For Fire Island's Kismet, outrageous house names spell good times
Getting around in Kismet really isn't hard. Just step off the ferry and head south toward the ocean until you see Pasta Sunday. From there, make a right and continue until spotting Island Hopper. Turn right and you'll pass Forbidden City before making another right at Come What May. Now, a left immediately before The Kismet Taj Mahal sends you back toward the ferry dock and center of town.
These are just some of the "addresses" you'll find along the handful of streets in Kismet, one of Fire Island's 17 communities that, combined, have roughly 430 year-round residents. Kismet itself boasts 53 families. These names won't show up in a GPS. Instead, you can find the names of 250 of the 265 houses on a colorful map illustrated by a local artist and sold to help raise funds for the fire department.
"As you might guess from the house names, there's a ton of fun to be found in Kismet," said Sam Wood, 63, a full-time resident who moved to Kismet with his family at age four and owns the home Wood Stock. "There's also a lot of history."
"Kismet," which derives from Arabic roots, hints at positive destiny that's simply meant to be. Which is how many residents describe their lives here.
Putting them on the map
"Selling the map became necessary after the COVID-19 pandemic crunched our department's more traditional public fundraising events," explained Kismet Fire Chief Cody Baker, 43.
"It's a great map that really gets this little town," said Baker, who was born in Bay Shore, grew up in California, and settled in Kismet in 2001. These days, he lives year-round in a rental called Nana's on East Lighthouse Walk.
"Already it's raised over $2,500 to help us purchase non-budgeted vehicle equipment, firefighting gloves, hand tools and the like," Baker said. The 16-by-20-inch map sells for $25 framed at the Kismet Fire Department. Copies can be ordered by emailing Dana DeRuvo, 65, who serves as president of the Kismet Fire Department Auxiliary. She noted the community pulled together to get creative with its fundraising. A 10-member committee oversaw the process.
"We realized the maps hadn't been redone in 40 years and figured we could sell them without close personal contact," she said. "As the project got rolling, we appointed five street captains, one for each walk, that were responsible for making sure every house was included."
Visitors to Kismet can view a much larger, 24-by-60-inch banner version of the map that's posted directly across from the Kismet Inn Marina on Bay Walk.
"That map is actually mounted on my fence," said DeRuvo, a nurse at Woodhull School in nearby Ocean Beach. She spends March through December with her husband, Joe Hanner, 69, a retired construction worker, at the home they dubbed La Famiglia as a nod to their Italian heritage. The couple spend the rest of the year in Bay Shore.
Originally published in 1978 and again in 1981, the map was redesigned in 2020 by artist Jim Phelan, who grew up just across Great South Bay in Brightwaters. The old maps were black and white and had less detail, said Phelan. The new one is punched up with vibrant colors, more homes, plus drawings of deer, whales, the nearby lighthouse, beach fishing and other details intrinsic to this tight-knit community.
From Woods Hole to Wood Stock
Recognizing a home with a name adds to the community's warmth and pride, DeRuvo said, adding that visitors enjoy trying to unravel the cryptic meanings. Her home some years hosts a live band from its upper deck on Memorial Day weekend.
"It is quite a sight when the music gets going," she admitted.
To be sure, there's no shortage of Kismet homes to view — and no two look exactly the same because there are no cookie-cutter developments.
At Woods Hole, for example, you'll discover a home with the same name as the town and oceanographic institution in Massachusetts, with an atrium running through it and a big stained-glass window made from beach glass. Wood Stock, meanwhile, awakens a 1960s vibe with its large, colored panels. You'll spy nice gardens at the modern ranch-style home called Forbidden City, and likely get a kick out of the big sign at Visiting Ours, whose owners run a funeral home. Then there's Lazy Bones, which was razed and reconstructed after Superstorm Sandy and now sits about 30 feet above ground. Its owners are Kismet chiropractors.
Chris and Barry Rosenblum, 62 and 70, respectively, are the owners of Happy Ours, the most northwestern home in Kismet. They purchased their property in 1999, call it a dream come true, and love inviting family and friends to watch sunsets. When not in Kismet, the couple live in Stamford, Conn.
"Our house name is a play on words, of course, but it's 100% true," says Chris, a onetime stay-at-home mother and retired marketing manager whose husband is a retired president of Time Warner Cable Co. "We have so many great memories here."
'Anchored in Kismet'
Nestled between Fire Island Lighthouse to the west and Saltaire to the east, Kismet is stamped in a rough grid pattern, its assortment of homes uniquely set on small plots aligning a weave of boardwalk planking rather than paved roads. Few properties boast fences or walls to proclaim territorial boundaries — or fend off the deer herd. Fewer still sport the green lawns to which Long Islanders are so accustomed.
