Peter Honerkamp is one of the managers of The Stephen Talkhouse – which has been an Amagansett staple since 1987. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions. He has been labeled the “Resident Storyteller” of the Talkhouse; a title he has earned by witnessing so much over so many years. His work behind the scenes doing benefits for wounded service members and locals with grave illnesses, along with other calamities usually goes unreported. He is a quiet, private gentleman.
When you think of the thousands of musicians that have played live on that stage, the list is mind-boggling. Here are a few: Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul Simon, Jimmy Buffet, Billy Joel, Leon Russell, Coldplay, Derek Trucks, Suzanne Vega, Judy Collins, Mumford & Sons, The Killers, Dave Mason, Felix Cavaliere (Rascals) Taj Mahal, Sheila E, Martin Sexton, Hot Tuna, and so many more legends.
At the moment, The Stephen Talkhouse is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. People attending live concerts may be back as soon as July, although there is a series of live shows from the Talkhouse stage being presented on Facebook and other platforms. I sent Honerkamp a host of questions and he was kind enough to share his answers with Hamptons.com.
Peter, tells us a little about yourself and how you ended up on the East End?
PH: After I graduated from Columbia University I worked as a newspaper reporter for the New York Post, then shuttled between Amagansett and Ibiza writing a voluminous and fairly terrible novel. That being said, I finished it. In 1987 I bought The Stephen Talkhouse when the writer Clifford Irving whimsically suggested it. I bought it with my in-laws, Jerome Schneir and Adrienne Schwartz, along with Marcie Honerkamp. The novel wasn’t great but it led me to buying the Talkhouse.
The Talkhouse is a laid back, unpretentious bar. We double as a sanctuary, a place both regulars and first timers feel safe. It’s a place where everyone is equal and everyone is accepted. It’s run by a group of friends uninterested in impressing anyone and only interested in creating and sharing a roaring party that rages on. There are over 25 people who have worked here more than 10 years, over 15 have been here 20 and around 10 for 30. There is a sign by the front door that reads: “Customers come and customers go. Here at the Talkhouse the employee is always right.” It’s hard to believe, looking at our size, but over 60 musicians in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame have played here. It’s the greatest bar in the world. I have the best job in the world. I get to make people happy for a living.
What have been your five most memorable nights at the Talkhouse?
PH: 1. Wednesday January 20th, 1988. A cold winter night during the first year we were open. Klyph Black was the first musician to grace our stage (then six feet deep by eight wide) in September of 1987. I had booked a few national acts that fall as well, but booking Taj Mahal was our first major act. We paid him $2,000 and charged $20 and the place was packed. You couldn’t hear a pin drop the entire set. When I saw how many people turned out, I knew we were on to something.
2. In August of 2014, Sean Rafferty, a local musician and chef, was diagnosed with cancer. Paul Simon was friends with his brother and dad and agreed to do a benefit concert. The people who helped sustain this place, who helped create this place, turned out to help someone, a tradition we’ve been proud to continue to this day. We only charged $20 and lots of musicians played. But Paul singing the songs I fell in love with in my adolescence in the intimacy of that room and the gesture of that moment was magical. The Boxer, America, Me and Julio…..
3. In 2011, Hurricane Irene slammed the East End the weekend before Labor Day, knocking out power for days and killing a key summer weekend. Luckily we had a generator. Jimmy Buffett – who more than anyone has helped local charities, the Wounded Warrior Project, and this bar – had an artist, Elew, he was helping who had been scheduled. So, in an otherwise darkened East Hampton, Elew played and Buffett came down to open for him. Though Jimmy has been gracious enough to play here and elsewhere for the joy it brought his fans, the causes he supported and surely his own joy of performing, that night he brought friends – Bill and Hillary Clinton (she was then Secretary of State). So the Secret Service arrives and we find the Clintons a “safe” spot and Jimmy starts performing. He finishes his first song, there is a loud pop, and the lights go out. I was surrounded by Secret Service agents. The pop was ominous. It was the town power momentarily coming back on. I waited for the Secret Service to whisk the Clintons out, but the town power went back on, the generator kicked in and the Clintons stayed for the entire show.
4. In August of 2017, we celebrated our 30th year in business. Nancy Atlas, Klyph Black, and dozens of other local musicians played all the night for the patrons without whom we wouldn’t exist. We gave the proceeds to James Pellow, a beloved Talkhouse bartender for 30 years, who was recovering from a serious medical condition.
5. In August of 2020, we hosted another benefit for a Talkhouse bartender, Phillip Vega, who has worked the bar, more or less, for 33 years. Phil is an iconic Hamptons fixture and a regular at innumerable bars. Terrance Simien and his zydeco band came up from Louisiana and the town and local musicians turned out in force.
There is no doubt about The Stephen Talkhouse’s huge social relevance on the East End. Peter Honerkamp has played an important role selecting the talent to play there over the years, while also keeping the spirit of live music in the Hamptons thriving. He is probably a friend of the majority of musicians out on the East End. He hires them regularly, and gives them an opportunity to play on the historic stage for The Stephen Talkhouse crowd. A crowd that on any given night might be a lively group of folks including a few billionaires, a few politicians, a few musicians and a lot of folks that know they will have a great time during their visit to the historic Stephen Talkhouse.
For more information about The Stephen Talkhouse, visit stephentalkhouse.com.