By Emily J Weitz
Muse has been a cornerstone of the Water Mill Commons for five years, priding itself on high quality American fusion cuisine and a connection to the year-round community. But Matt Guiffrida, owner and chef at Muse, is thrilled to be making the move to Sag Harbor. For him, it’s a long time coming.
“Since I moved out here I’ve always loved Sag Harbor,” he said this week. “I’ve always wanted to be on Main Street, and when this space became available, we jumped on it and did whatever we could to make it happen.”
The space he speaks of is the stucco building at the foot of Main Street. The one, like many Hamptons’ spots, that seemingly turns into another restaurant every year — despite its spacious interior, high ceilings and the commanding bar area. But Guiffrida remains confident that Muse will not suffer the same fate.
“There’s nothing wrong with the location,” he says. “It’s one of the best locations out here. It just takes someone to go in there that is the chef and the owner who’s running it the way they want it to be run. That’s the key.”
The move has the potential to expand the business Muse does many-fold.
“The space is three times the size of where we are now,” says Guiffrida. “We’ll be able to do more covers, which is great. We’ll have more walk-by traffic, so we’re going to expand our menu to include more pastas and seafood. We’ll be open for brunch, and for breakfast in the summertime. We’ll do our prix-fixe in the off-season for locals. We’ll fit right in in our little niche.”
The other key to succeeding where recent predecessors failed, he claims, is that other ventures came in from the outside thinking they’d make money on the deal, but they didn’t understand the culture of the East End, including the year-round community. They weren’t invested in the area, beyond the financial.
“I am consolidating my life around this town,” he says. “My girlfriend and I are planning on moving to Main Street. We’ll walk right there from our house. We’ll live in that restaurant. I’m not coming from another place to do this.”
And even though Guiffrida is planning to spend all his time in the restaurant, cooking, schmoozing, and just making it work, it sounds like there is nowhere he’d rather be.
“I’ve always come to Sag Harbor because it’s a tight knit community,” he says. “The vibe is different than anywhere else. It’s more relaxed, everyone seems to be in a better mood, the water is right there. You can eat, get a cup of coffee, go to the water, sit at the pier, eat high end, eat a burger… it’s the only place where that’s the case.”
Of the other restaurants in Sag Harbor, Guiffrida only expresses excitement to join them.
“It’s great to have the sushi and the high end, and then Paradise and LT Burger,” he said. “We are casual fine dining, serving new American cuisine, French Italian, Caribbean, a big diverse mix. It will fit in just great.”
Even though the name on the sign has changed many times, the general ambience of the place has remained the same. And Guiffrida doesn’t plan to fix what isn’t broken. He’ll make a few improvements, of course.
“We’re opening it up even more,” he says. “The half wall to the bar is gone, we got some new chairs, new floors, we’re renovating the bathrooms and painting to give it a fresh look. But we’re keeping it open with those beautiful French doors.”
And then, there’s Guiffrida’s signature attraction. For anyone who’s been to Muse in Water Mill, you can’t forget the fish tank bar, where you can sip your martini and watch tropical fish swimming beneath your hands. He won’t bring that with him. It will be put up for sale, and if no one wants it he’ll return the fish to the seller. But in the middle of the new space, “We’ll put in an 8-foot long, 4-foot high fish tank filled with coral and tropical fish. You’ll be able to see it from Main Street.”
So, what’s the deal with the “fish thing”?
“I’ve always loved tropical fish,” he says. “I wanted to incorporate that into my restaurants. It creates an inviting feel for families, and it’s easy for first dates.”
When he realized the new bar would be too big to turn into a fish tank, Guiffrida decided to just create a feature in the middle of the restaurant.
“I had to have it because otherwise I’d miss it too much,” he said.
These days, Guiffrida is already in the space, spending all his time getting it up and running. They’re hoping to be serving passed hors deouvres and drinks for Harborfrost. They plan to be officially open by March 1 — and not leaving any time soon.
“I have an 11 year lease,” says Guiffrida. “I’m not going anywhere.”