Monday, February 25, 2013


By Doc Lawrence
ATLANTA- My home town lost her best restaurant general manager in Willy Cellucci. From the day the Atlanta Palm opened its doors just in time for the 1996 Summer Olympics, he attracted customers to the finest bar in the region, a mixture of sports stars, movie idols, legendary musicians, local celebrities and interesting local.
Willy’s personality brought them in like a magnet.
After a long battle with cancer, the irrepressible Willy Cellucci departed this life and I count myself among those who are thankful for the good times together. I learned loads about how to treat people through his example. He was  always a gentleman.He remembered names, was even-handed and  adapted to any group of guests. Uniformly good-natured, Willy knew baseball, wines, what made a good cocktail, the best from the day’s menu, and would share a tasteful anecdote that occasionally made my columns more entertaining..
Special memories include Willy’s Tequila dinner, pairing the chef’s gourmet selections with an array of anejo, blanco and reposado Tequila, an introduction of what is now commonplace with Scotch, Bourbon, Rum and othe spirits. During  lunch with Christine Born, one of the most gifted editors I’ve ever worked for, Willy joined us and explained why the cocktails at the Palm were superior. “We give you a great cocktail,” he said. “Big chunks ice that melt slowly, always with a very generous pour. I want you to come back.”
Willy was the Palm’s unofficial Sommilier and once took me on a tour of his reserve wine cellar. His knowledge of each bottle was staggering and the stories he shared about how they found their way to a celebrity’s dinner table was the stuff of a New Orleans restaurateur.
If you’re a real Dodger fan, Willy observed, “you bleed Dodger blue.” He enthralled customers with his baseball lore, always plugging his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Atlanta Palm set the standard for excellence in Buckhead and beyond. Sure, much of this is because the restaurant is exceptional to begin with. But Willy’s  special touch, which came as natural to him as his big smile, added to the enjoyment.

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