Summer Preview: How the Hamptons Spent Its Winter Vacation

The off-season on the East End was nothing so much as an elaborate game of musical chairs, where restaurants swapped locations, switched bays and changed towns, and when the music stopped, one of the only people sans chair was, of course, Jean Luc. Read on for our detailed round up of what’s moved and shook on the island over the winter, and be sure to check out all the latest openings and perks on our comprehensive Hamptons Guide for the iPhone. Enjoy!

Last year’s Southampton daytime-drinking party-starter Day & Night, following the trend, has moved further east. For the season ahead, kicking off with the Memorial Day bash this Saturday, the bros. Koch describe a circus that features everything short of a French dwarf running around screaming “De plane, boss, de plane.” But give them time, plans do, in fact, include a seaplane (“We’re working with V1 Jets to offer packaged seaplane flights from NYC directly to the venue,” Daniel Koch tells us) and jet skis shuttling guests from boats in the harbor to the party. It all sounds like great fun until you realize that the boys aren’t playing in the Pink Elephant‘s sandbox anymore, that jet skis are prohibited in Three Mile Harbor (that goes double for seaplanes), and that the East Hampton PD once carted a gallery owner who had been in the town for three decades away in a police cruiser because she served wine at an art opening without a permit. Then it gets more fun.

RdV. East (from the crew behind the Meat Packing District’s Bagatelle, Kiss & Fly, and, of course, RdV) takes on the Tavern space (which previously hosted La Playa) and promises to perk up what has become a dwindling club scene. With Pink Elephant sunk in a legal morass, RdV East joins Dune and Lily Pond as the only legitimate club options this side of the canal.

The Montauk locals and watchers of the inexorable crawl of Hamptons glam toward the ocean have been buzzing about the next nail in the coffin of The End’s homespun charm. Sean MacPherson (who with Eric Goode has ridden the Maritime Hotel, Bowery Hotel and Graydon Carter’s Waverly Inn to near obnoxious success and The Jane Ballroom to notoriety) purchased the ever-so-slightly dilapidated–err, homey–inn and restaurant The Crow’s Nest. The acquisition came too late for him to do anything other than run it as is this season, but next year he promises to open a “new and improved” version.

Of course, the inevitable alarms have already sounded, to such an extent that you nearly expect villagers to meet Macpherson with pitchforks and torches when he finally does a Surf Lodge on the complex (also known as, making it a place people might actually want to stay). MacPherson certainly has, by all accounts, a prime spot, just across Lake Montauk from the newly revitalized Montauk Yacht Club (boasting its own revamped restaurant, The Gulf Coast Kitchen). It still remains to be seen if neighbors won’t complain as vociferously as they have about the Surf Lodge, situated on Fort Pond. There’s no reason to believe they won’t.

And, if you can believe it, the Memory Motel in Montauk narrowly missed being turned into a “a cool little box hotel” by reality TV couple Bob and Cortney Novogratz of Bravo’s 9 By Design. As the couple told Hamptons.com, “we missed the deal by a week.” While the landmark escaped that fate, owner Artie Schneider told us that he did indeed make a deal for the hotel portion of the property with someone else (though he’ll retain the bar immortalized by the Rolling Stones in the song of the same name). Changes could come in as little as a month or so, he said.

New casual coastal restaurant Navy Beach opened early and well on a distant stretch of road along some of of Montauk’s prettiest bay beaches, down the sand from what had long been a naval base. The nautical theme carries throughout, from the reclaimed wood from the base in the interior, to the flags over the bar spelling “drink” in maritime code, to the seafood on the menu (though one menu item far from seafaring has been winning raves: the burger).

New this year to Bridgehamton will be Southfork Kitchen, the restaurant opening Bruce Buschel has been chronicling in the New York Times. His list of “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do” stirred a shit-storm and garnered him a Facebook “fan” page calling for a boycott before his spot even had a name. Southfork Kitchen says it is set to serve “local and sustainable” seafood, and if you want to read how cute and fun it is to come up with names and logos and menu items and rules for servers you can read Buschel’s blog.

Ed “Jean Luc” Kleefield once joked that he would auction off the right to smash the sign from his restaurant in East Hampton. It looks like someone has finally taken him up the offer (though without the auction). The sign for Prime 103, his steakhouse on Montauk Highway now lies shattered.

