- December 20, 2018
As a lifelong musician, John Natoli has worked with some of the biggest supper-club names — Tony Bennett, Engelbert Humperdinck, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton.
Now he's ready to open a similar place of his own in Winter Garden.
“I'm bringing back the old Rainbow Room/Copacabana type of feel,” Natoli said, calling his new venture “a place for the contemporary adult.”
After purchasing the Bella Room, on West Colonial Drive, earlier this year, he got right to work, stripping out the harsh lighting and installing crystal chandeliers, incorporating white chiffon drapery around the room to reflect the light, refurbishing the kitchen and bar area, putting in a $50,000 sound system and reworking the stage.
Natoli is holding a free soft opening from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, and music lovers can see the improvements he has made to the facility. The Bella Room offers a choice of six appetizers, a personal selection of wines and Budweiser on tap. Natoli opened several such venues up north and said his small menu was a success.
He plans to open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays starting at the end of the month. There will be six sandwiches choices, a few salads and tables set up for two or four. Natoli's sons are in charge of the lunch crowd. His daughter is a caterer, as well.
“MUSIC IS THERAPEUTIC”
The Bella Room’s new owner is excited about the musical opportunities at his latest establishment. He has been in the digital music business for more than 20 years and is eager to try it out with the local crowd. He is able to take all the parts of an orchestra and electronically put them together to create a live sound without the expense of a full room of musicians.
“With digital music, it sounds like 60 people, but there are just three,” he said. “There are maybe 100 people in this country who can do what I do.”
The arranger is in his office daily at 5:30 a.m. to write and create variations to popular songs.
In his “This is Broadway” live performance, 26 stage shows are featured, from “Phantom of the Opera” to “Jersey Boys” to “Les Miserables.”
Shows are performed Saturdays at 2 and 7 p.m. The ticket price of $25 includes appetizers and one drink, an hour of dancing, an hour of Vegas-style music and the two-hour Broadway show.
Friday night is dance night, and the cost is $25 a couple for two glasses of wine and a platter of hors d’oeuvres.
The venue holds 225 seated guests, plus 20 at the bar. Natoli said his Bella Room will cater to a 45-and-older crowd.
“What we want is for people, with their girlfriend or wife, maybe a few couples, to make this a place to have a good time,” Natoli said. “If they want Big Band, I can play that for two hours straight. You want oldies? I was with Dick Clark Productions for years. Do you want a tango? I can play you a tango.”
He recently met four musicians looking for a place to play, so they will play Latin Jazz on Thursdays. He has received calls for several quinceañeras in March.
“Every day is something new here,” Natoli said.
He is already planning to tap into the convention business along International Drive, offering a Wednesday night dinner and two-hour show.
“God blessed me with some musical talent, but he didn't give me the musical voice that he gave these guys. ... My singers are fantastic. You’re going to hear them and say wow. You're going to see the show and say wow.”
Central Florida sees 10,000 weddings each year, Natoli said; he's only asking for 48. He is advertising the Bella Room as a wedding destination and offers a package that includes a photographer, wedding coordinator, reception, three-hour wedding-party cruise on his brother's yacht, and a thumb drive of candid photos taken by ceiling-mounted cameras during the reception.
“I want to be different; I don't want to be status quo,” Natoli said. “I'm for those who want to be practical. If you want your people to come here and have a good time and have good food and be comfortable, I offer affordable elegance.”
He is planning a wedding expo from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 12, and plans to invite only local businesses, including dress shops, tuxedo-rental stores, jewelry stores and bakeries.
A LIFE OF MUSIC
John Natoli has lived a life of varied careers. He has been a college baseball coach. He worked on Wall Street in New York City. He owned a bus company. He created indoor batting cages using the concept of an airplane hangar.
But he always came back to music.
He worked for Caesar’s Palace, in Las Vegas, for 14 years with Solid State, an 11-piece band, and The Hale Sisters trio, which included his wife, Susan. Natoli was in charge of musical arrangements and producing, and he sang, too.
He was a member of the house band for Waldorf Astoria for five years, performing every Friday and Saturday.
He created The Showcase, a live-entertainment show of song and dance, once he and his wife started a family.
When they relocated to Florida, Natoli was entertaining again, at places like Disney’s Dolphin, Rosen Plaza and the Tupperware Convention Center. That led him to a two-year production stint at the Mount Dora Community Center Building.
Tired of hauling equipment around, Natoli, now 70, decided to find a permanent place for his performances.
“I'm seeing Winter Garden growing like crazy, and I'm saying the potential here is incredible,” Natoli said. “And all these seniors, in these 55-and-up developments — I want to give them a place so they don't have to go to I-Drive. They aren't going to downtown Orlando.
“Bella Room — Bella means beautiful, and I'm trying to make this a beautiful room.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry at [email protected]