The American Hotel – 50 years of understated elegance

One of the oldest communities in the East End, settled perhaps as early as 1707 by settlers from New England, Sag Harbor was already a prosperous village before the American Revolution and was declared the official gateway to the States States during the second session of Congress in 1789. Now an international destination for the rich, famous, and notable, the property we know as The American Hotel has been an integral part of it along the way.

The James Howell Inn was originally on the site of the American Hotel and British officers were quartered there during the American Revolution. In May 1777, a daring raid by 220 settlers, led by Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs, crossed Long Island Sound from Connecticut in 13 whaleboats and liberated the village from the British. They burned 12 British ships and took 90 prisoners without losing a man.

The original wooden structure inn is believed to have burned down and was rebuilt as a brick edifice in 1824 by local cabinetmaker Nathan Tinker for his residence. With the booming whaling trade that emerged in the early 19th century, Sag Harbor was not only bustling with captains, sailors and traders, the village was named the first American customs port in New York. Tinker expanded his structure and added bedrooms above and behind, creating a boarding house. But by the mid-1800s the whaling industry was in rapid decline and the property fell into disrepair and was vacated.

Purchased from the heirs of Tinker in 1876 by Captain William Freeman and Bridgehampton farmer Addison Youngs, they cleaned up the property and added a porch, bar and dining room. They called their business either The American House or The American Hotel, the name that stuck and stayed for nearly 150 years.

Although the whaling industry was long gone, the village remained a busy trading port and the LIRR added a line to Sag Harbor in 1870 which brought visitors and summer residents, and light manufacturing which brought replaced whaling has made the village a destination for many traveling salesmen and businessmen.

“Sag Harbor Fire Department | The American Hotel by Viktor ButkoGrenning Gallery

The three-story American hotel in the center of town with 25 rooms, a bar and a restaurant flourished.

Also growing with new residents, Sag Harbor was bustling throughout World War I. In fact, the village was used as a staging point for the locally made Bliss torpedo tests (with Thomas Edison sighting) which took place in the harbor half a mile north of the town. Although Grumman throttle parts for World War II spitfires were manufactured in Sag Harbor, the village had begun a slow decline after World War I.

By the late 1960s, the decline was palpable as most factories were closing with a loss of almost 1,500 jobs and the village’s population had drastically dropped to less than 2,000. Just like the village, so does the American Hotel. The building was neglected and there hadn’t been a room booked, a drink served or a meal served in decades…enter East End resident Ted Conklin in 1972!

Ted Conklin and the American Hotel

For the sake of transparency, I will preface the rest of the article by admitting that this journalist did indeed work at the American Hotel in 1994-1995. I started as second bartender to legendary man pour extraordinaire Vinnie Rom and then moved on to become general manager, an accolade I’m still very proud of. Following a family tragedy, I left the hotel business.

So, scraping together every penny he had, Conklin bought the property and with the Pilgrim work ethic running through his veins from his English family immigration heritage that dates back to 1631, he proceeded to renovate the bar and dining room working day and night for six months. From wallpaper to floors, plumbing to paint, decor to staff, Conklin essentially took what could be described as a high street eyesore and transformed it into what would become one of the most venerable and legendary hospitality in the Hamptons, if not the world. .

Conklin definitely had a view of Sag Harbor that was not shared by all at the time – in the early 1970s it was not considered a toney Hamptons destination like East Hampton or Southampton. In truth, it was a very blue-collar middle class with a sprinkling of artists, mostly writers, including the likes of John Steinbeck, Lanford Wilson and others in search of a low-key, celebrity light, although what a beautiful, destination to create . I remember this well, because my high school girlfriend’s non-wealthy parents from Lake Ronkonkoma had a summer cabin in Sag Harbor at that time.

With a Conklin lineage that dates back to the American Revolution, it seems fitting that opening day was July 4, 1972. The menu was quintessentially French, as were the service standards for its staff. Along with changes of fresh white linen tablecloths with each turnover, fresh flowers were placed daily at each table and the cutlery and silverware was beautiful and always perfectly set.

Gastronomy and wine at the American Hotel

Smoked Rainbow Trout at the American Hotel
American Hotel Smoked Rainbow TroutStacy Dermont

With the wharf a block away for the freshest seafood, an abundance of East End farm-fresh produce, and only the finest protein selection, the restaurant’s cuisine has been acclaimed across the board. from the beginning, and it still is 50 years later.

In 2003, with Conklin’s enthusiastic support, The American Hotel was the starting point for the first chapter of Slow Cook USA in the East End.

After opening, renovation of the hotel itself was the next step for Conklin, and the pension’s 20-plus rooms were transformed into eight understated, individually distinct, beautifully antiqued suites with luxury amenities and without television. Yes, free television, and they still are today. There is a TV in the bar/dining room and one in the lobby lounge. The channel selection protocol is anyone’s guess, but it’s still civilized.

Perhaps a college semester in Paris instilled a Francophile passion in Conklin, hence the American’s French cuisine. If so, it has also instilled a passion for wine as no profile of the American Hotel is complete without focusing on its extensive wine inventory. With a book of wines as thick as a James Joyce novel, the list boasts 2,500 selections and a wine cellar housing 25,000 bottles from every major wine-producing country in the world, including an extensive selection of our own wines. from Long Island. Conklin was an early supporter and activist of our local cultures.

Yes, there are plenty of selections priced in the multi-thousand dollar range, but there are plenty of delicious and affordable choices to suit all tastes and budgets. The American Hotel holds the rare distinction of being one of only three restaurants in the world to receive wine spectator‘s Grand Award every year since the award’s inception in 1981.

As previously stated, as went the village, so too, The American Hotel. Well, the village rose through the ranks of Hampton’s destinations, largely thanks to the realization of Ted Conklin’s vision for the American. The rich and famous, from theater and movie stars to top political and industrial leaders, have fought over hotel and dinner reservations or just a seat at the bar. Along the way, many have bought and made Sag Harbor their home, either for the whole year or for their summer getaway.

During my tenure as General Manager, I have met many celebrities at the American Hotel. One of my favorite stories to share is the night regular Billy Joel dined alone on a winter Sunday after his 1994 breakup with Christie Brinkley. He got up from his table in the bar dining room and asked me to bring his grappa and espresso after dinner to the empty front dining room which had the piano stage. It was almost the end of the evening, so I grabbed a single malt for myself.

Tray in hand, I entered the room to see Joel tinkering at the piano. I placed his after-dinner treats on the table next to the piano and, perhaps seeing my drink, he said, “Join me, Doug.” I sat down and expecting to hear one of his hits, to my surprise he started playing what I believe to be a Chopin piano concerto. As incredible as that moment was for me, halfway through the play he turned to me and said, “Doug, if I had had my way, I would have preferred to earn my living by playing music like that.

The Classic American Piano Man playing classical music in a classic American joint… ahh, The American Hotel!

The American Hotel is located at 49 Main Street in Sag Harbor. Call 631-725-3535 or visit

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