Long Island beach restaurants, bars for every personality
That a single stretch of sand can be enjoyed by so many different kinds of people in so many different ways is part of the brilliance of Long Island’s beaches. The same cannot be said for its beachside bar-eateries. Yes, there are common features — booze slushies, loaded nachos, insufferable heat laughing in the face of misting fans — but each is a habitat unto itself, one which, like Darwin’s finches, has spawned its own separate species of Long Islander. There are places for the debonair set to enjoy Manhattans and a quiet toast as the sun dips below the horizon, places for Stella to get her groove back, places to strut in memory-foam slippers, places to take a shot of Skrewball peanut butter whiskey before joining a conga line.
Before your next beach day draws to a close, take a good, hard look at that sun-scorched human in the changing room mirror and ask just what kind of post-sand entertainment expresses your true self. Need help deciding? Behold six common types of after-sun Island haunts, complete with real-time info on who and what you’ll find when you get there.
The Young and the Shoeless
By day, they’re the rays-seeking sort found on a multitude of beaches, but with the setting sun they descend by the hundreds — in hooded tanks and Max Scherzer jerseys, Alexander Wang cutoffs and Cloud slides — on Salt Shack at Babylon’s Cedar Beach, a natural gathering spot for the youthful and their admirers, as well as those who think they’re young and their admirers. The draws include the availability of grain bowls and jumbo pretzels from the same kiosk at feeding time, as well as a psychedelic laundromat of frozen drink machines. A weathered deck under the stars hosts most any danceable situation, the floor filling with all manner of no-shirts-no-shoes-no-problem types, 20-year-olds dancing to 40-year-old songs (e.g., “Bette Davis Eyes”), and eventually, bands channeling Alanis Morissette, servers selling Jell-O shots, and men wearing sunglasses behind their heads — at night — who point to the sky when they dance.
Things are different at the Beach Bar in Hampton Bays. There, it’s visors that are worn behind heads at night, and each drinking station possesses an identity all its own (e.g., salty locals of a certain age, youthful packs shouting LET’S GO at predictable intervals), although young and old mingle on the semi-indoor dance floor, all spilling drinks together to the tune of Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything.” The median age drops precipitously as the evening wears on and Beach Bar makes good on its “Long Island’s number one bachelorette party destination!” claim on Facebook and throngs heed its command to “join us as we rage the night away!” But a few Boomers may be glimpsed even then, gorging on bounteous seafood platters at the bar while nodding in support of Rihanna’s need to find love in a hopeless place.
Not Young, but Restless
As ferries to Fire Island’s Davis Park leave nearby, many bide their time at Drift 82’s outdoor bar in Patchogue while waiting for the next boat, soon discovering that they neither know nor care when that is. Tempting though it may be to pin this forgetfulness on Drift’s patrons, some of whom are no doubt searching for their keys even as we speak, such inertia is understandable. No, corrugated steel shacks don’t usually produce this level of amusement, but only because they don’t serve platters of supremely fresh Blue Point oysters or icy martinis with melon puree. Other draws include the near-constant gentle breezes from the canal, bartender Christine’s near-constant shooting-the-breeze (“I try not to criticize”) and a colorful cast of regulars who evince grudging admiration for Nutrl black cherry but will never understand Montauk Watermelon ale. For them, world-weariness is a badge of honor and life is like a Jimmy Buffett song, only with better music.
That late middle age can be a time of great possibility is something of an open question, but just try telling that to fans of Tiki Joe’s at Cedar Beach, for whom life is about having as much fun in Mt. Sinai tonight as possible without risking admission to Mt. Sinai (the hospital) tomorrow. Here, eternal youth can be theirs for the price of a tequila-pineapple, energy for the hunt comes courtesy Cobb salads and mahi-mahi tacos, and Rise Against The Odds isn’t some slogan on a T-shirt, but rather a slogan on a T-shirt worn while remembering how to dance to “You Sexy Thing.” Let others in their set stand on the sidelines, content to stare into the horizon and golf-clap at one of the finest, most dramatic sunsets in this or any hemisphere. They are here to party in the dark, hoping the morning won't bring a text from someone who has found their keys.
At Katch at Venetian Shores in Lindenhurst, dads sporting O’Neill Flora Snapback hats and T-shirts from the Stones’ 2019 tour cradle toddlers and sway to covers of Santana’s “Smooth,” while their wives — off-shoulder balloon sleeve tops, Michael Kors studded leather totes, matching gladiator sandals — dance together in tight clusters. At the bar, Under Armour uncles down beers and South Shore mules, even as aunties in rhinestone flip-flops snack on coated fries, gyrate to “Tequila” and then wonder why their nephews won’t dance with them. Within earshot of the music is the adjacent beach, where kids build castles while neighbors — in crop circles of Coleman beach chairs sunk deep in the sand — consider issues of communitywide importance, such as how they will get up from their Colemans when the time comes.
Over in Sea Cliff, dads in Titleist caps, moms in tie-dyed tanks and everyone else seeking relief from the heat and/or interminable games of cornhole find refuge at the Beach Bar Grill at Blu Iguana, a hut known for refreshing goldfish bowls of black cherry margaritas and spiked Arnold Palmers. Out on the veranda, diners stuff themselves on burgers and formidable plates of fish and chips even as Bob Marley insists that every little thing is gonna be all right, and later a live guitarist on an unshaded platform sweats through Simon and Garfunkel on the sand. As with Katch, an inverse relationship exists between patrons’ ages and their proximity to the bar, with the oldest having the most access to the bartender and seemingly the most fun.
