Sunday, January 20, 2008

The passing of a legendary barkeep

I was saddened to see that John Susor, a/k/a Sloppy John, passed away last week. John's passing wasn't totally unexpected, but I will have to say that when I saw him a few months ago he looked awfully good and my guess would have been that he had a few more years in him.

One never knows about these things.

John was a character, and that's putting it midly. He was getting to be a bit of a regular with the local Indian Rocks, Florida police. On top of that, John had had some sort of falling out with the local Budweiser rep years ago and vowed to never sell Budweiser in his bar again and he kept that promise to his dying day.

Mahuffer's Bar has been a fixture down there south of Clearwater Beach for years. Here's to hoping that John's family can preserve the spirit and legend of the place.


January 16, 2008

John Susor was every bit as colorful as the decorations that hung all over the walls at Mahuffer's Bar.

To say that John Susor - with his Hemingway-style white hair, full beard and blunt, often eccentric, ways - was Indian Shores' best-known town "character" is a major understatement.
For years, Mr. Susor owned and operated his Mahuffer's Bar (a.k.a. Sloppy John's), famed for the eclectic memorabilia that covered walls and hung from the ceiling.

Visitors were greeted with customers' signed bras and underwear, parts of sunken boats, fish nets, a myriad of photos and even a 750-pound sand-filled bomb left over from World War II practice runs on local beaches.

Mr. Susor would be the first to say he lived his life to the fullest. He divorced and married nine times. He relished getting into disputes. In the process, he collected devoted friends and customers from all over the world.

He also made implacable enemies, mostly with town officials. He sued the town, and they sued him back. His bar was repeatedly cited for building code and fire safety violations.

He repeatedly ran for town office. He always lost.

When he ran for mayor in 1990, Mr. Susor castigated the local Police Department for what he said was its "gestapo" attitude and called on the police to be "nice to people."

Apparently his message didn't work. He was repeatedly charged with minor and major offenses, building a long and colorful "sheet" with the town Police Department and county court system.

Sometimes Mr. Susor won his legal battles; sometimes he lost.

He settled a copyright dispute with Sloppy Joe's International of Key West when that organization said that Mr. Susor's logo infringed its name and trademark.

He pleaded guilty for having unlicensed cats. He was fined for letting a dog run loose. He was charged with DWI in the 1980s. He was arrested on charges of stealing dirt and hitting a bar customer with a baseball bat.

In one incident in the 1990s, Mr. Susor was charged with battery and resisting arrest when he tossed a wadded piece of paper at a police officer. A jury acquitted him.

In another, he surprised a burglar in the bar at 3 a.m. one day and chased him off, firing three shots. One found its mark, and the burglar was arrested days later when he sought medical treatment.

Mr. Susor's latest legal dustup - aggravated assault charges on allegations that he pointed a gun at a former bartender and an off- duty deputy during a dispute at the bar - remains forever unresolved.

Mr. Susor, 88, died Thursday (Jan. 10, 2008) at Bay Pines VA Medical Center.

After 35 years, Mr. Susor's battle with the police is over. No longer will he reign at the bar he often called "the backside of paradise."

A brief obituary posted on the Internet describes him as an "independent spirit and colorful personality."

Many agreed. Here are just a few messages to Mr. Susor's family posted on the memorial site:
A "legend' has passed," "a life fully lived," "his wacky ways will be missed," and "Anyone who ever met John will not forget him."

But Mahuffer's Bar will go on.

Mike Rogacki, 22, is determined to keep his "grandpa's" beach institution alive.

"I don't think my feet are big enough to fill his shoes, but I learned a lot from him. He told me to keep my head up and shoulders back, to remember that nobody is better than you are," Rogacki said.

Mr. Susor's daughter Lynn plans to help her son, Mike, for a few weeks before returning to Michigan.

"Mike will do fine. And if the town wants to make any trouble, they will find John Susor is still here - we will turn into Dad," she said, laughing.

They also are planning a March 8 memorial service for Mr. Susor.

Actually, they said, it will be more of a party, and, of course, it will be held at Mahuffer's Bar.
"Grandpa would like that," Rogacki said.

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