I've loved Montauk since I was a kid, when Montauk still had the image of kind of a raunchy fishing village too isolated to attract all but the most determined vacationers. Montauk is so far out on the East End of Long Island that the next populated area to the east is in Portugal. There's a lighthouse in Montauk Point, at the very tip of Long Island.
Natives love the lighthouse because it's there, lighthouse buffs love it because it's a lighthouse on the Atlantic Coast (fewer of those every year), children love it because of the climbing, the rocks and the hot dogs, and for everyone else, well, it's a lighthouse.
English settlers showed up here looking for summer pasture lands in 1660. They found some, but this seems to be the last time that summer people took advantage of the locals. Since then, Montauk has seen one boom-and-bust tale after another, including, in the past century, dark legends of quiet deliveries during Prohibition, heroism during hurricanes, and nazi submarines coming dangerously close to shore during World War II. I believe all of these. Four saboteurs actually made it ashore a little to the west, but were caught when their tale of late-night clamming didn't convince anyone.
Montauk has endless beaches, a genial priest who blesses the diminishing fishing fleet every spring, decent surfing, and bars that stay open all night to keep the fishermen warm.
The Rolling Stones really did stay in the Memory Motel; Norman Bates didn't, although before a recent makeover, it looked like he had a share in it.
Teddy Roosevelt drilled his Rough Riders here, and late at night, stretched out on worn beach blankets, we'd pretend to hear a cry of "Charge!" followed by hoofbeats.
On to Montauk then, with only a brief stop at a Beloved Local Institution called
LUNCH for lunch. LUNCH is also known as The Lobster Roll, and if you like mayonnaise and celery served with a smile in crowded conditions, this is the place for you. My definition of Beloved Local Institution appeared in this post, and it's certainly applicable here. Hungry, on the road, oh, well. We both ordered fried clams. At the end of a silent, grumpy meal, we decided that sometime early this fall we'll just drive up to Ipswich for our fried clam fix, because what we'd had here just didn't count. Here's a picture of the Clam Box in Ipswich, Mass. Vaut le voyage, as they say.
Back on the road, continuing east on the Old Montauk Highway, stopping at the overlook to look at the ocean and restore our souls, if not our tummies. Oh, the beach, the beach. This is why I find the French (and Italian) Riviera such a let-down. Yes, the water's pretty, so are the boats, so are the people, but the beaches themselves are short narrow patches or strips of gray, pointy pebbles, nothing like a pale, natural sand beach that goes on forever. When you've grown up longing to travel and explore, it's disillusioning to learn that paradise may in fact be, um, about an hour to the East, allowing for traffic. And it's not just the Riviera, mind. Jimmy Buffett, bard of the Gulf of Mexico, lives in one of our little towns out here. Peter Mayle made a bundle of money singing the praises of the good life in Provence, and spent it on a place out here, had to return to Provence to write some more. Even Dr. John -- well, don't wanna bring any coises down on my head so I'll stop now. I'm just glad I didn't know I lived so near to earthly paradise when I was a kid. It would have stunted my growth.
Stanford White built some elegant homes on the cliffs in Montauk during his heyday, the man who developed Miami lost a fortune trying to do the same out here, and more recently a property known as the Ranch sold for an unconscionable amount of money. But the spread of McMansions generally has been slowed by the economy, and there are still quite a few of the old summer-y beach and fishing shacks that historically made Montauk accessible to ordinary people. You don't have to look hard.
Astoundingly, we were still hungry after our unsatisfying lunch, so we grabbed some glorious chowder at Duryea's Dock before heading home.
Left hoping that gentrification gets stuck in traffic and gives up.