At the first signs of spring, friends Eva Minsteris, Darren Kyman and Stephen Boscola take the two-hour car ride from Manhattan to the North Fork.
To their left, a mob of children gather around waitress Kate Costello as she proudly displays a 3 ½-half pound Maine lobster.
To their right, locals Don Halliwell and David “Captain Sword” Brandi engage in some friendly ribbing, while Plymouth, Mass., natives Bob and Susan Hansen enjoy a quiet lunch.
Historical pictures and the scent of fresh seafood surround the lunchtime crowd, as the patrons eat, talk and add to Claudio’s already rich history.
Now entering its 142nd season, the restaurant draws an estimated 65,000 customers each time, according to Bill Claudio Jr., one of the current owners.
Founded in 1870 by Manuel Claudio as a small tavern, it has served countless numbers of tourists and locals alike.
“If it could talk, I’m sure it would have some good stories to tell,” said the owner’s son, Tony Claudio, who’s worked at the restaurant for the last 22 years.
When Prohibition began in 1919, Claudio’s transitioned from a small tavern into a fine French restaurant.
“The guy in charge of prosecuting cases (on the East End of Long Island) during prohibition, was the district attorney of New York City,” Bill Claudio Jr. said. “That’s 100 miles away and they didn’t have expressways then. So a lot of it went by the wayside.”
Bootleggers made frequent visits to the bar, maneuvering their boats directly underneath the restaurant to unload their shipments through a trap door that still sits behind Claudio’s bar today.
“I don’t know how many people walk in the door and the minute they walk in the door, they don’t say anything about sitting down, they go ‘Where’s the trap door?’” Claudio says jokingly about his customers.
As social unrest and war continued throughout the 1960s, Bill Claudio Jr., served in Vietnam with the 20th Fighter Wing, 77th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
When he returned to the states, he worked different jobs in the aviation and real estate industries. But he could not resist the lure of his family’s restaurant, and in 1990, purchased Claudio’s at age 51 from his father, Bill Claudio Sr.
“I thought if I came back here and we bought Claudio’s,” he said, “I could finally settle down and relax.”
But the younger Claudio was not just responsible for maintaining a restaurant; he also became the keeper of a family tradition.
“We are very proud to own a historic restaurant like this. It is almost an imperative that everybody in the family maintains the historical aspect of Claudio’s,” he said. “It is not only important to Claudio’s, it is also important to this town too.”
The inextricable link between Claudio’s, its history and the Village of Greenport is also seen by many in the community.
”Could you even think of Greenport without Claudio’s Restaurant?” Geoffrey K. Fleming, the director of the Southold Historical Society asked. “It really has been ever present, serving both locals and tourists.”
Kathy Halliwell, owner Goldsmith Toys and Electronics, sees the positive impact that Claudio’s has on her store, and the other small businesses in the area.
“Once Claudio’s opens in the spring, it’s like the whole village comes to life,” Halliwell said.
“It keeps Greenport running,” said David Brandi, a Greenport resident. “It’s like a monument.”