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Swiss Tavern in Lynbrook closes after more than 75 years

Swiss Tavern in Lynbrook in 1965.

Swiss Tavern in Lynbrook in 1965. Credit: Brian Merlis Collection

Lynbrook has bid farewell to the 75-year-old Swiss Tavern, and a new tavern and restaurant with a modern mindset has moved in.

The longtime institution started life around 1940 as a tavern and gathering spot that only served food at local club meetings. It wasn't until 1961 that the place became a full-fledged restaurant, said Donald Colwell of East Rockaway, whose family bought the tavern that year. "My mother started the kitchen and put down lunches for 85 cents: roast beef, mashed potatoes, vegetable and bread," Colwell said. In 1966, the place was sold to Ilse and Joe Engelke, who had emigrated from Germany after World War II.

Their son, Norman Engelke of Lynbrook, recalls: "It was more of a mom-and-pop beer and burger place with sauerbraten and Swedish meatballs." In 1993, following the death of Joe Engelke, his widow, Ilse, sold the place to the restaurant's bartender. After he died in 1996, the place was again sold. It became Canos Swiss Tavern, with more of a bar and live music scene that ran until 2008. "Our family took it back, did some renovation work and reopened in 2009," Norman Engelke says. The restaurant lasted five more years before being sold.

Now up and running in the historic space is a restaurant with a new name: River Mill Tavern & Tables. Chef co-owner Frank Pignataro, who previously cooked at Point Ale House in Point Lookout, Chesapeake Bay in Long Beach and E.B. Elliotts in Freeport, said the site has been entirely renovated. He described its look as modern-classic-industrial, with exposed ductwork and brick.

Pignataro's casual American draws on global influences, sometimes with whimsy such as an appetizer of Cuban pork naan, which takes the components of a Cuban sandwich -- ham, Swiss and pickle -- and gives it an Indian twist by serving it on naan with cumin mustard. He also offers Korean short rib tacos and a pork and latka flatbread. Other menu items include a steak and potato salad, a carbonara burger topped with bacon, fried egg and shaved Parmesan and such entrees as a crab capellini cake and lightly blackened scallops. Prices range from $9 for soup to $28 for a New York strip steak.

River Mill Tavern & Tables is at 100 Ocean Ave., Lynbrook, 516-599-2700

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