Winter is Chilly

The success of a neighborhood is certainly helped by good schools, a lively main street with a variety of shopping and a spot for a decent cup of coffee. In Patchogue, like a lot of South Shore towns that thrive in the summer, the dead of winter is kept afloat by places like Reese’s 1900. While the snow banks swelled to knee-high in February, Reese’s kept the town warm doing all the things a good neighborhood bar should, and its chili was at the center of it all.

Almost immediately after opening in 1971 the pub served the purpose of community hub (and its chili) from the first floor of a building that is now a little over 110 years old. On and off during his high school and college years in the 80s, Matthew Lowe worked at Reese’s, pitching in behind the bar and in the kitchen, for founder David Reese. He served Patrick Palmeri, a friend who often stopped in after ending his shift at the Pine Grove Inn nearby. The pub always served the blue-collar locals—like cops, bartenders, servers and kitchen crews who stopped in for a drink after punching out at their own restaurants.

Lowe and Palmeri bought Reese’s in 2006 and became keepers of its chili recipe, which has developed a cult-like following around town. “It was a place I grew up in. It was close to my house,” Lowe said. “I wanted that building. The bar is old and it’s a good, old, brick building that has the original tin ceilings. All the brickwork and the stained glass windows go back a long time.” From out of a tiny kitchen, among the renowned burgers and corned beef, comes Reese’s humble stew. A straightforward mix of ground beef, spices, onions and bell peppers is thick and mild, with a touch of sweetness to it. But it’s probably best known for what it doesn’t have. “I think the absence of the beans is a big part of it,” Lowe said of the recipe that dates back to Reese, who didn’t care for beans. A local butcher makes batches of the chili’s ground beef blend, with just the right amount of fat. While the stew isn’t sexy, in winter a $5.75 crock of the stuff is an instant slowdown in a space that is itself a breather.

Reese’s was modeled after New York City icons like P.J. Clarke’s. Inside, the brass rail-fronted bar is backed by old, honest brick, not the new kind made to look old or the trendy salvaged sort brought in from a demolished building. Photos of friends and family are tucked in behind the rich, stained beadboard wainscoting. The bartenders still wear collared shirts and know most of the faces by first name.

But they’re not completely averse to change, at least a little bit. “We haven’t changed much. Years ago we took out Murphy’s Irish [stout] from the tap and added Blue Point and I got my chops busted a little about that,” Palmeri laughed. Where most restaurants try to stand out for what they’re trying to be in a given month, Reese’s is there, content to be what it has always been. And Lowe and Palmeri know better than to mess with that.

words: sal vaglica | photo: kenny janosick