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The iconic Shagwong still thriving under new ownership in Montauk

The 1920s facade, the scratched wooden floors and the fading photos that line the walls -- the things that make Shagwong Restaurant the ultimate dive bar are the same things that attract a crowd through its doors.

Among all the shiny new bars and restaurants that pop up in Montauk, this nearly 50-year-old establishment has the benefit of intrigue. It gives off the impression that it holds secrets, which it does. But don't expect anyone at the bar to spill them.

"What are some of the stories of Shagwong?" owner Jon Krasner asks a handful of patrons gathered on an afternoon in July.

"You couldn't go in the basement ..." Jim Geddis says, alluding to something indecent that took place there.

"That time Bianca Jagger walked in ... " the bartender starts but doesn't finish.

"I don't even know all the stories," Krasner said. But since buying the iconic spot in June, he's trying to catch up. He loves the history of the place and sense of belonging it gives its patrons.

Krasner, a real estate developer who lives in Manhattan and Sag Harbor, said he faced some skepticism in the run-up to taking over the bar and restaurant, which local resident Jimmy Hewitt bought in 1969. Before that, the 1920s-built establishment had just three other owners.

"It's always interesting, transitioning in a small town from the old to the new," said Krasner, who also owns Montauk's Saltbox, and is a partner in Manhattan's Harlow, and the Sag Harbor outpost Harlow East. "I met a lot of people. I had to assure them I wanted to be a part of the community."

Krasner and his partner Beau Campsey closed the bar for a week in June (the first time it had been closed in 47 years, he said) to complete renovations on the kitchen and revamp the menu. When they reopened, Krasner said he knew he had to turn his attention to the customers to reassure them Shagwong was the same old bar -- just with new appliances and the addition of a jukebox.

"I try to meet them all, hear their stories," he said. "I really want to make them feel like it's their bar also."

Geddis, 66, has spent most of the last 50 years in Montauk and a lot of time at the Shagwong -- Hewitt is his cousin.

He said even back when Montauk was a quiet fishing village, the party was always alive at Shagwong. He said he's seen Mick and Bianca Jagger and the photographer Peter Beard there; and he believes rumors that others such as John Lennon and Andy Warhol spent time there are true.

He said Hewitt inspired a lively atmosphere. "He was nuts," he said of his cousin, who was well-known in Montauk. "He set the tone for this place."

But today, like most of Montauk, the Shagwong crowd has shifted from quirky to trendy -- at least on weekend nights, when the 20- to- 30-something clientele forms a line at the door, waiting to get in.

"It's a party," Krasner said. Now there are DJs and dancing and shots at the bar (Krasner said he's known to take a few himself).

Emanuel Springer, who often plays music at Shagwong with his band, Twister, said Krasner has helped breathe new life into the place with live music. Springer plays with or without his band most Saturdays.

"There was a different vibe," he said of Shagwong under Hewitt. "It kind of lost its way but it was always a special place."

Leeanne DePasquale managed Shagwong from 1983 until about four years ago, she said. Reflecting on the end of the first summer season of Shagwong's new ownership, DePasquale, who is Hewitt's sister-in-law, said she feels hopeful the local institution will stay true to its roots.

"I think it will be one of the few places around there that has changed hands, but will remain the same, with the same vibe," said DePasquale, 55, of Montauk.

Geddis, who said his cousin left town after selling the restaurant, is also optimistic -- though more cautiously.

"He's not destroying it," he said of Krasner. "That might not sound like much of a compliment, but it is."


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