Remembering Nathan's in Oceanside, once a storied teenage hangout 

The Nathan’s Famous in Oceanside lasted from 1959 to 1976. Credit: Nathan's Famous Systems, Inc.

The storied Nathan’s Famous in Oceanside — the first Long Island branch of the iconic Brooklyn venue — lasted from 1959 to 1976. Frozen forever at 17 years old, it will always remain the same age as many of the Long Islanders who made memories there. It was a place for teens to cruise and to flirt; where younger siblings had birthday parties and enjoyed rides at its Kiddieland Park; and where the French fries were so good, people swear they can still taste them today.

ABACA the Magician uses John Gillen, 10, of West Hempstead,...

ABACA the Magician uses John Gillen, 10, of West Hempstead, to help in his act at Nathan's Famous in Oceanside in 1972. Credit: Newsday/Jim Peppler

“When we turned 17, we were able to go there in our car,” remembers Jeff Goldman, 72, a retired publishing-sales executive who grew up in Franklin Square and now lives in Bradenton, Florida. “In September '69, I bought a used 1965 Pontiac LeMans convertible,” he says. “That summer of ’69, things changed.”

Vincent Leto, of Astoria, enjoys a hot dog while watching...

Vincent Leto, of Astoria, enjoys a hot dog while watching the start of Nathan's weekend kiddie shows in Oceanside on Aug. 6, 1972. Credit: Newsday/Jim Peppler

He and his friends, driving to or from Point Lookout Beach, often stopped at that Nathan’s at 3131 Long Beach Rd. — a veritable castle built in 1920s Spanish Mission style — and do what teenage boys always do: feed their faces and try to meet girls.

“It wasn't really a drive-in,” Goldman elaborates. “You had to go in. And they had different stations where you could get everything from roast beef to hot dogs.” The place “was huge — three blocks long. And they had entertainment — they had a stage there” at the built-in Kiddieland amusement park, both for bands and for children’s shows:  magicians, puppet shows, clowns.

Steve Miller, 66, a Manhattan publicist raised in Port Washington, would visit Nathan’s around age 5 or 6 with his mother after shopping excursions. “My first memories of restaurant hot dogs,” he says, wistfully. “And I really liked those crinkle-cut fries and I was fascinated by those little red forks” that came with them — tiny, two-pronged, made of wood until replaced by plastic in the late 1960s.

“It had all these little concession windows and a big room in the back with picnic tables,” says Karen Levine Voke, 68, who grew up in Baldwin and now lives in Palm Coast, Florida. When she was a girl, her mother would give her and her brother Barry “a dollar each in quarters and let us go pick whichever windows we wanted, as long as we brought it back to the picnic table to eat,” she recalls. “I would typically get a chow mein sandwich on a bun and an ear of corn with butter.”

Aileen Healy, 5, of East Rockaway, noshes on some French fries...

Aileen Healy, 5, of East Rockaway, noshes on some French fries at Nathan's Famous in Oceanside as she watches ABACA the Magician perform during kiddie days at the restaurant on Aug. 6, 1972. Credit: Newsday/Jim Peppler

Other times she might have “a hot dog with hot sauerkraut that you served yourself from a container attached to a post, along with mustard and ketchup. And usually there was money left over for a soft-serve vanilla-chocolate-swirl ice-cream cone. A feast!”

The property had been the local landmark Roadside Rest, which opened as a farm stand in 1921. By the following decade, it had grown into a restaurant and open-air pavilion, later adding Kiddieland. In 1955, Lawrence’s Murray Handwerker, son of Nathan’s namesake, Nathan Handwerker, bought it and converted it to Murray’s Roadside Rest.

It was still advertised as simply the Roadside Rest as late as March 1959. Then Murray’s dad bought it from him, and on June 4, it reopened as the first Nathan’s Famous expansion of the Coney Island flagship.

Becoming a community fixture, Nathan’s sponsored weekslong music festivals. It held free “Football Huddles” on Monday evenings during the season, with Giants players hosting NFL film screenings. When Frankie Avalon was named Teenager of the Year by the Teenage Council of the Oceanside Recreation Department, he was to accept the award at Nathan’s on June 23, 1960. (History did not record whether he showed up.)

It wasn’t all happy days. By 1968, noisy motorcyclists congregating there regularly caused the Hempstead Town Board to pass a parking ordinance designed to “reduce the number of leather-jacketed motorcyclists and their girl friends who idle away their evenings around Nathan’s Famous,” as a Newsday report put it.

An ad for Kiddieland at Nathan's in Oceanside appeared in...

An ad for Kiddieland at Nathan's in Oceanside appeared in Newsday on July 30, 1965. Credit: Newsday

That and police raids didn’t work. Soon, Tuesday became motorcycle night and Thursday was classic car night. Both brought business.

But for many reasons, the giant food and entertainment emporium eventually became untenable. Nathan’s sold the property; it was demolished on June 10 and 11, 1976. A Waldbaum’s-anchored shopping center went up containing a much smaller Nathan’s. In 2014, that Nathan’s closed, reopening the following year at 2807 Long Beach Rd.  The original 3131 site now houses an Aspen Dental, with a Capital One Bank and Oceanside Plaza adjacent.

But the memory of the original still tugs at us. Artist Michael White, 54, grew up in Baldwin and now lives in New Jersey, where he paints original watercolors of iconic Long Island locales and sells them as signed-and-numbered prints. One features the original Oceanside Nathan’s with a procession of 1960s cars.

Born in 1969, White barely remembers the place. But with a melancholy sigh he does remember what he ate: “It's where I had my first-ever fried fish with tartar sauce sandwich.”

Because the Oceanside Nathan’s wasn’t just about the hot dogs. It was never even just about the food.


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