And in Sag Harbor there are signs of life at the former JLX. The “Help Wanted” signs in all the windows prompted a burly passerby with dreadlocks down his back to stop and marvel. “What? So, he’s going to open it back up now?” he said incredulously. “This guy owes me $2,000 bucks, literally.” The passerby will have to get in line, but, in fact, it isn’t Jean Luc reopening the restaurant. A part of the team from the successful Trata in Watermill will make a go of it in Sag Harbor. There’s no name yet, but word is that the spot will be a French-inflected bistro, as it had been.

Now for the others who found new chairs: Mezzaluna AMG packed it in after one season, but Tim Bando of The Meeting House quickly moved in with his sleek and sexy Exile Bar. And Serafina has now taken the former Matto location in East Hampton, offering the same fare served at its midtown stalwarts. The Lodge in EH also closed, but owner Micheal Gluckman moved on up to the Springs with the Boathouse, a two-level seafooder overlooking the water. The Boathouse displaced local favorite Bostwick’s, which promptly, dressed down a bit, moved down toward Montauk Highway and opened in the former Cherrystones as Bostwick’s Chowder House. Also in East Hampton, Wei Fun said sayonara and has been replaced by The Grill on Pantigo, a sort of more casual and modern younger sibling to the 1770 House. Finally, a restaurant called Race Lane is set to open in the former Lodge spot. The owners say Race Lane will hark back to the days when the restaurant was The Laundry (which had moved to a new location a few years ago and closed this winter).

Got all that?

Coming to The End: Montauk’s Indian Summer Dies Out

The realization that development has hit the last possible tract of land at the end of an island is like finishing an eight ball at 4am and coming to grips with the fact that there’s no more left, no hope of getting any more, nowhere to go, and the sun’s coming up. Montauk, or The End, might just be earning its nickname at last.

The locals and longtime summer regulars are bitter about interlopers turning Montauk into an eastern expansion of East Hampton. The arrivistes — Kelly Bensimon, Amanda Hearst, Andre Saffir, and legions of others who only a few years ago, never would have ventured West of the canal or East of Napeague Stretch — are there for the very thing the locals fear they’ll destroy. The newcomers want to outrun the development they wrought. The barbarians are at the gate, and they’re wearing Givenchy jeans and Ed Hardy T-shirts. They love the light, the air, the natural beauty, but they bring with them the market for trendy shops and, eventually, Starbucks, Blockbusters and CVS. When the chain stores arrive, stalwarts and recent arrivals alike will decry that the place isn’t what it used to be together, and wish they could move further east, to find some place more pure, more authentic, that doesn’t have a Coach store next to a Gucci store next to an Elie Tahari. The problem is, after Montauk, there’s nowhere further east to flee.

With this most recent wave of vacationers, “Montauk has allowed to occur what a lot of people hoped would never happen,” says David Lion Rattiner, editor of the Montauk Pioneer and the son of Dan’s Papers founder Dan Rattiner.

This isn’t the first time Montauk’s seen this sort of invasion. Corey Dolgon, a sociologist who wrote The End of the Hamptons, points out that the East End has a long and glorious history of one group pushing out another, even as the “native” population bemoans the incursion — from the Shinnecocks to the Bonackers to the old-money aristocracy.

image

In the early 1900s, Carl Fisher, a self-made millionaire, transformed Miami Beach from an unwanted and unused tract of mangroves and muck into a money-making machine, a playground for the rich, and the leading edge of the resort boom. Montauk, at that time, was still largely untouched. The few moneyed New Yorkers who ventured there came to hunt, fish, and get lost in the private wilderness, not luxuriate in spas and fancy hotels. In the early 1920s, now worth more than $50 million, Fisher turned to Montauk to repeat his Miami success.

In 1925, he purchased 10,0000 acres for $2.5 million and soon was repeating the refrain, “Miami in the winter, Montauk in the summer.” He built a casino and speakeasy and, in1929, the Montauk Yacht Club was founded.

And then the Great Depression hit. The burgeoning resort community deflated just as quickly as it had sprung up, with one major change: the area was no longer the undeveloped primitive wilderness it had been before. But on some level Montauk isn’t exactly and never was the anti-Hampton it is cracked up to be.

After all, Bernie Madoff had his summer home here, perched atop bluffs at the terminus of Old Montauk Highway. “These idiot townies don’t get it,” says Artie Schneider, the owner of the Memory Motel, who has proposed a grand plan to stage a summer concert series featuring the likes of Kid Rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelsen, Don Henley, and Billie Joel at Rita’s Stables off West Lake Drive. “Ditch Plains is lined with $2 million houses. This isn’t a working-class or even middle-class community.”

“Why would Montauk have been able to maintain this image of a quaint fishing village way past when it really was?” asks Dolgon.

