Restaurants in the Hamptons come and go. We try the new ones. Everyone’s a food critic. It gets a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
A year or so ago, a new restaurant opened up in the building on the Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton across from the Carvel. I took one look at the name out front, thought this couldn’t possibly succeed, and privately vowed to never eat there. Now it’s gone. There may have been another reason it closed, maybe even a good one, but my opinion is it was the name.
Looking at that name, I believed there was somebody who thought that the people of eastern Long Island, which qualifies as one of the great fisheries in the world, would somehow want to eat a kind of shellfish that is not caught commercially here and, by its very name, made you think of a big truck with ice and crabs in crates in the back being driven for hours and hours to get these crabs here from upstate New York, which is famous for them.
The owner of this place, I thought, must really be proud of his Hudson Blue crabs. And, of course, we would love them, too.
We here on the East End are proud of the fish we are famous for: striped bass, fluke, bluefish, lobsters and clams. Our commercial fishermen harvest them fresh right off our shores. Recently, in fact, there was someone with a computer program that, I was told, could arrange with customers to tell them the very time of day the fish he was about to eat got caught. The waiter could announce it.
It seemed to me that featuring Hudson Blue crabs would be like opening a restaurant here that featured Idaho potatoes. It would be like opening a wine shop that sold only California wines. Strawberries? We get the famous strawberries from Costa Rica here.
The building that housed the Hudson Blue Crab House has for nearly half a century been occupied by one restaurant or another. And I have a story to tell about the time this place was called The Hayground Tavern. I think about this story every time I drive by this restaurant, no matter what they call it.
As you know, I’ve been writing this newspaper for 60 years. The names of the restaurants come and go. Back in the 1980s there was a time it was called The Hayground Tavern.
I was selling all the ads in the paper myself back then. I’d walk around town with a sales pack under my arm. When The Hayground Tavern opened, I went in. It was a local tavern and Tom, the man behind the bar, said he was the owner. He bought $2,000 worth of ads that year. He signed the contract, we shook hands and the ads got published every week. But he never sent a check.
That fall, I stopped in to get a check and he said he didn’t have it but would mail it by the following week. When he didn’t do that, I called and he said, oh, I forgot, I’ll do it next week. This went on a while and he was very polite, but the following spring he still hadn’t paid it and I was still getting “anytime now” excuses when I called.
I went along with it. I liked my customers. This routine continued on through the second year—I wouldn’t sell him a new ad until he paid for the earlier one, of course—and in the fall the dance continued.
At this point I told him if he didn’t pay I’d have to take him to Southampton small claims court, where matters under $3,000 are decided. He said no worries. The check will be in your hands next week.
When again it wasn’t, I had a summons served on him. There was a court date. When he didn’t show up, the judge awarded me a default judgement, and soon after that I called to tell him the sheriff would be showing up to get the money.
About two months later, I was upstairs in my office in the Dan’s Papers building when I heard a ruckus downstairs that sounded like fighting. There was shouting and doors slamming and chairs moving about. I ran down the stairs to find everybody in the front office on their hands and knees on the floor, picking up hundreds of dollar bills. They were everywhere.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“It was that guy from The Hayground Tavern,” the office manager said. “He threw all this money at us. He said, ‘Tell Dan Rattiner to never come into The Hayground Tavern again.’ Then he left, slamming the door.”
It was everything he owed.
After that, every time I’d drive by The Hayground Tavern, a bolt of fear would stab through me. Ten years went by. Then someone told me they’d heard there were new owners of The Hayground Tavern. “Great!” I said.
I immediately raced over, parked out front, took out my sales pack and strode in the front door. People were sitting at the bar. From behind the bar, a man turned and looked at me.
“You! Out!” he shouted.
And out I got.