Giovanni, Downtown restaurateur, 73, dies


By Julie Shapiro

Two icons will be missing from Lower Manhattan this holiday season, both gone within a month of each other.

Giovanni Natalucci, 73, owner of Giovanni’s Atrium, died at his Staten Island home Nov. 28. He had a cerebral hemorrhage several years ago, and had been suffering with diabetes and Alzheimer’s, all of which contributed to his death, his wife said.

Several weeks earlier, Giovanni’s Atrium, Natalucci’s Italian restaurant that anchored Washington St. for nearly 35 years, closed its doors for the last time. The restaurant, between Rector and Carlisle Sts., never recovered from 9/11 and more recently fell victim to the economic downturn.

Natalucci did not know his restaurant had closed, his wife Suzan Natalucci said this week.

“He was already somewhere else in his mind,” she said. “I wouldn’t have told him, either.”

Giovanni’s was a staple for the Wall St. set, a place where strangers could wander into the bar and find a warm reception. Suzan Natalucci likened the atmosphere to “Cheers” and described her husband as the charming man at the center, sitting down with new customers and old friends to chat. He knew a lot about business and conversed easily with the Financial District workers who frequented the restaurant.

Natalucci had several restaurants in the city over his decades as a restaurateur, but the one in Lower Manhattan was his baby, his wife said.

Natalucci was born June 21, 1935 in Rome. He grew up in Italy and worked as a waiter in his uncle’s restaurant there, and later he worked as a steward for Italia Airlines. Then he moved the United States in his 20s and met Suzan 31 years ago when she and her friends ate at one of his restaurants to celebrate her birthday.

Speaking evenly over the phone Wednesday morning, Suzan Natalucci told a story to illustrate her husband’s character.

In his early life, Natalucci was clean shaven, but one day Suzan mentioned to him that she loved mustaches. Shortly thereafter, the couple was on a plane flying someplace warm over the holidays, and Natalucci asked Suzan if she noticed anything different.

She looked closely and saw a couple stray hairs poking out of his upper lip.

“Merry Christmas,” Natalucci told her.

“That’s kind of person he was,” Suzan Natalucci said, “very thoughtful, very romantic, charming.”

Natalucci kept the mustache until a nurse in the hospital shaved it off during one of his stays. Suzan had a note put in his records to make sure no one ever touched it again.

One of the most difficult parts of watching Natalucci’s decline was seeing him lose his memory and then his ability to speak, his wife said.

While Natalucci could still say “yes” and “no,” his wife recalled asking him, “‘Honey, do you love me?’ He’d say yes, and I’d say, ‘Do you know who I am?’ He’d say, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘I’m your wife,’ and he said, ‘Oh, si, si.’”

On Thanksgiving day, Natalucci’s wife bathed him and sat him up to watch the football game. His eyes were open but he was unable to speak.

The next day, Natalucci stopped breathing.

He leaves behind his wife Suzan, two daughters from a previous marriage, Bianca and Carla, two grandsons, and a nephew in Italy he thought of as a son, Franco Tolmino. The viewing was held Wednesday night, and on Thursday the family planned to have Natalucci cremated, with some of the ashes going back to his native Italy.