A Tale of Two (or Three) Mike Reillys: A Host With Feet in Two Main Street Hot Spots

Mike Reilly at The Corner Bar (left) and The American Hotel (right). Photo illustration by Michael Heller.
Mike Reilly at The Corner Bar (left) and The American Hotel (right). Photo illustration by Michael Heller.

By Annette Hinkle

If you step into The Corner Bar on any given afternoon for a burger and a beer, chances are you’ll be greeted by the friendly, smiling visage of Mike Reilly, one of the managers, dressed comfortably in a pair of jeans, a denim shirt and a black fleece vest complete with The Corner’s signature logo on it.

And if you happen to meet up with friends for a drink and a nosh at the bar of The American Hotel a few hours later, you might find yourself face to face with Mike Reilly once again — this time manning the hotel’s front desk in a suit and tie.

“I treat the people at The Hotel just like I do at The Corner — with respect and gratitude they’re here,” he says. “I just have a suit on there. When they pick their jaws up off the floor and ask if I’m there for a wedding or a wake, I say ‘I work here.’”

“Then they give me strange looks and say, ‘Did you quit the band?’” he adds.

As if two jobs weren’t enough, when he’s not at The Corner or The Hotel, Mr. Reilly, the longtime bass player and front man for the band Pure Prairie League, is often on the road, playing weekend gigs in some far flung part of the country.

Welcome to the many faces of Mr. Reilly.

A native Midwesterner, Mr. Reilly first began visiting friends in Sag Harbor in the 1970s and in the early ‘80s, spent a winter here bartending at The Corner Bar. That’s where he met his wife, Corinne Jones, who was a waitress (and married) at the time. By the time Mr. Reilly moved here in 2010, she was available — as was the job at The Corner — and he made both official.

As he points out, it only took him 28 years.

“I love this town and I’m where I want to be,” says Mr. Reilly. “I have the best girl in town, the best two jobs in town, and I go away and play music and get paid for it.”

“I’m knocking on Formica here,” he adds, rapping his knuckles on a dining table at The Corner Bar (obviously).

Truth be told, The American Hotel is actually a newish gig for Mr. Reilly. He took the job in May after another maître d’ left and soon, he found himself doing five shifts a week at both places all summer long, on top of weekend gigs with Pure Prairie League.

“I was exhausted,” admits Mr. Reilly who, since fall, has cut back a bit on his schedule.

From an outsider’s perspective, The American Hotel and The Corner Bar couldn’t be more diametrically opposed in terms of décor and clientele, but they are, in fact, kindred spirits — the last two watering hole holdouts on a stretch of Main Street that was once legendary for housing a dozen or more such establishments.

The significance of the tenacity of The Corner and The Hotel, neither of which has changed hands since the 1970s, is not lost on Mr. Reilly who, despite being “from away” possesses great institutional knowledge about Sag Harbor and it’s two great institutions.

“The Corner is the local bar in Sag Harbor and it’s been a bar since the ‘20s,” says Mr. Reilly. “All the fishermen, all the local people, all the workers in the Bulova and Grumman days came here. Whether it was Captain Carl’s Corner, McLain’s, or the Whaler Bar, it’s been the local establishment hang out.”

“The clientele here has always been a bit more blue collar, and you could always get good food and a good drink,” he adds.

The scene and the crowd may be somewhat more high end at The American Hotel, but for Mr. Reilly, the vibe is just as good and he has found himself equally at home there.

“The American Hotel has its own feel. It’s extremely inviting, cozy and it’s set up just right,” he says. “That doesn’t come from a pile of money. The feel of the place is about the owners, the servers and the service.”

“I remember when Ted [Conklin] took over the hotel in the ‘70s,” adds Mr. Reilly. “We always loved that place. We were the blue collar crowd, but we never felt unwelcome or excluded. Seguing to 2015, that made the transition into the hotel a lot easier.”

It’s also telling that The Corner and The Hotel have traditionally been the only two establishments in Sag Harbor that stay open all year round, regardless of the weather.

“Storms, hurricanes, blizzards — people congregate in these places,” says Mr. Reilly. “If the power goes out, people don’t stay home lighting candles, they head to The Hotel and The Corner to talk about the storm.”

Since bars are bars and people are people, regardless of their socio-economic level, Mr. Reilly admits that one takes in a fair amount of current events chatter at both The Corner and The Hotel.

“Bartenders are considered confessors and confidantes to many and it’s not strange to hear all kinds of topics and conversations at either place,” says Mr. Reilly. “Whether political discussions, religious discussions, what’s going on in town, or the condition and state of Sag Harbor, the village has its own identity and it’s trying to maintain its reputation as the Unhampton, kicking and screaming all the way.”

Which naturally leads to a follow up question — in his role as manager, has anyone ever taken a swing at Mr. Reilly at either place?

“No, but I’ve been called outside a couple times,” he says. “When people get that out of control, it doesn’t take much to diffuse the situation. As a managerial entity, part of your job is to diffuse and handle situations that require tact and control.”

“It’s the same thing on stage,” adds Mr. Reilly. “After 47 years, we’ve always gotten along well. A couple of glasses have been thrown across the stage but no one’s ever thrown a punch.”

Knock on Formica.