By Candace Sindelman
Owner of The Stephen TalkHouse, Peter Honerkamp talks about the nightclub in Amagansett and its upcoming 25th anniversary of having live music on Sunday, August 5, at 7 p.m.
What is some of the history behind The Stephen Talkhouse?
It started out as a bar in 1970; this was before I owned it. It always had a casual and unpretentious atmosphere. I enjoyed going to it as a patron and bought it with my partners in 1987. I just wrote a really bad novel and was depressed and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was drunk and Clifford Irving, who wrote a bogus biography on Howard Hughes, and who almost got away with it, suggested I buy the Talkhouse. With three or four partners, we opened it with local live music right away. It had not had national acts before and this was before we expanded the 6 feet by 8 feet stage. People supported famous national acts and we have been around for 25 years, 47 of the artists who played at the Talkhouse are in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of fame, and 20 of Rolling Stone’s voted top guitarists. We’ve had Paul McCartney, Bonjovi, and Paul Simon. People will pay premium prices to see these acts in their neighborhood and in an intimate environment.
What is the dynamic like with the staff?
No one has actually quit. No one has said, “I don’t want to work here anymore.” There are at least ten people who have been here for 25 years. Everyone cares about each other. It also helps that we are successful and the people are making money. We’re all friends. I am a good boss. We’ve worked out all the tensions. It’s like a family growing up, there’s going to be brother-sister fights and fights with parents. We all have respect for each other. We have a big sign that says, “The employee is always right.” We back each other up. If one of them says this person can’t come in the bar, I never overrule it. In a way everyone is their own boss. It is a casual informal place, we treat everyone the same, and no one is privileged.
How are you guys going to celebrate the 25th anniversary?
Terrance Simien, he is one of the first performers and will be doing a Zydeco Creole performance with washboards. He’s played there for 25 years. The money raised will be given to the Wounded Warrior Project. Suggested donation is 25 bucks, pay whatever you want. It was supposed to be a birthday party for Carl Gust, everyone called him “The Greek”, and he was 79 and just died so we are going to do a little something as a memorial. He was a bartender out here for 40 years and wrote an autobiography, “My Life Behind Bars.” It’s going to be a fun night with great local musicians and we are going to show a film about the place.
Where do you see the bar in the next 10 years?
Same place, you go to kind of like a church to feel safe. A single woman could go there and not go “Where am I?” You could be not super rich and not go “Where am I?” That same kind of feeling, same attitude, different actors, same play. The neat thing is the late night crowd is 20s and 30s, the crowd for Judy Collins will be 60s and 70s, the blues band will be people in motorcycle jackets, the crowd shifts. The audience defined this Sunday will be the audience that cared about this place for the last 25 years.