By DALE MADISON
See George Knittel’s face, and you instantly recognize him as one of South Florida’s iconic bartenders who continues to please crowds with a smile that is just as big as his heart. “I moved here 26 years ago, having grown up in Philly,” Knittel says. “My grandparents owned a bar, and I sort of grew up in the industry.”
Like Woody Allen’s “Zelig,” Knittel has seen his share of landmark happenings. “I actually started bartending in the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel [in Philadelphia], which was where so many fell ill in 1976 to Legionnaires’ disease. I started working there once the complete remodeling took place,” Knittel adds. “I had always been ‘curious’ about being gay, but in the 1970s you just didn’t act on it,” Knittel recalls. “My first gay bartending job was at Steps in Philly, on Delancey Street, and I walked around with a tool belt around my waist for two months.
“One man came up to me and asked if I was a bartender or a construction worker,” he remembers, laughing. “I did that job working Happy Hour for two years. Then a man by the name of Alan Kachin came to me and asked me to work for him in a new bar called Equus, and I worked for him for the next 10 years.” Equus became one of the city’s hottest disco night clubs of the 70s and 80s.
“Kachin then moved,” to South Florida, Knittel recalls, “and opened Hombre in South Beach, and then later The Eagle in Fort Lauderdale, and we have been good friends ever since. My first bartending job here was at the Breakers Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, and I was there for five years.”
Locals may remember the original Georgie’s, on West Sunrise Boulevard, in the location now occupied by Slammer. They may also recall seeing a familiar face slinging drinks behind the bar there.
“I was at the original Georgie’s on Sunrise, along with entertainer Tony Griffin and the late Lee McCall. Following that stint, I opened Every Nook and Cranny, a restaurant, but after eight years I got the itch for bartending again, so I went back to a little bar on Wilton Drive simply called the Martini Bar, and then over to the original Bill’s Filling Station on 13th Street.” His own personal “bar crawl” would lead him to Matty’s on the Drive, where friends and fans can now find him. “Now I feel like I am home at Matty’s,” he beams.
Knittel’s signature cocktail is a “Goose Cosmo.” “Start by chilling the glass, and in a shaker, mix two-and-a-half ounces of Grey Goose vodka, a dash of Stoli Orange, a dash of Cointreau (triple sec), a dash of cranberry juice, and garnish with an orange slice. Try one!”
Catch George Knittel weekends at Matty’s on the Drive, 2426 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, and tell him you heard about him and Matty’s in Agenda.