Reviews

 

The American Hotelier

Avenue Magazine June 2015

By Christopher Lawrence

Nobody can really remember who first said of the front porch at Singapore’s Raffles Hotel that “if one sits there long enough, one will eventually meet everybody who is anybody.” Sag Harbor cannot be said to be Singapore, but there are those summer nights when the heat is thick and damp and packs—of yachtsmen and their expensive wives, of giddy teenagers, of prosperous New Yorkers of all stripes—shuffle up and down Main Street. And when the Jitney lurches right up beside the American Hotel’s own famous porch just after midnight, well, it feels quite a bit like a festive nerve center for our very own surreal late-imperial America: “Everybody who is anybody?” On any old summer evening, there are too many boldfaced names to mention. (And fun ones, too. I ducked in a while back to buy a cigar when I collided with the now departed Larry Hagman. Major Nelson! J. R. Ewing himself! On the South Fork—and far, far away from Southfork). That same summer, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s security detail was anxious about the state’s chief executive dining with Billy Joel out on the porch. The Governor and the Piano Man. Just another steamy midseason night at the American Hotel.

The Hotel’s living room–sized lobby area and its barroom marry the masculinity of the 21 Club in its heyday—particularly in the hotel’s back room—to the genteel eccentricities of a London dining club. Ted Conklin, the ever dapper owner, visionary, carpenter, rescuer, sommelier, long-ago resident and chef, and the still presiding pasha of the hotel, was born to an ancient and storied Long Island family. After making his way through Lawrenceville, Babson and a stint as a farmer near the Canadian border, he decided in 1971 that the decrepit former boardinghouse on Main Street (built ca. 1824) deserved to be revived as an oasis of civility for a town whose industrial bottom had just fallen out. The building had not hosted guests for better than four decades, and its ancient owner was using the first-floor dining room as a residence. The story of Theodore Brigham Conklin III standing in the basement, knee-deep in coal dust and removing it by the bucketful, is personal history become village lore. After banging nails and hanging wallpaper himself, he braved the winter of ’71–’72 in a building that still had four privies in back. Ted opened the restaurant for Independence Day weekend in 1972 while serving as his own chef. At this writing, the hotel’s wine list is better than 85 pages long, and there are more than 30,000 bottles beneath the floorboards in the barroom. Wine Spectator has faithfully bestowed its Grand Award on the cellar for decades. The hotel is presently one of only 87 restaurants worldwide to receive the honor.

Meanwhile, outside the hotel’s doors, Sag Harbor lays a strong claim to being the most coveted and most exciting village on the East End. In terms of pure commerce and cachet, the place has finally caught up with Ted’s long-ago vision. Deep, dense bags of cash are being exchanged for tiny old village houses, and the Main Street storefronts are looking chicer by the day. The hotel’s competition at the very top end of the culinary heap is always shifting and expanding, particularly in both East Hampton and Bridgehampton. Sag Harbor’s own Baron’s Cove, once basically a motor inn, is being so radically renovated and reinvented that American Hotel mainstay and oenophile Jay McInerney is serving as a “curator” of the restaurant wine list, which has replaced the outdoor Coke machines and ice makers. How could the new joint’s selections not be at least slightly influenced by McInerney’s decades-long enjoyment of the Conklin cellar? A glowing tribute, but perhaps a slightly inconvenient one as well—competition as a sincere form of flattery.

There were even swirling rumors—dismissed by Ted himself and now somewhat receded—that the hotel might be for sale. To Ralph Lauren, no less. To some large extent, Sag Harbor has met the hotel and become the town that the hotel itself imagined. Once an outpost, the American Hotel is now a venerable temple. It embodies and encapsulates a good deal of what sets Sag Harbor apart—for now. But can that balance last? Will success ruin the ecosystem? And if Sag Harbor as a whole has been remade in the hotel’s image, where does the boardinghouse now stand?

Ted was in residence last October as Sag Harbor began to again feel like a village. I had crab cakes with my shawl-wrapped friend as a hearty-ish few of us slipped in what stood to be a last October evening out on the porch. It’s possible that a cigar was smoked in closerthan-strictly-approved distance from the hotel door. Jimmy Buffett strolled out of the barroom and chatted away with several diners on the porch. It was that absolutely priceless annual moment when the days and the waters of Long Island are still warm and when everyone with obligations back in the world has left to take care of them. From a distance, Ted seemed to be reveling in the evening. But I thought of the quiet and the coming chill when he later remembered what 1971 had looked like on Main Street. Bulova had abandoned its watch factory, and NASA budget cuts had brought Grumman’s work on the Apollo program to an abrupt end. “Basically overnight, 1,500 jobs vanished, and the population of the town plummeted to 2,000. There was a palpable tension between locals and the New Yorkers who began to trickle in to buy the old family houses.” Ted had a young family and was living upstairs from the freshly renovated barroom. Electricity had just been added to the building, but Conklin’s truck had to be sacrificed to pay the plumbing bill. The guiding vision had been for the hotel to be a great haven for one and all: artists, writers, haves, and have-nots. But bar fights were a symptom both of the town’s economic body blows and of the intermingling of different socioeconomic worlds. Four decades and much big success later, Conklin the raconteur makes it all sound quite the adventure. But it’s the real rawness of that time and place and the unlikeliness of the ultimate business win that seem to add an enduring spring to Ted’s step. He certainly earned it.

By late January, the fireplace in the hotel’s barroom had become blessed relief from the cold winds coming off the harbor. Peconic Bay oysters from Pickerell’s farms and a spinach salad avec lardons did the evening’s trick admirably. (Veteran bartender Vinnie Nom—an institution entirely in his own right—conjured dinner post-deadline.) Julie Keyes, local artist, operator, gal about town and sometimes Conklin associate/always Conklin friend, was cackling over Ted’s handling of her cantankerous septuagenarian beau, the accomplished Israeli sculptor Nathan Joseph. Nathan, who is well known for making his views quite, um . . . well known, is a fixture at the hotel’s bar. In honor of all the outspokenness, Ted had an exquisite little framed sign saying “NATHAN, PLEASE BE QUIET” made so that it might be placed gently in front of the artist anytime the conversation seemed to be getting too involved. “Ha! Can you believe it?!” roared Julie. For a certain kind of regular, it was the highest compliment imaginable.

