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Tweed’s Restaurant and Buffalo Bar (Illustration by Kelly Franké)

From the moment you step foot into Tweed’s Restaurant and Buffalo Bar, you feel as though you’ve been transported back to the late 19th century. 

Located in the heart of downtown Riverhead, the three-story Queen Anne-style building is a treasured piece of local history. Built in 1896 by John J. Sullivan, the site of Tweed’s Restaurant and Buffalo Bar and the J.J. Sullivan Hotel that sits above it are believed to be the oldest continuing restaurant and hotel on the North Fork, earning it a spot on the historic Riverhead walking trail. 

Victorian chandeliers cast a soft glow on stained-glass windows and creme-colored walls covered in old photographs and antiques. It’s an homage to America’s past, from the original mahogany and marble bar, crafted for the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago, to the taxidermy buffalo head hanging on the wall that’s said to have been the last bison ever shot by Theodore Roosevelt. 

The site of Tweeds Restaurant & Buffalo Bar has a storied history, one with political significance. Sullivan was closely associated with Tammany Hall, a powerful Democratic political machine that exerted control over New York State politics at the time. His saloon was frequented by many political figures like Alfred E. Smith, a former-four-term governor of New York. When Riverhead enacted prohibition laws in 1905, Sullivan cleverly concealed his saloon by partitioning off the front of the building and transforming it into a barber shop. Meanwhile, upstairs, a secret door connected the saloon to a neighboring bakery where the alcohol was delivered and then discretely transported to waiting patrons using dumbwaiters. In 1909, as new laws dictated that only hotels could sell alcohol in Riverhead, Sullivan moved the original building back to serve as a kitchen and erected a three-story, 14-room hotel in front of it. 

Thirteen years after prohibition ended in the U.S., Sullivan suffered a fatal heart attack while working in the bar, leaving it to his son, John J. Sullivan Jr. After he too passed away, the bar and hotel was passed down to his daughter. 

In the early 1970s, current owner Ed Tuccio, whose mother had attended school with John J. Sullivan Jr.’s daughter, purchased the three-story building. A descendant of one of Riverhead’s founding families, Tuccio felt a profound connection to the town’s history. At first, Tuccio rented out the space while he pursued other ventures. It wasn’t until 1990, after a fire broke out in the kitchen of the building, that Tuccio decided to run the restaurant himself. 

“It was as simple as this: if I wasn’t willing to invest money into Main Street — why would anybody else?” Tuccio explained. “I believed in Riverhead and I was going to invest the money in it.”

Tuccio renamed the bar and restaurant Tweed’s, paying homage to the iconic Tammany Hall leader, ‘Boss’ Tweed. After raising bison at North Quarter Farm in Riverhead for about a decade, it was only natural for Tuccio to transform Tweed’s into a buffalo bar. 

“It couldn’t just be another bar. It had to be something unique,” Tuccio said.

Today, the old Main Street saloon offers an extensive menu filled with local seafood and produce, though it’s the bison meat, served fresh from Tuccio’s farm just under three miles away, that reigns supreme. Visitors will find a range of creative bison dishes on the menu like bison burgers, buffalo burrata, bison meatballs, and the popular bison cowboy steak. The restaurant also features one of the most extensive collections of liquor on the North Fork with Long Island’s largest selection of exclusive Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, often regarded as some of the finest bourbons in the world. 

For decades, Tweed’s has received numerous accolades, including this year’s Open Table Diner’s Choice and Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence.” For both visitors and locals, the steakhouse and hotel continue to be a beloved Riverhead staple, preserving the town’s heritage with every passing year.