Tony Astarita (1955-2019)
A celebrated Little Venice waiter, famous for regaling customers for decades with singing and practical jokes, has died at 64.
Originally from Modena, the northern Italian city famous for its sports cars, Antonino Astarita became known to generations of Bermuda diners as Tony or “Crazy Tony”. The senior waiter and wine steward's inexhaustible hospitality was “from the heart”, Mr Astarita told The Royal Gazette in 2011.
Speaking on the Hamilton restaurant's 40th anniversary, he added: “I come here to enjoy people. We treat people right and they are satisfied. I love the job. Sometimes in the morning I can't wait to come into this place.”
Mr Astarita had his own colourful back story for coming to the island, saying he had been poached from a Capri nightclub in the 1970s by friends from the Little Venice.
He recalled: “They said ‘why don't you come with us to Bermuda'. And then a week later, I was in Bermuda.”
His quick and personable service came with a trademark laugh and supply of comedic props, including rubber chickens, Viking helmets and a suit of armour.
Awarding Mr Astarita a Best of Bermuda as a waiter in July 1997, The Bermudian magazine remarked: “Still crazy after 18 years, for him every day is carnival, every meal an opportunity to perform.”
Emilio Barbieri, the managing director for the restaurant's operating company MEF Group, said his original business partner Gioacchino “Jacky” DiMeglio had orchestrated Mr Astarita's arrival here on September 18, 1979.
“Tony came as a waiter, and he wanted to be a sommelier, which eventually he was,” Mr Barbieri said. “He was very happy with what he was doing.
“His conversation was always to the point, to make people laugh. That's what made him unique. If you said something he didn't understand, it was his big laugh that told you, somehow, he understood. His personality was bigger than himself.”
Mr Astarita's repertoire of practical jokes included warning patrons the coffee was dangerously hot, then pretending to spill it on them. The cup, which would be empty, was secretly held in place with a spoon through the handle.
One party routine entailed a doctor's costume, and checking patrons with a stethoscope to ensure it was safe to continue serving them alcohol.
Mr Barbieri said: “He was the only one who could get away with it.”
Mr Astarita was also known as “the singing waiter”, rendering “Happy Birthday” for guests deliberately out of tune.
Mr Barbieri said the waiter's favourite had been the opera favourite Nessun dorma from Puccini's Turandot.
“That was his forte, the one he really enjoyed,” he said.
Mr Astarita is survived by his wife, Sue, and stepchildren Harry, Alice and Charlie.
A memorial service will be held next Saturday at St Theresa's Cathedral on Cedar Avenue in Hamilton.