Like so many enjoying a hot summer evening on Shelter Island, I decided to go to the Dory, perhaps the oldest and most famous continuing water hole on the “Rock.” The idea was to take a look at an establishment where enjoyment of summer nights has been thriving for over 80 years.
When I walked in, owner Jack Kiffer was paying bills but gladly shared so many stories that I had to write this article. It seems the Dory was founded as John’s Marine Bar in the late 1920’s. Jack is proud to be the fifth owner of the Dory, an honor he inherited from the previous owner, Dick Edwards, literally upon his death in 2002. Dick, whose father was a U.S. Steel Vice-President, had his family vacation for years. It seems that Dick had lent Mal Nevel the money to purchase the Dory from legendary owner Eddie Langbine in 1964. After a few years Mal decided he didn’t want to spend all his time at the Dory so he transferred ownership to Dick Edwards who ran it from 1971 up to his death in 2002. Present Owner Jack Kiffer fondly remembers the good old days when owner-bartender Eddie Langbine would pass out from the hours of drink and sleep right on the floor while the customers would go behind the bar make their own drinks and put the money into the cash register.
“It was the honor system back then,” recalls Jack. The Dory has been the place where so many local, “hareleggers” the term for anyone born on Shelter Island, have watched all the Super Bowls, the baseball World Series, the elections of Presidents, the deaths of popes and so many other events like the days when the men landed on the moon regularly.
Jack fondly ticks off the names of the men who tended bar besides Eddie Langbine: men with names like, “Rod the Cod” and “Carl the Greek.” Years were put in by Joe Conroy, Jeanie, and Trisha Lenzor. Jack said the names with respect, recalling these were the people who sat up with Shelter Islanders and nursed them through deaths in the family, broken marriages, loss of jobs as well as birthdays, births of children, weddings, and other good times.
The Dory has been the place, sometimes the only place, open on Shelter Island to get a drink. Cold winter nights and hot summer day’s beers have been poured from the still original bar made of a Mahogany and plywood back in the 1920s. The Fireman hold their annual fundraiser at the Dory with two old former bar tenders from yesteryear behind the bar serving everyone. Yes, former Gov. Hugh Carey’s son Chris Carey, along with buddy Jim Garrity come back to the bar they worked years ago in the summers of their college years. Jack smiles when he says the former Governor stops in to get a pint from his son. But most of the time regulars like George Blados, “Sherm,” Joe Tap, Charley Dishe, Jake Paccozzi, Dick Demerest, Linda Butler, Wally Ogar, his brother Freddy Ogar and their sister Dorothy Ogar are there hanging with Jack or now mainstay bar maiden lovely Milen Planas.
Jack Kiffen promised a dying Dick Edwards not to change the Dory and so he proudly maintains the traditions of the famous burgers as well as the fine dining in the summer on the patio. Jack likes to have female bartenders to help spark the men who drink at the Dory. Joining Milen behind the bar in the season are both Katherine “Kat” Franzione and Samantha Opong. Every summer Nat King Cole’s brother Freddy Cole comes by with his band to do a one night summer show. The Lone Sharks and The Mad Dogs also keep summer weekend nights lively.
But the story of the Dory are the few locals on winter nights hanging out instead of drinking alone at home. Sometime they just nod at each other, they are a special breed of kin, fused together by the long winters of a sparsely populated Shelter Island in the winter. They sometimes play poker on tables into the early next mornings, Jack says “those winter card games go on sometimes to the next day.”
The Dory isn’t just a bar, it’s a clubhouse for the locals. And in the summer it’s like a trip to a hopping New York City Club right in their home town. While filming the movie Masquerade, the cast including Rob Lowe, Kim Catrell, and Meg Tilly along with the rest of the actors plus crew used the Dory as a mess hall. But most times the juke box is playing tunes that people are singing to while they sip their cocktails and beers. Most likely people will be using the Dory for a long time to come.