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The iconic windmill in Sag Harbor. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

The first in a series looking at “our towns” and five things that make them jazzy. First up: Sag Harbor.

Sag Harbor is known for some important firsts: It was the first commercial port in the United States, had the first newspaper printed on Long Island, the first volunteer fire company in New York, the first custom house in the United States and was the first village east of Brooklyn to have gaslights in December of 1859.

This historic village of two square miles packs a lot in for its size—small businesses, shopping, dining and a thriving arts scene, all atop a layer of rich maritime history. 

Here are five reasons to consider making it your home, whether for weekends or all year. 

  1. It’s been a long time coming, but the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park is finally a thing! Thanks to the Southampton Community Preservation Fund and public/private funding efforts, the 1.25-acre park will serve as an entryway to Main Street and connection to the Long Wharf with full ADA access. Entry/exit points allow people to visit businesses on Main Street, as well as providing waterfront access for sundowners and fishing. The park is named for the Grapes of Wrath author who, with his wife, lived in Sag Harbor. (In his travelogue, Travels with Charley, he refers to his property, which was listed for sale in 2021, as “my little fishing place.” It sold this month for $13.5 million, purchased by the Sag Harbor Partnership, which will transform the compound into a writer’s retreat and grant some public access.) When completed, native species will be planted along the boardwalk, which is made of sustainably sourced materials, complementing other eco-friendly landscaping such as indigenous shade trees, raingardens and butter-fly friendly Goldenrod. 
  2. Before they hit Broadway, many productions were developed at Bay Street Theater & Sag Harbor Center for the Arts, a not-for-profit professional theater founded in 1991. Hedda Gabler, Love Janis, Full Gallop are among the hits that debuted in Sag Harbor. The 299-seat venue operates all year ‘round and also serves as a community cultural center, an educational resource and a laboratory for new work and artists. It also hosts a comedy club, kids’ theater camps, a summer college internship program and a variety of workshops. Bay Street hosts sensory-friendly performances that offer increased comfort for people who have sensory sensitivities or other concerns. These performances adjust sound and lighting, offer designated quiet space for breaks should patrons need one. 
  3. While you’re on the culture beat, take in the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum, a certified National Treasure, as well as listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1845 building was the home of whaling ship owner Benjamin Huntting II and his family. It transferred ownership numerous times over the decades—philanthropist Mrs. Russell Sage occupied it from 1908 to 1918—and by 1945 it was deeded to the museum. Among the highlights: a whaleboat from the 1860s; restored corinthian columns, said to be pieces of art themselves; and a revolving schedule of maritime-themes exhibitions. The museum opens for the season on May 3 with “On an Ocean of Ink,” original letters that reveal Sag Harbor’s maritime history—from business correspondence to love letters—”a seldom seen insight into the day-to-day realities for Sag Harbor whalemen as they sailed around the world in search of the leviathan.”
  4. Hey, move over Brooklyn, you’re not the only maker game in town. The Church is Sag Harbor’s very own creative space and community designed to “honor the living history of Sag Harbor as a maker village.” With a soft launch in spring 2021, the space—founded by artists Eric Fischl and April Gornik—is now open as an artist residency, exhibition space and innovative center for the performing arts including music, spoken word and dance. Inclusive of both local and international voices, The Church encourages diversity of culture, people and ages with a range of programming to educate and entertain. 
  5. Move over, Brooklyn, Part II. Sag Harbor is getting its own Michelin Star chef pop-up. In partnership with Kittch, Melissa O’Donnell will open Sag Harbor Kitchen in the American Legion building. The sea-to-table concept she says is inspired by “the great waterfronts from Lisbon to Sicily to Beirut.” Though international in inspiration, it’s all local flavor with what O’Donnell says is a “uniquely Sag Harbor cuisine”—from burgers and steamers to fresh catches from Montauk. O’Donnell also plans for the space to be a community hangout for board games, jazz suppers and cocktail hours. The limited menu opens Memorial Day weekend with plans for a June 15 grand opening.