Note: I wrote this a few years back, so the ages of the kids and the time of marriages is now advanced by four years. But the story is still amazing.
A tradition for years in Southampton has been stepping into for a drink, a hot lunch or a memorable dinner. Through the years so many famous as well as locals have stopped at this Southampton establishment to eat, drink and be merry. It’s another of the great old time restaurants that still opens its doors to the public that has a certain feel of nostalgia. Besides that, Shippy’s serves great food, with world class service as it has for more than 55 years.
Nestled in a 1930 building located at 36 Windmill Lane that once was Southampton’s A&P, Shippy’s Pumpernickels East Restaurant has quite a history. In 1956 William “Shippy” Casgrain, a bartender at the famous Toots Shor Saloon in New York City came to Southampton to purchase the “Hill Restaurant “ and make a go for it on his own. The nickname Shippy was due to Mr. Casgrain’s service in the Merchant Marines.
In his heyday of ownership, Shippy Casgrain entertained many of his former Toots Shor crowd when they came out to the East End. He was quite a character, quick with a joke and always able to put a smile on anyone’s face.
One old patron who knew him said, “He liked people and people like him.”
Famous friends who he knew him from his days tending bar At Toots Shor came by regularly. Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, (who played Ed Norton on the Honeymooners) were pals of Shippy’s, as was Jack Dempsey, the great heavy weight fighter. Gary Cooper was known to drop in in the summer as did Henry Ford II, and Austrian born actress Hedy Lamar. In fact the legendary Herb McCarthy would pop in for a drink and a visit with Shippy and talk shop.
It was during this era that the famous “sizzling hot” steaks became a signature of Shippy’s as they still are today.
Chef Mitch Kruzyna, whose mother, Janis, worked for Shippy in the kitchen for 35 years, smiles fondly just at the mention of Shippy. Back in the '60s there was a juke box at Shippy’s that belted out early Beatles tunes and popular songs like Chubby Checkers “The Twist” that had patrons up and dancing near the bar. The famous bartender of that era was Ed DeGramby. The few patrons in the bar all smiled at just the mention of Ed DeGramby’s name; he was a character.
In 1976 Ed Neilson, a German born New Yorker moved out from Queens to purchase Shippy’s from the attorney who was selling it for a group that bought the restaurant from Shippy a few years earlier. Ed Neilson added so many of the favorite German dishes served at Shippy’s to this day. Ed’s wife opened Pumpernickels around the corner. They both brought a special German work ethic that has kept Shippy’s special to this day. Nick Neilson, Ed’s son, who when he was younger was both a bus boy and a waiter said, “We kept the steaks 'sizzling and smoking' just like Shippy served them."
He pointed to an original Shippy’s menu hanging on the wall from the 1950s that had a $1.50 lobster tail special on the cover. The present bar stools at the swank bar are from Herb McCarthy’s place over at Bowden Square. The bar is the original although the kitchen has been moved to the back to expand the seating capacity to 70.
While Nick Neilson was holding his year-and-a-half-old son Lucas, who his wife of two years, Ursula, had just brought in, he said, “Who knows maybe Lucas will some day work at Shippy’s.”
Then he led me into the kitchen where the magic of Shippy’s happens.
German dishes such as Weiner Schnitzel, Bratwurst, Knockwurst, Weisswurst, and Sauerbraten are all prepared in there like no other German restaurant in the area.
Chef Mitch Kruzyna prides himself on consistency. For more than 50 years there has been a Kruzyna in the kitchen. While in the kitchen I couldn’t help peeking at the deserts, German favorites such as black forest cake, German chocolate cake, Bavarian chocolate cream pie, and of course the legendary apple strudel.
Byron Igoe of Forest Hills, Queens, now in his 80s, remembers bringing his kids to lunch at Shippy’s in the early 1950s. He said it was, “a friendly place, where they always made you feel at home.” The interior is still very much the same with the warm feeling of wood and private tables facing the bar where so many New York Socialites all stopped in to tell or catch up with the latest New York City gossip.
Shippy’s serves dinner Monday through Sunday, where as they serve lunch Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and till 4 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. No lunch is served on Sundays. For reservations or directions, call 631-283-0007.