By Annette Hinkle
Mike Reilly, a member of The Corner Bar’s management team, talks about The Corner’s 35th anniversary celebration this Friday through Sunday (February 1 through 3, 2013), the vision of owner Jim Smyth, and his favorite meal on the menu.
Tell me about the role The Corner Bar has played in the life of Sag Harbor.
It’s traditionally been the place to meet in Sag Harbor, especially during inclement weather. Everyone comes to The Corner to watch the storms — Irene, Sandy, and it’s packed with people right now [watching it snow].
But it’s about more than the weather, right?
In a small town, a place like The Corner lives and dies by the locals. We’re the locals’ local. They help us sustain through winter time. As realtors say it’s “location, location, location” and 1 Main is a good location. During HarborFrost, people watching the ice sculpting and fireworks want a hot beverage or a cold beer, we’re right there. It’s a testament to the fact that Jim, being a local, knew what he was doing in 1978.
What are some of the more interesting things you’ve witnessed from your perch at the foot of Bay and Main streets.
It takes all kinds and we get all kinds. That’s what keeps it interesting. It’s a great mix of people and the conversation is always lively. If you’re local you’re talking local issues. If you’re not a local and have a couple beverages and pipe up or chime in, there’s always a local to set you straight.
What’s the most interesting bit of news you’ve overheard at the bar?
That’s client privilege. Like Marty’s Barbershop and Chopping Charlie’s, what goes on in The Corner Bar stays at The Corner Bar.
How has the crowd changed over the years, or has it?
The local crowd has grown with us and grown up with us and stayed all those years. There are people who have been going there since ’78 for good beverages, food and service. The new people that find us on Yelp or the website or word of mouth find it’s a nice change from the Hamptons style establishment.
What about the menu?
When Jim opened the place, he understood you don’t reinvent the wheel. You can tweak it and upgrade it and even some things have been added to the menu, but you keep the staples — the corner burger, clams casino — and make sure the quality is consistent and current.
What’s the quintessential Corner Bar meal?
My favorite is the flounder sandwich on rye toast with sweet potato fries and a cold beer. Since ‘78 that was the best flounder sandwich anywhere. I travel all over the world and The Corner’s always been my favorite.
It seems that staff at The Corner stays for years. Why do you think that is?
It’s a great place to work. Jim is very kind hearted and he values loyalty. Basically if you work at The Corner, you’ve got a home and a family. The only way to change that is if you are tired of it or want to do something else. Like a bird out the nest, go ahead, go into the city and use that experience well. I tended bar for a winter in ’83 and came back to visit often. When Jim offered for me to help run the place with other three managers, I jumped at the chance. I play music on weekends and run The Corner Bar during the week. I’m living the dream.
We hear Jim Smyth will be back at The Corner for a few hours this Saturday to help celebrate. What’s the plan?
He’ll be at the bar holding court from 3 to 7 p.m. At this point in his life, he’s happy to meet and greet folks from the bar side as opposed to behind it. After 35 years he deserves it. Several past bartenders are coming in for a guest stint. One guy is flying in from California and a lot of people have put together memorabilia from over the years.
To think about 35 years, you don’t see many businesses hanging in there that long. Jim grew up here, he’s very dedicated to maintaining the integrity of Sag Harbor as a small town. I think these days a lot of people have seen what can happen. So as long as we’re still walking upright and breathing we are going to maintain The Corner Bar as The Corner Bar.