ity show based on tak­ing the con­cept of Belushi’s and re­pur­pos­ing loft space in Fort Laud­erdale, Chicago and else­where.

“The way this came about is I had de­cided to try a Tilted Kilt here. It seemed like the right fit for this mar­ket, so I called up Jim and told him to check it out,” says Chris. The Tilted Kilt is a chain serv­ing a cui­sine nou­veau twist on tra­di­tional sports­bar fare, like gar­licky fries and suc­cu­lent ribs slow- cooked in a tangy, sweet bar­be­cue sauce.

“I was on the road, in Phoenix and I vis­ited a Tilted Kilt and said, yeah, let’s do it,” re­calls Jim. “Yeah, he texted me a pic­ture of him­self with about eight Kilt Girls and a big smile on his face.”

As Chris set out to find a venue, he con­sid­ered the stone build­ing on Tami­ami Trail, U. S. High­way 41, that many lo­cals call the cursed cas­tle, which was orig­i­nally built with true Ir­ish

“WHEN JIM COMES TO VISIT, HE TAKES THE STAGE— JOINS THE BAND— AND JUST HAS A GREAT TIME TALK­ING WITH THE AU­DI­ENCE. AND, WHEN HE CHECKS IN ON HOW WE’RE DO­ING, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BUSINESS RE­PORTS. HE WANTS TO KNOW IF PEO­PLE ARE HAV­ING A GOOD TIME.”

— CHRIS KARAKOSTA, CO- OWNER OF BELUSHI’S

YOU CAN OR­DER A “CHEEZE­BORGER, CHEEZE­BORGER” WITH “CHEEPS” AT BELUSHI’S CLUB IN HONOR OF THE SATUR­DAY

NIGHT LIVE SKIT JOHN BROUGHT TO THE SHOW THAT WAS BASED ON THE WAY HIS DAD AND UN­CLE DEALT WITH CUS­TOMERS AT THE OLYMPIA LUNCH DINER IN CHICAGO.

decor to be Dwyer’s back in 2003. The place seemed a great fit for the Kilt Girls, the sexy young ladies who bare their midriffs and wear a min­i­mal 21st- cen­tury ver­sion of the tar­tan.

Dur­ing the last week they spent to­gether, Chris cooked up a lot of his fa­ther’s and grand­mother’s old fam­ily dishes. “For me, it’s all about cook­ing up the food, just like at Mel’s, where we peeled ev­ery potato we served,” says Chris. “For Jim, it’s about tak­ing the stage, and he’s such a hard worker. I had no idea. You see th­ese guys who have made it like Jim, and you think oh they’ve had their suc­cess, but not Jim, he works as hard as his dad did.”

After get­ting the lease on the cas­tle to rein­vig­o­rate the venue with a Tilted Kilt, the cousins re­al­ized they were tak­ing a chance on a place where a se­ries of restau­rants, from Dwyer’s and Ich­a­bod’s to the Bal­ly­or­ney Ir­ish Pub, have come and gone over one short decade.

Since the Tilted Kilt, now based in Ari­zona, was first opened in Las Ve­gas and tested suc­cess­fully in many lo­ca­tions, the risk was min­i­mized. But, what to do with the up­stairs space of the 12,000- square- foot cas­tle? And, what about its large rooftop pa­tio bar?

That’s how Chris and Jim got to talk­ing about a whole new con­cept called “Belushi’s.”

“It is a great name,” says Jim, who has taken such pride in his Al­ba­nian her­itage that he does com­mer­cials for the gov­ern­ment tourism board and has been granted cit­i­zen­ship. “My grand­mother was a Belushi,” adds Chris. “It’s what ties us to­gether.”

The cousins have truly re­al­ized a trans­for­ma­tive space with this club. It has the vibe of a great band party in a friend’s base­ment, rem­i­nis­cent of how teenagers par­tied in the late ’ 70s. Ev­ery­one is at ease in a bizarre, worm­hole- kind of way. You ex­pect to look up and see clas­sic Satur­day Night Live from John Belushi’s days, and you do.

It’s as if the “curse of the Ir­ish cas­tle” has been trans­formed into the magic of an Il­lyr­ian fortress, where you are shielded from the heav­ier side of life. One can almost imag­ine John Belushi as king of this cas­tle, with his cocked eye­brow and dar­ing smirk, gaz­ing down from on high and en­cour­ag­ing pa­trons to let loose and en­joy.

With its old- world roots, Belushi’s would make the own­ers’ grand­moth­ers proud and happy to see folks im­bib­ing in food and ca­ma­raderie as much as dance and drink. You re­ally get what “sweet kinda cool” means be­cause even non- hip­sters can be heard say­ing, “Wow, even I feel cool here.” And, it’s awe­somely mem­o­rable to dance to great funk and Mo­town mu­sic be­low a huge por­trait of John.

You might say, Al­ba­nia has added a new name to its list of nearly 70 cas­tles. And, it seems Belushi’s has found a way to flip the so­called curse of the cas­tle. This one has en­dur­ing prom­ise since it be­stows a “sweet kinda cool” bless­ing upon those who en­ter.

And, it all started right here in Fort My­ers at the first club any huge celebrity ever put his or her name on in South­west Florida. You’ve got Glo­ria Este­fan’s club in Mi­ami, and now Belushi’s on our side of the Sun­shine State.

Jim Belushi, en­ter­tainer and co- owner of Belushi’s, per­forms at the Fort My­ers’ com­edy and mu­sic club when he’s in town.

Even if you don’t con­sider your­self a hip­ster, you’ll feel the cool vibe Jim Belushi cre­ated at his aptly named club, Belushi’s, when the live en­ter­tain­ment takes cen­ter stage.

Belushi’s boasts rooftop space ideal for South­west Florida’s balmy win­ter weather.

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