By Ann Boutcher
I have just returned from a glorious week in Montauk. For those of you who have never been- – Montauk is a cross between ‘The land that time forgot’ and ‘Paradise’. The town has nicknamed itself “The End’ largely because if you step into the water on its south side, the next land you touch is England; it is quite literally the end of the good ole USA at least as far as New York State is concerned. While it sits only some 13 miles east of its nearest Hampton neighbor; it might as well be a thousand miles away.
First clue, there is no Starbucks in Montauk. Second clue, based on my less than scientific survey, the two busiest restaurants appear to be pancake houses. Third clue, Montauk is a family town. There were like a million kids in the hotel pool and all over the town beach, which by the way is the cleanest beach I have ever seen. When the sun goes down the sand is illuminated by campfires as families and singles continue their beach worship well into the night. In the wee hours the beach is groomed by a machine that resembles a Zamboni resurfacing the ice between periods at a Ranger game. It’s amazing. Burnt logs are removed, fire pits covered and sand smoothed. Having grown up with city beaches as my reference points…this is something entirely different.
People come to Montauk for the fishing and for the beach. Throw in a little night life and one of the very casual four star restaurants and you have the perfect vacation. Go on July 4th and you get treated to Grucci fireworks as the Montauk Chamber of Commerce presents “Stars over Montauk”, shot from Umbrella Beach; the best seats in the house are virtually anywhere on the sand…and it’s free.
Montauk’s Main Street is lined with shop after shop offering kitschy goodies, beach wear, beach toys and souvenirs; no sign of the tony stores that line the main streets of the other East End towns. Don’t get me wrong there is as much money here as there is ‘up Island’. I love that phrase…”I’m going up Island for a while”, which translates, I need some retail therapy at a designer shop.
You want to see wealth on display? Just wander over to the Montauk Yacht Club or Star Island and lay your eyes on millions of dollars in floating mansions. Here is where you will find some of the captains of industry come to get their best Johnnie Depp on as they become captains on the sea. The inlet is the gateway to Block Island, Nantucket and some of the most incredible big game fishing on the east coast.
There is history in Montauk if you are so inclined and can tear yourself away from the natural beauty. The Montauk Lighthouse is the oldest in New York State having opened in 1796 after being commissioned by the Second Congress under President George Washington. It is a working light and its beam flashes every five seconds and can be seen for 19 miles. Second House Museum is actually the second house built there in the early 1700’s and remains much the same today as it was then….but the most intriguing history of Montauk dates back to the 1920’s when the town as we know it today was actually born.
Carl Fisher bought the 10,000 acres of land that encompassed Montauk in 1925 with the intent on turning it into ‘the Miami Beach of the north’. He knew how to build a resort. After all just a few years before Fischer had taken the 3,500 acre barrier beach that ran next to Miami, which at the time was not much more than a mosquito infested swamp and turned it into dazzling Miami Beach a playground for the rich and famous. His plan was to do the same but on a much bigger scale in Montauk.
He constructed Montauk Manor (now a condominium resort hotel restored to its original splendor) as a place for the rich and famous to vacation. He built a world class golf course where you can still play today and developed roads and infrastructure to make his resort city work. His most ambitious achievement was turning sleepy Montauk Lake from a fresh water land-locked lake into a salt water channel to the Atlantic. Then he dredged the lake so it could accommodate pleasure and fishing boats on a grand scale. Today Montauk is home to the largest commercial and recreational fishing fleet on the East Coast.
Unfortunately, Fischer’s grand plan was cut short by the Great Depression, which depending on your point of view may or may not be a good thing. Development stopped at the playground for the rich and famous and it became a normal town in a spectacular setting. Some of Fischer’s buildings fell into neglect are only now enjoying resurgence but the ‘bones’ of the town never changed, which is the idea that this is what a vacation paradise should be. What Fisher started is embedded in the funky mix that makes Montauk both a high-end and extremely casual experience.
Some Montauk Musings…..
- Speedo’s should really only be worn by Olympic athletes… period. If your gut rolls out over the Speedo it is just not a look for you.
- Ladies the same goes for you and your bikini…if the time has passed… its passed..get over it. You don’t really need anyone but you and your mirror for that reality check.
- Your children do not want something to cry about and threatening a crying child with ‘if you don’t stop I will give you something to cry about’ didn’t work when I was a kid and it does not work now.
- Large men doing cannonballs to impress their children tend to look foolish…. not to mention how much water they drain out of the pool….and speaking of the pool,
- Why is there never a bathroom within striking distance of the pool? Is this so every hotel can guarantee that all the children pee in the pool?
- For fun, watch unsuspecting tourists at Gosman’s dock battle swooping sea gulls as they steal the French fries right off their plates.
- The Charter Fishing Boat will not turn back no matter how many times you throw up. Just say no, you go ahead, I’ll just shop while you fish.
- And really does there need to be SEVEN kinds of rum in the rum punch when just one shot of 151 will render you stupid?
We go at least once a year to recharge our batteries. Sun, sand and surf do that for us. We stay at one of the resorts perched right on the sand with the ocean literally yards from our balcony. We fall asleep to the sound of the waves pounding the shore and wake to the first rays of sun dancing across the water. It simply does not get any better than that.
If you’ve never been to Montauk add it to your bucket list. If it’s been a long time… go back; it’s worth the trip. There is nothing more special than breathing in the cool salt air and watching the orange ball of the sun as it pops up over the ocean at dawn filled with the promise of another wonderful day in paradise….after that, go for the pancakes…..
Ann Boutcher has a knack for finding insights and humor in everyday moments. Until now, her published writing has been limited to work, but now, thanks to this wonderful opportunity as a guest editor, the world will get to witness firsthand her humor, life experiences and the gift of gab she brings to the pages of The Three Tomatoes.