Scented soap? Gold-plated faucets? Marble floors? Guests at the Margarita Villas in Kismet know not to expect such luxuries with their overnight stay on Fire Island.
"We don't come in and fluff your pillow and put a mint on it," says owner Greg Pecoraro. "That's not what it's all about."
What a getaway to Fire Island is about is a 20-minute ferry ride that transports passengers to another world, a simpler world without the cars they must leave behind on the mainland. Fire Island is 32 miles long, but it's no more than a mile across, from ocean to bay. Unlike the pretentious Hamptons, most of Fire Island's 17 communities are down-to-earth places where adults pass the days playing Kadima on the sand or Scrabble under their beach umbrellas, and kids sell hand-painted seashells and lemonade from the red Radio Flyer wagons their families use to cart groceries from the general stores.
"You could be at the bar next to a billionaire and you'd never know. They didn't drive up in their Rolls-Royce or Bentley. They rode up on a rusty bicycle with one side of the handlebars missing," Pecoraro says. "That's the charm of this place."
That charm comes at a hefty price, in part because of supply and demand; there simply isn't an abundance of rooms on the island. Most Fire Island rentals are summer homes owners sublet by the week or month. Only a handful of hotels will rent for shorter-term escapes.
Here are some of the main hotels on the island:
Want bustling hubbub and barhopping? Choose Ocean Beach, the biggest community on Fire Island.
168 Cottage Walk, 631-583-8870, palmshotelfireisland.com
The Palms is the most sophisticated of the Ocean Beach establishments, with Manhattan-style modern decor of white duvets, pop art by Roy Lichtenstein and wispy, sheer cloth draped above beds. Be prepared for some compact rooms -- for instance, there may be a king-size bed but no night tables because of tight space.
The Palms offers five boutique locations -- The Palms Main off the village green, The Palms Bungalow at the edge of town, an apartment-style Presidential Penthouse Suite above a store that sleeps 10, and two bayfront buildings, Palms Bay and Palms Bay East.
The Palms Main has a lobby with a Starbucks window, and an outdoor patio with red couches and chairs under umbrellas. Patrons can sign out complimentary beach chairs, umbrellas and bicycles. Palms Bay has a private beach area with two round chaise beds and couches, barbecue grills and kayak rentals.
RATES Start at $395 a night weekends (with two-night minimum); during the week, it's $350 a night. Person reserving must be at least 25 years old.
THE BLUE WATERS
642 Bayberry Walk, 631-583-8295, bluewatershotel oceanbeachfireisland.com
This hotel atop The Landing restaurant, close to the ferry dock, has 19 basic rooms with private baths, blue plaid bedspreads and flat-screen TVs. Five rooms have bay views; the majority have one double bed and one single bed. Guests partake of the included buffet breakfast, which might include cornbread pudding or egg souffle, in a charming, second-floor outdoor deck garden with a driftwood fountain. Bicycles, beach chairs, umbrellas and towels are complimentary. The Blue Waters also has separate Bay House apartments for rent with a two-night minimum.
RATES $275 a night on weekends (with a two-night minimum); $200 a night midweek, stay two nights or more midweek for $175 a night. Person renting must be at least 25 years old.
THE SEASONS BED & BREAKFAST
468 Dehnhoff Walk, 631-583-8295, bluewatershotel oceanbeachfireisland.com
Booking a room at The Seasons is like booking a room in a house. Bathrooms are shared, as is the living room with wood-burning fireplace and flat-screen TV. A patio has clever tables made from surfboards. "Some people like the quaintness of this," manager Elaine Brewster says. The Seasons is affiliated with The Blue Waters; guests have breakfast at its deck garden, for instance.
OCEAN BAY PARK
This community near Ocean Beach offers a mix of families and 20-somethings looking for happy-hour festivities.
THE FIRE ISLAND HOTEL & RESORT
25 Cayuga Walk, 631-583-8000, fireislandhotel.com
This former Coast Guard Station turned hotel has the vibe of a Caribbean vacation spot. Ground zero is the built-in swimming pool -- a rarity at Fire Island hotels. "It's a great attraction for the kids," says manager Patty Loesch. Live guitar music poolside spices up weekend afternoons. Enjoy frozen drinks served in plastic cups. Adirondack chairs dot the lobby; the hotel has a restaurant area called Hurricane's. The 41 rooms range from standard hotel fare for two to cabins that sleep up to six and have a kitchen. The hotel will shuttle suitcases from the ferry dock to the hotel and back. Umbrellas and chairs rent for $5 a day each.
RATES Starting at $285 a night on weekends (three-night minimum) for a room with one double bed. Weekdays start at $239.
FIRE ISLAND PINES
The Fire Island Pines is a primarily gay community, along with the neighboring community of Cherry Grove.
THE MADISON FIRE ISLAND PINES
22 Atlantic Walk, 631-597-6061, themadisonfi.com
The guesthouse's clientele is overwhelmingly gay male. The contemporary-style house offers floor-to-ceiling windows, a second-floor wood deck, an outdoor swimming pool area with chaise lounges and a gazebo-covered hot tub. The kitchen and living room/ dining room area is shared. Breakfast is included; Monday through Friday, it's a continental fare of bagels, fruit and yogurt; weekends, add eggs. A spiral staircase leads to second-floor bedrooms with flat-screen TVs, free high-speed Internet and private baths. Small dogs are welcome in a couple of rooms. Every three weeks, the house's Madison Art and Fashion Summer Series showcases a different artist's works on the walls.
RATES Start at $550 a night on weekends with a two-night minimum; weeknights start at $250.
By weekend, Kismet is a hopping party spot in the shadow of the Fire Island Lighthouse. On weekdays, it's sleepier, offering more peace and quiet.
Margarita Villas has the air of a summer camp bunk -- most of the beds are singles, and none of the sheets match. But each efficiency-style unit has a living room and kitchen and its own deck area with barbecue grill. Outdoor showers and washer-dryer are shared; rooms have air conditioners. Patrons can rent beach chairs and umbrellas for $10 a day each and bikes for $20 a day.
Owner Pecoraro rents the four units in two ways: either Friday and Saturday nights, or a midweek block. He calls the first type of renter the "weekend warrior," and the Sunday- through-Friday people are more likely families looking for a getaway.
This summer, Jake Perdie's adjacent Beach and Vine wine shop will sell local artisanal cheese and sliced meat platters on the hotel's outdoor deck. Says Perdie: "We're trying to do something a little more upscale here."
RATES A Friday-Saturday night weekend and a Sunday-Thursday night midweek block are each $1,495 for a two-bedroom unit, $1,995 for a three-bedroom.