Ted was in Palm Beach for the winter, but still present in spirit—both in the steady operation of the hotel, but also in minds of friends in Sag Harbor. Over at the Dockside Bar & Grill on Bay Street, co-owners Stacy Sheehan and Elizabeth Barnes volunteered lots of Ted Conklin tales, all of which fit squarely into either the “mentor” or “rascal” categories. Ted has always enjoyed their more casual establishment, and both women feel that he has been an invaluable supporter and advisor for their own considerable success just down the street from the hotel. Meanwhile, Stacy and Elizabeth, like so many others, marvel at his ability to consume lots of the best booze, stay up late, weigh in knowledgeably—or at least persuasively—on a great many subjects, and then to positively attack the following workday. All this while looking as though cared for by a valet and a Jermyn Street barber. It’s a recurring theme: No one can quite figure out how Ted runs. A former hotel employee added that Ted, who has a two handicap, doesn’t appear to do much more than casually tune up his golf game a couple of times a year. I heard things about “faster than a speeding bullet” and “leaping tall buildings in a single bound” but could not verify them.

April finally came, and so did Ted. Back to Sag Harbor for a friend’s birthday at the hotel, and then on his way to Villa d’Este on Lake Como for Easter, a lovely lady on his arm. It all brought me back to my original curiosity about the hotel and about this hotelier’s vision. Had it been 21 that was the inspiration? The old Connaught? Ted set me straight. “It was the Patio in Westhampton,” he said. “Or the Ambassador Inn in East Quogue. They were the places where the town and its residents. Anchored in civics, actually. It’s precious and has made for a lovely little town—at a drastically escalating price point. With Sag Harbor now so in demand, will the next wave of restaurateurs and entrepreneurs be willing or able to tend that flame? Will they want to?

Julie Keyes and Nathan Joseph, who live about 80 yards from the hotel, lost power during Hurricane Sandy. But it wasn’t a problem. As the seriousness of the storm became more apparent, Ted put out the word for anyone who was in a jam to come to the hotel. The building was doing just fine on its generator, and he had rooms as well as a whole bunch of lobster “he said he needed to get rid of.” So people came and filled up the hotel for shelter and for company and to ride out the storm. There was ample booze and plates of lobster salad sandwiches on white bread. And as the storm raged outside, Ted Conklin rallied his huddled masses, and old standards and vaudeville songs were sung long into the night.




 

The American Hotel featured in the Hamptons Holiday 2012 issue of Hamptons Magazine

 Read the complete article here 


The American Hotel featured in August 2011 issue of Town & Country Magazine

Article by Jay McInerney

Read the article here (require Adobe reader)

 


 

 

American Hotel

Main Street, Sag Harbor

EXCELLENT

Located in a quaint, waterfront village, with just 8 rooms, an excellent restaurant with a spectacular wine list and a bar everyone seems drawn to, the American Hotel is what I would want my hotel to be like if I owned one. This place has personality in an age of minimalist and sterile accommodations. It reminds me of the charming Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Since purchasing the property in 1972, Ted Conklin has lovingly restored and maintained this little gem while building its reputation for great food and wine. A favorite of celebrities in the know whatever the season...

Read the complete article here 


 WINE SPECTATOR JUNE 2014

By JOHN MARIANI

If by now you've given up all hope of finding a truly superior wine list in the Hamptons, why not seek out one of the greatest in the country - the 2,500-selection, Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning tome at the beautiful American Hotel? This restaurant is my personal favorite for its serious commitment to food and wine, its setting in the enchantingly picturesque town of Sag Harbor and its own antique prettiness. Spread throughout the 1846 structure are four very different dining rooms: one with a charming skylight, another done in Victoriana, another with fire places and one with a mounted moosehead.

Once notorious for its hauteur, the American Hotel is now an affable place, and I found nothing but warm hospitality among the staff. The wine list is rich in just about every region and category imaginable, right down to the best producers from up-and-coming areas like Spain's Tarragona, from which we chose a superb modern-style blend - Capafons-Osso Masia Esplanes Unfiltered '96 ($42). There are also vertical holdings of Romanée-Conti on a scale rarely seen anywhere, and a thorough Long Island selection, all proof of the personal interest owner Ted Conklin takes in the list. Odd, then, that there is no on-premise sommelier to guide you through this gargantuan screed.

The menu tries to please everyone, with plenty of old-fashioned French-continental items, some Italian pastas, even sushi and sashimi-including a vegetarian sushi option. Best to go with what seems most indigenous here - a ruddy lobster bisque, a delightfully fresh-flavored crab rémoulade, a starter of scallops with a glaze of white polenta. The hefty veal chop gets a generous helping of porcini and sweet carrots in a fine, dark reduction, while succulent striped bass is served with a lush Champagne beurre blanc. Finish with a wide wedge of moist chocolate torte, or perhaps a crunchy macadamia tart.

The Hamptons may well have started out as a retreat for those seeking to get away from big city diversions, but now those diversions have arrived in numbers that make eating out in the Hamptons more like dining out back in town. It's just tougher to get a table out here than back there.

 


 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

(Sunday, April 7, 2002)

By JOANNE STARKEY

THE American Hotel has always had all the elements of greatness but was never able to put them together. Now it has.

The hotel dates from 1846, when Sag Harbor and its whaling fleets were in their heyday. The restaurant, with its nostalgic yet spiffy 19thcentury aura, is appealing. Its tap room, which is centered around a massive wood bar, is alive with activity. The cozy room is defined by a marble topped, working fireplace, high ornate ceiling and a beady eyed moose head on the wall. The other antique filled dining rooms also exude charm and are a bit more quiet. One is dominated by its rose smothered wallpaper; another, a former alley between buildings, is an atrium with a domed glass goof and a parlor's worth of potted palms and other greenery. 

In the past, service was the restaurant's Achilles' heel. It was slack and haughty. There was a clubby atmosphere but you and I were not members of the club. Some tables were fawned over while the majority of diners were made to feel like outsiders. No more. One evening a celebrity (I recognized her from her television appearances) was at the next table. She received no more attention than anyone else.

That weeknight, our very friendly, hardworking waitress was pushed. She may have been the only server. Water glasses were refilled but not immediately. On a return visit, service was seamless: speedy delivery of dishes, no languishing Water glasses and servers who were still sweet and informed. The food here has also had its ups and downs. In the late 1980's and early 90's, when Todd Jacobs was the chef, it was riding high. (Mr. Jacobs left in 1994 to open his own restaurant, Tierra Mar, in Westhampton Beach.) The American Hotel is scaling the heights again. The present chef, Peter Dunlop, has been on the Scene for five years. We found his creations nearly flawless. 1, But some of the fine food carried too hefty prices. I loved the chef's special game preparation, an appetizer that carried a $15 price. The night we tried it, it consisted of rare slices of ostrich atop a tuffled risotto cake in a port wine sauce. The dish was delicious but minuscule. The super rich may be tempted by even pricier openers, which most of us wouldn't consider: Petrossian caviar ($54 to $85) and a deluxe shellfish platter for two at $100.

