Article and Photo by Sherry Amatenstein
Montauk is a state of mind. Even in the late spring rain and blow-your-hat-off-wind, huddled in a jacket and wearing boots, it’s better to shiver here than just about anywhere on the planet.
True, this 7-mile long slice of heaven located on the tip of Long Island’s South Fork peninsula was battered by Hurricane Sandy. For instance, the Beach Barge restaurant at the iconic Gurney’s Inn fell on its side and partially washed away. However, Montauk sustained minimal damage compared for instance to East End sibling Fire Island, which was breached in two places yet nonetheless is open for business.
From the balcony of my suite at Gurney’s overlooking the hotel’s pristine private beach, the “tip” looks uber-ready for its close-up. Even the Beach Barge has been rebuilt and is once again dispensing drinks and nibbles.
In the decades since my first visit to Montauk at age 17 (don’t ask how many decades), it has morphed from a sleepy fishing village into a chic enclave dotted with exquisite restaurants and fashion-forward boutiques. Happily, Montauk retains the casual (i.e., not Hampton-esque) air that means Lee jeans and tees won’t be met with scorn.
A major reason Montauk has not been consumed by gentrification is that nearly 40 percent is state or county parkland–thus can’t be developed. For instance Hither Hills State Park offers hiking and biking trails, naturalist-led walks, open air dancing, Montauk’s only public campgrounds and miles and miles of white sandy beach.
There’s a strong surfing community at Hither and at some of Montauk’s gorgeous though increasingly-crowded-in-summer beaches like Edison Beach, Gin Beach and Ditch Plains Beach. The latter features spectacular cliffs and rock formations.
The focal point of the village’s storied deep-sea fishing is at Montauk Harbor, which hosts many marinas, hundreds of party, charter and boat rentals. Though the owners at Gosman’s Dock Restaurant, a Montauk landmark since 1943, have begun to rest on their laurels, it’s fun to walk around the surrounding shops or stop at Gosman’s
Clam bar or fish market.
But don’t thumb your nose at paying respects to Montauk Point Lighthouse, commissioned by George Washington in 1792. Hiking the 137 claustrophobic iron steps to the top of this still active lighthouse rewards you with an extraordinary view that extends to the Rhode Island coastline.
Back on land, simple pleasures can be found in the town center – really a circle! – which features a pagoda. Hopefully you’ll happen by while music is being performed as townies and tourists munch slices from Pizza Village.
The wholesome pleasures of the 18-hole Puff ‘n’ Puff still attract miniature golf enthusiasts. However the “war” between the ‘purist’ and the ‘progressive’ locals can become heated over symbols of the new Montauk exemplified by tony hotels like The Surf Lodge (which recently featured Willie Nelson) Ruschmeyer’s, and the raucous nightclub Sloppy Tuna.
There is room for both as long as Montauk retains its essential low-key character that allows all types to feel welcome. Hear that, East Hampton?
The Montauk that keeps me returning year after year is the one that showcases sunsets hand-dipped by God. I have learned to bypass heated arguments about exactly where to find the uber-best view, but to enjoy the moment from wherever I wind up – though I recommend a sunset cruise or countdown to sunset at Montauket Restaurant overlooking Fort Pond Bay.
More must-dos – an invigorating class at the graffiti-covered studio inhabited by Love Yoga (http://loveyogamontauk.com/site.html), a dip in the sea water pool at Gurney’s Spa and Thalasso Center, lobster rolls at Cyril’s Fish House (preferable to my palate than those at the nearby, much-publicized Lunch) and most reverently, when the weather cooperates – reveling in the perfection of a star-kissed bonfire on the beach.
Utopia, thy name is Montauk.
To arrange your trip, check out www.montaukchamber.com.