For the past five days, the flag marking the entrance of the Boardy Barn has flown at half-staff — paying tribute to one of the men who started it all.
“Keep a good thought,” he would say. “May the good days outnumber the bad days.”
In the early morning hours of November 20, Anthony “Tony” Galgano Jr. — the co-owner of the iconic summertime bar in Hampton Bays who was widely known for his gentle spirit, humble nature and boundless generosity — died after a long battle with cancer at the East End Hospice Kanas Center for Hospice Care on Quiogue, with his daughter, Jennifer Minihane, by his side.
He was 78.
“It’s just a sad day. It’s a sad day,” longtime friend Debbie Martel said during a telephone interview last Sunday evening. “He made a difference in so many people’s lives, from the littlest things to the biggest things. Not many people can say that. He made a difference in the entire Hampton Bays community. We all should strive to be half as good as Tony.”
Anthony Galgano Jr. was born on June 19, 1943, to Anthony Galgano Sr. and Cira Galgano in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before the family moved to North Bellmore. He commuted to Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn until he graduated in 1961, and went on to study business at Hofstra University, where he enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
When he graduated as an officer in 1966, he enlisted in the United States Army and served for four years — following in his father’s footsteps, who fought in World War II. When he returned to Long Island, his career as a self-described “saloon owner” officially began, according to his son, Michael Galgano.
First, Galgano would host “Wooly Bully” parties — named for the eponymous 1964 song by Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs — on the sand outside the Jones Beach Amphitheater, which he managed. Then, he dipped his toe into the scene in Queens — he owned a bar named Shenanigans, his son said — before moving out to the East End.
Here, his entrepreneurial spirit only grew, helping open four more bars — including Fellingham’s Restaurant in Southampton and Wilson’s Garage, which became Casey’s, in Westhampton Beach — and even a laundromat, his son said.
As he gained more visibility, the community noticed.
By the early 1970s, Galgano had established himself as a larger than life, yet approachable, character. He was “Uncle Tony” to so many — selfless, jovial, outgoing and kind, always taking a genuine interest in other people’s lives and believing in their dreams.
He would often hand out copies of the book “When God Winks” by Squire Rushnell, which explores the power of coincidence and “how there are no mistakes,” explained Rick Martel, a Southampton Town councilman who has known Galgano since he was a teenager.
“He always said that things happened for a reason,” he recalled. “Whether you were his best friend or someone he just met, you were there for a reason in his life and in everybody else’s life. He just accepted everybody.”
Martel said he certainly feels that way about Galgano, who lived by a code rooted in faith and eternal optimism. He led by example, serving as a mentor for young entrepreneurs, including Chris Cariello, who is now the chef and owner of 1 North Steakhouse in Hampton Bays.
“The Hamptons is the playground of the rich, but the home of the hardworking — and Tony was the epitome of that,” he said. “He showed everybody that you don’t have to be born into something to make something of yourself.”
For Galgano and his business partner, Mickey Shields, their lives changed on April 16, 1970, when they opened the doors of the Boardy Barn. In its earliest iteration, the bar served beer in glass mugs, chicken in a basket and “Barn Burgers,” not just the pretzels and hot dogs of today — though some of the 1970s decor remains the same, including the enormous red-and-white striped tent outside.
Inside, 51 years of memorabilia paint a rich history of the Boardy Barn, which draws thousands of revelers every Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day to drink $2 beers, belt throwback anthems and plaster each other with yellow smiley-face stickers.
But the culture there transcends the ultimate party, explained Steve Gregory, who started working at the Boardy Barn in the spring of 1981. He was just 13 years old.
“Forty years later, I’m still working there — and now I’m working with my son,” he said. “He gave the opportunity to a lot of people to have a job. The result of that was a lot of guys were able to pay for some of their college education, or have money to take with them to go to college. Some people, like myself, I was able to buy a home in my mid-20s.”
For many of the longtime bouncers, bar backs and bartenders, like Gregory, the story is a familiar one and often spans generations. Bartender Justin Strecker, who is 23, has already worked at the Boardy Barn for 10 years — starting at age 13 on trash clean-up while his father, Mark, worked security.
“We’re a family — and you can say that about any workplace, but it’s taken on a new meaning at the Barn,” Strecker said. “If an employee were to have a child, they would be given a baby-sized orange staff shirt. I still have mine.”
Michael Galgano learned the value of hard work from his father, who gave him his first clean-up shift at age 10. He grew up in the Boardy Barn and, even though he was young, certain moments have always remained with him, he said — like when one of his father’s employees was panicking about nailing an upcoming interview for a job.
“My dad had a dress shirt on and the guy was bugging out, so my dad literally took his shirt off and gave it to the guy. He put it on and tucked it in, and they swapped shirts — but the other shirt didn’t fit my dad,” his son said with a laugh. “He had a little gut, so his gut was hanging out a little bit, and my dad was just smiling. He loved it. He literally gave a man the shirt off his back to help him out for an interview.”
