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T.J. Clemente's Traditions of the Hamptons #30 - Sam's Restaurant

A great place over the years to enjoy a wonderful meal.

At 65 years and running strong, Sam’s Restaurant, located at 36 Newtown Lane in East Hampton is East Hampton’s oldest continuous restaurant.

Founded in 1947 by Sam Naska it had remained a family business for three generations until five years ago, when Sam Naska’s grandson Tom Johnson sold the business to present owner Graham Quinn. Mr. Quinn had worked behind the restaurant’s bar for 12 years before acquiring Sam’s, calling it a combination of “being in the right place at the right time, and the luck of the Irish.” Graham pointed out that Sam Naska himself worked behind the restaurant bar for over 30 years.

Opened all year round, Graham enjoys the fact that it is a local place that has a local following. With 10 bar seats and 56 seats at tables Sam’s Restaurant has a capacity of 66 which is severely tested during the summer season. Not taking reservations often neighbors socialize either while waiting for a table or for a take out pizza of which the place is renowned.

Many notables over the years make a point of ordering a Sam’s Pizza as soon as they arrive in town. So much more than just a pizza restaurant, there is no denying the pizzas that come in three sizes has long been a Hamptons tradition. Many weekend arrivals plan to be on time to order a Sam’s Pizza before it closes at 10 p.m. nightly.

Graham, who enjoys the fact that he has an accomplished golf game, loves being on the premises as much as possible to continue the traditions of friendly service that Sam Naska made famous. Although now being the business owner has affected his golf game, or so he says, Graham plans on, “Keeping it the way it is in the local traditions.” There is no doubt to the pride he exhibited when talking about the place’s storied past.

Sam Naska opened it in 1947 and stayed active until his death in the mid-'70s  when then his daughter, Rose, already married to Eric Johnson took over. Rose and Eric met working for the phone company in East Hampton located at 1 Main Street on the corner of Newtown Lane and Main Street. Graham said, “After working for the phone company all day Rose would come work at the restaurant all night.” When Rose passed away in the late 1990s she left the place to her son Tom Johnson, and Eric, who is still alive, retired. Tom Johnson, in pursuit of other goals in life, sold the place to Graham in 2006 in a friendly transaction. Tom always had a high regard for Graham and his diligence to Sam’s it seemed only logical for Graham to be his successor.

The wood paneling on the walls is the original as is the beautiful wooden bar itself. The mural of various Italian cities was painted around the bar in the 1970’s at the bequest of Eric Johnson. The famous booths with the green leather chairs and the over hanging lanterns has all the charm of the late 1940’s. The well known painting of the restaurant’s façade hangs on the back wall as well as the Special’s Blackboard.

The year when I lived on Barn’s Lane behind Sam’s I became well versed with the menu. To this day I always long for their veal cutlet parmigiana which is the closest to the way my mother cooked it for me growing up. With 5 beers on tap and a new extensive wine list, added by Graham, the bar at Sam’s has always been an all year round casual local stop off, for a glass of wine or a cold draft beer, usually to talk with Graham about golf or just anything. The place has a timelessness that is priceless. The chances are when the TV is on it might just be golf on, however the TV is located in a way to not affect the atmosphere of Sam’s. Described as charming and cozy in many revues Graham Quinn likes to think of his historic restaurant as, “a local place, which has stayed the same over the years with not a lot changing.”

The neon sign, Sam’s Restaurant, which precedes the town law prohibiting such sign outdoors, is itself an icon of East Hampton.

Graham was inspecting the flowers out in front of the window when he took pause to look around. He smiled, he is happy, “I made it through the winter in fine form, and I have the same people working here who know how to make this place work. Locals serving locals.” As for the summer season Graham knows that is the great business season.

Further information at www.samseasthampton.com or 631-324-5900.

Also note my novel, "Whistling Past the Hottie Graveyard," is now available on Amazon.com or  www.whistlingpastthehottiegraveyard.com.

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