A couple raises a pair of wine-filled glasses to the man gazing down at them, and about six others accepting a pour of hospitality at his bar, then turn toward each other. They clinkand share a raised-eyebrow smile at the plates that have been placed before them. Some oysters and a cheese board. Another pour, and a plate of charred octopus, follows. And so it goes.
Take a few steps from that bar, an intimate affair that leads to an open-air space on the front porch with a view of the Long Island Aquarium across the street and the historic Howell House next door, and you may hear not another clink but a quick creak from the floorboards underfoot. Consider it a welcome from more than 100 years ago.
Welcome to the Preston House & Hotel in Riverhead.
A center of hospitality at the entryway to Long Island’s East End, the Preston House has emerged as a must-visit locale merging history and accessible high-end since opening in 2018. Its story is one of preservation and transformation, of a Long Island home brought back from the brink of being lost to history and given a new life that ties the past to the present with an eye always on the future.
“That has always been a part of who we are, from the day we opened the doors, even before,” says Jennifer Petrocelli, the Preston House’s Executive Director. “Bringing something new here, with the hotel and the dining, and building that relationship with guests and the community here. Being part of the revitalization of Riverhead is important. The history of this house is important.”
The house that became an 88-seat restaurant was built in 1905 by Henry H. Preston, the first full-time sheriff of Suffolk County and a Civil War veteran, steps from the Peconic River. When Jennifer’s father, James, purchased the building in 2015, the restoration was not immediately in the plans, but now a two-floor dining destination and five-story NYC-chic boutique hotel have not only risen on the property, but thrived.
A gateway to Long Island’s East End, where local vineyards of the North Fork and beaches of the Hamptons await, it has become an experience in its own right. The hotel is replete with elegant, modern rooms featuring such amenities as plush robes, silk sheets and other niceties, while the restaurant and 1905 Lounge below feature modern touches amid original wood flooring, beams and stonework. Not to mention world-class fare from Executive Chef Drew Hiatt.
“We want to do something special here, all the time—the goal is to take classic elements and elevate them, local ingredients and so much of what is available right here on Long Island, and make them stand out as something you wouldn’t get anywhere else,” Hiatt says. “It should be memorable, something you want to come back for.”
The New American restaurant received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2020 (the wine cellar and lounge are home to more than 800 bottles from around the world), and the food has earned raves for both its use of those prized local ingredients and its innovative yet accessible style. The evolving menu plays to Long Island’s bounty with such dishes as Local Diver Scallops with Pea Foam, Potato Puree, Puffed Potato and Sauce Mornay, as well as Long Island Clam Vongole, Basil Tagliatelle, Summer Peas and Crispy Garlic, a salad of lettuces cut from the North Fork and more.
The couple at the bar has moved on from their glasses of Raphael wine (also owned by the Petrocelli family) and are now enjoying a few cocktails from a list that has also won numerous honors, led by The Henry—a curated take on the Old Fashioned with blackberry, lemon and mint accompanying the bourbon, an homage to the man whose portrait is gazing down from the wall. This time they raise their glasses Petrocelli’s way, then head into the dining room.
“They come here a lot,” she notes with a smile. “We love that we’ve created an environment where we have regulars who come in all the time, but also welcome somebody who has never been here and offer them something that makes them want to come back again.”
The Preston House & Hotel, 428 East Main Street, Riverhead. Learn more at theprestonhouseandhotel.com.