Celebrate Riverhead and Its Burgeoning Arts, Retail and Dining Scene

Riverhead's Suffolk Theater.
Riverhead’s Suffolk Theater. Photo credit: Brendan J. O’Reilly

East Enders continue to flock to Riverhead on a regular basis to shop at the big-name stores at the Tanger Outlets and at the big-box stores along the way—and to enjoy bowling, games, drinks and grub at The All Star . But more and more people are rediscovering downtown Riverhead’s historic East Main Street, with its burgeoning dining and arts scene.

On the way downtown, many enjoy a stop at Buoy One at 1175 West Main Street for a bite of fresh seafood bliss. Across the way, Riverhead’s famous Snowflake Ice Cream beckons those with a sweet tooth.

Robert Valada, Mortgage Specialist at Riverhead’s Ulster Savings, says, “I have lived and worked in Riverhead for almost 11 years and the growth of retail and services on Route 58 is tremendous. The rebirth of downtown, old Riverhead is still developing nicely and the events along the river have been growing each year.”

What’s next for Riverhead?

Valada says, “Major progress and growth in the medical fields. New walk-in medical locations are opening, as well as the growth of the Peconic Bay Medical Center main hospital and the new addition of an offsite location in downtown Riverhead. There’s also a very strong growth of legal offices with attorneys due to the Riverhead courts.”

What makes Riverhead special?

Per Valada: “A very diverse population—the many shopping outlets and stores—pull in people from up west, and the south and the north shore of Suffolk. It is also a jumping off point as the East End’s crossroads for the North Fork and for the Hamptons to the South. I enjoy the Old Long Island feel of the Riverhead farms and the people, along with the new growth—it’s country living with all the modern conveniences.”

Happy birthday Riverhead! You can celebrate the Town of Riverhead’s 225th Anniversary with a night of dining, dancing and reminiscing at the historic Suffolk Theater on Main Street on Saturday, September 23. Colonial attire is optional, but there will be a contest for Best Dressed Colonial Costumes. There will also be hors d’oeuvres, a buffet dinner, a cash bar and entertainment by the New Millennium Jazz Band. The event starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are free for this event. Other fall events in the Suffolk Theater lineup include ABBA, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, John Lennon and Janis Joplin tribute bands, Joan Osborne singing the songs of Bob Dylan, and more.

Happy birthday to you! Is your birthday coming up? Present a valid ID and get free admission within seven days of your birthday to Riverhead’s world famous Long Island Aquarium right on Main Street. This FINtastic destination features one of the largest all-living coral reef displays in this hemisphere, a 120,000-gallon shark tank, year-round sea lion shows, African penguins, marmosets, numerous touch tanks and more than 100 exhibits, including the lavish indoor gardens featuring their Butterflies, Bugs & Birds Exhibit! Try one of their JAWSome Aquatic Adventures, like the Shark Dive, where you’ll get in the cage and plunge down into the amazing Lost City of Atlantis Shark Exhibit. Or the Penguin Encounter, where you’ll get up close and personal with the aquarium’s cutest feathered friends.

The Long Island Aquarium coral reef exhibit
Coral reef exhibit, Photo: Courtesy Long Island Aquarium

East End Arts (EEA) is a multi-award winning 501(c)3 nonprofit arts organization committed to building and enriching all segments of the community through the arts by way of education, support, advocacy and inspiration. As a regional multi-arts center recognized as an “outstanding organization focused on local neighborhood priorities,” EEA acts as a powerful catalyst for economic and cultural revitalization in Riverhead, its home base, and for the surrounding villages and towns—and has been doing so since 1972.

The East End Arts School, founded in 1995 on Main Street, is a gathering place for aspiring artists, musicians and actors. Under the tutelage of professional faculty, students of any age can study in a private or group setting. The School is a member of the National Guild of Community Arts Education and a founding School Candidate for the Royal Conservatory Music Development program serving as an Assessment Center for the entire Eastern Long Island region.

Evidence of EEA’s commitment to celebrating diversity includes ongoing relations and support for Embracing Our Differences, Southampton Anti Bias Task Force and Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Inc. Visit eastendarts.org for more on their amazing programs and community building efforts.

And don’t forget to stop by the EEA gallery at 133 East Main Street in Riverhead. While the last show, the sixth annual national competition and exhibit, Play with Perspective, just wrapped up, the Winner’s Show, a group show of Best-in-Show artists from 2016—Barbara Groot, Lori Hollander, Margaret Minardi and Patricia Robinson—opens Thursday, September 28 and runs through October 28. There will be an opening reception on Thursday, September 28 from 5–7 p.m.