As his friends and family attest, Galgano’s generosity knew no limits. From fundraisers to direct financial support, the number of organizations, clubs, causes and community members he lifted up and championed are innumerable — from ambulance companies and school districts to Little League baseball teams and the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation, many times offering the Boardy Barn for events free of charge.
“To say he was probably one of the most generous people you’ll ever meet is an understatement,” Rick Martel said. “It didn’t matter if it was for the kids, for the veterans, for the animal shelter, he always found a way to help them out.”
Galgano would regularly buy dozens of raffle tickets to support organizations around town, but very rarely were they for him. Instead, he wrote other names or groups on them — like, in 2005, when he won $10,000 for the Hampton Bays Volunteer Ambulance company in a raffle held by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Michael Collins Division 11.
“Every once in a while, he would stop in and say, ‘Pick one,’” Rick Martel recalled. “I would pick a raffle ticket and he would ask, ‘Who’s this for?’ One year, the high school band was going to Disney World to perform. He wrote ‘Rick’s Band’ on the ticket. Sure enough, he hits for $5,000. A few days later, he stopped by to give me a check to Hampton Bays High School Band for $5,000 — no question.”
Around town, Galgano’s signature currency was notably smaller. He was the gatekeeper of the two-dollar bill, which he special ordered from the bank and distributed as tips wherever he went.
“It’s something that was his schtick,” Cariello said, noting that Galgano was a frequent customer at his restaurant. “He liked to be fun and somewhat unique, that’s what I would remember from him.”
The quirks didn’t end there. Michael Galgano said that he father would “talk in tongue,” which they called “Tony Talk” — turns of phrase that puzzled the mind, leaving people to wonder what he meant.
“The man would send you a text message about something so simple, but it’s like a riddle — and you gotta try to decode it and figure it out sometimes,” Strecker said. “It was like, ‘Tony, just call me and tell me what you need!’ That was just him. He was an old school guy.”
Galgano was also the type of man who never killed a spider; he caught and released them outside. He religiously sprinkled birdseed in the Boardy Barn parking lot. He even found the silver lining in the brutal East End off-season. “He’d get water out of the sink, drink it down and be like, ‘Ahh, I love the winter, cold water right away,’” his son recalled.
He took pride in serving as the grand marshal of the Hampton Bays St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2011 and, prior to that, Westhampton Beach in 1997. That same year, he opened the New York Yankees season by throwing out the first pitch to catcher Jorge Posada.
“He was so nervous he wasn’t gonna make it,” his daughter recalled, “and Jorge pats him on the back and that was awesome.”
For years, Galgano’s voicemail was a recording of the legendary Bob Sheppard announcing his walk-up to the pitcher’s mound. “It was like, ‘And now, introducing Tony Galgano from the world-famous Boardy Barn,’ and then you’d leave a message,” his son said. “You’d think it’s fake, but it was legit.”
Whenever the opportunity presented itself, Galgano couldn’t help but share a “Yogi-ism” — witty quotes from the New York Yankees icon Yogi Berra. One of his favorites was, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
“He was such a jolly guy, you just wanted to hug him. He made everyone smile and feel warm. He had the biggest heart in the world,” Minihane said. “I’m just gonna always remember how I always knew I was loved and how I’m so happy my children had him as a grandfather. He will live on through us, through lessons he’s taught us and to our kids.”
In addition to his daughter and son, Galgano is survived by his wife of 35 years, Wendy Galgano, and five grandchildren: Alec and Heather Galgano, and Kieran, Margaret and Connor Minihane. A wake was held on Monday at the Hampton Bays Firehouse, where Galgano was an honorary member, followed by a funeral Mass on Tuesday at St. Rosalie’s RC Church in Hampton Bays. He was buried at the nearby Good Ground Cemetery.
“He loved Hampton Bays,” Strecker said. “He would go to the inlet and take a nap, that was his favorite place ever. He was one of the biggest Hampton Bays guys I know.”
On Saturday morning, Strecker and his father took a drive by the inlet and down onto Ponquogue Beach, where he fished, processed the news and cleared his mind a bit. On their way home, they passed the Boardy Barn and saw Gregory and fellow longtime bartender Matt Curran in the parking lot.
“I said, ‘Oh, we’ve gotta stop,’” Strecker recalled.
The group watched as Gregory hung a brand new American flag on the pole outside the bar and lowered it to half staff, as Shields had asked him to do. Together, the four men toasted their friend with a Bud Light and shared stories, finding moments of laughter through their grief — ever reminded, as Galgano would say, to “keep a good thought.”
“He was probably the most amazing person I ever met — and I’m not the only person who feels that way,” Gregory said. “His kindness, his generosity, his love of other people, love of the Hampton Bays community was something I really can’t explain.”
He paused, letting out a deep sigh. “People always say this when somebody dies, you know, ‘They’re gonna be tough shoes to fill,’” he said. “Well, I got news for a lot of people: There’s never gonna be any way to fill Tony’s shoes.”