A rant about our favorite brand and hometown, Montauk, NY...
Brands evolve. Places change. Even people are capable of great transformation. But what we’re experiencing out here in Montauk is a seismic shift. How did our beloved sleepy fishing village known for being “too far away” and famous for it’s raw beauty, laid back vibe, great surf and “real authentic characters” become the overcrowded playground of the Fedorables?
Ok, you’re thinking, they’ve got no right to rant, they haven’t been here all that long… only 10 and 25 years respectively. (Then again, it is our blog, so we’ve got every right.) Four thousand years ago, the Montaukets were the original locals (Lawrence Cook’s line, not ours). Dutch explorer Adrian Block got here in the 1600’s, and in the 1700’s some ranchers set up the Old Montauk Highway and grazed livestock on the Montauk Peninsula. (Our office overlooks the first cattle ranch in America, which sadly may now become Mickey Drexler’s “fantasy garden,” but we digress.)
Most people know Carl Fisher, the developer of Miami Beach, tried to turn Montauk into Miami Beach North in the 1920’s. He laid out the town, built the golf course, the school (with the best view in the world,) the Manor, the tall office building in town, indoor tennis courts, the Surf Club the Yacht Club, and gambling casino on Star Island. But, when the Market crashed in1929 so did his dreams. Who knows, maybe locals were relieved?
Fast forward to the 1960’s when “Leisurama” summer homes, (furnished right down to the avocado refrigerators and matching couches) were sold in the Sear’s Catalogue.
From the start, the culture of this town was blue collar families, guys who loved to fish, with an influx of nature-loving, artistic types. And of course, the crazies. After all, this is the End! The last stop. The drinking town with a fishing problem. Maybe they raised an eyebrow when folks like Andy Warhol and eventually his pal Mick Jagger discovered Montauk in the 70’s. (How did Andy get here?) Tina Fredericks says she was showing him property in East Hampton, but when they went a bit further and came upon the tacky Ronjo Motel and the Memory, Andy fell hard and fast and bought the Church Estate. (The Ronjo is now the swanky Beach House with rooms over $700/night and coffee for $20/lb and the Church Estate is Mickey Drexler’s home, replete with guards to keep errant hikers from trespassing).
The 70’s also brought a boatload of surfers, back when soul surfing ruled and folks would do anything to live here and surf. (Before the Internet, that meant banging nails, bar tending, mowing lawns… whatever it took.) Blue Moon Saloon was the first surf bar, later taken over Rick’s Crabby Cowboy. Big Craig and Little Craig owned Sunset Saloon until Navy Beach took it over. Dave Markley opened Dave’s in 1987 (Now next door to the former Salivar’s and Lenny’s which recently became the unfortunately named Swallow East.) Caswell’s and then Harvest arrived and took over the Boat House in 1999 and Montauk had gourmet food. So the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s brought a fun-loving surf culture to town and a few more upscale joints, but nothing diluted the raw, funky Montaukness!
DeNiro bought a house over 20 years ago. Julianne Moore 5 years ago, but even the bold faced names didn’t radically change the brand essence. And then Surf Lodge opened (remember Lakeside). It racked up over $100,000 in fines (charges included having no building permit, no certificate of occupancy, no site plan approval, illegal clearing of wetlands, property maintenance violations, and overcrowding, but new owners threw money at the problem and were able to make the charges go away, the traffic, however, hasn’t.) Ruschmeyer’s opened last year with neighbors complaining of hipsters peeing on their lawns. Maybe if you don’t live here, you don’t care how your neighbors feel about you. That’s not our Montauk. Montauk’s essence has always been about community, about taking care of each other. (Big kudos and thank yous to Dave and Cindi Ceva who own Sole East, support many local charities and a shout out to Leyla Marchetto of Navy Beach who owns a home here with her fiancé, and is all about giving back.)
We’ve always had summer people – Montauker’s called them tourons. But we all got along. Now, with the fedorkas instagramming the whole world about the fabulousness of it all, driving around in Range Rovers and Cayennes piled high with the longest boards we’ve ever seen, Montauk is perilously close to becoming a Hampton. And don’t ask us about trying to surf…it’s Kooky dangerous! This place was never about ostentatious posing. It was about flying below the radar, (literally). Mick Jagger didn’t come here to spend $14 on a glass of white wine at the Crow’s Nest, he and Bianca hung at the Shagwong. Even five years ago “local” businesses hired locals (and Irish kids) and stayed open in September and October so real locals could get a table. And they priced their food so we all could afford and enjoy it. (A big shout out to ENE for the $15 prix fix dinner they serve all winter long to keep locals happy and loyal, and keep their staff employed all year long!)
Ok, we’re almost done. But here’s a question for you: Is it possible the Montauk brand is being undermined by it’s own popularity? There’s even a shop in town selling T-shirts with “fake logos” of iconic places… retro chic tees that, well, aren’t the real thing but seem like it. (We prefer Whalebone, a shop that sells authentic local tee shirts, designed by surfers who grew up here.) Maybe from May to September Montauk is hip, young, raucous, cool and the place to see and be seen. But we truly believe the real Montauk is still community, family, fishing, nature, trails, surfing and raw beauty. Fortunately, the brand and our favorite place in the world will be restored to its authentic nature, in just about 6 weeks. We will see you on the beach then!
Lynn and Jill