The Midnight Rambler ….The Changing Face of Montauk

Editor’s note

Not sure if we will be able to get blog post before Thursday Fisherman’s Show so here is the new show shirt, only available at the show, yours free with subscription or renewal



now back to regularly scheduled programing lol

The Midnight Rambler

The Changing Face of Montauk

(Part of an Occasional Series)

John Papciak

With Labor Day in the rear view mirror, fall fishing on Long Island begins just as soon as you can get your truck loaded and headed east. (Remember, some years it only took one storm to get some fish moving.) And with this comes the 2015 installment on The Changing Face of Montauk. By now, pretty much every newspaper and blogger has smelled the coffee and picked up on what I’ve been talking about in this series over the last few years.

But none of them ever acknowledge that not all “changes” in Montauk have been bad. I’ve mentioned some of the good before. Access-wise, you don’t need to camp out on April 1st to get a key to Camp Hero. Remember that? Or perhaps you are old enough to remember not being allowed in there at all? There are now even more decent places to eat. Not many smelly delis or greasy food places left. Your doctor thinks that’s a good thing, even if you don’t. And there are now quite a number of really nice female-friendly places to stay, which is key if you want to fish your ass off and still stay married. (I think back to the days of camping in a tent at Shagwong, with a port-a-potty, I concede I was seriously pushing it then.) The Lighthouse parking lot facilities have been seriously upgraded from when I first started coming out – there’s an air station, a cleaning station, and the bathrooms are big and clean. But there’s still quite a lot of change happening in Montauk, some of this might spill over into the early fall. You might recall I wrote a column last fall where I talked about a silent war going on for the summer identity of Montauk. I talked about the three-way battle between the families, the hipsters and the partiers, and I defined each type.

Well, as widely reported, the summer of 2015 has been all about the partiers. It hit me square in the face on July 2 while riding the Long Island Rail Road “Hamptons Express.” Painful as this sounds, I sometimes commute from Montauk into the city on the 5:39am. I’ve taken the same afternoon Express train back out, on and off over the last 15 years. This time, with a stunning weather forecast, my double decker rail car was standing room only for the 3+hour trip. The crowd was a bit younger than I ever remembered for a holiday weekend. They were drinking a bit more than I ever could recall. There were far fewer “working professionals” in sight. Nope, I sized this up to be heavily slanted toward a “share house” crowd.

What do I mean by that?

In the past, I might have overheard conversations about restaurants or real estate or even charter boats.  This crowd had more basic concerns, like sleeping arrangements. Much of the conversation also concerned what bars they were going to , all in Montauk. In case you were wondering, nobody was talking about fishing. To be fair, none of this was exactly a surprise. By now, I take it for granted that Fourth of July will be an utter shit-show. It’s just that the “show” has gotten quite “shitty” over the years, and it’s hard for me now to remember just how much has changed over a decade. I seldom visit the downtown area on any Saturday night after 9pm during the height of the summer season, and I know not to bother trying to bring anyone near the most popular watering holes. But even by these standards, there was more this year, stuff I didn’t expect. Taxi cabs had virtually blocked off several intersections as they competed for business, and they showed little interest in letting traffic pass. We did have one bonfire on a beach close to town, but we had a problem with kids coming out of the bars and walking down the beach trying to mooch beers. One very drunk young man insisted on buying some of our firewood while handing me a fist full of bills. There was peeing in the dunes everywhere. I guess this is what happens when the line at the door is ridiculous, and the line for the bathroom is even worse.the-end-of-montauk

Some fell asleep on the beach. One group pitched a tent. I guess no room at the Inn, or maybe they spent all their money at the bar? I thought I had seen enough, but by most other accounts, I only saw a faction of it. By that Thursday, the local East Hampton Star was filled with stories and editorials about the beating Montauk took over the Fourth of July weekend. The following East Hampton Town Board meeting was taken over by several hundred Montauk residents, who all showed up at the Montauk Firehouse to voice their frustration over how the town was turning into a summer version of “Spring Break.” The reports of drinking and party buffoonery spread from one end of town to the other.

The Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Chief of Police Michael Sarlo have been in crisis mode ever since, authorizing dramatic increases in police presence and enforcement. As of this writing it is too difficult to predict how this will ultimately play out. Montauk had been known as a laid-back kind of place, with a libertarian approach,  a land where fishing and surfing reign supreme. But somehow this lifestyle caught the attention of a much wider following, some with a specific desire to monetize the experience. While it’s hard to pinpoint a catalyst, the influx of new bar owners with Manhattan-caliber connections and marketing expertise played a huge part. The genie was out of the bottle (and on the dance floor) when they were finally able to convince thousands of 20-somethings from Manhattan to drive past Southampton and East Hampton, to a hipper and more happening Montauk.

