Back in college, when I’d tell people about my summer job, I would get one of two responses. “Oooh, the Hamptons . . . fancy!” or “Oh, that place.”
When someone hears you were a bartender on the East End, people think of chic clubs with bottle service and Diddy’s White Parties, and possibly a Kardashian or Billy Joel sighting.
This was not that Hamptons.
This was the Hamptons of tank tops, two-for-one light beer specials and a few dozen 20-somethings squeezed into a three-bedroom house that hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned in decades. This was the Hamptons of Friday nights at Beach Bar, Saturday afternoons at Summers or Neptunes, Saturday nights at Surf Club or The Drift Inn. And of course, Sunday afternoons at the Boardy Barn, where I worked.
The Barn, which opened in 1970, alas was sold in May. Memorable summers lured busloads and trains full of young adults to Hampton Bays, where they’d line up and wait -- sometimes for hours -- to get inside the Barn. They dressed in their most disposable clothes, squeezed under a giant tent, bought countless plastic cups of beer, and pumped fists to classics like “Livin’ on a Prayer” or selections from “Grease.”
I’ll never forget my first summer at the Barn, in 1991. I was 17, just out of Chaminade High School, and had an easy way inside. My dad, Mickey Shields, was a co-owner. But it was his partner, Tony Galgano, who gave me my first assignment when I measured 6-foot-1 and maybe 170 pounds. He needed some “muscle” to guard the ladies’ room so no one would cut the line.
Just a few years removed from my Newsday delivery route, this was eye-opening. I was thrust into an adult world of smoking, cursing, chugging, flirting, grinding -- and shots. Sometimes, the men had disagreements that were not settled verbally. These women were different from the girls I’d met from Sacred Heart Academy.
The real action, though, came a few years later when I was asked to tend bar. A shift at the Barn was like getting a spot on the Supreme Court. They didn’t come up often, and usually someone had to die.
My friends still criticize my bartending skills. But the Barn was never about mixology. It was about speed and volume. If you mastered two beer taps at once, you could fill 20 cups in under a minute, even if half the beer ended up on the bar itself.
I spent 20 summers working at the Barn. That might sound impressive until you learn that more than a few colleagues logged more than 40 years.
Certainly, it’s sad that the Barn won’t live on. But nearly all the other bars we frequented are long gone, too. Many Hamptons areas apparently realized that building their economies around bacchanalia wasn’t the best idea. People started going to Montauk, or renting Airbnbs in the Catskills.
The last company I worked for in the city was staffed mostly by men and women in their 20s. None ever mentioned share houses or trying to grab the 4:21 Friday express to Westhampton. It’s too bad. I remember how, near the end of many Sundays, the Barn DJ would play the theme song from the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing.” It triggered memories of more than one muscle-bound dude trying to pick up his girlfriend, or buddy, while bellowing, “I’ve had the time of my life!”
We sure did.
Reader Mike Shields lives in Lynbrook.