You don’t have to be in possession of an authentic, signed baseball from Yankees superstar and Cy Young Award-winner Whitey Ford to appreciate a good sports bar (although, in my case, that helps). And if you do appreciate a good sports bar — the ultimate in American reverence come home to roost — you’d be well served to visit Southampton’s Fellingham’s, which came up to the plate 37 years ago.
First came softball. Owner Joe Fellingham started a softball team in 1980, and then created a bar so that he and his teammates would have somewhere to gather afterward. The team, incidentally, went to nationals in 1981, where it came in second place. Over the course of nearly four decades, the sports bar, tucked behind Main Street in Southampton Village, has played host to the greatest of sports’ elite: Mark Messier, members of the Islanders, and, yes, even Whitey Ford.
Joe Fellingham came to Eastern Long Island in the early 1960s. His wife, Millie, who co-owns and manages Fellingham’s, came out over a decade later. They met here on Long Island and have lived on the East End (now in Hampton Bays) ever since. Of their eight grandchildren, two, the oldest, work at the restaurant. Loyal staff members have enjoyed long careers. “One of the girls started with me when she was 18 and now she’s 36,” Millie Fellingham said, a testament to the dedication her staff feels to the restaurant.
And, of course, the restaurant has enjoyed more than just a brush with sports fame. Imbedded in the fabric of Fellingham’s are the stories of sports greats past. “Joe DiMaggio’s nephew,” Millie Fellingham said, “saw the picture of his uncle and said, ‘Marilyn Monroe used to babysit for me.’ We’ve kind of grown over the years and we have a really healthy sports bar. We are open 365 days a year. The kitchen is always open until 11. The only time the kitchen closes is Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving.”
The restaurant is adorned with photographs of famous athletes, some legendary in memoriam and some still living. The true tavern — dark, wood-walled, convivial — offers the requisite televisions for sports viewing, and is also home to a delicious menu, featuring fresh fish, belt-expanding appetizers, and an enviable list of burgers, all of which are named after athletes. Kids can enjoy the McEnroe burger, dubbed so after tennis legend and tantrum-thrower John McEnroe. Adults can enjoy the joke. (The only burger named after a non-sports persona is the Jimmy Fallon, designed by the comedian and Sag Harbor resident, who frequents Fellingham’s.)
Joe Fellingham’s role at the restaurant has shifted with time. He once was a constant presence behind the bar and in the kitchen. Now he spends more of his time managing the books. He is still, however, according to Millie, the “king of sports” and all sports trivia.
“He could sit there and talk to anyone for hours,” she said. “He got very upset when Google came in, because [before it] people would call him at home and ask sports questions.” While Google may have supplanted the tradition of calling Joe Fellingham at home for a bit of sports intel, the enthusiast remains committed to offering sports tidbits whenever asked.
Fellingham’s enjoys a constant stream of customers around the clock, a steady mix of regulars who pepper the bar daily, and visitors looking for a bit of sports nostalgia and comfort food. The recent influx of people to Southampton during the U.S. Open was good for business.
Millie Fellingham hopes that this year — and the years to come — continue to bring people into the restaurant. “We’ve been very blessed,” she said. “And hopefully we’ll get another 20 years.”
Each week The Independent features a local restaurant that has stood the test of time. Each restaurant has been open for over a decade.