Arts and Letters and a Round of Drinks
By WARREN STRUGATCH
On nights when Jackson Pollock drank too much at Jungle Pete’s in Springs, his new friends and neighbors kept the peace with any offended parties, then drove the artist home, avoiding the kind of rows that accompanied his binge drinking during the 1940’s in Manhattan nightspots like the Cedar Bar. Truman Capote, shunned by his old society pals, regularly showed up in the 1970’s at Bobby Van’s restaurant in Bridgehampton before it opened for lunch, eager for a cocktail. And John Steinbeck, living inSag Harbor, would rendezvous with his wife, Elaine, at Baron’s Cove Inn, where they would sip wine and watch the sun set over the water.
The tendency of writers, artists, musicians and other creative people to cluster with friends at the end of a long day of solitary work, accompanied by a drink or three, helped foster the image of theHamptonsas a kind of boozy bohemia by the sea.
Most of the eateries and watering holes favored by the creative crowd in the years after World War II, closed for good long ago. But, for the most part, the buildings that housed them are still there, sometimes containing fixtures, furniture and certainly memories of the nightlife of years ago.
Places like Jungle Pete’s, the original Bobby Van’s and Baron’s Cove Inn thrived in the years when writers and artists were flocking to theHamptonsfromManhattan.
The newcomers might have been creative firebrands, but they generally fit smoothly into the social fabric inEast Hampton, said Allene B. Talmage, who lived with her late husband, Richard, a plumber, in Springs next door to Pollock and his wife, the painter Lee Krasner.
”The artists had their own circles, but when they came to Jungle Pete’s, Bill de Kooning, Jackson, all of them, they communicated with the fishermen and the farmers,” Mrs. Talmage said. ”The men came back from the war and were cosmopolitan. They didn’t find what the artists were doing to be strange.”
Jungle Pete’s attracted a bar crowd, and what Mrs. Talmage called ”ladies of the evening,” but the place was no ”bucket of blood,” she said.
”There was drinking, but there was no scuffling,” she said. ”And the restaurant attracted upstanding people as well, even if the church ladies didn’t like it much.”
The cooking of the owner’s wife, Nina, was a big attraction, Mrs. Talmage said. In addition to the regular menu, Nina was known for accommodating men returning from a hunting trip.
”A man would come to the back door with venison or ducks, and Nina would cook it for him as he sat with his wife at a table,” she said.
Jungle Pete’s is now Wolfie’s Tavern, and the long oak bar where Pollock spent many evenings over drinks is gone, replaced by a bar transplanted from the original Wolfie’s Tavern, near the railroad station inEast Hampton. Otherwise, the place has changed little from the old days.
”Around5 o’clockwhen the carpenters and landscapers pull into the parking lot after finishing the work day, it’s so much like it was in the old days,” said Mrs. Talmage. ”Although I don’t go in much any more.”
Baron’s Cove Inn onWater StreetinSag Harbor, popular among writers and artists from the 40’s through the 70’s, has changed hands – and names – repeatedly since Jack Cagliasacchi sold the business in 1980, he said. The space was occupied last season by Rocco’s La Playa, a nightclub, and is now shuttered as the result of a dispute with town officials over noise levels.
John Steinbeck and his wife, Elaine, who died on April 28, were regular customers in the 60’s, said Mr. Cagliasacchi, who today owns and operates Il Capuccino, an Italian restaurant on the southern edge of the village’s downtown.
The author of ”The Grapes of Wrath” and other stories about Dustbowl life in the 1930’s was ”friendly for a famous man and down-to-earth,” Mr. Cagliasacchi recalled.
The two men chatted about the food and sites ofItaly, where Mr. Cagliasacchi was born, and the novelist practiced his rudimentary Italian with him from time to time, Mr. Cagliassachi recalled.
But in general Steinbeck kept a certain reserve.
”He was a man of few words,” said Mr. Cagliassacchi. ”In all the years he came here, we talked all the time. But I don’t think we ever had a true conversation.”