On Montauk Highway in a West Sayville strip, nestled between an out-of-business dry cleaners and a realtor’s office, two bay windows look out between a recessed door. This is the facade of South Shore Dive, a bar that is conspicuously busy despite the freshness of its paint. Inside, a long bar made of concrete leads you up to a shoebox kitchen, above which hangs a chalkboard listing the rotating specials. To the left of the entrance, tall-top tables stand beneath black and white photographs of divers wearing the bubble-head helmets of another era.
The Dive’s name doesn’t advertise any kind of cheap or poorly-lit bar serving the big domestics, but a spaciously, comfortably lighted bar with a diverse selection of craft beer sourced only from New York State and Long Island along with a creative, fluctuating menu. The entirety of the bar, from its menu to ambience, is consciously curated with the kind of sensibility that people in the area might expect to have to take a train to — not the neighborhood bar of a South Shore town.
South Shore Dive is the actualization of Bobby Gulinello’s vision. Born in East Islip, he left for college in Maryland then moved to Philadelphia where he fell into the business of bar management. In 2010, looking to break out on his own and avoid the expense and difficulty of opening a bar in Philadelphia and therefore subject to its liquor laws, Gulinello set his sights on returning home to Long Island, where he opened The Cortland in Bayshore, a bar exclusively serving craft beer from New York and named after a long-gone hotel. The Cortland proved itself to be a success, and Gulinello decided to open a new bar, this time with something he had never had before — a kitchen.
The bar that occupied The Dive’s space before it was transformed looked very much like any other local Long Island bar, a neutral space with dim lighting, a dingy wood laminate bar, and the entrenched smell of stale cigarette smoke. Gulinello revamped the space on a tight budget that had him and his friends providing most of the labor. The trash that occupied the alley adjacent to the bar was cleared and the area was converted into a patio that seats sixty. Some of the diving photographs were found at the local maritime museum — artifacts from The Mary Chapman Dive Salvage company from which the bar takes its name — and are hung alongside campier arranged photographs.
Gulinello’s penchant for tapping into the history of a community while presenting it with a novel dining and drinking experience seems to be paying off in Sayville. On nearly any given night, but especially on Thursdays or weekend nights, the bar and adjacent seating area are full, with people forced to stand around the bar. The Dive attracts an eclectic crowd for the area. Younger people gather at the high top tables, drinking and laughing, while parents and older couples are more comfortable in the adjacent dining area. In the summer, the crowd expands into the cool alleyway patio. In all of it, an excitement around the accessibility of something different pervades the atmosphere and its popularity shows no signs of abating.
There lies the key to the South Shore Dive’s success: accessibility. Gulinello, as he did with The Cortland, emphasizes craft beers appeal to those looking to experience something unique and affordable.
“[Greenpoint IPA]… we’re charging $7 for a pint of their beer. It’s probably one of the better beers those guys are putting out,” he told me. “For you to try the best bottle of wine from some vineyard, probably costs upwards of hundreds of dollars. For $7, to be able to access what’s going on, that’s handmade like that, it’s freaking — a drop in the bucket.” The cocktails are craft as well, with a list of tasteful house specialties and competent renderings of classic cocktails like the old fashioned and the sazerac available.
The Dive’s food also attempts to maintain this theme, though the main attractions lie outside of the entrees. Buffalo leg confit satisfies Gulinello’s desire to offer elevated pub food and forgo the the frozen wings ubiquitous at bars across the island. The giant pretzel, greasy and warm, is a weighty and satisfying vehicle for delivering the real event, the Murphy’s stout cheddar cheese sauce that accompanies it. Gulinello himself skateboards to the nearby Blue Island Oyster Farm to collect the restaurant’s offering of seasonal oysters, the freshest possible.
There’s no mistaking that the success Bobby Gullinello’s South Shore Dive is a harbinger of things to come. Long Islanders, like suburban inhabitants all over the nation, are, more and more, looking for novel but accessible dining experiences, restaurants and bars that offer an an alternative to the mid-level chain restaurant, the greek diner, and the darkness of the local bar. For now, though, South Shore Dive lives as a new and exciting example that sourcing locally and creating the kind of atmosphere familiar now in the trendy neighborhoods of many cities can be, not just sustainable, but popular in Suffolk County.