Now that summer’s finally on the fritz (sniffle) ’til next Memorial Day and Manhattanite weekend chatter is more catwalks than beachwalks, Julie Marcley, tireless first lady to Montauk’s longstanding standout Dave’s Grill, finally has time to take a breather, enjoy a Chocolate Bag, and answer our questions — from the Hamptonization of Montauk to her ‘Dirty Dancing’-esque forbidden summer romance with a young chef that took her from Weekender to gatekeeper. And after 22 years behind her hostess station, Mrs. Chef Dave is speaking her mind.
First thing’s first: how did Dave’s Grill come to be? Back in 1988, Dave was out surfing when a friend paddled up to him and mentioned that the property was available to lease, and that he ought to take a look at it. He did. I did. The rest is history.
You guys have been open over 20 years. How has Montauk and the people who spend the summers here changed since you opened your doors? We’ve managed to preserved 70% of Montauk as open space. That’s happened within the last 20 years. And thank goodness; it’s truly what most people adore about Montauk. As to the people? Mobility (Blackberries, faxes, wireless, etc.) has made Montauk accessible in a whole new way. It’s brought a young, vibrant, and sophisticated set along with families and fishermen and surfers as in the past. It’s a better mix now. I moved here before it was “fashionable,” and I can honestly say it’s moving in the right direction. I hope we can hold on to its charms.
How does the summer crowd who come to Dave’s differ from the “locals” in terms of how they dress or behave at a restaurant? The summer crowd is, well, a summer crowd … The locals are here when the weather turns cold and gray. We couldn’t survive without either.
Every single day at the stroke of 4:15, there’s a mad dash to call you for a reservation. Other than a talented kitchen and access to all the fish in the sea, what’s your secret to your unwavering popularity? All I can say is I wish I’d been this popular in college! I don’t really know what the answer to your question is. It’s a phenomenon, actually. Originally, Dave’s Grill took no reservations, but once the wait turned into two hours or more for a table, we thought it might be a good idea; so we started the day-of phone policy. It took off, and now we sell out every night, and it’s like one big party.
What does the busiest woman in Montauk do in her free time? What free time?
What’s the best part of owning your own restaurant? The worst? The best is having the winters off. The worst is having to work all summer, while everyone else is enjoying the beach.
I love that chocolate “bag.” Any story behind that dish? Many years ago, Dave had hired a Culinary Institute grad to chef with us for the season: Ed Lightcap — a local, by the way. He saw some segment on TV that inspired him. He melted some Belgian chocolate and proceeded to paint the inside of a coffee bag — the kind you fill with beans at the supermarket with a wax paper lining. It looked good so we put it on the menu. Bingo!!
How is it being in business with your husband? Who says Dave is my husband? Just kidding. Actually, it’s what cemented our relationship. You see, I met Dave while I was a senior in college. I was one of those “summer people,” all of 21 years old, out for a pre-senior season, working at Gurney’s Inn as a receptionist in the spa. Dave was a bartender at Gurney’s that summer. I flipped for him and informed my mother that I was not going back to Tulane University, but instead would remain a spa receptionist at Gurney’s. My mother informed me that I would be on the next plane back to New Orleans. And so I was. But I had fallen hard and kept coming back to visit Dave and Montauk, even after I graduated and spent ten years in Manhattan toiling away at an acting/singing career and then a public relations career. We were wary about the idea of working together, but with him running the kitchen and me on the floor, it has fallen into place for us. Good thing we don’t have an open kitchen … it could end the bliss.
Do you ever get to the city, and if so, where do you and Dave like to eat? We do love to go into the city. Dave proposed to me at Bouley. One of our favorite restaurants is Le Bernardin. We also love anything Danny Meyer is behind. He’s a master. Then of course, there’s our favorite “neighborhood” Italian, pizza place, Chinese and Indian restaurants, but I’m not telling.
We know who has the best seafood in Montauk. In your opinion, who has the best seafood in the city? Le Bernardin.
It’s 4:16 on Friday night and I can’t get through at Dave’s! Where are three other Hamptons spots worth trying? Hit redial. If you don’t get through by 4:45 p.m. then consider coming in to eat at the bar. If all else fails, go to the 1770 House in East Hampton, Della Femina or Il Capuccino in Sag Harbor — they have thee best veal parmigiana.
We recently ran an article about Montauk’s “Hamptonization” — growth in shopping, more tourists, etc. Is Montauk selling out, and is that necessarily a bad thing? Montauk will always be Montauk. Montauk is not the Hamptons, but a certain amount of change is productive for a community. Great beaches luring swimmers, surfers, great golf courses luring golfers; great trails luring hikers and bikers; and oh the fishing. The main thing is visitors and locals alike have to hold on to what makes Montauk so inviting. It’s not the shopping here; it’s the raw beauty of where we are. Remember, no matter how bustling summer is, it’s brutal out here in the winter; desolate and brutal. It’s not for everyone. Nature won’t allow her to be sold out. That’s why I’m here.
What’s the most important thing a weekender needs to check out in Montauk before Labor Day weekend? I’ve heard a lot of talk about that lighthouse … Yes, the Lighthouse — climb to the top and feast your eyes. Also the Montauket Hotel at Sunset, Camp Hero for a hike, and any beach — take your pick.
At most crazy-busy restaurants, the hostesses are so mean! Have you ever just wanted to snap at pushy customers? I have. And I do. The really pushy ones are at other restaurants making the hostesses so mean. The truth is, most people are good at heart, but people get cranky when they’re hungry, and they get disappointed when they can’t get in. I like people — all kinds of people. I don’t care for those who carry an air of entitlement.