Surfing HQ: How Surf Lodge Ignored the Town and 687 Violations

The wave of young Hamptonites was beckoned to Montauk by the glories of the Surf Lodge four years ago. It was a jarring summer. Here were all the fishermen’s bars and restaurants in Montauk and then this one chic nightspot duded out to look like an oceanfront surfing headquarters (which was outrageous since it was on the calm waters of Fort Pond).

It was the “it” place to be that summer. The crowds came, the women in their chic dresses and high heels and the guys in little black suits and a three-day beard, and what do you know, it was a huge success. The next summer and the next, more and more similar such places opened in Montauk.

This story, however, is not about all those other places. Each and every one of them was set up on a former fishing resort establishments on considerable acreage and therefore with plenty of room to cater to the new hip crowd. They too were crowded all night with revelers, but they had lots of room to satisfy town laws. Surf Lodge might have tried too—some say they didn’t even do that—but on such a small property it was really just about impossible. It had parking for a handful of patrons’ cars (where they needed 200.) It had a dinner capacity of 68 (where on some nights, it was said there were 300 served). And it sat facing the calm waters of the pond on a very narrow but busy road where cars whizzed by at 45 miles an hour.

When hundreds of people crowded into the Surf Lodge late every evening on the weekends laughing and drinking and swaying to the loud music, they frequently spilled out onto the street creating a very dangerous situation indeed.

The town government tried mightily to get along with the owners of Surf Lodge (whoever they may be, more about that later), but the violations kept coming—no certificate of occupancy, severe overcrowding, no site plan approval, illegal clearing of wetlands—and eventually, during the summer of 2011, these violations piled up to a grand total of 687. The fines have not been assessed yet. Surf Lodge has plead Not Guilty. The matter has wound up in town court before Justice Catherine A. Cahill who repeatedly experienced either nobody showing up or just the lawyer representing the owners showing up. The justice needed the owners to show up. They were not supposed to refuse her. But they had one excuse after another.

Things escalated further. This past fall and early winter, some locals seemed determined to have the Surf Lodge shut down for this upcoming summer. Later in the proceedings, the Surf Lodge asked that Justice Cahill recuse herself from the proceedings and she refused to do so. As Justice Cahill announced that she would not recuse herself from the case, she was interrupted when, according to The East Hampton Star, the defendants’ then-attorney Colin Patrick Astarita took a cellphone call.

Justice Cahill has the right to have a bench warrant issued to force people to come to court. If they do not on a certain day at a certain time, the police pick them up, handcuff them and bring them in. Time in jail is possible when this happens.

That has not happened here yet, but at another hearing where the owners didn’t show up, the Justice asked their lawyer to give her all their names…and he refused to do so.

And here’s the latest news. Rumors are circulating that the owners have now put the Surf Lodge up for sale. They’ve got other fish to fry, apparently, other successful nightclubs in New York they have to mind, and they now say they want to get on with their lives and let somebody else deal with the problem.

I think at this point, the town ought to buy the Surf Lodge and make it into a disco museum, a shrine to the handsome young men and women who now flock to Montauk in their fancy cars and fine clothes to paper that town with big bucks.

It would not be hard for the town to do this. Subtract all the money they are allegedly owed for the ordinance violations from the sale price wanted for the place, and it would probably cost not much at all.

Here’s how I envision the Surf Lodge Disco Museum. You know all the velvet ropes that nightspots have outside? They could now have them in the hallways inside separating the museum goers from the various rooms which, of course, would be decked out with the various trappings of this historic old nightspot. There would be empty champagne bottles, surf boards, towels, boom box amplifiers, keys to private rooms, the whole nine yards. The Surf Lodge, celebrated as the first Montauk nightspot out here, could be as important to Montauk as is the Montauk Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was authorized by George Washington and is the first lighthouse built in the State of New York. Here you would have the first Montauk nightclub. There could be photographs of the rich and famous on the walls and the pictures of the owners, their faces with a big black patch on them so the Justice wouldn’t know who they were, also on the walls.

Once a summer, there could be a Surf Lodge Nightspot Blowout Day. It would begin at 3 p.m. and go to 3 a.m. Everybody would come. They’d park up and down that busy narrow road as in past summers. All the local ordinances would be broken—they’d serve chowder at an illegal stand, they’d bring bags of sand in to replenish the “beach,” they’d have tons of stuff you could eat or sniff, they’d have bouncers deciding who gets in and who not, and they could even have some star performers. Maybe 50 Cent or some other national group.

Even I would go to one night of that.

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