We opted for the $8, satiny cream of Yukon potato soup, given texture by chunks of the vegetable, and the sweet, rich onion soup crusted with a civilized amount of cheese. The shrimp cocktail of six giants hanging from a martini glass was enlivened by a horseradish fueled cocktail sauce. Gravlax, house cured salmon, garnished with salmon cracklings, asparagus and horseradish cream was another seafood headliner.

All salads sparkled: the classic Caesar, the artistically arranged arugula pear stilton, and the baby spinach blessed with smoky lardons and a warm pumpkinseed vinaigrette. The best appetizer, though was risotto primavera, a flavor packed, creamy wonder crowned with a garden load of julienned vegetables.

All the expected entrees are on the menu and done well. We had no complaints about the cooked to order rack of lamb; the mountainous file mignon brushed with truffle butter the sweet, two pound, steamed lobster or the flaky grilled stripe bass But the menu and evening specials also tempt with more unusual treats like the tender elk chop smothered it wild mushrooms and the bouride of lobster and shrimp. In addition tc those crustaceans, this French sea food stew featured clams, mussels boiled potatoes, salmon and a firm white fish. The creamy broth was brimming with flavor and its saffron aioli, served on the side, boosted it another notch. 

Desserts are on the pricey side but most are worth the tab. The most expensive, and a good pick for dieters, was the fruit plate ($12). It included four kinds of berries, two varieties of melon, pineapple, mango, kiwi and slices of apple, all surrounding a big bowl of whipped cream, for those who want to cheat a bit. The creamy, lemon touched cheesecake hit the mark, as did the flourless chocolate cake topped with ganache; the apple tart a la mode; the refreshing, homemade raspberry mint sorbet; and the silken creme brulee. At the head of the class, though, was the bananas Foster (a plate loaded with 'puff pastry, sliced bananas, whipped cream, ice cream, assorted berries and a rich caramel sauce). The same can be said about the American Hotel itself.


 

BY BRYAN MILLER PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAUL GODWIN

It had been more than three years since I'd spent any substantial time in the Hamptons. For a decade before that, though, I came out almost monthly to work with my friend and colleague Pierre Franey developing recipes for his "60Minute Gourmet" column in The New York Times. But even then I had little contact with the dining scene. Who needed a restaurant, when you were cooking with Pierre Franey? 'Thus, when I was asked to check out some of the more traditional spots in the area, I arrived with a clean slate: no history, no preconceptions. _ Well, not exactly. A number of Hamptons veterans warned me about the prandial Pamplona that I would face a situation in which you needed to be the owner's first cousin (or closer) to secure a table; where terrorized English Lit. majors looking for a '`fun" summer job are reduced to cowering, hands over eyes, behind the reservations desk; and where, if a celebrity arrives unexpectedly and wants "the regular table", which happens to be yours, expect to be removed and deposited near the busboy station. What's more, they say, the prices are piratical. Not a promising scenario.

Happily, I experienced just the opposite. In every restaurant I visited, from family cafes to a thundering steakhouse, both the management and servers could not have been more congenial and professional. Also, the food was much better than I had expected, while the prices (all things considered) were not out of bounds. Sure, one can always cavil about the marginal table here or the slow service but, hey, loosen up. You're on vacation.

A HAMPTONS INSTITUTION

My gastronomic SWAT team first assembled in Sag Harbor at the 150-year old American Hotel Like the tide that gently slaps the marina dock, the fortunes of this historic institution have ebbed and peaked over the years. When entrepreneur Ted Conklin took over the moribund brick hostelry in 1972, it had become a glorified shots and beer bar for local salts and recreational boaters. The splendid, historically sensitive restoration puffed up the old bark's sails, attracting a new, and moneyed clientele. As for the food, over the past decade it has been as teetery as a skiff in high swells, but a recent visit suggests that the kitchen has a poised captain in Peter Dunlop. 

I dined at the hotel on the tranquil Thursday evening before Memorial Day weekend, which, I admit, is like going to the Yankees' barring practice and leaving before the game. Having arrived early, I waited at the cool, burnished bar, a fine place; to moor while riding out a gale. I had recruited two discriminating dining chums: Sheila Lukins, of The Silver Palate Cookbook fame, who has a home in Sag Harbor, and her friend, Heather, an expatriate South African. (There is a reason for mention of South Africa.) My first impression was the democratic scene at the bar: three bronzed and tousled East Enders right out of their BMW convertible, a gaggle of cooing tourists sipping eerie, absinthe green cocktails, and three wind parched salts bemoaning the price of diesel fuel, which they blamed (by a unanimous and baffling vote) on the Germans.

The hotel's tour Victorian dining rooms deliver on charm that is, if you like richly upholstered Victorian tea rooms. With ornate chandeliers, languid ceiling fans, and nauticals covering nearly every inch of the walls, it is a virtual museum Here comes the South African angle. The hotel is renowned for its wine list, an enormous leather bound tame that requires two athletic waiters to deliver. Just For fun, our friend heather turned to the South African section. "I don't believe it!" she exclaimed. "Some of these wines arc hard to trod in South Africa!" We asked our waiter, Jeff, if he had the 1992 Rust En We& red from Stellenbosch. I envisioned the poor fellow ferreting around in the far reaches of a dank, dark wine cellar desperately searching for this odd and unpronounceable label.

Instead, he replied, "Oh yes, and I know just where the bottle is." Indeed, within ten minutes we were tasting this intense, ripe wine that is a bit overwhelming as an aperitif but wonderful with hearty food. The chef offers an au courant menu blending regional specialties (Block Island Sound crab cocktail, shellfish platter) with French standards like steak au poivre. And then there is an appetizer of "traditional sushi", which seems to indicate chat there, is either one underworked Japanese chef in the kitchen or somebody just winging it. We passed on that and tried the excellent brandade de morue, 3 smooth, garlicky puree of salt cod, potatoes, and olive oil. The texture should be smooth but not pasty and only minimally garlicky, which this one hit on both counts. 1f you like fresh cod, there is a "soufflé" blended with potatoes. Salads, which I believe arc a good touchstone of any kitchen, arc made with care, especially the mache and endive with toasted walnuts For main courses we tried an exceptionally moist roasted duck with a bright citrus ginger glaze and a perfectly cooked filet mignon flanked by earthy morels. I hesitated to order the mixed grill, which can be tricky because it is easy to overcook or undercook one of the ingredients. This one succeeded, with a savory combination of lamb, veal, and pheasant with a red wine sauce and al dente Chinese long beans. Desserts are fine, that's all. Go with the thin crusted apple tart. 


