There are lots of professions that help make life a little easier for others. Doctor. Lawyer. Hairdresser. Mechanic. And bartender, especially a good one.
Vasilios “Bill” Maroulis was one of the best. He could be counted on for a generous pour and good advice.
Whether he was mixing a stiff drink for Dennis Farina, showing Russell Crowe to his table or telling other customers they should try the lamb chops, they’re excellent, Mr. Maroulis made the mahogany bar at the iconic Chicago steakhouse Gene & Georgetti such a welcoming place that regulars started calling it “the Mahogany Club.”
Mr. Maroulis died Monday of lung cancer. He was 71 and lived in Norwood Park.
In 20 years at the city’s oldest steakhouse, he transformed the quiet lunchtime bar into a destination.
“He ran it like a stage,” said restaurant manager Rich Ciota.
Working alone, Mr. Maroulis took orders, mixed cocktails, served meals and cleaned up.
“He wouldn’t break a sweat,” said Phil Hanahan, a member of the Mahogany Club.
“Prior to his coming here, the bar was never full at lunchtime,” said restaurant owner Tony Durpetti. These days, “People are at the bar, having drinks, and they stay.”
“You lost track of time when you’re around him,” said Mr. Maroulis’ son, Tasos, who now works his father’s bar.
“Within the first five minutes, he would know your name, you would know his, and he’d make you feel like you’ve been coming here for years,” Ciota said.
Mr. Maroulis was known for his piquant Bloody Marys, made with fresh tomato juice. If a newcomer asked for an Alabama Slammer or a Mai Tai, he’d smile and give a knowing look to the regulars. He’d rumble something in Greek and say, “Don’t take me wrong, we don’t do that here. Let me make you something else.”
He “dispensed warmth, friendship and wisdom,” said regular Dominic DiFrisco, “while he was dispensing the most generous free-pour drinks in Chicago.”
“Every drink you got,” said Hanahan, “you get a free drink.”
DiFrisco once saw Mr. Maroulis apply his gifts to a patron in a particularly tough spot. “I know he mended an en-route-to be-broken marriage by talking to the man, who said he was leaving his wife,” said DiFrisco, who works for Edelman public relations.
“Think about this carefully,” he recalls Mr. Maroulis telling the man. “You have children. You’ve already been married years.”
“You must go to her and ask her forgiveness.”
“It worked,” said DiFrisco.
Mr. Maroulis grew up in Ilioupoli, in the suburbs of Athens. He idolized his father Anastasios and often carried a small photo of him. Few noticed, but sometimes “he would put it out on the table with him,” said Tina Maroulis-Sweeney, Mr. Maroulis’ daughter.
Anastasios Maroulis was a newspaper journalist imprisoned by the Nazis on a nearby island during the World War II occupation of Greece. Mr. Maroulis’ mother, Ismini, ferried smuggled food to her husband by boat at night, ducking when security lights played across the water. He was set to be executed, but a Greek doctor helped him get away by saying Anastasios urgently needed surgery.
“It was nothing. It was hemorrhoids,” his daughter said. “But the Germans fell for it.”
Mr. Maroulis met Dimitra Kotsonis, who would become his wife of 50 years, at a Greek social club. They immigrated to Chicago and raised their family in Vernon Hills. In nearly every photo of the couple, they’re dancing.
“Bill” Maroulis enjoying Greek dancing.He started working in restaurants, eventually becoming banquet manager of what’s now the DoubleTree hotel in Skokie. He also owned a restaurant for a time, but, his daughter said, “He almost lost everything and had to start over.”
At Gene & Georgetti, she said, “He found a second family.”
When he first went there for a job and Durpetti started to interview him, Mr. Maroulis cut him off. “That’s not the way it’s going to go,” he announced. “Put me in for a week. If you don’t like me, I will leave, and you don’t pay me.” It worked out.
Every summer, when Gene & Georgetti shuts down for a brief break, Mr. Maroulis would take 25 Mahogany Club members to Roditys restaurant and treat them to lunch. He was greeted with friendly shouts throughout Greektown, said Jimmy Kallas, manager of Roditys.
His scotch was Johnny Walker Black Label, and he never got tired of talking about his kids.
Vasilios “Bill” Maroulis, his wife Dimitra, and friends.
Last Sunday, on Orthodox Easter, his children brought a Greek feast to him at Rainbow Hospice in Park Ridge. They watched with happiness as he ate lamb and spanakopita. He died the next day.
Mr. Maroulis is also survived by another daughter, Ismini Walsh; a sister, Haroula Arnokouros; and brothers Paul and Spiro. He was papou to five grandchildren. Services have been held.