Rockin’ Out at Belushi’s
SOUTHWEST FLORIDA'S CELEBRITY-SPIRITED COMEDY AND MUSIC CLUB IS THE BUZZ
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.