Wine Spectator – 25th Anniversary

(October 2001)

THE AMERICAN HOTEL

Ted Conklin's gracefully restored red brick hotel anchors the main drag of Sag Harbor with quiet style. Behind the modest facade, however, is the best stocked wine cellar on Long Island. The extensive wine list is especially strong on France. A sterling lineup of Bordeaux first growths shares space with recent discoveries from Languedoc. Alternatives range from Napa Valley to New Zealand, with surprise stopovers in Lebanon and Corsica. The fast developing Long Island wine industry is also well represented, proving that The American hotel is nothing if not true to its home territory. Chef Peter Dunlop emphasizes local. seasonal fare, from shellfish to a sloe roasted take on the celebrated Long Island duck. Classic French preparations include calf sweetbreads and sautéed foie gras. Lighter fare can also he had, including vegetarian sushi and risotto primavera. The American Hotel is a yeoman performer; it was among the inaugural class of Grand Awards in 1981.

 

OWNER: Ted Conklin

CHEF: Peter Dunlop 

WINE: Ted Conklin

Wine selections 1,600 

Number of bottles 30,000 

Wine emphasis France, California 

Cuisine French 

Grand Award since 1981


 

Excerpts from an article that appeared in the September 1999 issue of the Irish "Food and Wine magazine"

By Raymond Blake

… By now night has fallen and we are at our destination, The American Hotel, Sag Harbor. Dating from 1846, the Hotel has been owned by Ted Conklin for nearly 30 years now. In that time he has slowly transformed and renovated it from a completely run down establishment with 24 pokey bedrooms into a cosy jewel of a place with just eight bedrooms. Each has its own character and individual scheme of decoration. Antiques abound but for those with a taste for more modern luxuries a Jacuzzi is standard in every bathroom. After that you can relax in a classic wicker chair or have a nap on your four poster bed, prior to a sumptuous dinner. Here you will be spoilt for choice, not just in the wine list or even the menu but where you should take your meal. The formal dining room may be a little austere for you so why not try the atrium room or another area in the rear where you can dine under portraits of Lincoln or Washington? Wherever you choose you won’t be disappointed and if you enjoy a post prandial cigar the management won’t recoil in horror à la California.

It is the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend that I arrive; and the bustle and animated chatter remind me more of home than anywhere else. Though it is called "The American Hotel" you can forget any notions you may have of US Hotels as rather bland, soullessly efficient places if you want to form an image of this haven. There is no formal perception area as such, just a small lobby which can be crossed in a few strides to take you into the bar and a few strides later you are in one of the many dining areas. All sorts adjectives spring to mind – ‘quaint’, ‘homely’, ‘rustic’ but none can be full justice to the overall package that is the American Hotel. Above all there is a small scale, friendly feel to the place that puts visitors instantly at their ease.

Ted Conklin and his wife Tara Newman work hard to create such an atmosphere, but it barely shows and both seem to have endless time to discuss the hotel (or the wine list!) in the most minute detail….

… Sag Harbour, which takes its name from the Indian word Sagaponack meaning ‘land of the ground nuts’, was once a prosperous whaling village and the hotel started out life as a base for traveling salesmen. By the turn of the century the old prosperity was gone and, as Ted puts it, most of this century has been a tale of woe for Sag Harbour: ‘local depression and prohibition, war, national prohibition, depression, war, local prohibition’, with the vicious cycle only coming to an end in the 1970s.

…Ted and I spent much of the next day rummaging in his cellar. At any one time he has between twenty and twenty-five thousand bottles here and I easily slipped into the role of a schoolboy in a heavenly sweetshop as I spied treasure after treasure. Chateau Margaux 1986, Lafite ’70, Latour ’82, Petrus ’85 or from Burgundy La Tache 1989, Romanée-Conti 1990, or perhaps some Champagne, Krug 1969 or Salon ’83 or … or …Meanwhile, Ted was more focused and after some time had managed to assemble a collection of some 40 bottles for sampling. Just for the hell of it, he threw in a bottle of 1832 Hermitage that he bought at auction in the 1970s. 'We'll open that if you want -it's going to be terrible'. He was right. The physical cellar itself took years to bring to its present functional status. When Ted took over it was filled almost to bursting with coal ash which had to be removed, bucket by bucket, over a couple of winters. At the same time he was gradually renovating upstairs, running the hotel by day, painting by night. It certainly wasn't easy and it took some time but the resultant international reputation which his hotel now enjoys has made it worth it. Such is its attraction that he has played host to the likes of Steven Spielberg, Billy Joel, Julie Andrews, Christie Brinkley, Peter Cook and our own Seamus Heaney and Frank McCourt.

Inevitably we have delayed far too long in the cellar and the heat is now on to get everything ready for dinner. Head chef Peter Dunlop is called in at short notice to prepare the feast. He and Ted agree on an ambitious menu: blue potato, caviar and crème fraîche to start, then baked oysters followed by pasta and truffles, a venison cutlet, goose breast, cheese and finally a devilish chocolate dessert. While all this is being prepared, I set about making a nuisance of myself in the kitchen snooping about and enquiring about the precise preparation of each dish. The guests arrive and, after a brief introduction by Ted, it is down to the serious business of sampling the wines. Some from the late '70s and early '80s have gone the way of all flesh but between five and ten years old there are some very decent Chardonnays and Merlots. The food is excellent, only bettered by the company. There is a close camaraderie, enlivened by a friendly rivalry, among the winemakers. As such it makes a pleasant change from some regions where rival vineyards barely acknowledge each other’s existence.

Sadly the following day it is time to leave but not before I do some hasty shopping in the gift shop that Ted has opened beside the hotel. Here you can get the finest caviar as well as superb crystal champagne flutes and the like. With my suitcase bursting I depart for the airport; fervently hoping that it won't be too long before I return. Without the wine list to engross me the two hour journey seems much longer than before. But that is all it is, two hours from Kennedy Airport to Sag Harbour. If you are planning a stateside trip in the near future and you like something a little different and on a smaller scale to what you usually get in America then you should give serious consideration to a night at the American Hotel. With that thought in mind I sat back in the plane as we rose above New York and through the window watched its jeweled splendour fade into the night.


The DiRoNA Award

2004-The DiRoNA Award, which The American Hotel has won in every year of the Award’s existence, reflects the highest standards for food, wine and spirits, service and atmosphere and value - all the aspects that make dining out a truly fulfilling and culturally enriching experience. Instituted by Distinguished Restaurants of North America, an organization of leading restaurateurs united to foster fine dining, the DiRoNA Award recognizes the establishments in North America that provide the public with the highest level of dining. Teams of inspectors anonymously inspect over 850 restaurants in the United States, Canada and Mexico, measuring them against the most rigorous standards for food, wine and spirits, service, atmosphere and value. American Express Travel Related Services and Hiram Walker & Son, Inc sponsors the DiRoNA Award program.

