Second in a series by Cliff Lewis
Gus Karpouzis, the 83-year-old owner of Captain Gus’s steak shop, contentedly keeps up with odd-jobs and friendly patron banter. He’s been happily settled at this far West End location for over forty years. Before that, he owned a downtown nightclub, which proved a far less pleasant arrangement.
In the nineteen-fifties and early sixties, Karpouzis said, his Bamboo Nightclub enjoyed what was then a premier address at the 100 block of North Queen Street. “The Brunswick was always full,” Karpouzis said, “Three hotels on that block of North Queen Street; four theaters, two nightclubs, and anything you wanted to buy.”
Karpouzis remembers performances from ‘Rockability Queen’ Wanda Jackson as the peak of the Bamboo’s glory days. “The greatest person I ever met in my life,” Karpouzis said of Jackson. “I met her in ‘56,” he continued, “I treated her and Marvin Rainwater so good that she came back the following year and sang four nights in my nightclub for nothin’. A fly couldn’t get in the place.”
But, in 1965, as part of a massive, now-lamented ‘urban renewal’ effort in Lancaster City, the entire block was demolished. “It was the busiest block in the city,” Karpouzis said, “They tore it down and they ruined Lancaster.” It was through this act that Karpouzis says he was “burned” by the City: “I turned down $60,000 for my nightclub a year and a half before they tore it down. You know what I got off the city? 22 [thousand].”
Three years later, Karpouzis opened up a little steak shop on the 600 block of West Orange Street. He hasn’t left there since.
Today, Karpouzis’s son, Nick, heads up most of the daily operations at Captain Gus’s. But Gus continues to come in each day, helping out wherever he can. “I can’t stand on my feet,” he explained, “But I come and cut onions, cut my lettuce, help the kids, clean up the booths—odds and ends.”
“I love it,” Gus said.