Eisenhower Park’s Carltun restaurant closes after 27 years

After nearly three decades of weddings, wine dinners and fundraisers – as well as hosting two presidents, a secretary of state and numerous politicians – the Carltun at Eisenhower Park will bow down at the end of September.

Operator Anthony A. Capetola, a Williston Park attorney who runs the restaurant, waived his long-term lease on the building and its 26 acres of land, which belong to Nassau County. A la carte service stopped at the restaurant, known as The Palm Court, and Capetola said only private events would continue for the remainder of the Carltun’s term.

In October, the 85,000 square foot building will be taken over by a group of new operators, including Bobby and Elias Trahanas, who also own the Golden Reef Diner in Rockville Center and run food concessions at Jones Beach and Robert Moses State Parks.

Elias Trahanas confirmed by telephone that he and his partners would take over on October 1, but did not specify the band’s plans.

Capetola and then-partner John Tunney took over the Carltun in July 1995, signing a long-term lease with Nassau County for the property that borders the park’s golf course. “The building was closed. There was nothing there. The heating system wasn’t working, nothing was working,” he said, recalling the decor as “knotty pine and rusty lockers.”

The Carltun’s dining room features white tablecloths and coffered ceilings painted with frescoes of flying monkeys inspired by The Wizard of Oz.
Credit: Daniel Brennan

Capetola and Tunney completely renovated the building, adding a porte-cochere in the front, a restaurant downstairs, and a cigar club upstairs; the building also had several banquet halls and intimate dining rooms. At the time, the partners estimated the renovations at $6 million. The vibe was clubby-slash-formal, and the menu included veal chops, lobster bisque, and linguine con vongole. The Carltun’s wine cellar contained thousands of bottles, many of which were rare. Capetola was an avid collector, and the holdings – most recently overseen by sommelier Fadi Yako – included rare vintages from Château Margaux and Domaine de La Romanée Conti, to name a few. Capetola said some of those bottlings are sold privately.

Capetola has often pivoted to keep the Carltun, nestled in 1,000 acres of parkland, both visible and current. The facility hosted wine and food festivals, invited winemakers for special dinners, added an outdoor food market and window display during the pandemic, and planted herbs and vegetables on the Carltun grounds.

Further back, the Carltun had been a nexus for fundraisers and political events, hosting such figures as former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Captetola recalls that during a fundraiser in 2004, then-President Bush, the Secret Service was positioned up to the roof of Nassau University Medical Center, about two miles away, and Bush entered the restaurant via the loading dock. Among the hors d’oeuvres served that day were baby beef wellington, grilled chicken skewers and stuffed mushrooms.

The Carltun has also been the backdrop for a few film shoots, including the calamitous wedding scene in “28 Days Later,” starring Sandra Bullock.

In the late 1990s, Capetola and Tunney were in a dispute with the county over how much rent and gross sales they owed. The case was settled with a new lease and new parameters.

While he lamented the challenges of the past two years, including soaring food prices and labor shortages, he said he would walk away with “great memories”.

“I want to spend more time with my children and grandchildren,” said Capetola, 76.

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