The Rolling Stones used to sit at the table in the corner for breakfast and their first snifter of the day. At 3pm.
“That’s when their day started,” says George Watson, owner of The Dock bar and restaurant in Montauk for 31 years. The Stones were staying at Andy Warhol’s estate on top of the nearby bluff, rehearsing before a tour in 1976.
They call Montauk “The End” because it is at the very eastern tip of Long Island, 200km from Manhattan. Officially, it is part of the Hamptons, the high-octane summer playground of New York’s rich and famous — but in every sense Montauk is another planet. Where the Hamptons is Gucci, Montauk is more grunge.
At the dock, the small commercial fishing fleet slips its moorings in the morning and heads out to sea. You can sit outdoors with a coffee or a cocktail at 4pm and watch the boats come back in with their day’s catch — then eat it at Gosman’s or Dave’s Grill or The Dock.
That is the other big draw that Montauk has over the Hamptons: the world-class fishing. The striped bass swim every summer from the shallow waters of Long Island Sound out to the ocean past Montauk in one of the world’s largest annual migrations. The little harbour is crowded with boats offering everything from a $32 (about R193) mini-hop to catch flounder and sole to the $1 000 (about R6 000) charters that chug out towards Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in search of marlin, sharks, swordfish and tuna.
The local population of 2 800 swells to 40 000 at the height of summer, though, and even locals admit that Montauk becomes “pretty insane” in July and August, especially when the shark-fishing season takes off.
Lining the highway that runs along the flat strip of coast from the Hamptons through tiny “downtown” Montauk to the lighthouse at the point are the bulk of the rental chalets and low-rise holiday apartment complexes. Dozens of the larger B&Bs and guesthouses have instant access to the beach. They are 8km from the dock, however, so those without transport could feel a little stranded.
Many locals’ houses and the golf club are in the gently undulating centre of the tiny peninsula that has the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the inland bay side of Long Island Sound on the other, where the fishing dock is. Smaller B&Bs, such as the family-run Green Hedges, can be found here, too, a five-minute walk to the beach or downtown.
Paul Simon does a gig every year at Montauk and donates money to the local societies trying to preserve everything from the eroding sandy bluffs to the historic lighthouse that marks Long Island’s rocky endpoint. Mostly, they want to preserve the village’s unique atmosphere. Difficult when property prices are said to have quadrupled in the past decade.
Nick Deane is a former publisher from New York. His nightclub is packed to the rafters on weekends. “It’s becoming more uptown, but I am pleased about that,” he says.
Not everyone in Montauk will agree. But if the Rolling Stones ever come back, they would find enough of the character — and the characters — that brought them here 30 years ago to be reassured that it remains very much the un-Hamptons. — Â