Connections: Go West

The heart of Riverhead has a lot of culture and history going for it

Many of us who live on the South Fork seem to take pride in thinking we are the tail that wags the dog. You know: We imagine we set the cultural standard for all that occurs in the county. Those who live on the North Fork, and especially in Riverhead, are fully justified in taking umbrage. The heart of Riverhead — and by that I do not mean its nearby shopping centers — has a lot of culture and history going for it.

Because Zach Zunis, who has a day job in advertising at The East Hampton Star, was to perform as part of a “Blues Salute to Etta James” at Riverhead’s Suffolk Theater, a number of our staffers experienced the theater for the first time on a recent Friday night. I was certainly aware that Zach has had quite an illustrious career as a blues musician, but this was my first time seeing him as his real self: on guitar and miked in song. We were all thoroughly wowed by the talent of “one of ours,” which until then had been hidden in plain sight.  

Although we had come to hear Zach, the concert included an unannounced appearance by Janiva Magness of Bluelan Records, who had never before performed on the East End. A singer and songwriter, she presents American roots music, sometimes described as blues and soul, has produced 14 albums, and been nominated for Grammys and the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award. Zach has toured all over this country and abroad with her.

The Suffolk Theater itself might be described by those among us who haven’t spent enough time in Riverhead as yet another gem hiding in plain sight. It is worth a visit all on its own. It is an Art Deco building dating to 1933, preserved and refurbished in 2013 as a restaurant as well as concert hall. Nowadays, concertgoers can sit at one of two bars or at tables on the floor and enjoy serious cuisine prepared by Noah’s of Greenport. If you have been to Noah’s you know the food is excellent. 

Good music and good food equals a super evening out, and I would suggest you plan one as soon as a worthy show appears on Suffolk Theater’s schedule. 

When I asked East Hampton friends if they had ever been to the theater, they invariably thought I was referring to another interesting institution in Riverhead, the Vail-Leavitt Theater, which boasts of being the oldest theater on Long Island, having been built in 1881. (The Vail-Leavitt is on the short street as you head from the direction of the Sunrise Highway toward East Main Street, around the corner from the Suffolk Theater.)

Tickets to the Suffolk Theater are not cheap, so I am pretty sure I would not go for the “45 R.P.M. Salute to David Cassidy” on Nov. 11 or Foghat (“Slow ride . . . take it easy”) on Nov. 16. But Art Garfunkel in person on Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving? I might be tempted.