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At Bobby Van’s, A Literary Lineage Awaits

Originally Posted: July 15, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

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Bobby Van opened the doors of his eponymous restaurant in 1969. Photos by Douglas Harrington

Bridgehampton - No mistaking this joint as anything but a classic Oak Bar, and it has a colorful pedigree to boot. Founded by a guy that can be described as the Hamptons' original piano man (sorry Billy Joel), actor and musician Bobby Van opened the doors of his eponymous restaurant in 1969 and it immediately became the favorite watering hole for a hoard of Hamptons writers, actors, artists and musicians.

Writers James Jones, Truman Capote and John Knowles with iconic literary agent Willy Morris standing in front of the facade of the original Bobby Van's Restaurant.

No need to look for a piano player in the corner, as the owner himself was at the keyboard in his own joint, as Van loved to entertain his guests. First located across Montauk Highway in what is now World Pie, the original was probably the epitome of Oak Bar style, but the migration 100 feet across the street and consequential redesign did nothing to diminish the classic ambiance.

As far as the pedigree of the clientèle goes, you need do nothing more that find a seat at the southern end of the bar and look up at the photograph of writers James Jones, Truman Capote and John Knowles with iconic literary agent Willy Morris standing outside the joint. Word has it these guys were all part of the regular back room poker games.

Ensconced in wood, Bobby Van's bar has the perfect height, depth, foot rail, stools and bar lip that true cocktail pros adore. The back bar is cluttered and utilitarian, as it should be. It is stocked with all the potent potables necessary for the classic cocktails from Manhattans to Martinis to Sidecars with a good selection of single malt scotches. No worries, your amateur, trend of the minute mate, male or female, can find the usual line-up of fruit infused vodkas. Chalkboards announce the wine choices and bar menu items, but you can order anything off the regular menu and they will bring it to the bar.

There is no mistaking this joint as anything but a classic Oak Bar.

This is a steakhouse and appropriately the bust of a steer looks out from above the back bar, whose top shelf is filled with magnums of great cognac. Behind the bar also hangs some other interesting Bobby Van's restaurant biographical artwork. And, of course, it looks like there are two of everything bottle wise, as it is mirrored in the way every back bar should be.

Under new ownership since Bobby Van's retirement in 1992 by restaurant veterans and regulars themselves, the new owners have maintained the spirit that first made Bobby Van's the popular watering hole it was from the day the doors opened. This is due in no small part to the pros behind the bar that proudly work the rails: Jimmy Red, Scott, Gerald and Mickey. Believe me, this bar is packed throughout the summer and winter weekends too, but as I have yet to mention, there is a beautiful standing half-wall bar rail that handles the overflow quite nicely.

As evening approaches the alabaster overhead lamps dim, as the sail linen fans spin. Sadly, the only thing missing is the piano, the smell of cigars and cigarettes and Bobby Van himself, who left this earth about a year and half ago. However, the spirit of the man remains in the Oak Bar he created and I swear for a moment I thought I heard the tinkling of tinny piano keys in the summer night's air.

Bobby Van's is located at 2393 Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton, 631-537-0590.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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Guest (Sylvia Frezzolini Severance) from Savannah says::
Big error . . . Bobby Van's was opened by Robert Van Velsor, Juilliard educated piano player. When the actor Bobby Van died, our Bobby was overwhelmed with sympathy notes and flowers. Sadly, our Bobby died a few years ago, but his wife, Marina Van, is the head of the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce. I knew them well when I lived in the Hamptons many years ago.
Oct 9, 2011 3:17 pm


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