"A relaxed and welcoming laissez-faire attitude dominates most activities here, as long as people act reasonably," said DeRuvo. "You can play your music, hang out with family and friends, or walk your dog along the surf with no worries. We're a little separated from the rest of the world, which allows for a unique brand of independence. I can't imagine anywhere else feels quite the same."
Wood, a self-described jack of all trades, runs a construction business that has built many of the homes in the community, dabbles in real estate, and is president of the Kismet Historical Society.
"Visitors might not realize that the 1938 Hurricane absolutely crushed Kismet, destroying nearly every home," he relates. "It wasn't until the 1950s that people began to build here again."
According to Wood, those initial efforts saw homes more typical of what you would expect on Long Island's South Shore: three-bedroom ranch-style houses. In the 1960s however, the influence of prominent New York City builders began to seep into the area, resulting in homes that had unique designs and a more beach community flavor.
It was late in the decade that the federal government instituted the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which reduced the financial risk of building in flood-prone areas. Wood said that's when development really took off.
Today, it's rare to find a home in Kismet valued at less than $700,000, he said, noting four to 15 homes typically change hands each year. "Still, this community remains diverse with a range of residents from high-end professionals to blue-collar workers and families that have been coming here for years. My folks paid $800 for their building lot in 1959."
Tight to the ocean beach at the south end of East Lighthouse Walk, Here By The Sea And Sand, sits on one of the largest parcels in the village. Owners Barbra, 56, and Jeff Heller, 62, a retired clinical nutritionist and commercial real estate broker, respectively, tagged it with the title of a song from The Who's 1973 classic album, Quadrophenia. The opening lines, they said, simply fit: "Here by the sea and sand, Nothing ever goes as planned."
"We built our dream home here because of its beautiful view," explained Barbra. "In the end though, it's the community that's kept us happily anchored in Kismet. We have a great mix of residents and visitors with varied life experiences, and there are few hard and fast rules, as long as you are a kind and decent person."
Originally, the Hellers, full-time Kismet residents, planned to name their home Lawyers, Guns and Money, the closing track on Warren Zevon's 1978 masterpiece album, ''Excitable Boy.''
"That," said Jeff, wryly, "is a Kismet story for another day."
No doubt Kismet truly is a fun, quirky and interesting place. As its residents will tell you, all are welcomed here whether they come for a day, a week or a lifelong journey.
When to go to Kismet
Kismet is open year-round for visitors, but tourist season traditionally runs from the first weekend after Easter Sunday through the first weekend in November. Stores and restaurants are generally closed outside these dates, and ferry service is curtailed. The beach, though, is always open and you can certainly enjoy a stroll here in the off season.
How to get to Kismet
Fire Island Ferry, Bayshore; fireislandferries.com/schedules/kismet. Fee: $25/round trip, $13 kids; Call to confirm schedules. Hiking and bike access is available year-round from Robert Moses State Park, Field 5 (1.8 miles; visit the lighthouse on the way). Private boaters can dock at Kismet Inn Marina and recoup some of their costs on meals at the Kismet Inn (thekismetinn.swamponline.com; 631-583-5592). The marina is open year-round, first-come, first-served.
Dining, nightlife and provisions in Kismet
Kismet Inn (631-583-5592; thekismetinn.swamponline.com) and Dive (631-583-7400; divekismet.com) are the primary restaurants and local hangouts and these, along with all the other dining and provisions options, should be open by Memorial Day weekend. Kismet Inn is more traditional, while Dive sports an open beach bar style and So-Cal vibe. Both are on Bay Walk. Pizza Shack (631-583-8388), on the ferry dock, offers pizza on the go and also houses the Kismet Coffee Company (kismetcoffeecompany.com) where you can order hot and cold specialty coffees, sweet & spicy avocado toast, banana nut bread and lemon ricotta pound cake, among other delights. For provisions — and ice cream served through a side window during warmer months — KisMart (631-583-8449) at the corner of Bay Walk and Oak Street is your choice. Red Wagon Emporium at the Ferry Dock is a seasonal gift shop with an interesting array of merchandise ranging from sweatshirts to framed artwork.
Going to the beach in Kismet
White sand ocean beach access is available from all north/south roads and boardwalks.
Note that Kismet is a carry it in, carry it out community, especially in respect to trash. Also, be aware there are no restrooms in Kismet proper. The closest public bathrooms are located at the Old Kismet Fire House on Burma Road.