Ten summers ago, a few days before Memorial Day weekend, I got a call from my old friend Celine Valensi. She and I had worked together at a tiny, cramped restaurant on the Lower East Side called Momofuku Ko. That restaurant, and its reputation, would cement David Chang in the annals of restaurant history, but back then, Celine and I were just two 20-somethings waiting on food celebrities and dodging wannabe insults (on her blog, Insatiable Critic, Gael Greene referred to us as “gorgons,” so just call me Medusa). Celine took to calling me Momo Hannah. Eleven years later, that’s still how I appear in her iPhone.
The phone call I fielded that May afternoon contained a question: Would I mind coming out to Montauk for the weekend to help to open a restaurant? That restaurant would become iconic. That restaurant would become the Crow’s Nest.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the Crow’s Nest, which I associate with how I came to be an East Ender, in turn a story connected to meeting my husband and birthing my children and buying a home. Still, even if you didn’t help open the Crow’s Nest on a frantic, frenetic Memorial Day weekend, with no point-of-sales system or real drink list, and even if you did not model the restaurant’s inaugural white overalls, which were the uniform for the first couple of years, you might still — nay, will still — want to hang out there, because it’s a swank, beautiful, sexy restaurant that makes everyone who walks in the door feel good.
Sometimes, restaurants are a measure of ambience, of the physical space beyond all else, and I can’t think of a single restaurant out east that I enjoy spending time in more than the Crow’s Nest. I have spent birthdays at the Crow’s Nest, and regular old Tuesdays. I have watched the buildings expand over time, still retaining their comfort: batik, wood, candlelight.
Yes, the blue crab claw tagliatelle with breadcrumbs is worth busting open a diet for — but it’s not the reason I’m there. Yes, I could drink more than my share of chilled Beaujolais (they keep it in the low boy). But a run on Beaujolais won’t keep me from the bar, either. Sometimes, a place is more than just a place, it’s a feeling, and a culture. When a place feels like home, even if it isn’t — well, that’s how you know it’s yours.
Plenty of people will patron the Crow’s Nest this summer, just like every other summer. Some will go once, for a special occasion, and some will be regulars, habitués. That’s the kind of place it is. At sunset, though, once you’ve tossed your shoes off at the top of the hill, glass of wine in hand, and allowed yourself the corporeal joy of bare feet in grass; and once you’ve made it to the slip of beach at the bottom, with the pergolas overlooking Lake Montauk; and once you’ve seen the orange-pink ball of summer fire descend into the water, fragmenting the light, then you understand.
The Crow’s Nest isn’t a place as much as it’s a feeling. It’s a moment in time, and one I keep yearning for, and coming back to, season after season.
As the sky turns inky, and you finish those last washes of purple Beaujolais, and as your tagliatelle disappears, mysteriously, before you, you’ll be lulled into the evening, and when you walk out onto the twinkling lawn, where the fire pits are chugging and the Edison bulbs give way to another perfect starry night, you might wonder why you can’t just stay, just a night longer, just another night, please. Don’t leave, the place seems to call out. And, until September, you don’t have to.
The Crow’s Nest opens for the season on Friday, May 17.