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Lawsuit over 'Ruthie' beer alleges altercation between brewery owner and state senator

The lawsuit filed by Ruthie Bisignano's estate seeks compensation, as well as the brewery agreeing to get its permission for future "Ruthie" business.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Ruthie Bisignano began gaining attention across the U.S. in the 1950s for a unique party trick: the Des Moines bartender would pour beer into glasses she balanced on her breasts. 

Bisignano's talent even garnered attention and a visit from Hollywood legend Cecil B. DeMille.

But many in Des Moines might be familiar with a different Ruthie: Exile Brewing's Ruthie Gold Lager. The beer is one of the brewery's flagship beers and pays homage to the late bartender by using a rendering of her image on its labeling.

In 2020, years after Exile began brewing Ruthie, Bisignano's nephew and administrator of her estate filed a lawsuit against the brewery. It seeks not only compensation, but an order that requires the brewery to get permission from the estate before using Bisignano's name or image for any future business. 

"Exile has obtained and continues to obtain for itself the values and benefits of Ruthie’s name and/or likeness," the estate's petition reads. "Exile has neither sought nor received permission to appropriate Ruthie’sname and/or likeness."

In a motion filed by Exile's lawyers to dismiss the case back in 2020, attorneys questioned why it took the estate at least seven years to file the lawsuit after the brewery had been successfully featuring the beer. The document called the lawsuit untimely and time-barred.

The case remains ongoing and moved into federal court this month. A deeper look into court records reveals an alleged altercation between Exile's owner, Bob Tursi, and Bisignano's nephew, state senator Tony Bisignano.

According to court documents, Tursi learned Bisignano was one of the heirs to the estate and tried to call him, but did not hear back. In a deposition from the senator, Bisignano claims while in a dry cleaner's parking lot Tursi threatened him and told him "you're not getting a f****** thing". 

This alleged incident resulted in a protective order filed against Tursi.

In court filings, lawyers for Tursi and Exile refute these claims, stating the owner has never threatened Bisignano nor anyone else associated with the case.

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