Linda "Raz" Bernard was not just the life of the party, she was its molecular structure. Standing at the bar, wherever the party was happening, she would grab her chest and bellow her playful challenge.
“Staaaart meee uuup!"
With that, her friends knew the party was on.
The founder of several successful restaurants — including Tangelo's, the Ringside Cafe and Brisket Basket — Ms. Bernard drove the social engine connecting a wide network of restaurateurs, bar owners and other nighthawks.
They drank in each other's establishments. After 2 a.m., they skinny-dipped in a friend's pool, whether he was home or not. A few knew they could always crash on her couch, and they didn't need a key since Ms. Bernard didn't lock her door.
Ms. Bernard died in her home on Thursday, apparently in her sleep. She was 59. More than 150 people remembered her on Sunday at the Ringside, which she co-founded in 1988.
"People just absolutely swarmed to her," said Jodee Dyer, 60, Ms. Bernard's friend of 40 years. "You knew that no matter who you were, you were going to have a good time."
Ms. Bernard earned her nickname — short for Razzle-Dazzle or Razz-ma-tazz — in many ways. She drank brandy Alexander's with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. She took taxis to Village Inn at 3 a.m. with a roommate, Patricia Cymbal, both of them in pajamas. She tipped the driver to buy a French silk pie. In business, she wrote the check first and did the math later.
"She might not have been great with her money, but she had the business sense to turn anything into a success," said cousin and business partner Pam Bernard, 58.
Her burgers and blues at the Ringside on Fourth Street N quickly drew crowds, eventually attracting musicians like Dave Mason, Billy Preston and Delbert McClinton.
"She was willing to take some chances maybe other people would have thought were too risky, whether that was her food or the musical component," said lawyer Chuck Ross, her partner in opening the Ringside.
Ms. Bernard and Ross sold the Ringside in 1992. After years supplying furniture to new Expo Design stores, she opened the Brisket Basket in May 2007 on Fifth Avenue N. Her slow-cooked beef "sliders" on airy rolls and green chili hominy won praise.
Ms. Bernard never married, and seemed to prefer the companionship of her award-winning Australian cattle dogs to a husband. But friends remember a string of colorful boyfriends, including a fugitive with a murder rap who said he drove race cars.
They remember that for all of her celebrating, there was one birthday Ms. Bernard never acknowledged — her own. On Ms. Bernard's 13th birthday, her mother, Lorraine Shoenbeck, died in a car accident.
But what friends remember most about Ms. Bernard is her generosity. As a customer, she ran servers ragged but tipped them 30 percent. As an owner, she gave jobs to the luckless, bought them bicycles to get to work, then paid severance when she fired them, said Brisket Basket manager Jennifer Dayan.
"They could be the worst employee ever, and she still gave them two weeks' severance," said Dayan, 35.
She shepherded friend Kay Evers, who had terminal cancer, to doctor's appointments and took over management of the Sunset Grille, which Evers owned. She also was preparing to launch another Brisket Basket in Seminole, which will open but it is not clear when, said niece Jackie Eskay, who was also one of her attorneys.
Over the years, Ms. Bernard stayed fond of the Ringside and visited frequently, aided by a 2-for-1 lifetime drink special written into the contract.
"Wherever her table was, that was where people wanted to go," said manager Mitch Gray. "I still expect to see her walk in."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (813) 661-2431 or email@example.com.