Wearing red T-shirts with American flags and the words, “tUnited We Stand,” about 100 employees and supporters of nightclub and restaurant attended Tuesday's East Hampton Town Board work session in Montauk, claiming the town has unfairly treated the business.
In a discussion which took an hour and a half, many spoke for and against the numerous violations they have received for noise and overcrowding.
“There seems to be an attitude that the Sloppy Tuna, which employs 39 locals out of 59 total employees, is a fly-by-night business that is not responsible,” said Kieran Conlon, an attorney representing the business.
He explained that the owners of the Sloppy Tuna, which opened Memorial Day of 2011, have spent “millions of dollars” renovating their property to meet the town standards, and also thousands of dollars in donations to local charities, including the Montauk Playhouse, the Montauk Indian Museum, Montauk Chamber of Commerce, the East Hampton lifeguards, and the Wounded Warrior Project.
“We’re continually being attacked by the town, and we are operating a legal business with the proper permits, which is zoned as a nightclub, and has been as such since the early 1970s,” Conlon said. “This is a safe, newly renovated building, and the owners are productive members of this community,” he said. “The owners want a fair playing field, yet the town has chosen to go to war with them.”
Conlon accused East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson of “hiding in the dunes outside the Sloppy Tuna to watch for possible violations.” But Wilkinson, who lives in Montauk, denied this, stating that he routinely drives around to check up on “all the nightclubs in Montauk,” not just the Sloppy Tuna.
Drew Doscher, an owner of the Sloppy Tuna, said he has spent “a few million” to renovate and add on handicapped sidewalks, a new roof, new upstairs area and deck, septic system, and improved patio, but that he recently received criminal violations for noise and overcrowding. He denied those charges, saying his place is allowed to hold 267 people, and that is checked each night with a “clicker,” and that the noise regulation allows up to 55 decibels, and he recently got a device to measure the decibels in his place.
John Behan, a former East Hampton town supervisor and State Assemblyman, whose son Jason Behan works as an assistant manager at the Sloppy Tuna, said he worked in this building 45 years ago, when it was called “The Pirate’s Den,” in the early 1970s.
“The Sloppy Tuna hasn’t changed that much…the second floor is still the prettiest place in town,” John Behan said. “When I worked there, there were no businesses on either side . . . now these neighbors are complaining about the noise, when it’s been a nightclub for 45 years," he said. "That’s like people moving right near a ranch and complaining about the smell of the horse shit.”
In response to several people suggesting Wilkinson is anti-business, he said, “I’ve been the biggest supporter of seasonal businesses here," he said, adding he had helped the former owner. "This has nothing to do with suppression of business," he said, "it has only to do with compliance, and we have also cited several other nightclubs in town with violations and fines.”
East Hampton Councilwoman Teresa Quigley said since she’s been in office she’s been “attacked mercilessly and barraged with complaints about noise in Montauk.”
“I’ve had it with the way people are not respectful in this community,” she said. It’s been a tourist community since the 1920s and I can’t help it if there is noise, but we can’t let it get out of control. We’re not interested in hurting businesses, but since they opened in 2011, the Sloppy Tuna has been cited more often with noise complaints.”
Frans Preidel, who lives directly behind the Sloppy Tuna, said he expected to live near the noise, if it was within the required 55 decibels, but that it often exceeds this level, sometimes to 95 decibels and higher.
But after the meeting, the owner said he recently bought and put in a volume control system which reads the decibel level, and that his team is making an effort not to exceed the required level. He said the town is also asking for a sprinkler system, which he is considering.
“They had told us we would not need to put in a sprinkler system until our second renovation, which we’re doing in the fall, but now they changed their mind, and we may also need to put in an elevator,” said Doscher. “I want to work with the town—I don’t want to be the poster child that works against them. Everyone here enjoys themselves, and we haven’t had one fight here all summer.”
Dave Lucas, of Montauk, said at the meeting that his son, Reed Lucas, is the chef at the Sloppy Tuna, and he’s glad his son can make a living in Montauk so he doesn’t have to leave town like many young people.
“This place does employ many local kids, and it also gives back to the town in many ways,” he said.
Later, Jason Behan said he’d like to see all the restaurant and bar owners in Montauk form an organization similar to the Montauk Boatmen and Captain’s Association, so they could work out their similar problems, which affect all of them.
Correction: Patch previously reported that Preidel stated decibels eclipse levels of 59 decibels or higher, not 95. We regret the error.