REVIEWS

The American Hotelier

Avenue Magazine June 2015

By Christopher Lawrence

Nobody can really remember who first said of the front porch at Singapore’s Raffles Hotel that “if one sits there long enough, one will eventually meet everybody who is anybody.” Sag Harbor cannot be said to be Singapore, but there are those summer nights when the heat is thick and damp and packs—of yachtsmen and their expensive wives, of giddy teenagers, of prosperous New Yorkers of all stripes—shuffle up and down Main Street. And when the Jitney lurches right up beside the American Hotel’s own famous porch just after midnight, well, it feels quite a bit like a festive nerve center for our very own surreal late-imperial America: “Everybody who is anybody?” On any old summer evening, there are too many boldfaced names to mention. (And fun ones, too. I ducked in a while back to buy a cigar when I collided with the now departed Larry Hagman. Major Nelson! J. R. Ewing himself! On the South Fork—and far, far away from Southfork). That same summer, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s security detail was anxious about the state’s chief executive dining with Billy Joel out on the porch. The Governor and the Piano Man. Just another steamy midseason night at the American Hotel.

The Hotel’s living room–sized lobby area and its barroom marry the masculinity of the 21 Club in its heyday—particularly in the hotel’s back room—to the genteel eccentricities of a London dining club. Ted Conklin, the ever dapper owner, visionary, carpenter, rescuer, sommelier, long-ago resident and chef, and the still presiding pasha of the hotel, was born to an ancient and storied Long Island family. After making his way through Lawrenceville, Babson and a stint as a farmer near the Canadian border, he decided in 1971 that the decrepit former boardinghouse on Main Street (built ca. 1824) deserved to be revived as an oasis of civility for a town whose industrial bottom had just fallen out. The building had not hosted guests for better than four decades, and its ancient owner was using the first-floor dining room as a residence. The story of Theodore Brigham Conklin III standing in the basement, knee-deep in coal dust and removing it by the bucketful, is personal history become village lore. After banging nails and hanging wallpaper himself, he braved the winter of ’71–’72 in a building that still had four privies in back. Ted opened the restaurant for Independence Day weekend in 1972 while serving as his own chef. At this writing, the hotel’s wine list is better than 85 pages long, and there are more than 30,000 bottles beneath the floorboards in the barroom. Wine Spectator has faithfully bestowed its Grand Award on the cellar for decades. The hotel is presently one of only 87 restaurants worldwide to receive the honor.

Meanwhile, outside the hotel’s doors, Sag Harbor lays a strong claim to being the most coveted and most exciting village on the East End. In terms of pure commerce and cachet, the place has finally caught up with Ted’s long-ago vision. Deep, dense bags of cash are being exchanged for tiny old village houses, and the Main Street storefronts are looking chicer by the day. The hotel’s competition at the very top end of the culinary heap is always shifting and expanding, particularly in both East Hampton and Bridgehampton. Sag Harbor’s own Baron’s Cove, once basically a motor inn, is being so radically renovated and reinvented that American Hotel mainstay and oenophile Jay McInerney is serving as a “curator” of the restaurant wine list, which has replaced the outdoor Coke machines and ice makers. How could the new joint’s selections not be at least slightly influenced by McInerney’s decades-long enjoyment of the Conklin cellar? A glowing tribute, but perhaps a slightly inconvenient one as well—competition as a sincere form of flattery.

There were even swirling rumors—dismissed by Ted himself and now somewhat receded—that the hotel might be for sale. To Ralph Lauren, no less. To some large extent, Sag Harbor has met the hotel and become the town that the hotel itself imagined. Once an outpost, the American Hotel is now a venerable temple. It embodies and encapsulates a good deal of what sets Sag Harbor apart—for now. But can that balance last? Will success ruin the ecosystem? And if Sag Harbor as a whole has been remade in the hotel’s image, where does the boardinghouse now stand?

Ted was in residence last October as Sag Harbor began to again feel like a village. I had crab cakes with my shawl-wrapped friend as a hearty-ish few of us slipped in what stood to be a last October evening out on the porch. It’s possible that a cigar was smoked in closerthan-strictly-approved distance from the hotel door. Jimmy Buffett strolled out of the barroom and chatted away with several diners on the porch. It was that absolutely priceless annual moment when the days and the waters of Long Island are still warm and when everyone with obligations back in the world has left to take care of them. From a distance, Ted seemed to be reveling in the evening. But I thought of the quiet and the coming chill when he later remembered what 1971 had looked like on Main Street. Bulova had abandoned its watch factory, and NASA budget cuts had brought Grumman’s work on the Apollo program to an abrupt end. “Basically overnight, 1,500 jobs vanished, and the population of the town plummeted to 2,000. There was a palpable tension between locals and the New Yorkers who began to trickle in to buy the old family houses.” Ted had a young family and was living upstairs from the freshly renovated barroom. Electricity had just been added to the building, but Conklin’s truck had to be sacrificed to pay the plumbing bill. The guiding vision had been for the hotel to be a great haven for one and all: artists, writers, haves, and have-nots. But bar fights were a symptom both of the town’s economic body blows and of the intermingling of different socioeconomic worlds. Four decades and much big success later, Conklin the raconteur makes it all sound quite the adventure. But it’s the real rawness of that time and place and the unlikeliness of the ultimate business win that seem to add an enduring spring to Ted’s step. He certainly earned it.

By late January, the fireplace in the hotel’s barroom had become blessed relief from the cold winds coming off the harbor. Peconic Bay oysters from Pickerell’s farms and a spinach salad avec lardons did the evening’s trick admirably. (Veteran bartender Vinnie Nom—an institution entirely in his own right—conjured dinner post-deadline.) Julie Keyes, local artist, operator, gal about town and sometimes Conklin associate/always Conklin friend, was cackling over Ted’s handling of her cantankerous septuagenarian beau, the accomplished Israeli sculptor Nathan Joseph. Nathan, who is well known for making his views quite, um . . . well known, is a fixture at the hotel’s bar. In honor of all the outspokenness, Ted had an exquisite little framed sign saying “NATHAN, PLEASE BE QUIET” made so that it might be placed gently in front of the artist anytime the conversation seemed to be getting too involved. “Ha! Can you believe it?!” roared Julie. For a certain kind of regular, it was the highest compliment imaginable.

