VENICE — Diners at Norma Jean’s Sports Bar & Grill Room are getting more than just what’s on the menu.
Owner Barry Lucibello recently added a baby grand piano and a trio of some of the area’s finest musicians and singers in the grill room. Well-known keyboardist George DeJong, of Herman Hermit’s fame and leader of Innerwave Music, and Nick Sperry play the keys.
Singers include Greg Wollaston, Terry “T-Bone” Rhodes and others. Wollaston is a former off-Broadway and off-off Broadway singer who also performs at Venice Theatre (recently as Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol”). T-Bone has performed Motown, reggae, and musical theater in Venice, Sarasota and Gainesville.
Chris Smith on trumpet and trombone and Chad Conte on sax and flute, both well-known musicians in Venice, sometimes join in to round out the trio.
“I’m keeping to these few musicians for now,” Lucibello said. “I want a nice, low-key piano lounge, and the ideal would be if I could always have a piano player in here four nights a week.”
Patrons have been filling the upscale grill room that has a separate side entrance from the sports bar at 1635 U.S. 41 Bypass South in Venice and have shared their approval of hearing Broadway tunes, calypso, rock ‘n’ roll and more while they dine.
“We were filled to capacity New Year’s Eve,” Lucibello said, adding that is pretty much what happens most nights when the grill room is open for dining — Tuesday through Saturday.
“Some people may prefer the quieter dining area of the grill room, especially during football season when it gets louder in the sports bar,” he said.
When Lucibello realized that the guys were performing in a small lounge the size of Zebra, which holds 30 people, he figured he could easily fit twice that number in his 60-seat grill room, so he signed them up.
DeJong brought in his portable keyboard initially, Smith brought his trumpet and trombone, and Wollaston took the mic and belted out a full range of Broadway tunes, some dating back to the 1940s and ‘50s.
“I thought it would be nice to have a baby grand piano available for the pianist, where the music is centered,” Lucibello said. “Eventually, I want to have seating around the piano like a piano bar.”
Lucibello was relieved to sell the other three Norma Jean’s restaurants he owned in Englewood, Osprey and Sarasota. He said he is 67 and doesn’t need to be running four restaurants. In addition, his brother-in-law, Rich Lucibello, is involved in the business as is Lucibello’s son, Barry Lucibello Jr., who is also busy with child-rearing.
“We really want to focus on Venice, it was our original idea 16 years ago when we first opened,” he said. “With the restaurant business, you’re always reinventing yourselves. You have to in order to keep up with all the competition, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
The grill room is open six days a week 4 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; the sports bar is open seven days a week, 11 a.m. — 10 p.m. on Monday-Saturday; noon-9:30 p.m. on Sunday.
For a full schedule of performances at Norma Jean’s, visit normajeansgrill.com or Facebook.