Though it would seem the restaurant and bar at 730 Main Bayview Road in Southold has been known as “Sophie’s” for as long as the building has been standing, it only officially took the name about two years ago.
Co-owners Charlie Manwaring and Thomas Grattan Jr. bought the restaurant, formerly known as the Willowmere Inn, in September 2012 and decided to change its name to one that had already stuck.
“Even though it was named the Willowmere Inn, everybody called it Sophie’s, so we decided to run with that name,” Grattan explained.
Its full name is now Sophie’s Rest.
Manwaring, owner of Southold Fish Market, and Grattan, a local landscaper, said they never intended to make big changes to the building.
“We didn’t want to see someone else come in and do what happens to half of these places, coming into the town and knocking it down and redoing it,” Manwaring said.
The business partners, who used to play darts together at Sophie’s on Wednesday nights, said they’ve tried to keep the space as close to the original as possible and maintain the low-key vibe the restaurant has always been known for.
“It’s just an easygoing place,” Manwaring said. “We didn’t do much to revive it; we didn’t want that glitz and glory. We just wanted to keep it going. It’s a nice little watering hole that everyone kind of congregates at like it was years ago.”
The building itself has a rich history, not excluding its locally famous restaurateur, Sophie Furmankiewicz.
An 1987 entry made by the Southold Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities in the archives of the Southold Historical Society cites the date of initial construction on the restaurant as “prior to 1858.”
It states that the Tuthill family originally owned the house and that, in 1886, Mrs. T. Vincent Tuthill sold it to her son-in-law, John E. Bly. “In 1886 this house was called ‘the old farmhouse,’ ” the entry reads.
An article by Southold Town historian Antonia Booth in a 2011 issue of the Peconic Bay Shopper also sheds light on the building’s history following the Blys’ ownership.
She writes, “The Willowmere Inn, on the way to Bayview in Southold, was known for years to ‘locals’ as ‘Sophie’s’ after a woman named Sophie purchased it from owner Ben Manasek, who once operated Joe’s Tavern on Boisseau Avenue.”
Grattan’s father, also named Thomas, lived in Southold his whole life and was familiar with Sophie and her family.
He said that before owning the Willowmere Inn, Sophie worked at Fisherman’s Rest in Cutchogue, where Harry ‘Pop’ Pumillo taught her how to spin the pizzas which later became a staple at her bar and restaurant.
“She just had that touch,” he said.
In the mid-1960s, Sophie, her husband, and their daughters, Helen and Jenny, bought the restaurant from Manasek. It was still called the Willowmere Inn, but soon became fondly known simply as “Sophie’s.”
“I remember Sophie very well,” Grattan Sr. said. “She was very nice, but if she didn’t want you to have a pie, she wouldn’t make you one. She would make one for some people every time they came in and asked, but other people she would send back home and say, ‘What, did your wife stop cooking for you?’ ”
She lived in a home on Ackerly Pond Road in Southold and later lived in the restaurant building.
Though the bar was on the first floor and the family lived upstairs, Manwaring said he remembers hearing stories about how the differentiation between the business and the home wasn’t quite clear.
“They used to say she folded her laundry right here on the pool table,” he said. “They also said she refused to make pepperoni pizza. If someone called and asked for a pepperoni pizza, she would just hang up.”
After Sophie died, sometime in the 1990s, the restaurant closed for a few years until and then her daughter Jenny started it up again. She then sold it to Manwaring and Grattan Jr.
So far, Manwaring and Grattan Jr. have completely redone the restaurant’s front porch, which they said was falling apart. They enclosed it, added seating and updated the main room by repainting the wainscoting and other architectural details. They also dug out a new cellar and cleared out the second floor.
The original bar is still intact and the pool table — which Grattan Sr. said doesn’t get nearly as much use as it did when he was growing up — sits in the main room. Dart boards line the walls.
A photo featuring Manasek and Sophie sits on the fireplace’s mantle.
Though they don’t have specific plans, the co-owners said they’ll keep doing work to the property as time goes on.
“Whatever money we make we just keep putting back in,” Manwaring said. “We make a little, we spend a lot. We make a little bit more, we spend a lot more. We’re constantly putting work into this place.”
As it is with Sophie’s history, the current crowd isn’t a predictable one.
“The nice thing about here is that, especially at the bar, you can sit next to an 80-year-old woman or a 21-year-old guy,” Manwaring said. “This has always been known as the place that ‘only locals are allowed,’ but now we’ve changed that.
“It’s not just locals-only, it’s a little bit of everybody. It brings a lot of culture. You have people who are pulling in here in $100,000 cars sitting next to someone with a work truck.”
“It’s just a neat little place,” Grattan Jr. added.
Sophie’s Rest opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and at noon Saturday and Sunday. It closes at the bartender’s discretion.