Artist and photographer Tony Graziano says, “My relationship with EEA goes back about 10 years and I’m currently a member as a working artist. I believe that they are a first class arts organization and a catalyst for downtown revitalization as well as providing benefits to many East End artists.”

Founded in 1886, the Suffolk County Historical Society is headquartered in Riverhead, where it houses over 20,000 artifacts related to the history of Suffolk County in its handsome museum at 300 West Main Street. In fact, the museum building itself, dating from 1930, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings, making it worth a visit at any time. The current exhibitions and upcoming events provide even more impetus for such a visit. Among the enticing displays is On This Sight: The Indigenous People of Suffolk County, showcasing artwork by Shinnecock artist Jeremy Dennis that seeks to raise awareness of culturally and historically significant Native American sites in Suffolk County. Another exhibit, Grucci: The Family That Lights the Skies, examines the history of the famous Suffolk-based Grucci fireworks family. Over Here, Over There: Long Island and the Great War traces Long Islanders’ experience of the First World War, while 100 Years: Votes for New York Women (1917-2017) examines the roles of Long Island women activists in campaigning for women’s suffrage.  The museum charges non-members $5, but there are substantial discounts for seniors and children, and families never pay more than $10 for admission.

Starting in early October, the Historical Society will celebrate the 225th anniversary of the founding of Riverhead Town with a exhibition featuring photographs, documents, maps, and other artifacts from their collection to tell the story of Riverhead’s history from 1792 to the present. On October 14 starting at 1 p.m., the Society will host a free opening reception for this must-see exhibit of one-of-a-kind Riverheadiana.

In addition to their exhibits, the Society hosts numerous events, some free and some requiring small entrance fees. Their “Book & Bottle” series brings history writers to talk about their books, and wine and cheese is served.  Admission is free for Society members, $5 for non-members. On October 7, the series will bring author Robert G. Giffen to talk about his book One Little River about the Connetquot River, while the talk on November 2 will feature Kerrian Flanagan Brosky and her book Historic Crimes of Long Island.

In 1896, Tweed’s opened for business in the J.J. Sullivan Hotel at its present location on Riverhead’s East Main Street, and it is believed to be the oldest continuing restaurant, bar and hotel in the Town of Riverhead. Tweed’s even continued to operate during Prohibition through the imaginative use of secret doors and dumbwaiters. The place is full of history. From the head of the last buffalo hunted by Theodore Roosevelt to the mahogany and marble bar, originally constructed for the 1893 Exposition in Chicago. Straight out of Riverhead’s remarkable past, this landmark location has been lovingly restored to recreate a style of dining more than a century old.

Today, Tweed’s combines true local flavor with sophisticated cuisine in an atmosphere of comfort, warmth, courtesy and welcoming familiarity. If you’re looking to sink your teeth into something new, check out this historic establishment’s Elk Hanger Steak, one of the most popular items on their menu. It’s so popular, in fact, they’re having trouble keeping it in stock! If you haven’t tried Elk, it’s a delicious, exotic beef alternative. Be bold, give it a try.

Tweed's in Riverhead
Tweed’s in Riverhead, Photo: Oliver Peterson

Other must-try—or try again for a hit of nostalgia—eateries include: Farm Country Kitchen, Spicy’s (barbeque), Star Confectionary (soda fountain), Dark Horse, Perabell (globally inspired New American) and the classic Riverhead Diner.

Riverhead Farmers Market, the East End’s only year-round farmers market, operates every Saturday at 117 East Main Street. Find a selection of seasonal produce, local wines and prepared food items to deliciously impress your family and friends.

Riverhead Farmers Market
Riverhead Farmers Market

This year’s Riverhead County Fair—which takes place along the iconic Peconic River waterfront in downtown Riverhead—marks the 42nd Annual Columbus Day Weekend that has celebrated the agricultural heritage of the town. As one of the largest festivals in New York State, Riverhead hosts visitors and vendors from many states. Take time to enjoy the works of original artists, agricultural and homemaking displays and competitions, authors, entertainers, local merchants, food, amusement rides, pony rides, business expositions and displays and, of course, more food. Covering more than 100,000 square feet, the Riverhead County Fair offers something for everyone. Head to the riverfront on Sunday, October 8.

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