A visit to Shelter Island’s The Dory

The Dory Jack Kiffer

Owner Jack Kiffer pours a drink at The Dory. (Credit: Annette Hinkel)

The Dory. It’s something of an institution on Shelter Island.

But chances are, if you’ve spent any time on the Island, you already know that.

Situated on picturesque Chase Creek in Shelter Island Heights, at this time of year owner Jack Kiffer tends to open The Dory sporadically, usually in late afternoon around the time his group of faithful regulars get off work and show up in search of a beverage.

By the way, the dory perched on the roof of the place is a real one. Jack says it came from Newfoundland, or thereabouts, where it originally sank long ago. In the 1950s the little boat made its way to Greenport and eventually ended up on the roof of the bar and restaurant that bears its name.

“So,” I asked Jack. “Do you think it still floats?”

“I know it won’t,” responded Jack. “I took the back off of it so the water would run out of it.”

Speaking of water, as Shelter Island watering-holes go, this one is probably the oldest. The place opened in 1925 in the midst of Prohibition. The bar is original, and, for the record, so is Jack. He’s been on Shelter Island for 55 years and has been proprietor of The Dory for the last 15.

A shot and a beer is what the place is best known for, so when I asked for something along the lines of a cocktail, Jack had to think about it.

“How about a sloe gin fizz?’ I suggested, figuring this is an old-time bar that serves up old-time drinks.

“No one’s asked for that in years,” responded Jack, scratching his head as he checked the back bar…. Which, by the way, is also original.

“How about a kamikaze?” he countered.

Sold.

kamikaze shots The Dory

A row of kamikaze shots. (Credit: Annette Hinkel)

Depending on what history you happen to stumble across, the kamikaze (which means “divine wind” in Japanese) was invented either by World War II veterans inspired by their fierce flying fighting foes in the Pacific Theater, or by a bartender in Boston in the mid-1970s.

Either way, Jack serves his kamikazes in shot size glasses and uses vodka, Rose’s lime juice and ½ a fresh-squeezed lime.

Though there’s not much to them, quite frankly there’s something particularly refreshing about these kamikazes. Jack’s version is served ice-cold and it offers a mellow sweetness reminiscent of lemonade, taking you right back to a day at the beach — even if the beach is cold and windy because it’s November.

While you’re enjoying your shot, don’t forget to take a good look around The Dory. Stuffed marlins, kitschy figurines, old photos and fancy looking clocks that may or may not have worked in this century clutter the place — but in a good way.

By the way, if you’re hungry, Jack also keeps a bowl of hardboiled eggs in a plastic red basket on the back bar with a sign that reads, “Chicken Dinner, $1. Served with crackers.”

Kinda true …and kinda funny.

That’s what The Dory is, and has been, since 1925.

A true original.