Empty streets. Empty sidewalks. Empty beaches. Winter in Montauk is like an abandoned beach town diorama, a smattering of boxy shacks and piles of discarded plywood scraps. The many surf shops are boarded up until summer; locals gather instead at the Shagwong Restaurant, where the beer flows freely and the radiator is on full blast at all times.
We headed out to Montauk in search of quiet and isolation, hopefully to see a die-hard surfer or two. There were none. It was 22F. I also had some adolescent fantasies to indulge, having been obsessed with the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind throughout my early teen years. During the train ride up I could hear an orange-haired Kate Winslet whispering surreptitiously in my ear — “Meet me in Montauuuuuk.”
We were spit out at Montauk station, which we’d assumed would be close to the city centre. Not a chance. We ended up hooking up with an equally confused Swiss traveler and hailing down a taxi. Our driver was a chatty Dominican with a ponytail — “I’m Leo. 10 bucks each,” he said. “How far is downtown?” we asked. “About a mile away.” “You’re charging us $30 for a mile?” “Exactamente,” he said with a sh*t-eating grin. Oh jesus, here we go.
Downtown Montauk is comprised of bars and surf shops, the unlikely yoga studio and organic coffee shop, a large roundabout where you can see the shoreline on both sides. That’s right. Often referred to as “The End,” Montauk is located on the easternmost tip of Long Island, a mere strip of land extending defiantly out of New York state into cold Atlantic waters. You could walk from the northern shoreline to the other in about 7 minutes flat.
Despite the brutal cab fare, Montauk was a dream. The beaches were incredibly pristine and housed the most beautiful abalone shells I’d seen in a long time. The beach houses hugging the shoreline were quintessential beach houses — sharp A-frames, pastel beadboard, sun-bleached decks and all. I could spot a local in the distance, emerging from his cozy home out into the rugged coastline. He released his dog to run about freely as he stood idly, staring out into the vast ocean. Happy dog, happy human. There’s something so effortlessly timeless, so complete about that picture.
After wandering around in the biting cold for a few hours, soaking up the shimmering, life-giving light molecules of magic hour, we ducked into a saloon and celebrated over luxuriously thick, creamy clam chowder and Guinness. I succumbed to a deep, liquid sleep on the train ride home — my first good sleep since I’ve returned to NYC.