Dan Rattiner's Stories

The Rich Save Montauk: Billionaires Buy Nightspots, Take Properties Upscale

Beginning two summers ago, it appeared that Montauk might become a big party town with drunken brawlers and all-night parties. The number of loud nightspots was increasing. The number of ill-mannered vacationers looking for a good time was on the upswing. Everyone in these parts—including this writer, who spent his youth in Montauk—was getting upset.

Last summer, the town brought in loads of summer cops to try to keep a lid on things. But it had little effect. As a result, over the winter, the town passed still newer ordinances against party hours and group houses.

It seemed to many that driving the partygoers away might not be in the commercial interest of the town. But the fact is that the Northeast is littered with many towns that descended to these depths and remained so for a while, becoming repositories for trash and garbage. Finally, even the partygoers found a new party town to invade. And so it seemed that Montauk, in the grips of this, would lose either way. They could go with the flow or send ’em packing. Desolation would follow. Was there anything that anybody could do?

As it has turned out this summer, the town has been saved for another day by a totally unexpected group of people. Billionaires. Billionaires and millionaires from the Hamptons and elsewhere, almost all of whom are upscale resort businessmen or Wall Street entrepreneurs who have houses in or near Montauk. Who could have imagined this?

The thing is that Montauk is worth saving. People love it here. People loved it here when the fishermen were ascendant. They loved it as a motel town for families. They loved it as a surfing community. And they loved it—but so did the nightclub people—as a windswept summer place totally away from it all, with fabulous beaches, ranches, sports and hiking.

You can’t blame the nightclub people. For half a century, the old resort motel families held sway here. But that was fading. Those who haven’t been here for a few years should know that Giordano’s was sold, Salivar’s was sold, the old Shagwong got sold, Pier One was sold, the Ronjo was sold. The Shepherd’s Neck Inn was sold. Ruschmeyer’s and Navy Beach and Crow’s Nest got sold. Many became restaurants and nightspots with the same familiar names, since the buyers of these places—many well-known nightclub owners from New York—turned some of them into places that became loud 3 o’clock–in-the-morning clubs catering to the noisy patrons they knew from back in the city. But what these nightspot owners did not know was Montauk. They knew only nightspots.

Now billionaires have bought out many of the nightclub owners, renovated the establishments and re-opened them again as upscale restaurants, cafés and well-behaved nightspots that appeal to the wealthy.

Before I get to who these people are, I should like to say to everyone that Montauk is blessed with hundreds of retail establishments. There will remain nightspots for the young. There will remain fishing restaurants. There will remain some of the great motels. There is room for everybody. This is just a shifting of the gears into a new direction that will in the long term benefit the town and keep it safe for the future. Yes, some without the wherewithal will be unable to go to some places. But the John’s Drive-In will remain. The miniature golf and boat rental will remain. And I would bet that there will always be a Gosman’s Dock the way it was, and even a Salivar’s, already surviving under new ownership to put its best foot forward for the fishermen and their families and friends. I also suspect that “Lunch” on the Napeauge will be serving their famous lobster rolls well into the next generation.

Duryea’s Lobster Deck has been bought by Marc Rowan, the billionaire co-founder of Apollo Global Management, the private equity firm. You can still get a lobster roll there, for $34, but you can also get a $95 bottle of champagne. And you will be eating on fine teak tables and chairs rather than the old plastic throw around furniture.

Rowan has also purchased the old Ciao by the Beach, which was often a party by the water well into the night. Food was mostly Italian, spaghetti and meatballs and the like. Now, after a complete renovation, it is Arbor, a restaurant with celebrated Chef Pierre Sudre, who is serving, among other things, a $98 seafood platter. Not incidentally, Rowan has been coming out to a summer home he owns in Southampton for years. He is quite familiar with Montauk.

The owners of a series of upscale restaurants known as The Grey Lady in Aspen, Nantucket and the Lower East Side, are now the new owners of the Harbor Raw Bar and Lounge, a nightclub hangout.

Look what happened to Gurney’s Inn. Run- down and skirting bankruptcy, it was sold by the Monte family to George Filopoulos, who has a house in the Hither Hills section of Montauk and is the owner of Metrovest Equities, a longtime property development company based in Manhattan.

Filopoulos and his partner Lloyd Goldman of BLDG Management Co., paid a reported $40 millon for Gurney’s, and with an additional $25 million transformed it into a top-of-the-line, world class resort. From the outdoor deck firepit to the breezy food service at the beach to their completely remodeled spa and main dining room—now the restaurant Scarpetta Beach—to its indoor saltwater pool of Olympic proportions, the only one in America, it will find its place with the set that goes to Aspen, St. Barths, Mustique and elsewhere.

Filopoulos and Goldman have also purchased the oceanfront Panoramic View, a 117-unit hotel that had been renting small cliff-front cabins facing the ocean since its founding in the 1930s. They paid $63.9 million for it, and are converting it into 15 duplex and triplex homes between 2,000 and 4,300 square feet in size which sell for $4.7 million to $12 million, each with concierge service and full access to Gurney’s Resort and Seawater Spa—which means they can choose different days at four different restaurants at Gurney’s before starting around again. The Panoramic is now the Residences at Gurney’s Montauk. Altogether the new expanded Gurney’s property commands nearly 1,000 feet of beachfront.

Other fishermen’s bars have been sold, with the new money coming in to keep them much as they were in the heyday of the fishermen. One is Trail’s End, which its new owner, businessman Michael Nasti, purchased for $2.2 million and is changing its name to The Tauk @ Trail’s End and moving a bit upscale. Nasti has been vacationing in Montauk for 23 years.

And there is more to come. Gosman’s, the 477-seat restaurant and resort center on 14 waterfront acres, is now for sale for $52.5 million.

The new town laws have had their effect. The new rental registry requires a list of all the people who will sleep at a registrant’s home every night with a limit to the total based on the number of bedrooms in the house. (Bye-bye, group houses. The architect-designed home of my late parents with its stunning sunset views, was sold to someone who turned it into one for a while.) Bye-bye late night noise. Last month, the nightspot Surf Lodge agreed to lower their maximum occupancy total from 445 to 395. They will also shut down outdoor music at 8 p.m. on the five days a week the town will allow it.

Nobody wants Montauk to be another town on the Jersey Shore. The Bravo reality show Summer House, which will purportedly feature young people living at a group house sleeping in numbers far above those allowed in houses in Montauk, was denied a permit to shoot footage on public property in Montauk. Parking has now been banned near the Sloppy Tuna. It’s also been banned on Edgemere Street by the Surf Lodge.

Yes, we can all get along. And hooray for the billionaires.

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