Ted was in Palm Beach for the winter, but still present in spirit—both in the steady operation of the hotel, but also in minds of friends in Sag Harbor. Over at the Dockside Bar & Grill on Bay Street, co-owners Stacy Sheehan and Elizabeth Barnes volunteered lots of Ted Conklin tales, all of which fit squarely into either the “mentor” or “rascal” categories. Ted has always enjoyed their more casual establishment, and both women feel that he has been an invaluable supporter and advisor for their own considerable success just down the street from the hotel. Meanwhile, Stacy and Elizabeth, like so many others, marvel at his ability to consume lots of the best booze, stay up late, weigh in knowledgeably—or at least persuasively—on a great many subjects, and then to positively attack the following workday. All this while looking as though cared for by a valet and a Jermyn Street barber. It’s a recurring theme: No one can quite figure out how Ted runs. A former hotel employee added that Ted, who has a two handicap, doesn’t appear to do much more than casually tune up his golf game a couple of times a year. I heard things about “faster than a speeding bullet” and “leaping tall buildings in a single bound” but could not verify them.

April finally came, and so did Ted. Back to Sag Harbor for a friend’s birthday at the hotel, and then on his way to Villa d’Este on Lake Como for Easter, a lovely lady on his arm. It all brought me back to my original curiosity about the hotel and about this hotelier’s vision. Had it been 21 that was the inspiration? The old Connaught? Ted set me straight. “It was the Patio in Westhampton,” he said. “Or the Ambassador Inn in East Quogue. They were the places where the town and its residents. Anchored in civics, actually. It’s precious and has made for a lovely little town—at a drastically escalating price point. With Sag Harbor now so in demand, will the next wave of restaurateurs and entrepreneurs be willing or able to tend that flame? Will they want to?

Julie Keyes and Nathan Joseph, who live about 80 yards from the hotel, lost power during Hurricane Sandy. But it wasn’t a problem. As the seriousness of the storm became more apparent, Ted put out the word for anyone who was in a jam to come to the hotel. The building was doing just fine on its generator, and he had rooms as well as a whole bunch of lobster “he said he needed to get rid of.” So people came and filled up the hotel for shelter and for company and to ride out the storm. There was ample booze and plates of lobster salad sandwiches on white bread. And as the storm raged outside, Ted Conklin rallied his huddled masses, and old standards and vaudeville songs were sung long into the night.




 

The American Hotel featured in the Hamptons Holiday 2012 issue of Hamptons Magazine

Read the complete article here


The American Hotel featured in August 2011 issue of Town & Country Magazine

Article by Jay McInerney

Read the article here (require Adobe reader)

 


 

American Hotel

Main Street, Sag Harbor

EXCELLENT

Located in a quaint, waterfront village, with just 8 rooms, an excellent restaurant with a spectacular wine list and a bar everyone seems drawn to, the American Hotel is what I would want my hotel to be like if I owned one. This place has personality in an age of minimalist and sterile accommodations. It reminds me of the charming Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Since purchasing the property in 1972, Ted Conklin has lovingly restored and maintained this little gem while building its reputation for great food and wine. A favorite of celebrities in the know whatever the season...

Read the complete article here


WINE SPECTATOR JUNE 2014

By JOHN MARIANI

If by now you've given up all hope of finding a truly superior wine list in the Hamptons, why not seek out one of the greatest in the country - the 2,500-selection, Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning tome at the beautiful American Hotel? This restaurant is my personal favorite for its serious commitment to food and wine, its setting in the enchantingly picturesque town of Sag Harbor and its own antique prettiness. Spread throughout the 1846 structure are four very different dining rooms: one with a charming skylight, another done in Victoriana, another with fire places and one with a mounted moosehead.

Once notorious for its hauteur, the American Hotel is now an affable place, and I found nothing but warm hospitality among the staff. The wine list is rich in just about every region and category imaginable, right down to the best producers from up-and-coming areas like Spain's Tarragona, from which we chose a superb modern-style blend - Capafons-Osso Masia Esplanes Unfiltered '96 ($42). There are also vertical holdings of Romanée-Conti on a scale rarely seen anywhere, and a thorough Long Island selection, all proof of the personal interest owner Ted Conklin takes in the list. Odd, then, that there is no on-premise sommelier to guide you through this gargantuan screed.

The menu tries to please everyone, with plenty of old-fashioned French-continental items, some Italian pastas, even sushi and sashimi-including a vegetarian sushi option. Best to go with what seems most indigenous here - a ruddy lobster bisque, a delightfully fresh-flavored crab rémoulade, a starter of scallops with a glaze of white polenta. The hefty veal chop gets a generous helping of porcini and sweet carrots in a fine, dark reduction, while succulent striped bass is served with a lush Champagne beurre blanc. Finish with a wide wedge of moist chocolate torte, or perhaps a crunchy macadamia tart.

The Hamptons may well have started out as a retreat for those seeking to get away from big city diversions, but now those diversions have arrived in numbers that make eating out in the Hamptons more like dining out back in town. It's just tougher to get a table out here than back there.

 


 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

(Sunday, April 7, 2002)

By JOANNE STARKEY

THE American Hotel has always had all the elements of greatness but was never able to put them together. Now it has.

The hotel dates from 1846, when Sag Harbor and its whaling fleets were in their heyday. The restaurant, with its nostalgic yet spiffy 19thcentury aura, is appealing. Its tap room, which is centered around a massive wood bar, is alive with activity. The cozy room is defined by a marble topped, working fireplace, high ornate ceiling and a beady eyed moose head on the wall. The other antique filled dining rooms also exude charm and are a bit more quiet. One is dominated by its rose smothered wallpaper; another, a former alley between buildings, is an atrium with a domed glass goof and a parlor's worth of potted palms and other greenery.

In the past, service was the restaurant's Achilles' heel. It was slack and haughty. There was a clubby atmosphere but you and I were not members of the club. Some tables were fawned over while the majority of diners were made to feel like outsiders. No more. One evening a celebrity (I recognized her from her television appearances) was at the next table. She received no more attention than anyone else.

That weeknight, our very friendly, hardworking waitress was pushed. She may have been the only server. Water glasses were refilled but not immediately. On a return visit, service was seamless: speedy delivery of dishes, no languishing Water glasses and servers who were still sweet and informed. The food here has also had its ups and downs. In the late 1980's and early 90's, when Todd Jacobs was the chef, it was riding high. (Mr. Jacobs left in 1994 to open his own restaurant, Tierra Mar, in Westhampton Beach.) The American Hotel is scaling the heights again. The present chef, Peter Dunlop, has been on the Scene for five years. We found his creations nearly flawless. 1, But some of the fine food carried too hefty prices. I loved the chef's special game preparation, an appetizer that carried a $15 price. The night we tried it, it consisted of rare slices of ostrich atop a tuffled risotto cake in a port wine sauce. The dish was delicious but minuscule. The super rich may be tempted by even pricier openers, which most of us wouldn't consider: Petrossian caviar ($54 to $85) and a deluxe shellfish platter for two at $100.

