The building at 44 Three Mile Harbor Road predates the East Hampton Town zoning code. As such, it is one of the few locations in the town with a space actually designated as a nightclub. According to Frank Cilione, an owner, who spoke at an East Hampton Town Planning Board meeting November 20, it was built in the 1940s.
Because it predates the zoning code, which was written in the 1950s, it is allowed to operate as a nightclub. The town code defines a nightclub as “an establishment primarily engaged in providing entertainment (e.g., music, dancing, comedians, etc.).” This nightclub designation is an important one. According to the Town Attorney’s office, a nightclub that was opened before the town code was written does not have to apply for a permit and can have a dance floor.
The other three sites designated as nightclubs in the Town of East Hampton are Sloppy Tuna and Memory Motel, both in Montauk, and Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett.
Cilione’s nightclub, which he bought with his partner Rick Van Benschoten in 1998, has gone through countless iterations.
From the 1970s through 1998, the owner of the property was Ronald Moschetta, according to town records. The property card on file at the town’s building department lists the following names for the establishment from the 1970s on: Bananas, The Mellow Mouth Club, Maidstone Regional Theater, Laffing Stock, Hurrah East Hampton, the Jag, and, of course, Lobster-A-Go-Go.
In 1992, the town’s architectural review board approved a new sign for the business, Lil’s of East Hampton. Two years later, it became Kristie’s. In 1995, a new sign went up: Danceteria.
The first sign approved for Cilione and Van Benschoten in 1998 was for Tsunami. In 2004, it became Resort, then, in 2007, it was Le Flirt. The next name up was Lily Pond.
Restaurant group China Grill Management ran the site early this decade for one season, followed by a collaboration between Cilione and Philippe Chow which lasted a couple of years under the name Phiippe’s.
According to real estate websites, the property was briefly on the market for just under $3 million in 2016.
The following year it became The Leo.
In January 2017, Cilione went before the State Liquor Authority with an application for a new liquor license for The Leo. He presented the SLA with a letter from the town’s principal building inspector, Anne Glennon.
In it, Glennon stated a nightclub is a permitted use at the site as long as that use was not abandoned. In other words, as long as the nightclub, with whatever name it is operating under in any given year, opens for the summer season, Cilione does not have to go to the town for a permit, which would be extremely difficult to obtain. If, however, that use were to be abandoned for 18 consecutive months, its status as a nightclub would fall away.
While a plethora of management groups and promoters have offered a different face for the site, from year to year, according to the liquor licenses on file with the State Liquor Authority obtained by The Independent, Cilione has always maintained a piece of the license with the various management groups, and a piece of the action.
There is also a restaurant in the building. That space was taken over early this year by Spur East, a company that caters to independent entrepreneurs.