At Barney’s Grill, a landmark in East Boston, patrons were often treated to more than a large selection of food and spirits. If they were lucky, they were served a recitation of Shakespeare on the side by owner Nicholas Moscaritolo, a man of arts and letters.
“I recall with fondness my uncle’s penchant for spontaneously regaling a captivated audience of patrons and staff with allegory, song, or one of the Shakespearean soliloquies while tending the grill or bar,’’ said his niece Patti Bonelli of Plymouth, recalling her college days working at Barney’s. “He was thespian, artist, and raconteur extraordinaire. He was so charismatic, larger than life. An intellectual. A renaissance man.’’
Mr. Moscaritolo was attending art school when his father died in 1946. He left college to carry on the family restaurant that his father, an Italian immigrant, had started. Though he never returned to art school, he continued to sketch and write until his last days, said his daughter Ella of New York City.
“He was so artistic and poetic,’’ she said. “He could recite several soliloquies from Shakespeare’s tragedies. His favorite was ‘Hamlet.’ He loved reading and poetry, sketching and drawing caricatures. He was still doing this until a couple of months ago.’’
Mr. Moscaritolo, a philanthropist and a beloved resident of East Boston known to everyone as Nick, died Jan. 14 of congestive heart failure in the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers. He was 91 and had lived in East Boston since he was 10, when he emigrated with his family from Italy.
A handsome man, he looked like an artist, his daughter said, except perhaps for the golf cap he wore.
“Golf was his other passion,’’ she said, “but his family was his first.’’
“Dad’s passion was his family and the community,’’ said his son, Pat of East Boston, president and chief executive of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Like many immigrant families, the Moscaritolos worked hard to be able to give back in a variety of ways to the community that had welcomed them.
A former president of the Kiwanis Club of East Boston, to which he belonged for more than 60 years, Mr. Moscaritolo raised funds for the club’s college scholarships.
“I’m convinced that he got involved in so many youth organizations because he came from another country and had nothing when he arrived here, but was able to become successful,’’ his son told the East Boston Times-Free Press.
In 2009, when the Kiwanis Club honored Mr. Moscaritolo as Kiwanian of the Year, the Times-Free Press hailed him as representing “the very best that East Boston has to offer in the way of residents who care and who work hard to make this neighborhood a better place.’’
Nicholas Joseph Moscaritolo was born to Pasquale and Emmanuella (DeFronzo) Moscaritolo in the small Italian town of Mirabella. He moved to this country with them when he was 10 and spoke no English.
“His mastery of the English language was so precocious that the school advanced him two grades,’’ his niece said.
His father opened the restaurant in the early 1930s. When he was young, Mr. Moscaritolo worked there washing dishes while going to East Boston High School. After graduating in 1938, he enrolled part time in art school while working at the restaurant.
In 1941, he met Yolanda Nicotera. They wed the next year.
His niece said that after his father died, Mr. Moscaritolo, with a young family, became a surrogate father to her mother, who was much younger, and took on leadership roles in the family.
In 1959, he purchased a nearby liquor shop, which his wife ran. The family became well known in East Boston for their businesses, their philanthropy, and participation in neighborhood organizations and events. He sold Barney’s in 1999 and the liquor store in 2000.
Mr. Moscaritolo’s son said that when John F. Kennedy was running for the US Senate, the campaign asked the Moscaritolos to sponsor an event, and they did.
“My father loved politics,’’ Pat said, adding that his father worked six days a week at Barney’s until he was 79.
His eloquence as a writer made him a popular toastmaster, said his daughter Debbie Centracchio of Marblehead.
She said he would end with a wish: “May you all live to be 100, but me one day less, because I could not live happily without all of you.’’
Mr. Moscaritolo never stopped sketching or reciting Shakespeare’s soliloquies. Another of his favorites among Shakespeare’s works was “The Merchant of Venice.’’ He could gather an audience simply by intoning the line, “The quality of mercy is not strained,’’ Ella said.
She recalled that when she rode with him in an ambulance to the Kaplan hospice shortly before he died, “he was having trouble breathing, but he was reciting ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ ’’
A service has been held for Mr. Moscaritolo, who in addition to his wife, son, two daughters, and niece, leaves another daughter, Donna Bruno of Marblehead; a brother, Richard of Melrose; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.