UNION noun (yün-yən) An act or instance of uniting or joining two or more things into one.
When idea meets execution, when vision becomes reality, when things come together in exactly, or even almost exactly, the way one has imagined, the result deserves a toast. Raise your bourbon, your beer, your wine…you’re at Union now, so it’s all flowing.
Indeed, many of those toasts were offered as doors reopened last Thursday afternoon, February 27, and Union Burger Bar officially took over the space at Southampton’s 40 Bowden Square that had been home to Mexican eatery Union Cantina for the past four years. The evolution signaled the answer to a question that had been percolating since Union Burger Bar (lovingly knows as UBB or Burger Bar) debuted in January 2019: What’s next, and when? (Okay, that’s two questions baked into one, so consider it a BOGO.)
“The ultimate motivation behind Burger Bar was twofold,” says owner Ian Duke, who also owns Southampton Social Club and for a decade now has made it his and his team’s mission to bring both culinary excellence and a requisite quality experience to the Hamptons. “The village was in dire need of somewhere to go and get burgers—the American diet is almost build around the hamburger—and we were looking at a way to better utilize our space. Little could we have anticipated that Burger Bar would start off with the enormous success it had and that it would continue throughout the whole year. It became more and more popular, more and more communal, so we needed to make it bigger.”
The award-winning burgers and French fries and surreal shakes (all of them Dan’s Best of the Best Platinum honorees, by the way)—paired with the standout beer and bourbon lists, family friendly atmosphere and nod to local history with the beloved Barister’s Wednesdays $5 burger special—were a hit from day one, leaving little doubt that expansion was going to have to come faster than anyone could have anticipated. Although Union Cantina is but a fond memory, the nachos, guacamole and a few other favorites are now on the UBB menu, as emails from locals to Duke became almost an unofficial public movement to keep them around. “People were very excited about the changes,” Duke says, “but there were definitely some Cantina favorites they wanted us to keep.”
Now the creative forces behind the East End’s preeminent burger bistro and bar have revealed they have the answer to another culinary query we’ve all been asking for years. First, though, the answer:
Union Sushi & Steak will be opening in mid to late April, taking over the original UBB area as well as the larger adjacent portion of the restaurant space.
As to that question (again, two or three for the price of one): What does Southampton Village need in the dining and experience space? Where is an outstanding steak and sushi spot nearby? How do you take the traditional steakhouse or sushi bar and elevate it?
“I am a believer that the ultimate goal for every restaurateur should be to give the people what they want,” Duke says. “This is something people want. But we want to make it different, unique.
“As a big red meat eater, which I am, I love a traditional steakhouse. I love ordering a great steak and then all the things that come with it—the specific sides, as opposed to the chef allocating what comes with a dish. We’re not going to have 43 different steaks,” Duke adds of the menu being crafted by Executive Chef Scott Kampf. “We’re going to have a few of the best—the best filet, the best strip, the best ribeye. With the sushi, we have a great chef who has worked all over, and this is going to be his unveiling in the Hamptons. Building the first sushi bar in Southampton, we are really confident that this will exceed the expectations of the slightly more sophisticated crowd that comes with it.
“But we are looking to combine a few things to create a restaurant with a very modern, cool vibe, a clientele that loves a great steak, that loves great sushi. Our goal is to create an environment”—something of a complement to Southampton Social Club, if you will—“for that slightly more mature crowd with a great vibe, great food, and that might even encourage that crowd to get into a dancing, bottle-service feel. I think music is a major component in restaurants. In the new spot, we will have a DJ. That doesn’t mean we’ll have a DJ who’s kicking on dance music, but who is creating that right vibe, that right energy. That makes a big difference. Instead of sitting in a restaurant playing that Pandora radio station and the same song comes on four times in an hour,” he adds with a laugh. “That is, admittedly, a step better than playing the CDs from the 1980s, but only marginally.”
Great music, outstanding food, impeccable service. The ingredients are there for the perfect cocktail. Speaking of which…
“Great cocktails are something that on the East End, relative to what we see in Manhattan, has struggled,” Duke says. “There are exceptions. In Southampton, we have some very good bars, but we don’t have any authentic cocktail bars, ones that are willing to push the envelope a little bit further, think about the ice that’s going to be served in a drink, the glass the drink is actually served in, trying to take things to the next level. That is what the whole experience of Union Sushi & Steak will be—taking things to the next level.”