A blonde girl serving coffee and muffins one morning out of the Ditch Witch, a food truck in the parking lot at the entrance to Ditch Plains, tells of a man in his late fifties who drives up nearly every morning in his Benz and unstraps his surfboard from the roof. You can bet by Monday morning he’s in some Midtown boardroom with a view of Central Park, but on Saturday morning he’s probably wearing flip-flops.

It’s a different sort of shitshow from the rest of the Hamptons, but a shitshow nonetheless. Case in point: designated party-chronicler and Guest of a Guest editrix Rachelle Hruska has noticed a big difference between her first summer in Montauk and this one. “There were a lot more parties and people out this year,” she says. “Last year felt a little more intimate.”

The eye of the storm is the triangle formed between Solé East and the Surf Lodge on Fort Pond, Montauk Yacht Club to the east, and the center of town to the north. Cabs race back and forth along the water all night, dumping shrieking carloads at the nexus of Main Street and the northern tip of Fort Pond, where they stumble into the Memory Motel or The Point flushing some cash into the local economy. It is, after all, on the way back to East Hampton. “We see them come in around 1,” says Schneider. “You can tell because of the way they are dressed.”

Those new places — Solé is in its third season, Surf Lodge its second, and Montauk Yacht Club in its first — are run by corporate concerns, which sets them apart from what preceded them, but they still aren’t quite like Hamptons hot spots. You won’t find the prickly bouncers, long waits to get in, steep cover charges, and $600 bottle service that are the hallmarks of nightspots from Tavern to Lily Pond. Rattiner likens a trip to a Hamptons clubs to a regrettable hook-up, “When you go to the Pink Elephant, even if you have a good time, you feel bad about the next day. The Surf Lodge doesn’t make you feel that way.”

Jamie Mulholland, one of the three owners of the Surf Lodge, says they have tried to create a friendly vibe. “There really is no bullshit here,” he says. And they certainly bring out one of the most diverse crowds you are going to find in the Hamptons. Despite some citations this year from the town for overcrowding and long lines of parked cars, Mullholland says they feel like a part of Montauk. Anyone can come to the free, live performances they host, and Mullholland says they’ve made an effort to keep the prices in line with the local establishments. “We’re planning on being here a long time,’ he says.

But only if their septic system holds up. Bob Stern, president of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, an environmental group dating back to the early 1970s, points out that the waste disposal at the Lakeside, now the Surf Lodge, has a history of problems. “It didn’t pass in 2003, when the place was authorized for 65 people,” he says. Of course, many times that number traipse through the Surf Lodge every weekend.

Mulholland says the health department has been out to the Surf Lodge on two separate occasions and found nothing wrong. But is that the town just playing nice with developers? Mullholland scoffs at this possibility, arguing that cleanliness is in everyone’s interest. “People don’t come to Montauk to see trash and swim in feces,” Stern says. “They can get that in Coney Island.”

image

And the people, they are coming, economy be damned. The Memory Motel’s Schneider had been bracing for bad summer, “But it has been better than I expected,” he says. The blonde at the Ditch Witch says she’s been as busy as ever.” Solé’s Ceva says that they were up in June and July, which had the worst weather, and down in August. He thought the economy might be helping, as many of his typical guests see a trip out east as a less costly vacation option. Mullholland reports that the Surf Lodge has been up “15 percent across the board.”

And then there are all the new spots: Calypso set up shop on the edge of the Plaza, and Screaming Mimi’s is right across the street from the old Puff and Putt. You can lay money that Ralph Lauren (a local!), Blue&Cream, and Alice & Olivia can’t be far behind.

And yet, everyone from Mulholland to Ceva to Stern and even Andrew Farkas still contends that Montauk is a special place. Corey Dolgon says that no matter what, “It will always be somehow distinct.” Ratnier says the difference “comes down to the stability of the families. Montauk is a place you choose to settle. The sons and daughters of Montauk want to stay.”

If the worst happens, and the latest influx destroys the desolate charm of The End, where to next? (Asked if he thinks there’s any chance that the current local families will hold out where the Bonackers and bay men and farmers of the Hamptons couldn’t, Dolgon replies flatly, “No.”) Rattiner suggests that Shelter Island has an untouched quality, but of course not the ocean beaches or the surfing. Rachelle Hruska wishes for Quogue, possibly because it’s a shorter trip from Manhattan. And Dolgon suggests the theory of “creative destruction,” a rediscovery and reclamation of an old place. New Yorkers could go back to Miami Beach, or, he says with a laugh, “maybe Coney Island.”