Michael Elwood Gochenour, a former bartender at Bay Street in Sag Harbor, which was a club before becoming a theater, Sapore di Mare in East Hampton, and Amagansett’s Stephen Talkhouse, where he opened a barbecue kitchen called Elwood and Ettie’s, died at home in Delray Beach, Fla., on May 30 after his esophagus ruptured. He was 59 and had been ill for some time.
Mr. Gochenour was known as Elwood in Delray Beach, where he opened Elwood’s Dixie Bar-B-Q in the early 1990s. In East Hampton, however, he was called Frampton, because his long curly hair reminded friends of the rocker Peter Frampton’s.
At Elwood and Ettie’s, Mr. Gochenour smoked ribs, chickens, pork, and an occasional pheasant or suckling pig and served it up along with homemade barbecue sauce and fixings from the Talkhouse kitchen. After his fourth season at the Talkhouse, he moved to Delray Beach. The city was just beginning downtown redevelopment, and Mr. Gochenour undertook the transformation of an old gas station into a barbecue joint and bar.
“He had a prime piece of real estate there,” said his brother, David Gochenour of Weed, Calif., who is also a former East Hampton resident. “He bought the business with practically just his charm and good looks.” He booked bands that played blues, rockabilly, and other tunes, and “the place was jumping,” his brother said. Soon, it was voted the best bar as well as the best family restaurant in a local poll.
Along with Mr. Gochenour’s Harley-Davidson Road King bike, other motorcycles often filled the alley next to the restaurant. The original Elwood’s on Atlantic Avenue in Delray closed two years ago, but this spring, Mr. Gochenour reopened it in a new location a few blocks away.
Numerous friends posted remembrances this week on a Facebook page for the Delray club. “Large times were had,” wrote one. “His hospitality and lust for having a good time, and making sure all others around him had fun, never changed,” another wrote. Some recalled a time when Mr. Gochenour had to evict a disorderly drunk. He carried him out the door and placed him directly into the back of a passing pickup truck.
Many people credited Mr. Gochenour with revitalizing the Delray scene, something he reportedly was very proud of. They said the area would never be the same without him. The city’s mayor was expected to attend a memorial gathering held yesterday in Delray Beach.
Another gathering will be held at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Sunday at 7 p.m.
Michael Gochenour, a son of Glenn Elwood Gochenour and Betty Lois Cootts, was born on June 15, 1951, in Waynesboro, Va., a small town in the Shenandoah Valley that was “like Mayberry,” his brother said.
He graduated from Waynesboro High School in 1969, and went on to Virginia Commonwealth University, earning a degree in commercial art.
Working at an ad agency in Richmond, Va., he won awards for advertising design. While living in Richmond, where he was called Oakie, he owned European Motors, a business that bought and sold cars. “Each area that he lived in, he had a different nickname,” his brother said.
In New York City, he lived in a brownstone with a girlfriend who was a model, and hung out at Studio 54. In the early 1980s, a Studio 54 partners opening the club at Bay Street, and Mr. Gochenour moved to Sag Harbor to bartend there. He later lived in East Hampton. For some years, he spent summers bartending here, then headed to Spain and other places in Europe in the winter.
Besides his brother, Mr. Gochenour is survived by a sister, Vickie Wood of Manassas, Va., and his father, who lives in Waynesboro. His mother died in 2000.
Mr. Gochenour was cremated, and his ashes will be buried next to his mother’s in his hometown. Donations in his memory have been suggested for an organization of the donor’s choice. “It doesn’t matter where the money goes, just tell them Elwood sent you,” David Gochenour said.
“My mother said that Michael never met a stranger. Once you met him, you never forgot him.”