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An Insider’s Guide to Doing Montauk

Travel

From marina eats to Panoramic View inns, our pick of the last harbor in the Hamptons we’ll ever track to

Montauk, gentrified? That’s the word of late, as the enduring high prices and general tackiness of the “other” Hamptons-that’s you, East and Southampton–has staled some to going “out there” this summer.

But we say, “au contraire.” Surf Lodge and Montauk Yacht Club and that faux-New York-y Sole East Beach motel notwithstanding, Montauk’s still got great grit, awesome bars and restaurants, and a salty local vibe, if you know where to go.

Here’s our three-day weekend plan.

Leave early Friday morning, and trajectory to the LIE East, so you can beat much of the traffic. This way you’ll miss all the stupid folk art fairs and corn and arugula festivals that slow traffic through Bridgehampton and Amagansett on the weekends.

Shoot up Route 27 until it becomes the Old Montauk Highway (it forks to the right a few miles after you pass the reliable Clam Bar and overrated lobster roll shillery Lunch. It’s one of the most fun rollercoaster roads we get to take around these parts, with lovely views of the dunes and Turner-esque seas. Right before you get to Gurney’s-the retirement home, so to speak, for wealthy, sand-bucket list beachgoers on the East End-you’ll see a sign for the Panoramic View Resort & Residences (panoramicview.com). Turn in (but make a reservation beforehand, duh).

THE INNS
For years, we have stayed at the East Deck Motel (eastdeckmotel.com) way up there on Ditch Plains Road, for its laidback atmosphere, surfer lodgers, wood-paneled rooms that look like a Terry Richardson shoot location, and the wonderful Ditch Witch burrito and coffee mobile stand (say hey to amiable local surfers Cynthia Rowley and reality art-critic hubby Bill Powers). But we’re growing up, and the “character” of it all has worn thin (although not the modest price-tag).

On a tip, we heard about the Panoramic, and passed it in our car frequently, marveling at its 1960s-vibed multiple aeries, dotting the ragged-beauty property, from cottages right on the beach to cliff-hanging perches in the main buildings. Its white-washed, clapboard “surf-boardings” shouted, “Stay Here.”

While the nifty little efficiencies and one-and-two bedrooms, with kitchenettes, remain, a healthy chunk of the lush lots-including a handful of beach-indigenous, state-of-the-art luxury residences, stilted on the sands and renovated last year-are up for sale, starting for under $2 million (which is a pretty damned good price, considering the location, location, location, daily housekeeping, and concierge services built in). We peeked inside one of them-some have five bedrooms!-and well, we could live there year round-or let the owners sublet for us in the summer months.

So we stayed in one of the more humble lodgings, and it still had views of the ocean from all angles, plus two entranceways to come in and out of. Nothing like a corner lot, as our father would say, “Always ask for a corner, in any hotel.”

The pool is right on the beach and big enough to do laps in. And the “lifeguard” wasn’t a pool dictator. Easy, breezy. The realtor-manager “Ed” is a prep-dressed, salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, a former Wall Streeter-turned-beach-lover. He actually cares about Montauk, and not just a sale.

If you’re staying at the Panoramic, be sure to stock up on liquor and food, preferably at the IGA on Main Street. For hotel guests, there’s an ice machine, and flat-screen, cable TVs (a rarity here), but no frills, no coffee machines. In fact, it’s part of what we like about it. It’s got just what you need: simple white-cotton bedding, big beds, airiness, open windows, views to kill, private terraces, pristine white beaches with umbrella-and-beach-towel service below. Everyone is nice as all get-out that works there (something in the water?).

DAYTIME
But you must also stop at Herb’s Montauk Market (herbsmontaukmarket.com). Call in advance for a full order of the best fried chicken this side of the Mason-Dixon. And get a pound of their potato salad as well. It’s the perfect beach picnic fare. This chicken is best served cold.

Before jumping into an early dinner-as is done here-go mix with the Redneck Riviera gang at Cyril’s Fish House (cyrilsfishhouse.com) on the Montauk Highway, back toward the Amagansett dunes. The bedraggled, namesake Vietnam vet, who also did time in the Florida Keys, is the real deal. The place is packed noon and on with a rowdy but pleasant patronage. It’s more Waylon Jennings than Jimmy Buffett. And no one will mock you for ordering a strong strawberry daiquiri (on busy days, go to the outdoor bar in the back, where the train whistles from the Long Island Railroad tracks are blowing).
Unlike most outdoor patios in the Hamptons, including the Clam Bar, Cyril’s is smoke-friendly, even in the semi-covered front bar. We enjoy the crab cakes and the blackened mako sandwich.

