Southampton’s Silver Lining

Silver’s lobster roll. Independent/Hannah Selinger

If you want to take a trip back in time, look no further than Silver’s on Southampton’s Main Street, a restaurant that boasts an incredibly long timeline — it’s been serving food to the hungry summer masses since 1923.

The restaurant began as a pet project of Max and Mollie Silver, who had come to Southampton as tailors for Bergdorf Goodman. A second branch of the Silver family arrived, by way of New Jersey, where they had run a cigar shop. Nearly a century later, Garrett Wellins, the grandson of Max and Mollie, owns and operates Silver’s. Now 64, Wellins has worked at Silver’s since he was eight years old.

As it turns out, that cigar shop enjoyed some success on the East End. For 40 years, Silver’s Cigar Store operated as Southampton’s preferred smoke shop, carrying hundreds of national and international newspapers and magazines. The days of cigar smoking in the restaurant, however, are long passed, although Silver’s still memorializes this moment in time with the cigar store’s original humidor, perched proudly at the restaurant’s front.

The cigar shop suffered tough times in the 1960s, owing both to a newspaper strike and a transit strike. Main Street plugged through the loss of local businesses, but Silver’s Cigar Shop could not be saved. With $5000, the Wellins family purchased a secondhand soda fountain and reinvented themselves, boasting a slim menu that has not changed much over time. Classics include the French potato and leek soup, the Silver BLT (Eli’s Tuscan bread, bacon, tomatoes, Romaine, and mayonnaise), and, of course, the legendary lobster roll, prepared in the traditional Maine style, with celery, mayonnaise, and enough lobster to shake a stick at, all on brioche.

The restaurant’s food ethos is fresh, simple ingredients prepared well. Beware to the bargain hunters of the Hamptons: Silver’s is not the place to go if you’re looking for lunch on the cheap. Still, who can resist farm-fresh produce in the height of summer, accompanied by, say, thick, baked crabmeat cakes — with fish sourced from the North Fork’s Braun Seafood Company? For the non-calorie conscious among us, there are plenty of European-inflected dishes: pâté, duck confit, pear salad with Stilton and walnut oil. One thing the restaurant does not do is dinner.

The building that houses Silver’s has been around for over 100 years. Black and white linoleum floors give way to a marble bar, brass fixtures, and original paintings from Bess Silver, who was a draftsman during World War II. Although it isn’t noted on the paintings themselves, they, too, can be bought — for the right price.

The back patio is compelling even in mediocre weather: wicker chairs abutting white tableclothed tables and shaded by teak and canvas umbrellas. If those seats are already taken — as they often are in high season — you can sit out front, too, where you will be treated to the thrum of Main Street in summer, ever abuzz with life.

You may not be able to snag a Cuban cigar at Silver’s any longer, but never mind. The generous lobster roll is an apt substitution, after all. Still, it’s worth noting that those interested in sampling this bit of Hamptons history should act — and act quickly. In June of this year, Wellins listed the restaurant’s space for $5.79 million, telling the New York Post that it was “time to go.” He expects to run Silver’s through the end of the year, so catch it while you still can.

Each week The Independent features a local restaurant that has stood the test of time. Each restaurant has been open for over a decade.

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