The sudden closing of Strawberry’s Sports Grill in Douglaston, Queens after two years of operation reminds one of the harsh realities of the restaurant industry, even in good economic times, and it also makes one think about the various like ventures done by Met related personnel through the years.
The first stabs at it go all the way back the halcyon days of the 1969 Mets. Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda opened up The Dugout Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant in Amityville out in Long Island. Looking at its advertisement in various Met publications at the time, it did seem to be a family style restaurant and bar. Not much information can be found about it while doing a quick Google search, but the blogger Met Guy In Michigan a few years back describes going there as a youngster, and trying to find what is in its place today via Google Maps. The result, a Kentucky Fried Chicken!
Next on this Metly eatery journey takes us to Astoria Boulevard and a stone’s throw from Citi Field, where Tommie Agee after leaving the game through the early 1980s was the proprietor of Outfielder’s Lounge. Again not too much information can be found on a cursory internet search. Though there is this 1986 Sports Illustrated piece on the author’s search for it, and getting Tommie Agee’s, among other Mets of that era, signature.
Easily the most well-known Met related culinary establishment has to be Rusty Staub’s pair of Manhattan restaurants. The first, Rusty’s, opened in 1977 on the corner of 73rd Street and Third Avenue. Known for their famous rib eating contest, it was more of a traditional restaurant than a sports themed bar. That would come in 1989 when Rusty’s On 5th opened, on 5th Avenue of course, and 47th Street. The original one closed its doors in 1991, it seems hard to find data for when the 5th Avenue bar closed, but it was around the same time.
Shortly after Oriole Park At Camden Yards opened up with Boog Powell lending his name to a BBQ kiosk, the Mets did the same with Rusty Staub by setting up a short-lived ribs kiosk in Shea Stadium’s RF Field Level Food Court. Of course the Mets had a bar entitled Casey’s 37 in the back of home plate on the Mezzanine Level for years. This would sadly be removed in favor of the Citi Field Preview Center during Shea’s final years. The next time a Met would have his name lent to a stadium kiosk would be Keith Hernandez’s Keith’s Grill in 2011, found just around the Left Field Foul Pole on the Field Level, and this past year a second kiosk was added in the Promenade’s Food Court behind home. Interesting sidebar though is that in the earliest preview art of what the Citi Field concourses would appear like, there was the name “DUKE’S GRILL” on a food stand right across from where the Champions Club is down the third base line on the Field Level. This obviously never came to pass, nor is any data available confirming that it would have been tied to Duke Snider (who did play as a Met in 1963), or why it suddenly disappeared in renderings that would come after it.
There was also an annex, of sorts, of Bobby Valentine’s legendary Stamford Connecticut establishment in the then Ramada, now Holiday Inn-Laguardia Airport, on 114th street, across from Citi Field (well, then Shea Stadium of course) in Corona. Valentine would lend his name to the hotel bar during his managerial tenure at Shea from 1996-2002.
Before we get to Darryl Strawberry’s venture, there are Carlos Beltran’s Puerto Rican restaurants that opened up over the course of the last three years; Sofrito on First Avenue and 57th, Sofrito White Plains, on Main Street in Downtown White Plains, and Sazon in Tribeca, 105 Reade Street. Despite Beltran being a part owner, the restaurants are complete upscale establishments with no hint of sports connections.
And finally, Darryl Strawberry’s Douglaston establishment, it had a decent location, right across from the LIRR station and plenty of sports related events as well as serving as a post-game for this past spring’s Hoftra University conference on the Mets history. But no doubt rising overhead costs and other usual factors led it to close its doors after only two years of operation.
It’s very much an “it is what it is” sort of situation. Sure you’d hate to see ventures fail, especially taking into account the workers there and how hard it is to get gigs in the service industry, but at the end of the day establishments, even with ample evidence of being risky ventures, do pop up often. And while places like Strawberry’s and Rusty’s do get turned into tourist traps, especially with exorbitant costs for underwhelming food, it still was a neat thing to have as a Met fan. Oh sure any establishment that serves up decent food, plenty of beer options and has tons of TVs showing sports action can be “your bar” even if it doesn’t have much in the way of Met décor and memorabilia around, but still something is just cool about having supporting a Met, even if it’s just licensing out his name.