Today when Smithtown residents want to launch their canoes or have a relaxing picnic, they head down to Paul T. Given Park. The spot found across from the Bull statue was once the location of the glamorous Frank Friede’s Riverside Inn.
Frank Friede bought the Riverside Inn from a William Spurge in 1918 according to Smithtown Historian Bradley Harris. It quickly became not only a place to stay, but also for wining and dining, catching a glimpse of a famous personality and placing a bet or two.
Harris said long-time Smithtown residents remember seeing the likes of Mayor Jimmy Walker, The Duke of Windsor, Margaret Truman, the Gabor sisters, Arthur Treacher and others at the establishment.
Peter Micciche worked at Friede’s for two summers when he was a young teen as a parking attendant. He said, “It was the ‘in’ place if you were heading to the Hamptons.”
The establishment was also known for activities outside of the business of the inn and restaurant. There were rumors that during prohibition liquor was loaded on boats to be sent down the Nissquogue river.
According to Harris, Friede’s however was best known for the small gambling house the owner built beyond the train trestle. Micciche remembers when the bathroom attendant would hold a card up at one of the windows. This was the signal for the boy to pick up a customer’s money at the bar and run over the train tracks to the gambling den to place the bet for him.
Some guests would go directly to the gambling house. The parking valet would call over to the small building to let them know that someone was on their way. According to Micciche, Friede’s was raided in 1946, and the gambling activities ceased after that.
Micciche said Friede’s was the place to have a nice dinner or celebrate formal occasions including weddings. The restaurant was known for its dinner specials such as Baked Alaska, pheasant under glass and steak on plank.
“The big parking area was filled every Friday and Saturday night,” said Micciche.
At a time when most workers were lucky to make $25 a week, Micciche would bring in about $100 in tips from drivers who chose not to use the valet parking.
Friede ran the Riverside Inn until his passing in 1954. According to his wife Thelma’s obituary, she ran the business until 1969. After Thelma sold it, the establishment changed hands many times and started going downhill. According to Harris, towards the end of its run the restaurant was still open but the upper levels were in bad shape.
Harris said the inn burned down on Dec. 12, 1981. The fire left behind rubble and the surrounding trees that were painted white at the trunks.
Today, thirty years after the fire, there’s no evidence left by the river of Frank Friede’s Riverside Inn. All that remains are the memories of a few Smithtown residents.