The Midnight Rambler -Tumbleweed Tuesday and the Montauk Changes Continue – 2016

John Papciak
The Midnight Rambler
Tumbleweed Tuesday and the Montauk Changes Continue – 2016

Ten years ago if I told you surfboards would be for sale inside Johnny’s Tackle in Montauk, there would have been calls for civil disobedience.

But this summer the fishing community took it with a yawn, the latest chapter in the transformation of Montauk.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Now that Tumbleweed Tuesday (the day after Labor Day when the army of seasonal tourists have departed) is upon us, let’s start with the summer of 2016.

I could have easily titled this essay “The Empire Strikes Back,” but it would have been hard decide who the Evil Empire really is in this struggle.

Let me start with the Town Of East Hampton.

They came down hard on the partiers in 2016. They cracked down on the bars. Cyril’s did not survive and the Sloppy Tuna (with the help of some reported problems among the owners) was placed under new management. The rest, most importantly those who didn’t have permits for outdoor music, were silenced. It all sounded rather Draconian, and some locals in the business of catering to the rowdies tried to make it out to be that way. But it really wasn’t. Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell spoke last summer about nipping it at the bud – when businesses innocently expanded their footprint – and by the time trouble arrived in limos full of drunk and obnoxious city kids, it was hard to unravel the mess and figure out what the pre existing or ‘traditional’ business was all about in the first place. A quant little restaurant adds a deck, then an outdoor bar, then a small stage for an acoustic guitar, then a bigger stage with amps, then a DJ, then more of the parking lot is sacrificed to hold more people…

The Town also cracked down on illegal renting. Each Montauk homeowner wishing to rent had to register with the town before offering their house with the agencies or on-line. This included what amounted to a signed affidavit that the house was in compliance with all building and fire codes, and an agreement that there would be no short term or volume ‘share houses’ being offered via things like Air BnB. These enforcement tools, along with another year of a greater show of police enforcement in the downtown area, worked! Weekends were generally much more tame, and weekday nights were – dare I say it – sometimes described by locals as ‘kinda dead.’

The Evil Empire could also just have easily been the hipsters.

This millennial demographic most certainly filled the void left by the partiers of 2015. And if I had to choose between the two of them, I guess I’d take the man-buns. At least the hipsters generally pee where they are supposed to, and they do a better job of holding onto their liquor.

So surfboards are cool, latte is cool, especially riding around with both in a vintage Defender or Bronco. Hey, I’m sure I looked pretentious or silly at times in the 80s and 90s, so I really can’t knock them too much now. They certainly seem to have more money than I ever did when I was their age. Besides, they are almost certainly here to stay…getting a little older, a little richer. Some even have kids themselves now. There’s even a prediction out there that this will eventually help Montauk return to being a family destination. I see some of it already.

So on balance, things could be a helluva lot worse.

What about fishing? At the moment, fishing is NOT cool. Not at all. It’s kind of a blessing, but kind of sad, all at the same time. The previous -and now aging- boomer generation might be the last to really experience the old ‘fishing Montauk,’ with a hands-on appreciation of fish migrations and the local ecosystem. Fewer and fewer people will care if the squid or herring are in, or if the bass population tanks. There won’t be a bump in tackle sales, unless these millennials further explore the roots of Montauk. They will have no understanding or appreciation of casting under the lighthouse on a moonless night, watching shooting stars explode across the sky.

But alas, as the popular saying goes, ‘Less plugs in the rip.’

So Johnny’s is now a specialty coffee shop, serving clothing and custom designed surfboards made by a shaper from Australia, I’m told. They all seemed quite nice actually, Australian accents and all.image2

‘The creative team from Manhattan decided that Montauk was the perfect place for expansion,’ one of them explained to me. So they have a creative team, check.

I wanted to ask them – in keeping with Montauk traditions and all – if I could still weigh my fish out back. Maybe pose for a picture to make ‘the wall.’ But instead I just smiled and nodded as they continued to tell me how the new shop blended with the Montauk vibe – the new artisanal vibe, that is.

There have been many other changes in businesses, but the situation at Johnny’s pretty much sums it up. And besides, maybe the new owners won’t yell at customers like Johnny did. But if you do drop by for their signature macchiato and some gluten-free baked goods, it’s probably still a good idea to take your Korkers off and leave them at the door.

The prognosis for the fall?

There were a fair number of large bass stacked up in the rips just prior to this writing, and plenty of gorilla blues close in close on both the north and south sides. We might be just one good storm away from the action really lighting up.

As of this writing the beaches are all in good condition, and plenty wide for 4×4 access. We have yet to see how the replenished beach in town, supported by buried sandbags, will hold up to a good Northeast pounding. Hopefully it won’t be too unpleasant a surprise, and not too soon either.

Speaking of replenishment, the Army Corp of Engineers has proposed to rebuild rock formation under the Montauk lighthouse. The proposed rocks would be bigger, and extend well beyond the current formation. As a point of reference, the ‘Pill Box’ would be completely buried, and rocks would extend at least 20 feet further, potentially redirecting the incoming rip further east.


But with anything with the Corps, the proverbial ‘box of chocolates’ is the best way to explain it. Regardless of the proposal, in the end you just never know what you are going to get.

Just make sure you behave yourselves.

Make sure you have all your permits up to date.

Don’t assume that you won’t get ticketed parking in a town lot in the off season. (Which comes later and later each year).

If you want to have a beach bonfire on Town beaches, you are almost guaranteed to get a ticket….unless you’ve got the following:

-A shovel
-A large bucket filled with water
– A large metal tub, no fire on the sand
– No driftwood, no lumber, definitely no pressure treated wood or railroad ties

Yet again, you’ll likely be paying a bit more at the motels and restaurants. But a few of them are hoping to stay open a bit later this year. The first batch will close just after Columbus Day, the next will shutter after Veteran’s Day. But it’s really hard to pin down a specific business, they are all understandably reluctant to stick to hard dates.

-Surfcasters Tournament Sept 9 – Nov 26
-Seafood Festival Sept 10-11
-Montauk Surf Classic Sept 23-25
-Montauk Fall Festival Oct 8
-Lighthouse Holiday Lighting Nov 26

2 comments on “The Midnight Rambler -Tumbleweed Tuesday and the Montauk Changes Continue – 2016

  1. bob jones

    I’m a little disappointed.
    There was a rumor that Johnny’s was going to become: Trump’s Huge Tackle Emporium.
    Thanks for the update. I’m packing my truck. B


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