We opted for the $8, satiny cream of Yukon potato soup, given texture by chunks of the vegetable, and the sweet, rich onion soup crusted with a civilized amount of cheese. The shrimp cocktail of six giants hanging from a martini glass was enlivened by a horseradish fueled cocktail sauce. Gravlax, house cured salmon, garnished with salmon cracklings, asparagus and horseradish cream was another seafood headliner.

All salads sparkled: the classic Caesar, the artistically arranged arugula pear stilton, and the baby spinach blessed with smoky lardons and a warm pumpkinseed vinaigrette. The best appetizer, though was risotto primavera, a flavor packed, creamy wonder crowned with a garden load of julienned vegetables.

All the expected entrees are on the menu and done well. We had no complaints about the cooked to order rack of lamb; the mountainous file mignon brushed with truffle butter the sweet, two pound, steamed lobster or the flaky grilled stripe bass But the menu and evening specials also tempt with more unusual treats like the tender elk chop smothered it wild mushrooms and the bouride of lobster and shrimp. In addition tc those crustaceans, this French sea food stew featured clams, mussels boiled potatoes, salmon and a firm white fish. The creamy broth was brimming with flavor and its saffron aioli, served on the side, boosted it another notch.

Desserts are on the pricey side but most are worth the tab. The most expensive, and a good pick for dieters, was the fruit plate ($12). It included four kinds of berries, two varieties of melon, pineapple, mango, kiwi and slices of apple, all surrounding a big bowl of whipped cream, for those who want to cheat a bit. The creamy, lemon touched cheesecake hit the mark, as did the flourless chocolate cake topped with ganache; the apple tart a la mode; the refreshing, homemade raspberry mint sorbet; and the silken creme brulee. At the head of the class, though, was the bananas Foster (a plate loaded with 'puff pastry, sliced bananas, whipped cream, ice cream, assorted berries and a rich caramel sauce). The same can be said about the American Hotel itself.


 

BY BRYAN MILLER PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAUL GODWIN

It had been more than three years since I'd spent any substantial time in the Hamptons. For a decade before that, though, I came out almost monthly to work with my friend and colleague Pierre Franey developing recipes for his "60Minute Gourmet" column in The New York Times. But even then I had little contact with the dining scene. Who needed a restaurant, when you were cooking with Pierre Franey? 'Thus, when I was asked to check out some of the more traditional spots in the area, I arrived with a clean slate: no history, no preconceptions. _ Well, not exactly. A number of Hamptons veterans warned me about the prandial Pamplona that I would face a situation in which you needed to be the owner's first cousin (or closer) to secure a table; where terrorized English Lit. majors looking for a '`fun" summer job are reduced to cowering, hands over eyes, behind the reservations desk; and where, if a celebrity arrives unexpectedly and wants "the regular table", which happens to be yours, expect to be removed and deposited near the busboy station. What's more, they say, the prices are piratical. Not a promising scenario.

Happily, I experienced just the opposite. In every restaurant I visited, from family cafes to a thundering steakhouse, both the management and servers could not have been more congenial and professional. Also, the food was much better than I had expected, while the prices (all things considered) were not out of bounds. Sure, one can always cavil about the marginal table here or the slow service but, hey, loosen up. You're on vacation.

A HAMPTONS INSTITUTION

My gastronomic SWAT team first assembled in Sag Harbor at the 150-year old American Hotel Like the tide that gently slaps the marina dock, the fortunes of this historic institution have ebbed and peaked over the years. When entrepreneur Ted Conklin took over the moribund brick hostelry in 1972, it had become a glorified shots and beer bar for local salts and recreational boaters. The splendid, historically sensitive restoration puffed up the old bark's sails, attracting a new, and moneyed clientele. As for the food, over the past decade it has been as teetery as a skiff in high swells, but a recent visit suggests that the kitchen has a poised captain in Peter Dunlop.

I dined at the hotel on the tranquil Thursday evening before Memorial Day weekend, which, I admit, is like going to the Yankees' barring practice and leaving before the game. Having arrived early, I waited at the cool, burnished bar, a fine place; to moor while riding out a gale. I had recruited two discriminating dining chums: Sheila Lukins, of The Silver Palate Cookbook fame, who has a home in Sag Harbor, and her friend, Heather, an expatriate South African. (There is a reason for mention of South Africa.) My first impression was the democratic scene at the bar: three bronzed and tousled East Enders right out of their BMW convertible, a gaggle of cooing tourists sipping eerie, absinthe green cocktails, and three wind parched salts bemoaning the price of diesel fuel, which they blamed (by a unanimous and baffling vote) on the Germans.

The hotel's tour Victorian dining rooms deliver on charm that is, if you like richly upholstered Victorian tea rooms. With ornate chandeliers, languid ceiling fans, and nauticals covering nearly every inch of the walls, it is a virtual museum Here comes the South African angle. The hotel is renowned for its wine list, an enormous leather bound tame that requires two athletic waiters to deliver. Just For fun, our friend heather turned to the South African section. "I don't believe it!" she exclaimed. "Some of these wines arc hard to trod in South Africa!" We asked our waiter, Jeff, if he had the 1992 Rust En We& red from Stellenbosch. I envisioned the poor fellow ferreting around in the far reaches of a dank, dark wine cellar desperately searching for this odd and unpronounceable label.

Instead, he replied, "Oh yes, and I know just where the bottle is." Indeed, within ten minutes we were tasting this intense, ripe wine that is a bit overwhelming as an aperitif but wonderful with hearty food. The chef offers an au courant menu blending regional specialties (Block Island Sound crab cocktail, shellfish platter) with French standards like steak au poivre. And then there is an appetizer of "traditional sushi", which seems to indicate chat there, is either one underworked Japanese chef in the kitchen or somebody just winging it. We passed on that and tried the excellent brandade de morue, 3 smooth, garlicky puree of salt cod, potatoes, and olive oil. The texture should be smooth but not pasty and only minimally garlicky, which this one hit on both counts. 1f you like fresh cod, there is a "soufflé" blended with potatoes. Salads, which I believe arc a good touchstone of any kitchen, arc made with care, especially the mache and endive with toasted walnuts For main courses we tried an exceptionally moist roasted duck with a bright citrus ginger glaze and a perfectly cooked filet mignon flanked by earthy morels. I hesitated to order the mixed grill, which can be tricky because it is easy to overcook or undercook one of the ingredients. This one succeeded, with a savory combination of lamb, veal, and pheasant with a red wine sauce and al dente Chinese long beans. Desserts are fine, that's all. Go with the thin crusted apple tart.


