As a wedding anniversary gift every year my wife books us a three night’s stay in Montauk. It is the village I was living in when I met her, but it is so much more. Montauk is a very special place, with a unique state of mind. If you Google “Montauk,” there is only one meaning, that being the tiny fishing village at “The End” of Long Island. It is as east as the East End of Long Island gets.
Surrounded by water on all three sides, it is a peninsula. To the northwest is Gardiner’s Bay, to the north is Block Island Sound, and to the southeast is the Atlantic Ocean. Each great body of water has a shoreline of distinctive bluff’s that says Montauk. In the other direction is the rest of the Long Island. Montauk has an energy that was once called, “The Unhampton!” It drew in the rebels, so many rebels that for years the saying was, “there are no rules in Montauk!” Montauk locals are proud of the fact there is not one single traffic light in Montauk to this date. Where else on the East End do they applaud the sunset like at the Montaukett on 88 Firestone Road, with Stephen “Puck” Dolan always behind the bar there?
Family legend has it that my grandfather Elia Clemente fished in Montauk in the times between 1917-1930 while first living in Manhattan and then in the Bronx. Later my dad would take mom to Montauk on his 43′ Egg Harbor power boat named after my her, the “Lady Elizabeth,” and stay at the Montauk Marine Basin for the month of August. He would fish for tuna usually with three of his four sons, with one of us home to watch the business but with all four of us onboard for weekend fishing. My grown children now in their thirties fondly remember their summer vacations in Montauk when they were both in single digit ages. We flew kites at the Montauk Lighthouse, rode the horses at Deep Hollow Ranch, played miniature golf at Puff and Putt and swam at the gentle and tame Gin Beach. We even found places to stay that would allow us to take our beloved family beagle Casey to Montauk with us.
So when my life came apart, moving to Montauk healed me. I fell in love with who I most affectionately call my “last wife” (Cindi), while living on the Ditch Plains of Montauk. So now every year Cindi books us Montauk for a short local summer vacation – even if we live only one hour and forty-five minutes west.
We love to see Nancy Atlas rock The Surf Lodge on Wednesday evenings and then we sample the fresh fish of Salivar’s Clam and Chowder House. I always tell Cindi about Pete’s “old Salivar’s” that was open all night back when I lived in Montauk. I remember all his old photos everywhere on the Salivar walls, including one of me taken at 5 a.m. We also visit Chet and Jan at O’Murphy’s one of the few places in Montauk where they serve a great Shepard’s Pie, all year-round.
We always have a dinner at the Shagwong, not quite the same since Jimmy Hewitt sold it, but still the Shagwong. Lastly on Friday night we pilgrimage to Liar’s Saloon for Karaoke. Mary Anazalone, along with Katie Walker still tend bar there, as they did 10 years ago! I always drive into the Montauk Marine Basin and think of Carl Darenberg, who when I was single, broke and alone in Montauk took me in under his wing and opened many doors of friendships for me. I must pay my respects to Carl, Lola Snow, Big Rich Einsidler, Jimmy Giles, Big Ray, and Nick Monte along with Roberta Gosman; all friends of mine who made my Montauk years special and who have now passed on. I still see their faces clearly when I visit Montauk.
The pure ocean air is fresh in Montauk. The fish served is always freshly caught. The beaches have the cleanest waters, though at times they can be a bit brisk in temperature while the Lighthouse beams nightly, as it has since George Washington ordered it built. The starlit skies, the moon over the ocean and the sounds of so many gulls at the shores of the bays and oceans have always made Montauk a great summer vacation spot. Thank you Cindi, this year’s stay was wonderful.