For a week, heavy equipment worked at crushing its concrete-block masonry.
Now you can see straight across the terracotta foyer tiles, through rubble that was once a convivial dining room, to the rear wall and kitchen door of Phil’s 41. A lone silk chrysanthemum lies in the dust.
“I’ve been watching it being demolished day by day,” former owner Phil Cerciello said sadly.
“I’m sure Phil is crying,” Phil’s bartender Tony Castaldo observed from his new spot at Punta Gorda’s Riviera Bar & Grill.
In the Publix deli line across the street, demolition workers were crying, too.
“Man, that place is hard to take down,” they griped. “It was built like a fortress.”
Also in the deli line that day, longtime Punta Gorda builder Greg Irons overheard them but remained modestly silent.
He was the one who’d originally constructed the hacienda-style Casa del Sol on Punta Gorda’s U.S. 41 “bars and cars” strip in the 1980s.
Irons remembered, “It was a vacant lot then. Don Rogers and I bought it. Palm Chevrolet was on both sides. And Don said, ‘We are not going to let a car dealership get this!’
“Now I guess it did.”
After Irons and Rogers returned to the construction work that they knew best, the restaurant became the Iebba family’s Mamma Nunzia Ristorante for nearly a decade.
But the pink hacienda at 1975 Tamiami Trail will always be remembered as Phil’s 41.
Cerciello once described his place as “a family restaurant, with good food at reasonable prices,” but it was much more than that.
It became, quite literally, “Phil’s place,” where for nine years customers could count on Cerciello strolling the dining rooms or lounge, joking, listening to problems, patting a shoulder here, shaking a hand there, creating a feeling like home.
A year ago, with COVID-19 clouding the future, neighbor Gettel Automotive made an offer to then-owner Artur Janta-Lipinski, who reluctantly sold what was by then Artur’s Phil’s 41 to the dealership.
“I did stop by and picked up a piece of cinderblock as a reminder of all the great people and memories we had in that building,” Cerciello said. “I spent a sixth of my life in there and loved every hour of it.”