Montauk has a message for rowdy, disruptive summer visitors — we’re not going to take it anymore.
With the start of the summer season just three weeks away, officials are imposing new regulations intended to help preserve Montauk’s quality of life and prevent a recurrence of the drunkenness, public urination, traffic tie-ups and noise that resulted in a record number of calls to police last year.
The new restrictions come at a critical time. East Hampton Town is fighting to balance the economic boon of tourism, new restaurants and popular bars with the historic low-key “anti-Hamptons” lifestyle that for years attracted visitors such as Elizabeth Taylor, John Lennon and Liza Minnelli when they wanted to wind down.
“The tourist economy is important to the businesses in Montauk, and we’re working with the town to ensure everyone is safe but also to protect the livelihood of the businesses here,” said Laraine Creegan, president of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce. “We’re all trying to pull together to make this all work. We want people to enjoy a lively and prosperous summer and for people to come back.”
Montauk, which got its start as the home of fishermen and World War II military contractors building Fort Pond Bay and Camp Hero, in recent years has become the latest East End hot spot as young visitors moved their partying lifestyle east from Southampton.
But among the luxury cars and limousines, bumper stickers on locals’ vehicles declare “Bad behavior is NEVER in season. Respect our home. Respect Montauk (or kindly leave).”
Even the Sloppy Tuna restaurant, which draws large crowds and has been repeatedly cited by the town for noise complaints, now displays “Respect Montauk” on a banner announcing the season’s opening.
“The problem is, it’s not the place local people fell in love with for its natural beauty and as a place where you had a chance to be by yourself and away from crowds,” said Tom Muse, 53, a landscape design business owner who has lived in Montauk for 11 years. “Those are the things we’re trying to keep, and we’re losing that battle — mostly in the summer.”
Among the efforts officials have enacted ahead of the summer season:
- Adding more East Hampton Town police to Montauk patrols as they are needed and calling on state police and the Suffolk County sheriff’s office for assistance if necessary;
- Eliminating parking in some areas that led to blocked traffic in past years;
- Requiring bars, restaurants and nightclubs to prevent crowds from growing larger than the capacity approved by the fire marshal. Code inspectors will monitor the crowd size and issue citations if violations are found;
- Requiring landlords to register properties in an effort to prevent overcrowding in rental homes. Town officials on Wednesday announced the first crackdown under the new law, citing nine tenants and a landlord for more than three dozen alleged violations.
- Increasing meetings between police and restaurant or bar owners to ensure cooperation.
- Increasing planning meetings between police and municipal officials.
- Requiring beach fires to be in metal containers.
Montauk is changing even as it tries to stay the same. The latest example is Trail’s End, said to be Montauk’s oldest restaurant, which sold in November for $2.15 million. The new owner plans a full renovation, including outdoor seating, for a seafood restaurant to be named The Tauk at Trail’s End.
But George Watson, owner of The Dock, a restaurant that sits on Montauk Harbor and is popular with locals, warns on his website that his establishment won’t welcome “self-absorbed” patrons and their cellphones. The Dock features “blue-collar prices” and an older clientele that likes dressing in T-shirts, old jeans and baseball caps, to down a meal of tuna melts and chicken wings.
Watson, 73, a former NYPD officer and firefighter who has owned the restaurant for 43 years, said going to downtown Montauk on a summer night is “like walking into a zombie movie,” with drunken visitors stumbling around.
East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said he understands the locals’ frustration. He and other officials have been meeting about the coming summer season since September and making plans to do what they can with available resources to quell the party scene.
“We’re going to roll up our sleeves,” Sarlo told members of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee at their monthly meeting recently. “We’ve spent quite a bit of time gearing up for summer.”
But he acknowledges the efforts might not work. “You have to start somewhere,” he said. “The people are not going away.”
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the welcome mat will still be out for visitors, but with limitations.
“We welcome visitors to our community, but we also fully expect they will respect the community,” Cantwell said. “If not, we will fully enforce all of our local codes and laws everywhere in the Town of East Hampton.”
Resident Sarah Conway, 57, said she thinks the new efforts will go a long way toward regaining control over summer chaos.
“I think it’s all positive,” Conway said. “The combination of everything — the beefing up of the police presence, the rental registry, dealing with the traffic problems. . . . I think in combination it will have an impact. I think there will be fewer people and it’ll be more settled down this summer.”
Montauk’s summer partying problems peaked when last year’s July Fourth celebrations led to 464 calls to police with reports of public urination, drunken crowds in the streets, open containers of alcohol, litter, traffic tie-ups and loud music. Residents demanded an immediate crackdown that resulted in arrests and citations issued to troublesome establishments.
Police estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people were in the streets or in bars that weekend. The summer population swells to as much as 30,000 in the community that hosts a year-round resident population of 3,000.
“We don’t want a repeat of last year,” said resident Keri Lamparter, 50, who created the bumper stickers and has lived in the hamlet for 21 years.
Others cautioned about going too far and stifling commerce.
Former East Hampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, now Southampton town supervisor, and Southampton Town Councilman Stan Glinka cited changes in Hampton Bays that quieted the nightlife there, but affected other businesses as well.
Complaints from residents led to stricter housing regulations in the 1990s and young people stopped going to Hampton Bays, Glinka, a former Hampton Bays Chamber of Commerce president, said. Then “nightclubs started fading away” and other businesses closed. Now officials look for ways to revitalize the hamlet, which is sandwiched between Quogue and Southampton on Shinnecock and Peconic bays.
“It was the same thing in Hampton Bays” as in Montauk, Schneiderman said. “Now they want to know how they can get it all back.”
Lifelong Montauk resident Arden Gardell, 31, general manager at 668 The Gig Shack, a downtown restaurant and bar that features live music and has also been cited for noise violations, said, “I think that the town is doing a lot of things it thinks are in the best interest of everyone.” But, he added, “You can’t ticket your way out of this. That’s a narrow way of seeing anything being accomplished.”
Landscape architect Muse cautioned officials not to make too many changes for the summer crowd and in the process create new problems for everyone.
“This is all for two months in the summer,” Muse said. “It’s like inviting a guest to your house. You don’t move the furniture around because they’re coming. You let things stay the way they are and they have to fit in.”