From Bridgehampton to Montauk, the word on the street has been that the East Hampton restaurant Nichol’s is in play, prompting its many and loyal customers to ask, “Where next?”
The rumors that have been circulating for weeks are true. Julie Stone, a Manhattan-based commercial television producer with lifelong ties to the East End, will buy Nichol’s by December 1. In a telephone interview, Ms. Stone said on Monday, “Yes, it’s a done deal; the contracts are signed.”
Nichol’s, on Montauk Highway just west of Cove Hollow Road in East Hampton Village, has been in business for a decade. It had a previous life as The Quiet Clam, owned and managed by Ira Fischer. Mr. Fischer still owns the commercial building, the adjoining residential house, and the land under it. Simon Smith and Janet Palmer, known collectively and affectionately as Simon and Janet, have leased the entire property since 1998. They named it after Nichol’s Lane, a small road off Lily Pond Lane in the Georgica section of East Hampton Village, and thus, Simon said, “the errant apostrophe.”
The soon-to-be-consummated sale constitutes the purchase of the lease, which, according to Mr. Smith, has several years remaining. Because the sale involves a lease rather than real property, financial information about the transaction was not made available.
Julie Stone, the about-to-be owner, spent many years of her life in Bridgehampton, and her parents, Dick and Barbara Stone, live there still. In Manhattan, Ms. Stone is the director of broadcast television for Victoria’s Secret, mainly involved in television commercials. Of her new venture, she said, “I want to come back home.” Both she and Simon Smith said that talks about her acquisition of Nichol’s have been a year in the making.
“Nothing will change, Nichol’s will remain just as it is—it will be in incredibly safe hands,” Ms. Stone pledged. Those safe hands will include hers as she intends to move into the property’s residence and be involved on-site daily, and those of Colin Keillor, Nichol’s current manager, who in December will become general manager.
The staff, which Simon Smith says has been “pretty much the same for 10 years,” will remain, according to Ms. Stone. Besides Mr. Keillor, who is a lawyer in addition to resident restaurateur, recognizable front-of-the-house faces that customers can expect to see after Simon and Janet’s departure are Matt Dauch, Bridgette Barbour, Darlene Markowski, and Kathy Rafferty. The kitchen staff, too, will be kept intact, according to Ms. Stone. “Job security,” she emphasized, “is terribly important, and I don’t intend to jeopardize people’s income and lives.”
Ms. Stone did confess to one change she might make: upgrading the bathrooms. She has no plans to change the menu, the prices, the name, the exterior, or the interior (other than the loos). “Colin and I, “she said, “will retain the generosity of service and food at table and bar for which Nichol’s is known.” She also will retain SOIL, the landscapers who have worked with Janet to create the colorful outside gardens.
Since Simon and Janet have owned it, the fare at Nichol’s has been basically English/American—rightfully so, as Simon is English and Janet South African by birth, but English by rearing. The prices, according to regulars interviewed for this story, are “very reasonable” in comparison to most. One of the few “complaints” about Nichol’s is that the breakfast, lunch, and dinner servings are “more than a person can consume.”
The roster of regular customers at Nichol’s is an agreeable mix and includes numerous celebrities, local and national political figures, carpenters and plumbers, East Hampton schoolteachers, writers and journalists, and scores of the hungry, convivial souls who dine, or drink, with frequency.
On a recent weekend night, Sam Champion, the television weatherman, spent time greeting people at the door. When he’s in town, Paul McCartney occupies a table in the bar area. His perch, opposite the entrance to the restrooms, prompted Simon to remark that he’d “never seen so many people using the loo!”
Attorney General Mike Mukasey, who has yet to faint at Nichol’s, accompanied by several FBI protectors (they remain outside), prefers a corner table in the dining room. And Richard Holbrook, a talked-about candidate for a senior position in the Obama administration, dines outside when the weather permits.
The celebrity list goes on: Lauren Bacall, Alec Baldwin, Kathleen Turner, recently minted 007 Daniel Craig, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, ex-Fox News star Bill McCuddy, Ed Burns, Ethan Hawke, Mercedes Ruhle, Steven Spielberg, and Ken Moran, outdoor columnist for the New York Post, who said, “ Nichol’s is a home away from home,” citing the pub-like and homey atmosphere of “this wonderful place.”
But the “unknowns,” who make up the large share of the pub’s business, receive—according to Smith and Palmer—the same treatment and service as their more recognizable faces at the next table. Julie Stone said her and Colin Keillor’s customers’ welcome will be the same: “equal welcome and equal treatment to all!”
For all its years, Nichol’s has been open from 9 a.m. till midnight, or later. Tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, however, Nichol’s will be closed for a private afternoon turkey dinner for Wainscott’s Stuyvesant Wainwright clan of some 40 family members. Stop in soon to bid Janet and Simon farewell. And early in December, stop in to welcome Julie Stone.