Bartender, Back in Navy, Earns 'Cheers'

Times Staff Writer

Taking a page from "Cheers," where everyone knows their names, patrons of an Irvine eatery held a goodbye party Wednesday night for their favorite bartender, who re-upped in the Navy reserves after the terrorist attacks of 2001 and reports for active duty today.

Steve Sindoni was caught off-guard by the tribute when he arrived for work at Vessia Ristorante. Instead of the usual handful of folks, he found every stool taken by well-wishers.

Fittingly, the bar area is called Cheerzini.

"I've known Steve for about 15 years now, and I hired him four years ago when we needed a bartender. He's a good man," owner Franco Vessia said.

Sindoni, who hopes for a Persian Gulf assignment, was a humble, reluctant man of the hour. He noted that in his job as information technology specialist, he'll work behind the scenes.

"I understand the spotlight is for me tonight, but I got to tell you there are men and women who are overseas right now and they deserve it more than I do," the 39-year-old Newport Beach man told the packed pub. "I'm just a little cog in a wheel."

Sindoni, born in Massachusetts, said he went through boot camp in 1984 and immediately entered a Navy reserve program that allowed him to finish college. He married, became a financial consultant in Orange County, then decided several years ago to change careers.

With his marriage on shaky ground at the time, he took the bartender's job, serving up margaritas and lemon-drop martinis to Vessia's upscale customers.

"After 9/11, I thought to myself that I wanted to do more for my country -- and I reenlisted in the Navy reserves," he said.

The call to active duty came Monday, assigning him to report early this morning in San Diego to the Naval Special Warfare Information Technology Staff Command, which helps Navy SEALs with communications.

Bar patrons gave a cheer when a cake was brought in by Denise Ferlita, 42, of Irvine, a relative newcomer. After only a month, she said, Sindoni, the restaurant staff and patrons had come to be "like family."

Sindoni told his pals he'd head straight for San Diego to spend the night with friends after the last drink was poured.

"I don't know where the Navy will send me," Sindoni said. "But I want to go."

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