The Un-Hamptons: Montauk
Montauk Point Lighthouse
By Shari Hartford
Take the Long Island Expressway (Route 495) to exit 70 to Route 27 and when you reach the first Hampton um, keep going. My favorite place on the planet is not trendy, not always warm and sunny and certainly not filled with a choice of posh accommodations and chic nightlife. I'm taking about Montauk. The End. The last stop before Europe.
We started going to Montauk in the early 70s. My husband and I would pile the kids into the old Volvo station wagon and head out to the parking lot of the lighthouse (more on the lighthouse later). There we would display our fishing permit (cost then, $5 for the year) and sleep under the stars in the car. When nature called, we could rely on the clean, heated bathrooms in the parking lot. In the morning, breakfast was at Anthony's Pancake and Waffle House. The years passed. The town got wise and closed the parking lot at dark, the Volvo died, Anthony went to Greece for the winter and closed the restaurant and the kids grew up. But the appeal of Montauk just grew with the years.
We've returned many, many times through the years and have always remarked about how little change has taken place. When the Hamptons got trendy and unaffordable, Montauk was still Montauk. Then, maybe in the past five years, subtle changes started to take place, the most notable being that restaurants and motels started to accommodate a year round crowd. With many options now available, here's a laundry list of favorites both mine and from other devotees.
Clam Bar, Montauk.
Old Montauk Highway is the right [oceanside] fork on Route 27. Take the old for all the action. If you're hungry after your drive, you'll come to Lobster Roll, Clam Bar and Cyril's. They all serve the same beachy food: lobster rolls, chowder, fried clams, fresh fish, etc. The differences are in the ambiance. Lobster Roll (a.k.a. Lunch) has indoor dining, Clam Bar has umbrellaed tables, and Cyril's has, well, Cyril, an old salt with a flowing gray mane, and a fondness for conversation, who winters in the Caribbean. Other Montauk dining choices include Gosman's Dock, a seafood institution for over 60 years, Trail's End, a towny favorite for over 70 years and the Shagwong, a bar where you'll rub shoulders with crusty fishermen and a back dining room serving terrific local fare. But, my favorite Montauk restaurant is Harvest. Located waterside on Fort Pond, Harvest serves family-style Tuscan cuisine in an informal atmosphere. Sit back, watch the sunset and be prepared to eat the entire bread basket. Reservations are a must and are available one week in advance.
If you wake up hungry dash over to the bare bones John's Pancake House. The no-nonsense waitresses will serve up light-as-a-feather pancakes, crepes or a pancake sandwich with eggs. Starving and can't get into John's? Walk down Main Street to The Plaza, a traditional Greek diner serving three-egg feta omelets all year round.
Since you won't be sleeping in the car (I hope) you'll need a place to stay. Like other beach communities, condominiums that rent like motels abound. Most are decent, some better than others, and all book up during the "season." If you're looking for a true resort, the famous Gurney's Inn Resort & Spa, the Montauk Yacht Club and Montauk Manor are your choices. For a comfortable night's sleep while listening to the waves, check out the Wavecrest, Briny Breezes, Royal Atlantic Beach Resort and Sands Motel. All have a pool and most have kitchenette facilities.
Montauk isn't all about vegging on the beach and fishing. There is actually sightseeing and outdoor activities away from the waterfront. A trip "out east" isn't complete without a visit to the Montauk Point Lighthouse, commissioned by President George Washington in 1792. Climb the 137 steps to the deck for a stunning view of the ocean. The Second House Museum, a 1700s farmhouse, was recently renovated and houses new exhibits and photos in addition to spectacular rose and herb gardens. Self-guided nature trails abound, including Walking Sand Dunes, Theodore Roosevelt County Park, Camp Hero State Park, Montauk Point State Park and Hither Hills State Park. But be sure to mind the tick signs dress appropriately and stay on the trails. For horseback riding, mosey on over to Deep Hollow Ranch or Rita's Stables. And, finally, Montauk Downs State Park offers a public 18-hole golf course and tennis courts.
Don't be fooled into thinking that Montauk is a summer destination. Early fall and spring are lovely times to visit, before the tourists but when the days are warm and the nights cool down. The winter is a great time to bundle up and take a walk along the beach. If you're lucky you'll encounter the diehard surfers in their wet suits enjoying the winter waves.
For more information about Montauk, visit montauk-online.com.