The Changing Face of Montauk

John Papciak
The Midnight Rambler
The Changing Face of Montauk – Part 3
(or was that Part 4?)

I call it the second season.

The hipsters are long gone. Maybe back in Williamsburg. The rowdy drinkers are gone too, mostly. The fish are gone, or almost gone, the bass anyway.

Every year I vow to go for cod, and every year my “one free day” coincides with 40 knot NW winds. No thanks. But there’s always a new chance this year

This is still a great time to visit Montauk. Hear me out.

The lighthouse is covered in decorations. And this year about 6-7 large seals seemed to be fishing under the light.

You can go to a restaurant – those still open – and be greeted with “Nice to see you, sit anywhere you like!” Even the bartenders are willing to strike up a conversations…you know, the same ones you couldn’t even get the attention of four months ago?

I doubt you’ll have to spend more than $100 for any weekend night stay. Sure, you can spend more, but you won’t have to.

Yes, there are still changes going on. Hard to qualify as good or bad.

I literally had my “last meal” at my favorite restaurant last month – the West Lake. It was nice to have a place where they still seemed willing to get to know the clientele, even a fisherman like me…to the point where the bartender would have a pint of Brooklyn and put in a half dozen oysters, even before asking for a menu.

Try that on Fourth of July weekend!

Anyway, maybe it’s not so bad. The crew at West Lake is moving to new digs, where Salivar’s used to be. The acting chef spent some time behind the bar on my last visit, and gave me a little more color on the move. They’ve outgrown the space at West Lake, and when its more than an hour and a half wait on any given week night, customers are understandably anxious, even before sitting down. And when you have to walk sideways in the kitchen trying to handle that kind of volume, I guess it’s time to expand. If you drive by Salivars, you’ll see the construction. Only hoping it doesn’t lose the personal touch and local feel.

The next big one concerns the East Deck Motel at Ditch Plains. No more. I know a number of surfcasters stay there each fall, and I got to recognize some of the same trucks year over year. The long-time owners found a buyer… at a whopping 14.7 million. I have become numb to escalating prices, and nothing much surprises me anymore, but 14.7 still had me scratching my head. I great location, I get it, but a flood zone that would be hit by and hurricane that might hit the east end. I tried to humor myself doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations to see how much I would have to charge per night for the 30-odd rooms in order to have any chance of covering the carrying costs on 14.7 …

But the punch line is that the supposed buyer has (a) no interest in subdividing/selling, (b) no interest in expanding the structure, and (c) no interest in continuing to even run this as a motel. How and why they parked that kind of money into a non-income producing property? Another Montauk mystery. Maybe that’s why I don’t have the kind of money in the first place. 15 million for a private crash pad, right next to the Ditch Witch. OK

Personally, I’d turn the spot into a Tiki Bar, maybe sell some tackle. You know, stop by, pick up a couple Super Strike needlefish, then have a frozen margarita before heading out to fish the rocks. Sound good? But I would instruct the bartenders to not admit anyone wearing a fedora.

Anyway, as much as we bitch about the changes, every so often I am reminded that Montauk is still unique…in a good way…but maybe now more so in the off-season.

Case in point – here is the lone entry from this week’s Police Blotter, as reported in the East Hampton Star:


Charles Morici told police that Jimmy Hewitt, the owner of the Shagwong restaurant, had asked that he bring him two cartons of fish on Nov. 16, but when he arrived he was told the fish were no longer needed. As he left, both cartons of fish fell out the back of his truck. Enraged, he ran over the cartons several times and drove away. The next afternoon, he told police, when he returned to the dock after a day of fishing, he found fish crammed under the hood of his unlocked vehicle. Mr. Hewitt told police he knew nothing of the incident. Police photographed the truck’s engine compartment, which Mr. Morici said he would clean himself. No charges were pressed.

5 comments on “The Changing Face of Montauk

  1. Charlie_P

    According to a friend of mine who has a house in Montauk, the locals refer to the Hampton Hipsters as “hamsters.” ha ha

  2. Jerry

    Maybe you live in a historically volatile part of the world ( basically anywhere ex Switzerland and the US). Perhaps your government is taking 75% of your income and your currency is almost at a historical high vs US$. Then you read this: For 10mm EUR perhaps it is not such a bad plan B. Just close enough to NYC but just far enough away too. Fortunately i don’t think they are so interested in le aller pecher.

    1. bill jakob

      Long gone are the days of $35 a night for a room at ronjo , Herbs has slowly changed since his wife and himself retired . It’s almost impossible to find a long line crew buying drinks for everyone at the bar for hours . Ten years ago i learned to get back on the east side of the hill by 10am each summer morning – now i have to stay on the beach all day to avoid the citiots . Then they drive past me in their Rovers with surf boards =no permits and a fedora .then they wonder why I’m doing on the beach with my camperand fishing gear .Lets not forget the surf scene ! i surfed for years, but never remember circles of surfers holding hands in the “surfer experience” of today. i rember getting into fights with the locals on “there break “.
      Things have changed from days gone pasts john , wow your son is surfing and i’m a grandfather – where has time gone ? Oh the the same place as good old montauk !

  3. Adam

    Billy said it well. The invasion is in it’s 3rd year. GAP & Sears sell ditch plains & Montauk t shirts year round. How many cars on the hwy up island have MTK stickers ,as a new status symbol!
    We are fortunate no one except the surfers wants our terrain. Keep in mind the surfers on the North side are neophytes at best, just looking for MTK credit. Locals are on the South side & couldn’t care less about a bucktail being fired at them.
    Enjoy what you’ve got because 15 years from now it should truly be a circus… unless God forbid Greenport becomes Sag Harbor!


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