DINNER
We’ve tried most of the joints along the main drag, and nothing’s really special. Instead, take off toward the Montauk fishing docks and marinas, past the Manhattan-at-the-Beach that is Surf Lodge, and use your GPS to find the aptly named Hideaway (thehideaway.com), and West Lake Clam & Chowder House, both by the Diamond Point Marina.

The Chowder House can be annoying. Even if you get there at noon, you will wait for a lunch table. Get there at 5 p.m., and same deal. But there’s a reason it’s so packed all the time. It’s awesome, fresh seafood, brought in right off its docks, the bar scene is wild and fun, and the place shows vintage trophy-and-shark-fishing videos on its big screen that are reason enough to go there. There’s even a sushi bar, and it’s as good as Nobu-truly.  (What makes sushi special? Freshness, end of story.) The hostess will hand you a plastic lobster-when you’re table is ready it will blink. Oh, leave your cell phone’s off., or you’ll get tossed.

When the Chowder House is too crowded, we follow the gang planks along the waterside, and squeeze through dry-docked boats , looking for the giant red pepper, the Hideaway’s tell-tale beacon in the storm. That is how you find this shack-like, open-air Mexican cantina that is a favorite of locals.  When it’s good, it’s great. Fish and shrimp tacos, yes.  Sopas tostados, indeed. And the atmosphere makes you feel like you are really a part of Montauk and the fishermen life. Afternoons, it’s the place to bring a crowd, and hang out on the spacious, picnic-tabled patios, downing tequila shots.

Our late-night haunts are Shagwong Tavern (shagwong.com) and the Memory Bar & Motel (montaukvacations.com). Shagwong is where you can let your freaky-flag fly, dancing to the deejays, alongside robust Irish-descent locals, would-be pot dealers, and some rough stuff. Big fun: an Irish pub that also serves decent fish and chips and the like. Peanut shells on the floor, you get the picture.

The Memory, if it serves us, is the place to see laughably bad local rock bands, but it was good enough for the Rolling Stones. Hilarious late-night stop. But watch for cops. They prowl around every corner during peak season.

THE MORNING AFTER
Get up at dawn and head to Salivars Bar and Diner (Yelp Link) on the docks, and watch the fishermen get ready to go out, over a sunny-side-up breakfast special at the diner’s counter. You’ll have a hard time breaking from the walls of photos showing the big catches over the years. It may make you think twice about hitting the waves-after all, some inspiration from “Jaws” came out of here.

Then, head back into town, and rent a couple of retro Electra cruiser bicycles at the Air & Speed Board Shop (airandspeedsurf.com) on Main Street, where you can also pick up some sturdy flip-flops and a distressed,  long-sleeved surf shirt. The family-owned place is as nice as it gets. Montauk’s hills and dales offer a scenic, and very-real workout. Take to the Old Montauk Highway, and break for some breeze at one of the many hidden-away public beaches.

Thursdays through Sundays, if you are a collector of vintage stuff, you must pay a visit to Melet Mercantile (631-668-9080), off the beaten path of Montauk, on gravel-shot Industrial Road. This is a shack of many surprises, from great surfing books and curios to 1960s board shorts. It isn’t cheap, but these are excavated treasures. Nautical cool-hunting personified. At night, it becomes the hangout for hipster locals, with various benefit art parties and live deejays happening and turn-tabling, respectively, in the adjoining garage space (that’s you, Paul Sevigny).

If you’re leaving in the late afternoon to go back to the city, a must-stop is Turtle Crossing (turtlecrossing.com) in Amagansett. Great barbecued ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, frozen margaritas, and you may see Steven Spielberg, or Bill Clinton, with their hair down, and bare feet up there.

Disclaimer: Anyone who thinks that Sean MacPherson is going to “ruin” Montauk by redoing the fabled Crow’s Nest bar, slated to open next summer, is sorely mistaken. MacPherson is a veteran surfer and longtime, respectful Montauk-ian.  It’s an addition, not a subtraction, to the rough-and-tumble Montauk scene.

Now, go.

- Steve Garbarino

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