East End Eats: Lucky Springs Has a Tavern!

A charming, cozy spot, neat as a pin, and friendly as can be
Cynthia and John Kaufmann sampled a pulled pork slider and a veggie burger at the Springs Tavern. Durell Godfrey

The Springs Tavern
15 Fort Pond Blvd.
East Hampton
631-527-7800
Dinner daily, lunch Saturdays 
and Sundays

What is now the Springs Tavern has operated as a watering hole both famous and infamous since 1934. It was the Jungle Inn, Jungle Pete’s, Jungle Johnnie’s, Vinnie’s Place, the Boatswain, the Frigate, Harry’s Hideaway, and Wolfie’s Tavern. About 25 years ago a regular told me that Wolfie’s had some planters out front. Occasionally, inebriated guests would help themselves to the flowers. Fed up, the proprietors filled the planters with poison ivy to deter this pilfering activity. Whether it’s true or not, I like to believe this story. It gives the spot a bit of edge, danger, a Wild West (East?) don’t-mess-with-us aura.

Fast-forward to now and you will find a charming, cozy spot, neat as a pin, and friendly as can be. Yeah, so what if I still had to squeeze through the clutch of smokers outside as I glanced around looking for those planters.

The space essentially remains the same, but now has lots of black-and-white photographs on the walls, oodles of flat-screen TVs, marine gray wainscoting, a bar in front, and a dining area to the right.

The menu is short and reasonable. We began our meal with clams casino, fish tacos, and Caesar salad. All three were delicious. The six clams had a buttery bacony topping with finely diced sweet red peppers, red onion, garlic, parsley, and chives. The fish tacos were superb, the three grilled and charred tortillas were filled with crispy cod pieces, some excellent pickled slaw with radishes, avocado, and perfect chipotle sauce. The Caesar salad had a good dressing and homemade croutons.

For entrees we ordered the burger, pan-roasted chicken, fish and chips, and a side order of the Tavern’s “best” macaroni and cheese. 

The burger was cooked to order and we topped it with cheddar cheese and grilled onions. It was excellent, served on a toasted brioche bun with a thick slice of a really good pickle. It’s the little things, folks! The crispy, batter-coated sweet potato fries served with it were insanely good. 

The pan-roasted chicken was also very good. It was the kind of dish you’d have as a nice, homey, Sunday supper. The chicken was moist, nicely seasoned with pan gravy, and served with mashed potatoes and sauteed baby spinach. The fish and chips were another winner. The three big wedges of fish were crispy, served with good fries, some more excellent slaw, and a tartar sauce that tasted like it had a whisper of that good chipotle sauce that came with the tacos. 

The only slight disappointment was the macaroni and cheese. Anytime something on a menu is trumpeted as “the best,” one’s expectations go way up. It was just okay, with very creamy seashells but not very cheesy. Maybe this dish is tailored more for children.

The place was quite busy on the night of our visit, and our waitress, Sam, was excellent. Another woman visited our table to let us know about upcoming music events. The Springs Tavern definitely has more of a “Cheers” feel than the late night, slobbery Jackson Pollock watering hole of yore. 

The prices are extremely reasonable, especially considering the quality and freshness of the food. Small plates, soups, and salads are $5.50 to $15, sandwiches, burgers, and other entrees are $11 to $26, sides are $3 to $7, desserts are $5 to $9.

The desserts are made in house and we tried two of them, the key lime pie and cheesecake. The key lime pie was good. It had a thick graham cracker crust, lots of whipped cream, and was garnished with fresh lime slices. The cheesecake was also good, if a bit dense. It had a nice vanilla flavor and a chocolate cookie crumb crust.

Halfway through our meal, I told my guests, the ever delightful Pebo and Claude, that if Sag Harbor had a place like Springs Tavern I would go all the time. “Then you should say that in your review,” they suggested. There, I just did. Lucky Springs. 

Chef Michael Ruggiero of the Springs Tavern serves up superb casual pub grub in a cozy, charming setting, the kind of place anyone would want to have in the neighborhood. Durell Godfrey