For the past three decades, Barrister’s Restaurant, with its $5 Bailout Burgers, draft beers and wide variety of dishes, has been a staple of Southampton Village dining for locals and visitors alike.
But the Main Street restaurant, which has been in business since 1979, will soon close its doors, according to Barrister’s owner Michael Ferran.
Mr. Ferran, 65, said he is in contract to sell the building to an individual who will most likely open a new restaurant in the space, but said he does not yet know when Barrister’s doors will officially close. He declined to disclose the name of the buyer, at the buyer’s request.
The decision to close the restaurant was not a hasty one—the building went on the market three and a half years ago when Mr. Ferran’s partner, Richard “Digger” McMahon, was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. Mr. McMahon died on November 5, 2009.
“I’ve been doing this for 34 years, and I’m really tired of it,” Mr. Ferran said frankly. “The restaurant business is one of the most difficult businesses to be in to begin with, and difficult in a seasonal environment like the East End.” He added that the restaurant business is more enjoyable for younger people.
Both graduates of Southampton College, Mr. Ferran and Mr. McMahon worked as bartenders at the Driver’s Seat, another longtime village establishment, before they came up with a plan to open their own restaurant. The friends, who had met at college, thought running a restaurant would be a piece of cake, Mr. Ferran said.
“From behind the bar, it looked like an easy thing to do—it’s always easy from somewhere else,” he said.
When ownership of Barrister’s Restaurant, which had been open for about 18 months, became available in 1979, the duo jumped on board and dug in.
“We spent just practically every minute of our lives here,” Mr. Ferran said, noting that they worked several different jobs all at once. “We had to fix everything that broke. We became like an electrician, a plumber, a carpenter, and occasionally bartended and worked in the kitchen. It was pretty much 24/7 in the beginning.”
The two friends revived the slowly dying business by changing up the menu, hiring and training new waitresses, and repairing the space inch by inch. Mr. Ferran and Mr. McMahon eventually bought the building from Frank Pantaleo in 1986.
“We wanted the place to be casual and took care of the local people nine months of the year—that’s who you did business with,” Mr. Ferran said. “It had to be a reasonably priced place with appeal to both city people and Southampton people.”
While the essentials of the business hasn’t changed, he said, the area has become more competitive. “There are so many more people who have second homes here that many more places have opened, and many have stayed open,” he said. “The pie got huge, as opposed to what it was in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Nonetheless, Barrister’s held its ground. According to its website, the restaurant’s philosophy is what has kept it going all these years: “The customer comes first, keep the food good and the price reasonable, serve a hefty cocktail, and stock the bar with the latest taste in vodka and wine.”
Longtime patrons and friends created a Facebook page in light of the news of its closing. “Barrister’s Forever” has become a conglomeration of small but powerful memories of days gone by, from impromptu class reunions, to late-night social calls and New Year’s Eves spent in black tie at Barrister’s legendary bar.
“Wow! I can’t believe it,” wrote Dana Spanierman, who now lives in California. “I wouldn’t have been the traveler I am today without Barrister’s. Meeting people from all over the world and opening my eyes to so many things. So sad to hear that’s it closing.”
Noel Zarac, now of Minnesota, said she made many friends at Barrister’s and is sad to see it go. “The best part about this place is that from the owners, to the staff, to temporary fill-in staff, to the regular customers, it always felt like hanging out with family,” she wrote.
On Tuesday, Barrister’s Manager Jessica Martinez said there isn’t a place like it in Southampton.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “You have to move on, but at the same time it won’t be here when you come back from wherever you are—it’s always been the place to get a good burger and a beer.”