Yesterday we spoke of a summer less ordinary. We talked about the "Hamptonization" of magical Montauk. For me the Hamptons was a land that I would blow by at 3MPH, its traffic snarls confirming my profound distaste for the place … at least during season. I designed Dune out there at one time for Noah Tepperberg, Jason Strauss, and Matt Shendall yet I never attended it while it was open. Montauk seemed different. It was a town too far for the napkin tossing Electronic Music or Mash-Up heads that squished together in make believe clubs. In the off season I’d walk the lonely beaches near a friend’s home in Amagansett with my dogs and my gal or grab a bite in Sag Harbor with townies but I’d more than likely go the extra miles to Montauk. Surf Lodge (pictured) changed the game. It brought a chic style that was an acceptable alternative to the quaint fixings of the last town on the strip.
Last season The Surf Lodge racked up 680 violations, mostly for the same 3 things but all stemmed from patrons and sound disturbing the peace… disrupting the dreams of others. The property was being managed by King & Grove hotels, a new startup by Ben Pundole, Rob McKinley, and Ed Scheetz. Former honchos, the visionary Jamie Mulholland and the sleek operating machine Jayma Cardoza took a back seat to the operatons, but remained owners. This year, Jayma brought in investor Michael Walrath, an internet tycoon who sold an online ad company to Yahoo! for 850 mil in 2007. Mr Walrath purchased the property and kept her on as managing partner. He settled the violations with the town for 100K while vowing to "work with the community". Jamie and Rob sold their shares.
I visited The Surf Lodge and was awestruck. It was calm and delightful. Jayma was surprised to see me as if a striped bass had walked out of the water and was walking across her lobby chomping on a cigar. But there I was and instantly wanting to come back. Fifteen minutes in the place and I felt the city being washed from me. I caught up with Jayma after and got this:
"Hi Steve, In regards to changes at The Surf Lodge. I think the biggest changes we’ve made with The Surf Lodge would be: We put a priority on the town of Montauk and how we best serve the community. We want to accommodate everyone, but now we’re very mindful of how many people are on property and we don’t exceed it. In actuality, I’ve always known it would be better for business, when things are too crowded it makes it more challenging to enjoy the hotel, which ultimately means less business. We’re closing earlier, last call is now 1:45. We don’t want to be known as a late night spot, I want guests to enjoy Montauk, the beaches and beauty it holds. It’s been good for business as well, people stop by the hotel earlier now, and enjoy the sunset more so than stars. I think sunset is truly magic at The Surf Lodge, so we like having guest in early.
We’ve taken initiatives to be more green; we used driftwood to build most of our daybeds when we re-designed our beach section. Most of our hotel and restaurant collateral is printed on post-consumer recycled content paper. We don’t use Hotel key cards (plastic) and just have codes for guests to enter the room. We have signage encouraging guests to "save the planet one towel at a time" educating them of the benefits if they utilize them more than once, We train our staff on green initiatives. We use only organic and eco friendly cleaning products. We installed water efficient shower heads in rooms, planted a lot of new bushes and trees on the property, and updated most of our lighting to LED and Halogen. All of our bathroom products for guests are from environmental friendly companies like Healthier focus etc. We partnered with SLT for Saturday and Sunday exercise classes and NAM juice for those seeking healthier lifestyle , They are amazing. We are also partnering with retreat partners, which you’ll see more of in the fall that are mind, health and wellbeing oriented.
In regards to Montauk. I think everyone has discovered why it’s so magical. It’s a beach town. I know all the other hamlets are near the beach, but Montauk really is a beach town first and foremost. The town itself is right next to the ocean, the people that are here really enjoy the lifestyle and come here to interact with the ocean, beach, nature. There has been a wave of new hospitality venues this year and for me it remains to be seen what it means for Montauk, but I think the places that are true to the nature and the experience people want when they come out here can and will add to the overall lifestyle and experience. The other thing I’ve noticed is Montauk is getting younger and older. I’ve been coming to Montauk ever since I moved to the USA from Brazil. It was my beach town and it always felt like home for me. I’ve seen the same people coming to Montauk over my tenure and for many of them are entering the next stage in life and are now have children and families. It’s great to see so many of their kids on the beach. I love Montauk, it really is a magical place and the good thing is it really resonates with the people who live here year round and those lucky enough to visit… this is what will always keep Montauk special."
Rob McKinley and Ben Pundole opened Ruschmeyer’s last year and the property was billed as a "summer camp for adults". It was an overnight success with the fashion/hipster crowd. Rob and Ben have since left King & Grove. Although Ben is no longer involved with Ruschmeyer’s Rob remains an operating partner. Ben has returned to his roots and is back working with Ian Schrager on new properties. Rob McKinley is my favorite Hospitality Designer. His work includes GoldBar and Good Units and tons more. Look him up. He always has me saying to myself "wish I had thought of that" and laughing at the ease he seems to create wonderful.
He toured me along with Steve Kasuba of Velvet Road Group. Steve put the PR into the word prolific. He’s everywhere representing spaces and clients I’m interested in. He even finds time to own the very happening burger joint Banzai Burger on the Napeague Stretch. They were readying for Saturday night and the staff was all smiley and working in that bar/restauraunt frenzy professional style so often missing out east. I mentioned it to Rob and he told me it was indeed hard to get staff off route 27 but that he indeed had a good one. He said he was lucky. He’s always looking lucky. I know better. It takes a ton of work. My ex said I was the heart of the places I ran. Even when sleeping I had to keep on thinking about it, working, keeping that heart beating. Rob is particularly excited about his collaboration with Chris Blackwell on the new "Blackwell Rum Shack" which is new this season. Thursday nights continue to be popular with a high energy Bingo night complete with dance offs and unque prizes for winners. There are movie nights on the lawn and weekends are all about The Electric Eel disco. Rob spins as DJ Tito Cruz on Sat nights. This is all in addition to the bustling restaurant run by the guys who also run Fat Radish in NYC. I asked Rob to tell me all about it:
"Montauk is such a special place for many reasons. For starters the wild coastline and open ocean has always been so important to me and constantly gives me perspective on what life is all about. Also the fact that its 3 hours from the best city in the world makes it my own little paradise. At Ruschmeyer’s this season, I’m most excited about the Blackwell Rum Shack. It’s is a colaboration we did with Chris Blackwell and his Rum. At the Rum Shack it’s all reggae all the time and even some legendary acts like Sister Nancy, and Jimmy Cliff."