Restaurateur Ian Duke and chef Scott Kampf of Southampton Social Club and Union Cantina are introducing a third restaurant to Southampton Village: Union Burger Bar.The burger-focused spot with an intimate dining room and bar shares 40 Bowden Square with the Mexican restaurant Union Cantina but has its own entrance.
At Union Burger Bar on Thursday, January 17, the eve of its opening to the public, Mr. Duke spoke excitedly about the new venture.
“Scott and I started talking about doing a burger bar a little over a year ago, more because we both happen to love burgers more than anything else,” Mr. Duke said. “It wasn’t really necessarily about a need—more just wanting it and enjoying it.
“With our little village losing a few restaurants over the last year, it sort of sparked my attention to thinking, ‘Well, we don’t have an awful lot of options on places to go where you can get a burger.’ There are restaurants that serve burgers—I’m not arguing that—but, I mean, a restaurant that’s focused on a burger.”
Union Cantina opened in 2016 after the building’s former longtime occupant, the Southampton Publick House, moved out. Union Burger Bar takes over the interior space that was formerly Union Cantina’s tequila bar.
“We didn’t have the degree of interest in tequila that I would have expected,” Mr. Duke said. He also noted that he no longer needed the space for private events, because last spring the beer brewing tanks—vestiges of the Publick House—were removed from the dining room, freeing space for tables.
“I found that the degree of interest for most people for Mexican food is a once-a-week idea, and the idea behind this: People eat burgers two, three, four times a week,” Mr. Duke said.
He is clearly proud of the beef they have chosen to serve: Niman Ranch hormone- and antibiotic-free black Angus from humanely raised cattle. “Our meat is absolutely undeniable,” he said. “It’s fantastic. Once you have a bite, you’ll keep eating, even if you’re full. You can’t not. It’s hilarious.”
The menu offers seven chef-recommended beef burgers with various toppings and sauces, but patrons can elect for a custom burger with their favorite ingredients.
“Our menu is designed for those who are looking to enjoy burgers that we have created, as well as burgers that you can create your own,” Mr. Duke explained.
The Coopers Beach Burger, for instance, is 8 ounces of beef with avocado, bean sprouts, pineapple marmalade, lettuce and tomato on a multi-grain bun. The Mac Attack! is made with mac and cheese and onion hay on a pretzel roll.
Besides beef, there’s also chicken breast, turkey and veggie options, and bun options include potato bread, English muffin, brioche and—for those counting carbs or allergic to gluten—lettuce wrap.
However patrons enjoy their burgers, Mr. Duke just wants them to have a good time.
“What’s better than sitting down, having a burger, French fries, a killer shake, a beer, and, to be quite honest, bourbon?” he asked.
Union Burger Bar’s small-batch bourbon menu includes such rarities as Pappy Van Winkle from Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, which Mr. Duke called truly exceptional.
“Pappy Van Winkle is a famous bourbon that is not really available anywhere anymore,” he said. “They only make about a hundred bottles a year. And so, when people get it, they don’t put it on menus—they keep it and drink it themselves. And I want to try and expose people to it.”
The drinks menu also includes an extensive list of tequila in a nod to the space’s former use as a tequila bar—and because Mr. Duke is a fan. “It’d be remiss if I wasn’t going to include it,” he said.
The choice of shakes is also extensive, from $8 “Classic Shakes,” such as vanilla, peanut butter and caramel, to $15 “Boozy Shakes,” with Bailey’s, vodka or Chambord. The $14 “Real Deal Shakes: feature frosted rims and ingredients like Blue Bunny ice cream cones, Oreo ice cream bars, a giant lollipop and Reese’s peanut butter cups.
Mr. Kampf designed his own signature milkshake, “The Kampfire,” a vanilla-and-marshmallow milkshake with a chocolate graham cracker rim, topped with whipped cream, a s’more, chocolate sauce and a cherry.
Mr. Duke, who conceived of the “Not Sorry,” with Nutella and Reese’s, said that heads turn when the shakes come out of the kitchen. “They’re fantastic. It’s indulgence at another level.”
The room is set for 50 people, and he could open up the sliding wood wall to spill over into the main dining room that Union Cantina uses. But that’s not his intent, he said. He wants to maintain the intimacy of the space. In a place that holds 50, everyone knows or gets to know each other, he said, while in a larger venue, no one meets.
He noted that the Manhattan bar that his father, Jim Duke, ran from 1968 to 1995, Drake’s Drum on the Upper East Side, was only slightly larger than the space Union Burger Bar occupies. Small bars like that, that served burgers and pub food, “they were the precursors to what we all do now,” he said.
Mr. Duke has another burger joint, Lucky’s Famous Burgers in Manhattan, with locations on 23rd Street and 52nd Street, but Union Burger Bar and Lucky’s have no similarities between them, other than serving similar foods, he said.
Lucky’s is quick, made-to-order burgers. “The idea is to cook it fast and get you your food, in and out,” Mr. Duke said of Lucky’s. “That’s not at all what I want here. This intimate setting is designed to serve, to eat and enjoy great food that’s comfort food. But we’re not rushing you.
“I do think we’re going to do a tremendous amount of take-out business because there is a void in the market for being able to get a good burger take-out, and that will also apply to delivery when we start that,” he added.
There will be happy hour Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. with $5 beer, $7 wine, $9 mixed drinks and half-priced appetizers, and a $10.95 daily lunch special with a burger and side.
On Wednesdays, Union Burger Bar has a throwback: $5 burger night. The deal revives the recession-busting “Bail-Out Burger” special offered a decade ago by Barrister’s, the Southampton Main Street restaurant that closed in 2013 after 34 years in business.
Mr. Duke recalled how that restaurant would fill with locals on Wednesdays.
“I think it’s a great homage to something that everyone loved and, again, a great way to get out and have a little bit of fun,” he said.
Union Burger Bar opens for dinner daily at 5 p.m. Lunch will be added to the schedule starting Friday. For more information, visit unionburgerbar.com.
This article first appeared in The Southampton Press.