Carl Gust, a longtime local bartender and a “people person” who always lent a hand to others, died at home in East Hampton last Thursday following a heart attack. He was 77.
For the last eight years, Mr. Gust, who was known as the Greek, tended bar at Amagansett’s Stephen Talkhouse, where he developed a following at his late-afternoon “Carl’s Cafe,” drawing together friends several days a week.
He had lived in one of the apartments at Windmill Village on Accabonac Road for the last five years and before that, in East Hampton Village.
“He was an iconic East End figure known for his self-deprecating sense of humor,” Peter Honerkamp, an owner and manager of the Talkhouse, said this week.
Decades ago, Mr. Gust came here from New York City, where he had lived since he was in his 20s, to work as a chef for Dick Edwards, who had bought the Dory restaurant on Shelter Island. He also worked at the Chequit Inn on Shelter Island, and then at O’Malley’s in East Hampton from 1979 to 2004.
His friends thought of Mr. Gust as the king of one-liners. “He was a truly genuine and charming fellow — and one funny son of a bitch,” Ranko Simonovich said. “He had a joke for every topic,” Tommy LaGrassa, another friend, said. “To get him to really laugh at a joke was an accomplishment, because he’d heard them all.”
Mr. Gust also liked a good bet, but, his friends said, was not often a winner. “He loved any sport -— anything you could bet on. He had to have some action,” said a friend, Steve Lilja. “He always thought today was going to be the day,” and he’d win a lottery scratch-off for $2 million, Mr. Lilja said. In fact, his friends said, Mr. Gust was called “Honorary Chief Sitting Duck” at the Foxwoods Casino. But, Mr. Lilja said, “When he won, everyone won. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”
Mr. Gust, who loved to cook, would bring friends, or anyone who was under the weather, Greek specialties, like pastichio. He also enjoyed golf and was a member of the South Fork Country Club in Amagansett.
Two years ago, Mr. Gust swept past competitors for the title of “Mr. Amagansett” in a pageant at the Talkhouse, and he was the grand marshal for the Am O’Gansett parade, which runs a few feet down the sidewalk there.
At his 76th birthday almost two years ago, Mr. Gust was surprised with a party at which a bevy of female friends flanked him to sing “Simply Irresistible,” a Robert Palmer song, dressed as the actors in the music video.
He had gotten to be an extra in “The Godfather,” he told his friends, but ended up on the cutting room floor. His brother, Paul Gust of Winter Haven, Fla., said he was a good singer.
At the Talkhouse some years ago, for a faux-boxing performance fund-raiser called “Drunks in Trunks,” he sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Just in case, Mr. Gust had the words to the song on a paper in his pocket, but when he pulled it out, it was his shopping list. He managed the song without a crib sheet.
A son of John and Helen Gust, he was born on Aug. 6, 1934, in Evanston, Ill., and grew up on the south side of Chicago, by the stockyards. He attended Tilden Tech High School, and after the family moved to Miami Beach, the University of Miami.
As a teenager, he worked as a bellhop at Miami hotels, and in the summertime, at Catskills resorts. Later, he opened his own business, Carl’s Hole-in-One Donuts, in Miami Beach.
In the mid-1950s, he served in the Army as a cook, stationed at Fort Jackson, S.C., for a time.
By all accounts, Mr. Gust was devoted to his wife, Barbara Hogan, who died some two decades ago. He felt her loss sharply, his friends and family said. “He adored his wife; it was really beautiful,” Mr. Honerkamp said. “She used to call him ‘Greekie.’ ”
Mr. Gust’s friends gathered informally at the Talkhouse on Saturday, and, as the Kentucky Derby horses lined up at the gate, pulled out a Derby pool, one of the last things Mr. Gust had arranged.
“He always had a hilarious running commentary to go with it,” Reg Cornelia remembered. The horse Mr. Cornelia bet on had 57-to-1 odds. “Can I put a fix in in heaven?” he asked. When the horse, “I’ll Have Another,” won the race, it seemed a fitting end to an afternoon that Carl the bartender would have enjoyed.
Besides his brother, he is survived by a sister, Penny Miller of Las Vegas. He was cremated, and his ashes will be buried in a Florida cemetery following a military service, his brother said. A memorial gathering and potluck dinner will take place at the Talkhouse on May 20, beginning at 4 p.m. A film about Mr. Gust will be shown.
The Talkhouse is accepting memorial contributions in his name to the Don T. Sharkey Memorial Fund. They may be sent c/o Stephen Talkhouse, P.O. Box 1905, Amagansett 11930.