Until three weeks ago, the scheduled opening date for Cyril’s Fish House in Napeague was Friday, May 2. It had been online for some time. Lots of people were looking forward to enjoying a Corona or a Bloody Mary or some raw clams at this beloved, rickety little bar this summer. With Cyril, up from the Caribbean, sitting on his stool in his bathing suit, headband, sarong, white beard and necklace, with the salt sea air, the cars roaring by on the Montauk Highway, the wind coming up, the sun setting over Amagansett, and with the crowds of beachgoers chattering away, well, it is a confirmation that summertime has come to the Hamptons. Thus it has been since 1988 when Cyril was a sprout.
Well, May 2 has come and gone. Then it was May 15. Now the website says Reopening May 19 and Facebook says May 20. They live in hope. The town is trying to keep Cyril’s from opening.
Wasn’t it Yogi Berra who once said, “This place is so crowded nobody goes there anymore”?
Well, in this case, the Nobody is the town. And the Town has some good reasons, and some not so good reasons. One is that the place is a bit run down, which is part of its charm. When new in the 1940s, it was a gas station. The station was about 15’ by 20’. The pumps were out front. Then it became a clam bar. A rectangular hole was built in one wall, stools were set up outside, the gas station sign came down, the “Clam Bar” sign went up. Soon, clam sandwiches, hot dogs and beer were being served through the hole to people sitting on stools outside with a radio blasting rock and roll.
Then Cyril arrived. A surfboard got planted on end in the sand. The rock and roll became reggae. The Clam Bar sign came down and the “Cyril’s” sign went up. The girls arrived in bikinis. The party began. And now, at sunset on summer weekends, often this party spills onto the Montauk Highway to create a rather remarkable traffic situation. For three miles before arriving at Cyril’s from either the east or the west, cars have been speeding at 65 miles an hour along the Napeague Stretch. Seeing crowds holding drinks in the road, they slow down to 35. Then 15. Most rather love it. Some don’t. Surely it’s a pretty dangerous melee.
One might wonder why in all these years Cyril doesn’t put up a temporary fence to keep the cars and people separate. Well, for one reason, the property is tiny and on just an acre. It’s bounded by sand dunes and beach grass on two sides and by the highway and the railroad tracks on the other two. For another, the Bentleys and Ferraris and Jeeps pull in at a 90° angle from the road right to the back of the stools at the counter. And as for the rest, the cars park in a small parking lot and then, in a salute to Yogi Berra, just park all up and down the highway by the side of the road until, well, nobody goes there anymore.
In many ways, this is a salute to fun overcoming life’s imperfections. Imperfections that have caused the Town of East Hampton to rise up and try to find a way to keep Cyril’s from opening, or at least until a number of violations have been addressed—violations they say include things about the little outbuildings, fuel tanks, issues regarding use, capacity being exceeded, and zoning. The lawyer for Cyril’s has challenged in the past that they’ve been improperly issued duplicate violations, and have never been charged with improper expansion of the preexisting, nonconforming restaurant use.
The Town seems particularly incensed that this winter Cyril’s got a county permit to dig up two giant underground tanks that once stored fuel for the old station half a century ago, but failed to get a Town one. Maybe “incensed” is the wrong word. Perhaps “opportune” is more appropriate. This is a handle upon which, in citing interests of safety, health and welfare, Cyril’s could be kept from opening.
The tanks were beneath where the cars park behind the counter stools between the building and the highway, the usual place where you’d expect gas station operators to bury fuel tanks. Cyril’s, county permit in hand, hired a contractor with heavy construction equipment this past January to dig up the tanks and take them away, then brought in fill and filled in the hole. The goal was to make Cyril’s BETTER.
Cyril’s, the town says, was supposed to get two permits—they had the one from the county, but they did not have one from the town.
Here is an excerpt from the transcript of a court hearing in April (thank you, East Hampton Star) among the lawyer for Cyril’s, the lawyer for the Town, the Town’s Chief Building Inspector and the State Supreme Court Judge. The Town had gotten a temporary injunction to prevent Cyril’s from opening this summer because there’s a situation allegedly dangerous to health, safety and welfare. Cyril’s has appealed. Just prior to this testimony, the Cyril’s lawyer has told the judge that Cyril’s thought the county permit superseded the need for a town permit. Now they are talking about whether the dirt brought in has been properly tamped down.
Mr. Priato (Town Chief Building Inspector): “I have not had an opportunity to see that the soil is properly compacted, that it is capable of bearing weight.”
Mr. Prokop (Attorney for the Town): “And with regard to the easterly side of the premises, is there anything that you described that you considered to be a danger to public health and safety?”
Mr. Preiato: “Well, the structure itself. I don’t know how it is actually standing.”
(The attorney for Cyril’s, Dianne Le Verrier, notes that the Town had allowed the operation to continue in present-day condition for years. )
Justice Farneti: “I have a building falling into a hole, based on the uncontested testimony from Chief Preiato…I understand there was a county permit. (I’ve heard) very clear testimony from Chief Inspector Preiato yesterday with respect to the other tank removal sections under the Town Code. No permit, no application. That very activity caused what I perceive to be the imminent danger.
“You may have become aware for the first time during Mr. Preiato’s testimony yesterday,” the justice added, “that apparently as a result of the excavation of the tanks, the structure of the bar…the facade has moved. It tilted into the depression created from the excavation from the tank.” The judge also noted that “(This has to be inspected) so that nobody is sitting up at night wondering if this building is going to fall on top of people or if I’m going to be seeing a picture in Newsday of a giant sinkhole with revelers with their umbrellas in their little drinks 10 feet underground. Just a point I’d like to make on the record.”
My opinion is that this is a pretty unjudgely thing for a Supreme Court Judge to be saying. How often have we read about murderers, caught with smoking guns in hand, getting off years later because of a judicial impropriety? Is this snarky judicial comment snarky enough to get this thrown out?We’ll probably never know. At the current speed the judicial system grinds, it’s an answer that would take three years and huge legal fees to find out.