For many, a beachside meal is the stuff not of dreams but mumbled prayers that one won’t regret the decision later. For others, meanwhile, no day on the sand is complete without a first-class dining experience. Montauk’s Navy Beach might have been created for just such folks, plus folks keen on parking their yachts in Fort Pond Bay and pontooning it to the sand, along with fans of cutout maxi dresses, Bogg beach bags, and crucially, Navy’s outdoor banquettes. And if that were all one witnessed on its 200-foot, picnic table-lined private beach, or from the faux-rattan bar stools overlooking it, Navy might be just another East End exercise in snootiness. Luckily, its food and libations more than live up to the setting, no mean feat at sundown, when views more magical are hard to imagine. The locally caught sea bass, for one, its whole-roasted freshness lovingly christened with small-dice avocado and pico. Of note, reservations — available by phone or on Resy two weeks in advance — can be a challenge at Navy Beach, as difficult as navigating the beach itself in wedge espadrilles after a couple of mezcal-laced pina coladas. Both require luck and persistence.
No one would ever confuse Bayville with the Hamptons, which is just how Bayville likes it, and the on-beach restaurant Wall’s Wharf goes all-in on modest charm. Here, tables on the sand are packed more tightly, boats in the harbor a bit smaller, and the drinks menu oddly enamored with zombies and dirty shirleys. If Louis Vuitton pochettes and blindingly white sailor pants nonetheless feel welcome here, and they do, credit Wall’s enthusiastic young staff and beach menu on stilts. Bacon boosts the shrimp po’boys, horseradish truffle sauce boosts the salmon, fennel pollen boosts the cioppino — and everything gets a boost from Wall’s matchless North Shore sunsets.
Moments of Zen
“Other places are so loud, I can’t hear the sun set,” said a woman at the Low Tide Bar at Greenport’s Soundview Hotel, reminding us that crowds swaying tipsily to “Free Fallin’” is not everyone’s idea of a perfect day’s end. Committed fans of serenity will tell you that Low Tide absolutely demands a visit, and perhaps even UNESCO World Heritage status, for its austere Adirondack chair setup on a narrow stretch of pebbly sand overlooking the Sound. This is a place to clear one’s head, sidle up to a firepit, partake of lobster rolls and cosmos, count the number of Billabong dresses, ruffled skorts and Nirvana Smiley Face tees, and yes, observe the setting sun in silence. Sure, you might hear an acoustic guitarist’s “Dock of the Bay” cover, or couples murmuring about the relative merits of study abroad programs in Barcelona and Zurich, but Low Tide remains a sea of tranquility nonetheless.
Flynn’s in Ocean Bay Park is relatively quiet during the week too, and so is the Moon Chaser, a 65-foot vessel that methodically steams its way to the Fire Island stalwart on Tuesday through Thursday evenings from Babylon’s Captree State Park. The proud 200-passenger boat (think Viking River Cruise with a cash bar) sails through jaw-dropping Great South Bay sunsets before docking at Flynn’s for a surf and turf buffet. The return home is even more relaxing, especially from Moon Chaser’s canopied upper deck, an ideal spot for enjoying soft summer breezes and a meditative glide through inky blackness.
By now, which post-beach haunt is right for you should be obvious to most. But what if you’re indecisive? Try The Boat Yard. The pride of Tobay Beach and home to “five different food concepts, live music six days a week and frosty cocktails”--per the website — there’s something here for every Long Islander and nearly every Massapequan. As such, the crowd on a recent Friday evening defied easy description: Retirees gingerly swiveling new hips to the tune of “More Today Than Yesterday,” glamazons favoring snakeskin minis, Surfliner sunglasses and “Edge of Seventeen” covers, women supping daintily on lobster arancini and coconut saffron mussels at the more-restaurant-less-bar Surf Shack side of the affair, and women standing in line for the men’s room because “I’m not waiting 20 minutes.” Regular appearances by bands like 70s Rock Parade, Pour Some 80s on Me, and The 90s Band guarantee a good time no matter what decade one is trapped in, while the adjacent spray ground’s tumble buckets and interactive features will delight even the youngest revelers. In our divided age, the Boat Yard’s attempt at being all things to all Islanders might seem like a risky bet. The massive crowds it attracts suggest otherwise, however, and imply that post-beach Islanders might not actually be as different as they seem.
Beach Bar: 58 Foster Ave., Hampton Bays, 631-723-3100, beachbarhamptons.com
Beach Bar Grill at Blu Iguana: 494 Prospect Ave., Sea Cliff, 516-214-0458, bluiguanamexican.com
The Boat Yard: 1 Ocean Pkwy., Massapequa, 516-324-8474, theboatyardny.com
Drift 82: 82 Brightwood St., Patchogue, 631-714-4950, drift82.com
Flynn’s: 1 Cayuga St., Ocean Bay Park, Fire Island, 631-583-5000, flynnsfireislandny.com
Katch at Venetian Shores: 850 Venetian Blvd., Lindenhurst, 631-888-3460
Low Tide Bar at Soundview: 58775 County Rd 48, Greenport, 631-477-0666, soundviewgreenport.com
The Moon Chaser: 3500 E. Ocean Pkwy., Babylon, 631-265-1848, themoonchaser.com
Navy Beach: 16 Navy Rd., Montauk, 631-668-6868, navybeach.com
Salt Shack: 100 Cedar Beach Way, Babylon, 631-422-7222, saltshackny.com
Tiki Joe’s at Cedar Beach: 223 Harbor Beach Rd., Mt. Sinai, 631-218-9067, tikijoesbeachclub.com
Wall’s Wharf: 18 Greenwich Ave., Bayville, 516-628-9696, wallswharf.com