Star-Struck at Gosman’s Restaurant

Written By: Debbie Tuma

When I turned 18 and was able to serve alcohol, I immediately applied
to Gosman’s Dock Restaurant in Montauk, which was considered a gold
mine for waiters back in the 1970’s. It overlooks the long rock jetties that
line the entrance of Montauk Harbor, where the fishing boats parade in and
Gosman’s Dock Restaurant was the largest of about 25 local eateries
back then, consisting of a huge upper deck, a lower deck on the water, and
an inside dining room. They seated about 800 people and turned the tables
over 4-5 times on weekend evenings during the summer. The lines out the
door were so long, that people had to wait almost two hours for a table, and
they did. Gosman’s was known for the freshest seafood, caught daily right at
their dock, and the best lobsters around, up to 5 pounds.
Owner Roberta Gosman would call people’s names out on her hand-
held microphone, attached to a long wire. When they started crowding
around her, demanding to be seated, she would fend them off by swinging
the microphone at them—it was a funny sight, like she was trying to hold
back a herd of cattle. Roberta was the oldest of six children and had five
younger brothers, who all worked at different aspects of the business. Being
the only girl in the family, she grew up tough and feisty. She also oversaw
the 50 waiters and bus people in the restaurant, and at times we were a bit
afraid of her quick temper. But she had a keen sense of humor, and she
would laugh along with us at the crazy things that happened in that
The “city people as we called them, always amazed us with their
complete lack of knowledge about our area.
“Miss, are these Alaskan crab claws local?” they would ask. Or, “Miss,
how many clams in a dozen?”
Once, a drunken man at my table on the lower deck pointed to the land
right across the harbor and said, “Miss, is that England?”
Back then, there were only about a thousand people living in Montauk,
and the tourists were very curious about the locals. They would ask me,
wide-eyed, “What do you do here in the winters?”
I loved to goof around with them, so I would say, “Oh, we have
spelling bees, quilting parties, we pick berries, and we hunt for our food.” It
wasn’t too far from the truth.
Another thing the tourists liked was when I was in the middle of
taking an order, and I would hear the toot of a horn, and see my father up on
the bridge of his charter fishing boat going past in the harbor. I would excuse
myself and run to the rail to wave to him. Then I would yell, “Pick me up at
5:00,” when I was serving lunch and needed a ride home. Sometimes I even
booked him fishing trips!
Back then, Gosman’s Restaurant had open-air tables on the lower
deck, with waterfront views, but also exposed to all the wind and rain. It was
also the most vulnerable to the attack of seagulls, that would often swoop
down, and carry off even the largest lobsters off the plates. Sometimes
people got lucky, and they only stole the baked potato. But seeing your
customer’s lobster go flying off was also seeing your tip go flying away!
Although some of the people had a sense of humor about it, my boss,
Emmett Gosman, who expedited the food in the kitchen, never thought it
was funny to lose his famous lobsters. Whenever it happened, I would have
to keep my laughs to myself, even though the surprised look on the faces of
my customers was hysterical!
The life of a Gosman’s waiter was the perfect lifestyle for me, as a
party animal. My fellow waiters and I would leave the beach and come to
work at 4 p.m. to set up our stations. We would go on the floor at 5 p.m.,
run like crazy all night until the kitchen closed at 10 p.m., and then go
dancing at the Montauk night clubs until they closed at 4 a.m. Then we
wound up at Salivar’s Dock Restaurant, eating breakfast with the local
fishing captains, who were getting ready for their trips.
After one of those very late nights, I was dreading going into Gosman’s
the next day, but somehow I stumbled in. I was hung over, wiped out, and all
I wanted to do was go home. On this Saturday night in July of 1971, I would
normally be thrilled to be working on the busiest waterfront station, to make
money for college. But I was too tired to move, so I begged Roberta to
relegate me to the worst station in the house.
The only place at Gosman’s where people seldom sit is affectionately
referred to as “The Poop Deck,” which overlooks the back parking lot and
the restaurant’s septic system. In the busiest of nights, it accommodates the
poor unfortunate souls known as “the overflow crowd.”
I was happily dozing off on the ‘Poop Deck,’ checking my watch as it
hit 9 p.m., and thinking how lucky I was that there was only another hour to
go until the kitchen closed. My head was throbbing and I felt nauseous, as I
sipped some tea and downed some Tylenol. Suddenly, to my amazement, I
saw Roberta walk toward me with a couple that she was actually sitting on
the “Poop Deck.” How could this happen? Why would anyone want to sit
here? Were these people freaks? I thought.
As I walked toward the couple, masterminding a plot of how I could
rush them out of here early, by saying we were out of everything, I arrived at
the table and went into shock, as I looked into the soulful, wire-rimmed eyes
of John Lennon, and then his wife, Yoko Ono. A cold sweat broke out all
over my body, and I began to shake. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t
“Hello,” smiled John. “We wanted to be alone. This is a good spot.
How are you tonight?”
How was I? “John, you’re my hero–you made my night—this is the
best and scariest night of my life,” I wanted to say. His brown hair was long,
like Yoko’s black hair, and he wore a white tunic, while she wore a black T-
shirt. They were holding hands and seemed relaxed.y
It was over 40 years ago, but I remember every word. They were
quiet, and calm, while I was nervous, and freaked out. I handed them the
menus. While I was pushing the famous Gosman’s lobsters, I had forgotten
that they were vegetarians.
“So they come to this noted Montauk seafood restaurant, known for its
amazing lobster and stunning water views, and they sit on the Poop Deck
and eat rice, vegetables and salad,” I thought.
But I didn’t care what they ate, I just wanted to hear what they said,
and stare at them. I asked them what they were doing in Montauk, and they
explained that they were renting a house for the summer, near the beach, and
had come here to do some artwork.
“I enjoy painting at the beach,” said Yoko. “We came with our son.”
They seemed interested when I told them I grew up in Montauk, and
how it had changed over the years. I always found that celebrities enjoyed
talking to locals, like they wanted to be one.
“We love it here,” said John. “It’s a lovely, special place to get away
and relax.”
While I was counting my blessings for this rare, private time alone
with John and Yoko, it didn’t last long. Pretty soon the other waiters and
waitresses discovered that they were there, and one by one they kept coming
over to John and Yoko’s table to bring extra napkins, creamers, salt and
pepper—anything for an excuse to get a look at them.
Back then I didn’t think to take a picture or get an autograph. But I
was not yet a paparazzi-hungry journalist, but a star-smitten college kid, just
elated to meet a Beatle. To this day, I wondered why I never saved the tip
they left me or framed the dollar bills, or the napkin, or whatever.
Little did I know that about a decade later, John Lennon would
suddenly die on my birthday. I was celebrating my 30th birthday on
December 8, at a surprise party across town on Manhattan’s East Side, when
I turned on the news and saw this terrible tragedy unfold before my eyes.
Once again, a cold sweat broke out all over my body, as I recalled that lucky
chance meeting on a perfect summer evening in Montauk. In my
devastation, I was thankful I had come into work.