News came last month that B. Smith's, a stalwart of Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, was not going to open this spring as usual. Instead, noted restaurateur Richie Notar will open a branch of his hot midtown eatery Harlow in the space. We talked with Richie about his plans for the place, his history in the Hamptons, and his relaxed take on summer dining.
Why take over B. Smith's?
I've lived in the Hamptons for years and years and years, so I know there are very limited options for sitting by a boat or a bit of water. I really like that inviting feeling on the water; we're right on the marina and the property is very approachable. So when the opportunity crossed my desk I was very keen to do it.
What kind of menu will you offer? Similar to that in the New York outpost?
The menu will resemble certain aspects of the New York restaurant with some hit dishes from Manhattan. Plenty of seafood, of course. We're going to be seafood centric, focusing on enhancing some of the things we've done in the past in the city and what's locally available during the season.
Once you're out east, every few weeks a new and interesting ingredient comes available. I've had restaurants in the Hamptons in the past, so I've developed relationships with some of the North Fork farms, one being KK's and another being Sang Lee. And as the growing season progresses, we get a call that some microgreens are ready, so the salad changes. I'm going to focus on everything that's available to us out there and really just live off the bounty of the land and sea. That includes the wines—North Fork wines are fabulous.
Are you going to be open for lunch and dinner?
Yes, we are, but we're also going to be doing something a little different. When I'm in Europe, sometimes I like to just go to a square with my coffee and a panini or croissant. Because the restaurant is in such an inviting spot, we're going to have sort of a grab and go in the mornings. We'll have an outpost of Birch Coffee, a wonderful coffee company that we use in the city. So you can come in and grab what you like and go sit out and read the paper and watch the world go by.
I like to get up in the morning and get out of the house. It's me time. I have three coffee makers in my Hamptons house and I still find myself going into the car, getting the papers and going into Starbucks to grab my coffee. We all want a little bit of alone time. So what's nicer than to go out by the water, on the marina, and grab a coffee and a muffin and sit and check your messages or read a newspaper and enjoy the scenery?
When will you open?
We'll be open for Mother's Day. Initially we'll be open on weekends and progress into a full season.
You've obviously spent a lot of time in the Hamptons. How long have you been going out?
Before Montauk was cool, I moved to Montauk. I worked for Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager going as far back to Studio 54. And I worked at Morgan's Hotel, the original one, and the Royalton at the same time. I got burnt out, so I took my red truck, my Jack Russell and my girlfriend at the time and I moved out to Montauk. I thought it was going to be two months; it wound up being two years. After a year, I took a general manager's position at East Hampton Point and opened that restaurant. That gave me my chops out east: the transition from being someone who hung out on the beach to someone who actually worked out there. I got to know the lay of the land.
Then I moved back into the city and did Nobu and the rest is history. I've lived out there off and on for over twenty some-odd years. Now I live in Wainscott so it's three miles to the restaurant and I can have my run there in the morning.
I've been coming out to the Hamptons for many many years and I want to get rid of the annoying parts of eating out. I always have to have a place where someone can just walk in spontaneously and have a drink, order some food.
I just want to make things as simple as possible. Of course our food is going to be good but for me the real star is the service. I want to make my restaurant as amenable and welcoming to different types of people as I can: the families and the later nights and the middle grounds and the lazies and the guys—whoever. Also I want to carve out a little place outside that is for the walk in traffic. I always have an area in my restaurants for the spontaneous diner. I don't necessarily know where I want to eat when I get up in the morning! I'm a little spoiled because I'm in the business, of course.
That's what summer is about, relaxing and being spontaneous. I don't want to have to make a reservation for dinner six weeks in advance.
I don't want to work harder when I'm supposed to be having fun than when I'm working! There can be a lot of anxiety about where you're going to go for dinner! It's a lot of work to score a reservation and then a lot of places are mediocre anyway.
If you have a place that every time someone calls you're on lockdown—"Sorry we're fully booked"—then people stop thinking about it. If you're sitting on the beach and say, "Hey, let's go to Harlow tonight" and someone says, "Don't even bother" you stop thinking of it. With Nobu in 1994, we were the hottest restaurant in the world and you could not get in. My partner suggested we start a sushi bar. That way, when we were on the phone, we could say "Sorry, we're fully booked but we have the sushi bar. It's first come first served and there's always a chance. If a table becomes available, we'll be happy to seat you." It keeps the food traffic coming. You always want to get people to come to your place: there's always a cancellation or a party of six is now a party of two. I want people to feel they can come in and there's always a shot. That's why I always like to have a certain area in all my restaurants that is carved out for the spontaneous diner. It's all about a people atmosphere.
· Harlow NYC [Official site]