Dan Rattiner's Stories

Midnight in Montauk: A Lewis & Clark Expedition to the Wilds of Montauk’s Nightlife

For the previous two summers, the scene in Montauk had spun out of control. Huge numbers of young people filled the town and happily and wildly behaved badly, sometimes right in the center of town, blocking traffic. This newspaper had dubbed these folks the Wet T-Shirt Crowd. And we suggested—in fact, everybody suggested—that new laws be put into the books in the Town of East Hampton, of which Montauk is part, and enforcement be doubled and re-doubled with, for example, a police officer on every street corner.

This summer, with new ordinances in place about loud music and live bands and some careful monitoring of other existing laws, the bad experience, reportedly, has been largely sent into remission. If true, this would be a good thing. Nobody wants to have the town wrecked. In the end, in those types of summer places, the denizens who cause trouble find a new hot spot to ruin and move on.

Nevertheless, as a former resident of Montauk, in the days when the town was a fishing village and family resort motel town with some nightspots for us teenagers—the Surf and Sand, the Blue Marlin and the Manor about covered it—I asked my friend Clark (I being Lewis) to accompany me for an expedition into my former haunt on a Saturday night to see what would be shaking.

Young people would be out on a Saturday night at midnight, I presumed. I was one of those once, and from this vantage point it’s a bit depressing to think I ain’t out on that job anymore—but nevertheless, a job is a job, and it’s our job, the Lewis and Clark Job, to see what is going on and report back.

We came down the Montauk Highway through Amagansett and passed the former Cyril’s Fish House, now shut up tight after being pounced upon by the local authorities for bad behavior, so let that be a lesson to you and other matters—and we entered the wilds of downtown Montauk.

From inside a Tahoe, we drove around, sometimes as slowly as five miles an hour. I wanted to take notes.

There were a hundred or more young people within the proper boundaries of the Sloppy Tuna, all talking at once, all drinking, all setting things up for later, whatever that might be, but there was no loud music, and nobody wandering out on the street.

The Shagwong was shaking with about 50 young people. The dinner hour was over and the tables had been pushed aside, but again, there was nothing loud going on. A band setup remained. Apparently the Great Bazooba Kings, or whatever the musicians call themselves, had observed the 9 p.m. no loud music curfew.

We went out to the Crow’s Nest, and once again there was quite a crowd. This place is pretty much in the middle of nowhere and could have loud music without bothering anyone really, but no, it was all quiet there on the eastern front.

Kenny’s was pretty quiet. At midnight, Arbor had nobody on what appeared to be a dance floor, and we went to Duryea’s Lobster Deck and they were just closing up for the night. The cleaning people were there. And it looked pretty chic, I must tell you.

We went over to the Montaukett, and it’s the same old fisherman’s bar, although a younger generation of family members now runs the place.

Ruschmeyer’s was busy with people, but the loud noises were people chatting and not some big band anywhere. The same was true at Solé East down the way.

We didn’t get out to Navy Beach—it’s like in the regular Lewis and Clark expedition through the Northwest, they went through Idaho but didn’t get to Colorado.

Back toward town, we glided past the Surf Lodge, the place that started this influx of Yuppie Plus people, and there were taxicabs out front and people talking inside and out and all in orderly fashion. We did notice a plethora of taxicabs everywhere. If these kids were drinking, they were doing it responsibly and being driven around.

We went past Trail’s End, and the tables had been moved aside with the end of the dinner hour, but here at midnight there was little going on inside.

We went to the old Ronjo Motel with the big 10-foot tall bronze tiki figure by the entrance, but in its new trappings as the Montauk Beach House it was all peaceful and quiet there at midnight, and it made me wonder if they’d gone out of the nightclub business.

We drove up and down Main Street and there were people around, mostly young, well behaved, not loud or drunk or anything, and there was a considerable presence of police around.

The only real hotspot with a band operating at that hour was the Memory Motel, which has a legal entertainment license for late-night music-—the only one in town, according to the Montauk Chamber of Commerce. In the parking lot, music blared over loudspeakers and a crowd of about 150 people waited to get in the door, and yes, a few people seemed to overflow onto the sidewalk and into the street, but the police were there and they were keeping it orderly and it was not out of control.

Clark and I stopped at John’s Drive-In for some of their famous ice cream, and some people from the Memory did wander over but again they were orderly.

And that was our tour, other than a brief look passing Gurney’s on the way home, a fine and very grand resort that is now also a hotspot. No problem there.

Note that I have not mentioned some of the fine upscale restaurants in that town now and the chic shops here and there, but unless midnight (through to 1 a.m.—it was a one-hour tour) is just too early for trouble, I have to report that it was my experience that on a Saturday night at midnight in high summer in Montauk, that town seemed downright tame, and very well-sprinkled with a wide variety of activities that seemed just fine to me.

The police say arrests are down, things are orderly, and it appears that there is a new spirit in this community that seems to have blossomed forth from so much of what it has, from its fine golf course to its nightspots to its surfing, ocean swimming, hang-gliding, romance, horseback riding, fishing, clamming and sightseeing, and you know—it was not that much different than when I was a lad out there.

As if to put an exclamation point on this, I did find out the next day that some of the current generation of kids in Montauk are now sporting red baseball caps that read LET’S MAKE MONTAUK GREAT AGAIN, and the explanation is that the hoopla is now muted and it just ain’t what it used to be.

Fair enough. Montauk is for Montaukers. And those that favor the Jersey Shore or the Cape, well, you have our permission to go there.

Viva Montauk! It passed inspection.

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