As the Chinese proverb says, luck favors the prepared.
For Sag Harbor native and year-round resident Corene Thommen, her skill as a bartender at Murf’s Backstreet Tavern in her hometown proves that sentiment to be true.
“It’s so specific,” she says of setting up the bustling Sag Harbor locale for service on any given night. “It’s such a production, like putting on a performance. You really have to be ready.”
And ready she is. For Thommen, Murf’s is very much an extension of how she operates within her own home. She makes it a personal goal that every single patron feels at home, greeting her guests with a warm smile, a high-five and a quick, “What you drinking?” all while settling up the guest to your left and topping off a beer for the person to your right.
Highly organized and hyper aware, Thommen always has her head up, constantly making eye contact with her next customer in line of a four-person-deep bar crowd, all the while making sure the place is meticulously clean and constantly restocking product or checking the quality of the cut fruit.
Credit her cat-like senses to her previous work experience as a waitress and bartender at both local establishments as well as a cruise ship, further instilling a reverence for the mis en place mentality.
“We’re serving so much in such a short amount of time, things have to be in the same spot always,” she says.
Situated behind the stick at what many consider to be one of the last dive bars left on the East End, Thommen’s tended bar at Murf’s for over 10 years, beginning as a barback in the summer of 2011 and eventually becoming a bartender a year later.
When it comes to bars, Murf’s is a different animal. A boilermaker bar at its core, it’s a true late-night spot, serving until 2 a.m. daily. There are always six beers on tap plus over a dozen in can and bottle, as well as hard ciders and wine by the glass available. There’s no point-of-sale system to tally drink orders, so Thommen and her longtime co-worker and friend Nick Carleton developed a colored post-it system to help keep track of dozens upon dozens of handwritten tabs each night. Equipped with a basic cash register plus a handheld device for authorizing credit cards, Thommen is constantly thinking on her feet, always remaining a couple of steps ahead of whatever task she’s accomplishing in that moment.
Because of its small size and the fact it does such high volume in the summer months, “We really have to be efficient working here,” she says.
Resourceful and personable, her firm and definitive place in the bartending world of the Hamptons at one of the busiest watering holes around has earned her favored status among locals and visitors alike. Over time, she’s honed a subtle, yet effective style, paramount in keeping the vibe among the typically standing room only crowd happy and calm.
Thommen likes to keep the vibe easy and fun, always having a couple boardgames on hand for patrons to play. She also makes her own playlists, with familiar songs everyone can enjoy.
“I was originally hired as a favor,” she laughs. “But it’s just so comfortable here. You can be anyone and fit right in.”
In the summer, Thommen spends hours before her shift getting Murf’s ready for service, re-iterating the importance of preparedness and diligence.
“The quicker the better,” she says of her bartending style, “But I love making any cocktail for anyone.”
As the longest standing bar in Sag Harbor — in business for about five decades — Murf’s is the pinnacle of old-school, with its dark, dive-bar atmosphere and cozy, simple ambiance. Upon entering the 230-year-old building, patrons are greeted with a fully functioning juke box next to a working fireplace. There’s a dartboard right next to the front door, plus a ring-toss game just beyond. A picture of Frank Sinatra adorns the wall across from the bar’s kitschy “Three Sheets to the Wind” sign. A cigarette machine is nestled in next to the short side of the 10-seat bar. Maritime-themed décor is scattered about the dimly lit room and the back door opens out into a fenced in back yard.
“My favorite part of working at Murf’s is how much we all get to laugh,” she says. “Every shift is like a sitcom and I can’t wait for the next episode.”
Although Murf’s is a straightforward, no-frills, beer-and-a-shot spot, one of Thommen’s favorite offerings (besides her go-to cocktail of a tequila and soda) is The Blueberry Drink, a vodka-based libation and her version of a High Noon. Made with blueberry-flavored vodka, this bubbly and refreshing tipple is dangerously delicious.
The next time you’re in Sag Harbor, belly-up to Murfs, slap Thommen five and kick back with one of her quickly but carefully crafted cocktails. You’ll immediately feel right at home.
The Blueberry Drink
- 1 1/2 oz. Stoli Blueberi vodka
- 1/2 oz. cranberry juice
- 1 splash club soda
- 1 splash Sprite
- 1 squeeze fresh lemon
- 1 squeeze fresh lime
- 1 lime wheel (optional, for garnish)