It is not unusual for the airy, light-filled restaurant at 290 Montauk Highway in East Hampton to be ignored by drivers passing by who are too eager to get to the beach, too rushed to beat Manhattan-bound traffic, or too busy rubbernecking the old military tank sitting beside it, pointing its large gun toward the road.
Next month, the building’s new tenants—they are leasing from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 550, which owns it—say there is reason to pay attention. And it’s not just the restaurant’s new sign, or name.
The days of the Highway Diner & Bar, as the space was most recently known—save for a Japanese pop-up last summer—are officially over. It is now home to the Highway Restaurant & Bar.
“Some people say this is a cursed site. For whatever reason, nothing’s lasted,” the restaurant’s general manager, Adam Lancashire, said, rattling off four of the space’s former lives before his team arrived in November. “But we will. We’re not, ‘Okay, it didn’t work,’ six months down the line. ‘Let’s close it.’ We’ll make it work. The only way to prove that is to do it.”
The 108-seat, contemporary-American eatery shut down on February 16, temporarily closing its doors for an extensive renovation that Mr. Lancashire says will transform the space into a more intimate location by April 1, at the latest.
“We’re going to soften it up, make it feel like a restaurant you can come to with your friends for a drink on Friday night,” he said, “but also, if you want to bring your boyfriend on a Saturday night for a nice dinner, you can do that, too. It’s not going to feel like a diner anymore.”
Aesthetic additions will include a two-way fireplace separating the bar from the dining room, new tables and booths, fabric wall coverings, light fixtures and oversized curtains, though the most extensive improvements will take place behind the scenes—with the kitchen, air conditioning and heating systems.
“We’re obviously a business that needs to justify everything, so our budget is what we think is appropriate and what we think we’ll be able to get back and make sense of,” Mr. Lancashire said, “with one eye on the future.”
Come spring, a vegetable garden will be planted in front of the restaurant to support its menu governed by seasonal produce and fish from the East End. The menu expansion is still in the discussion phase, Mr. Lancashire said, “but we will always, always, always use what is locally sourced and locally produced. It’s local all the way.”
Head chefs Justin Finney and Seth Seligman aren’t doing away with the menu’s staple Homemade Chicken Pot Pie, John’s Eggplant Parmigiana, or handmade pasta, but they are planning to expand the restaurant’s take-out options. Mr. Lancashire will revisit the wine list, he said; half will be dominated by French wines, his personal favorite, with 30 percent dedicated to local selections and 20 percent international.
“There’s no point in doing things by half measures,” he said. “We want to try to have the best food, the best wine. We want to try to have the most competitive prices. And we want to be successful. It’s simple, good, honest food—just elevated. Our intention is to reopen a restaurant that is here for the community and to show, with time and integrity, that we’re going to be here for the long haul.”
For more information about The Highway Restaurant & Bar, visit highwaydinerandbar.com.
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