Even some of the existing bars – who clearly saw the possibilities – quietly converted from restaurants and gift shops to “clubs” with live music and signature DJs. Most are now targeting the Manhattan singles 22-30 market those with disposable income and the willingness to spend it on the highest margin mixed drinks. Let’s face it, selling $15 vodka drinks to hundreds of 23 year olds,  who wait in line to stand elbow to elbow once they get inside, is a hell of a lot more profitable per square foot than dinner for a family of four, where two of the meals will be chicken fingers or Mac and cheese. (Sorry kiddies, come back when you are old enough to drink)

The “share house” rental market is also playing a part, reportedly pricing out families and locals (and maybe even some fishermen?). While fractional short term rentals are illegal per Town code, enforcement has been largely ineffective. Overall, the town will now have some very painful soul-searching to do in the months ahead. The good news is that a critical mass of people are now fed up, and are not willing to let a handful of bar owners dictate the future of Montauk. The Manhattan club people and their bar flies talk about the money they are bringing into the local economy, but clearly not all taxpayers and voters are feeling the love , and this is an election year. The only question now is how much of the anger will survive Tumbleweed Tuesday, and carry on through to Election Day. You can be sure that The Changing Face of Montauk (and what should be done about it) will be the primary campaign agenda for both parties.

The impact on you and your fall fishing?

Hotel room prices will remain a bit sticky in the upward direction, as more people linger into the fall. Restaurants prices might stay up as well (though they will hopefully drop by late fall). Enforcement at the town parking lots will remain up for at least the early part of the fall. This means higher risk of a ticket if you don’t have the town stickers. Don’t be so quick to park in a town lot, not if you can park somewhere else legally and avoid a ticket. If you do want to finish off a night of surf fishing with a beach fire, make sure you know the rules, and make sure the fire is in the proper metal container, not directly on the sand. And lastly, but most importantly, watch it with the alcohol. Tickets and arrests for open containers, consumption of alcohol in unauthorized areas, and of course DWI are up – and will likely remain up. Town Police have been proudly publishing the number of tickets and arrests each week. I seriously doubt they will cut you much slack or give you a warning just because you are a fisherman. If you visited Montauk this past summer, you know most of what I’ve shared above. For the rest, the good news is that the shenanigans Montauk is dealing with right now remain mostly a Memorial Day to Labor Day thing.

Most fall surfcasters will arrive to the same laid back Montauk you’d expect after Tumbleweed Tuesday.

The Seafood Festival is September 12-13

The Montauk Surf Classic is September 25-27

Paulie’s Tournament is October 2-4

The Fall Festival and Chowder Contest is October 10

Last fall the fishing ended early. But with some luck, we could be fishing under the gannets, and on hand for the Lighthouse Lighting and Christmas

Fair on November 28.

Editor’s note #2

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Surfcaster's Journal Ad 2015-9-11



10 comments on “The Midnight Rambler ….The Changing Face of Montauk

  1. Jerry

    One has to love the spirit of a town that proudly proclaim prohibitions on drunken irish, screaming kids & cell phones while freely allowing fires on the beach and very reasonable beach access for both cars (with permit) and dogs. I understand how the first reaction to the July 4th fiasco is to regulate, but will cooler minds prevail after the hordes have returned to Williamsburg, will the people of Montauk seize the opportunity to shape the future of Montauk into their vision? It’s all been debated to death with regulations quickly passed to soothe the outrage but reacting is not shaping. I see a lot of anger but I don’t see a lot of logic. I don’t see the people of Montauk seeing the crisis as an opportunity and this is the colossal mistake. Make Montauk a showcase for those who seek to Bike, Run, Swim, Kayak, Fish, Surf. If the LIRR trains are full then why introduce stricter parking regulations?

    There is a jogging path along the old highway that sucks.. why not repave and widen it? Gin Beach is fantastic. It’s calm with lifeguards, showers, bathroom and a food truck but who wants to risk a obscene parking ticket to take their kids there? There is a great pier by Navy Beach that goes mostly unused except by some locals (with parking permits)… the same goes for the public pool at Montauk Downs. How about a full day dog friendly beach? Families have dogs. There is a play house, miles and miles of trails in Hither Woods and elsewhere, snorkeling, a minor league BB team… tons of “eco-friend” and family friendly activities that are never publicized, never promoted, over-regulated and receive minimal public investment. A >30 year old with a $10k carbon frame, an $800 Van Staal or a $2k SUP with a wife and kid who want to sleep late before hitting the beach won’t be using too many cabs, they’re not in a bar after 10pm and they’re not sharing a house overnight with 10 other people. They are spending serious coin in a restaurant then making s’mores on the beach. Set up a movie screen on the green and blast kid’s movies about minions and ice princesses in front of Montauk Beach House at 8pm every night. Dork the place up.

    Jayme (SL) & Drew (ST) had a vision for the future, they implemented it, they (adversely) shaped Montauk and are making a fortune doing so. They followed the gameplan set by Authur Benson, Carl Fisher, Frank Mundus and Leisurama. People who didn’t regulate Montauk into their vision, they shaped it because they saw opportunity.
    Perhaps part of the problem is that boneheads like me are lobbying for wider bike trails on Surfcasters Journal.

  2. Jerry

    “Perhaps part of the problem is that boneheads like me are lobbying for wider bike trails on Surfcasters Journal”

    John.. This was in no way meant to be directed towards anyone other than myself as the lazy coward who needs to stand up and become more vocal in a relevant community forum.
    Your series on the changing face of Montauk is excellent.

  3. Ron Mattson Sr

    If anyone thinks there wil be a significant change in Montauk’s future,I suggest they move to Wyoming..not Jackson Hole..or better yet British Columbia. Way toooooo much money to be made.

  4. Evan

    I’m coming up to Montauk on Sunday night. Where am I allowed to park if I want to fish? Planning on getting there around 1-2am. Any south shore beach/area worth fishing that is within a close distance to Montauk have parking? And can I get a permit anywhere close by?


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