In 2015, the first chapter of Montauk’s Shagwong Tavern history book closed, for good, when longtime owner Jimmy Hewitt sold the restaurant to Jon Krasner and Beau Campsey. The Shagwong is a true dive, and an even truer personification of that old Montauk adage: a drinking town with a fishing problem.
Of course, libations at the Shagwong are hardly a problem, per se. The bar and restaurant opened in 1936 but has enjoyed a few reiterations during the course of its tenure. In 1969, when Hewitt took over the space, he renovated the original kitchen. His work has stood the test of time, welcoming celebrities, locals, and Irish visa holders in Montauk for summer work.
After the sale of the Shagwong three years ago, the new owners closed the restaurant for a while in order to reimagine the space. In March of 2016, the bar enjoyed a modest reopening. Although the space now feels a bit more 2018, Krasner and Campsey have retained the old-school feel of 1970s Montauk, replete with photos of the hamlet that were uncovered in the basement.
If you are unaware of the Shagwong’s street cred, let’s be clear: This was once the dallying bar of Andy Warhol (who owned a sprawling estate on Montauk’s Amsterdam Beach) and the Rolling Stones (who made the Memory Motel famous in a 1976 ballad). It was a dive, yes, but it was the coolest of dives. Today, it remains famous, in part, for its history. Open seven days a week, for both lunch and dinner (and the after dinner and after-after dinner drink), the Shagwong Tavern teems with both with history and tribalism.
It offers insight into the Montauk that once was, the Montauk that sometimes feels absent in today’s world of flannel, fedoras, and $22 piña coladas.
Food has enjoyed a modest update since ownership changed hands, but some things remain the same, like iconic Shagwong Clam Chowder, made New England-style (read: lots of cream, no tomatoes), and served either in a cup or a bowl. Food tends toward the seaworthy, with an ample selection of oceanic choices, ranging from tuna poké to chilled Maine lobster to charred Spanish octopus.
For the hungriest of land-lovers, there’s a 36-ounce tomahawk ribeye for two, which will set you back 99 clams (a far cry from the dive bar of yore, but hey, it is Montauk, after all).
Drinks have also received more care and attention in this recent revision of an old classic. Instead of a dive bar’s standard vodka tonic, there’s a fresh watermelon margarita, or a mojito, or a hard tea made with Montauk Hard Label peach whiskey, iced tea, and simple syrup. Of course, the traditional drinks are still available — Pabst Blue Ribbon, Tecate, Coors Light, Miller Light, Budweiser, and Bud Light are available from $5 to $7 per bottle. To round out the beer list, the owners have added some craft selections on tap: Fat Tire Ale ($7), Ballast Point Sculpin IPA ($8), Montauk Watermelon Ale ($7), Goose Island IPA ($7), and more.
Consider this an updated version of an old classic, willing to embrace new trends like craft beer and locally-sourced produce, while preserving the old ($5 beers). The Shagwong Tavern is, as ever, a great place to spend a little bit of time. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the bar features a DJ. Other promotions include “ladies’ night” (Thursdays) and “industry night” (Tuesdays). And yes, there is wine — and a kids’ menu, to boot — but are you really going to the Shagwong for an intimate family meal?