Wine Spectator – 25th Anniversary

(October 2001)

THE AMERICAN HOTEL

Ted Conklin's gracefully restored red brick hotel anchors the main drag of Sag Harbor with quiet style. Behind the modest facade, however, is the best stocked wine cellar on Long Island. The extensive wine list is especially strong on France. A sterling lineup of Bordeaux first growths shares space with recent discoveries from Languedoc. Alternatives range from Napa Valley to New Zealand, with surprise stopovers in Lebanon and Corsica. The fast developing Long Island wine industry is also well represented, proving that The American hotel is nothing if not true to its home territory. Chef Peter Dunlop emphasizes local. seasonal fare, from shellfish to a sloe roasted take on the celebrated Long Island duck. Classic French preparations include calf sweetbreads and sautéed foie gras. Lighter fare can also he had, including vegetarian sushi and risotto primavera. The American Hotel is a yeoman performer; it was among the inaugural class of Grand Awards in 1981.

 

OWNER: Ted Conklin

CHEF: Peter Dunlop

WINE: Ted Conklin

Wine selections 1,600

Number of bottles 30,000

Wine emphasis France, California

Cuisine French

Grand Award since 1981


 

Excerpts from an article that appeared in the September 1999 issue of the Irish "Food and Wine magazine"

By Raymond Blake

… By now night has fallen and we are at our destination, The American Hotel, Sag Harbor. Dating from 1846, the Hotel has been owned by Ted Conklin for nearly 30 years now. In that time he has slowly transformed and renovated it from a completely run down establishment with 24 pokey bedrooms into a cosy jewel of a place with just eight bedrooms. Each has its own character and individual scheme of decoration. Antiques abound but for those with a taste for more modern luxuries a Jacuzzi is standard in every bathroom. After that you can relax in a classic wicker chair or have a nap on your four poster bed, prior to a sumptuous dinner. Here you will be spoilt for choice, not just in the wine list or even the menu but where you should take your meal. The formal dining room may be a little austere for you so why not try the atrium room or another area in the rear where you can dine under portraits of Lincoln or Washington? Wherever you choose you won’t be disappointed and if you enjoy a post prandial cigar the management won’t recoil in horror à la California.

It is the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend that I arrive; and the bustle and animated chatter remind me more of home than anywhere else. Though it is called "The American Hotel" you can forget any notions you may have of US Hotels as rather bland, soullessly efficient places if you want to form an image of this haven. There is no formal perception area as such, just a small lobby which can be crossed in a few strides to take you into the bar and a few strides later you are in one of the many dining areas. All sorts adjectives spring to mind – ‘quaint’, ‘homely’, ‘rustic’ but none can be full justice to the overall package that is the American Hotel. Above all there is a small scale, friendly feel to the place that puts visitors instantly at their ease.

Ted Conklin and his wife Tara Newman work hard to create such an atmosphere, but it barely shows and both seem to have endless time to discuss the hotel (or the wine list!) in the most minute detail….

… Sag Harbour, which takes its name from the Indian word Sagaponack meaning ‘land of the ground nuts’, was once a prosperous whaling village and the hotel started out life as a base for traveling salesmen. By the turn of the century the old prosperity was gone and, as Ted puts it, most of this century has been a tale of woe for Sag Harbour: ‘local depression and prohibition, war, national prohibition, depression, war, local prohibition’, with the vicious cycle only coming to an end in the 1970s.

…Ted and I spent much of the next day rummaging in his cellar. At any one time he has between twenty and twenty-five thousand bottles here and I easily slipped into the role of a schoolboy in a heavenly sweetshop as I spied treasure after treasure. Chateau Margaux 1986, Lafite ’70, Latour ’82, Petrus ’85 or from Burgundy La Tache 1989, Romanée-Conti 1990, or perhaps some Champagne, Krug 1969 or Salon ’83 or … or …Meanwhile, Ted was more focused and after some time had managed to assemble a collection of some 40 bottles for sampling. Just for the hell of it, he threw in a bottle of 1832 Hermitage that he bought at auction in the 1970s. 'We'll open that if you want -it's going to be terrible'. He was right. The physical cellar itself took years to bring to its present functional status. When Ted took over it was filled almost to bursting with coal ash which had to be removed, bucket by bucket, over a couple of winters. At the same time he was gradually renovating upstairs, running the hotel by day, painting by night. It certainly wasn't easy and it took some time but the resultant international reputation which his hotel now enjoys has made it worth it. Such is its attraction that he has played host to the likes of Steven Spielberg, Billy Joel, Julie Andrews, Christie Brinkley, Peter Cook and our own Seamus Heaney and Frank McCourt.

Inevitably we have delayed far too long in the cellar and the heat is now on to get everything ready for dinner. Head chef Peter Dunlop is called in at short notice to prepare the feast. He and Ted agree on an ambitious menu: blue potato, caviar and crème fraîche to start, then baked oysters followed by pasta and truffles, a venison cutlet, goose breast, cheese and finally a devilish chocolate dessert. While all this is being prepared, I set about making a nuisance of myself in the kitchen snooping about and enquiring about the precise preparation of each dish. The guests arrive and, after a brief introduction by Ted, it is down to the serious business of sampling the wines. Some from the late '70s and early '80s have gone the way of all flesh but between five and ten years old there are some very decent Chardonnays and Merlots. The food is excellent, only bettered by the company. There is a close camaraderie, enlivened by a friendly rivalry, among the winemakers. As such it makes a pleasant change from some regions where rival vineyards barely acknowledge each other’s existence.

Sadly the following day it is time to leave but not before I do some hasty shopping in the gift shop that Ted has opened beside the hotel. Here you can get the finest caviar as well as superb crystal champagne flutes and the like. With my suitcase bursting I depart for the airport; fervently hoping that it won't be too long before I return. Without the wine list to engross me the two hour journey seems much longer than before. But that is all it is, two hours from Kennedy Airport to Sag Harbour. If you are planning a stateside trip in the near future and you like something a little different and on a smaller scale to what you usually get in America then you should give serious consideration to a night at the American Hotel. With that thought in mind I sat back in the plane as we rose above New York and through the window watched its jeweled splendour fade into the night.


The DiRoNA Award

2004-The DiRoNA Award, which The American Hotel has won in every year of the Award’s existence, reflects the highest standards for food, wine and spirits, service and atmosphere and value - all the aspects that make dining out a truly fulfilling and culturally enriching experience. Instituted by Distinguished Restaurants of North America, an organization of leading restaurateurs united to foster fine dining, the DiRoNA Award recognizes the establishments in North America that provide the public with the highest level of dining. Teams of inspectors anonymously inspect over 850 restaurants in the United States, Canada and Mexico, measuring them against the most rigorous standards for food, wine and spirits, service, atmosphere and value. American Express Travel Related Services and Hiram Walker & Son, Inc sponsors the DiRoNA Award program.

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