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Shagwong In Montauk Is For Sale

Publication: The East Hampton Press
By Virginia Garrison   Dec 13, 2011 2:51 PM
Dec 13, 2011 5:03 PM

Shagwong Tavern on Main Street in Montauk is on the market for just under $4 million. The venerable restaurant and watering hole, which has been owned by James Hewitt since 1969, has traditionally been a favorite with locals and tourists as well as celebrities including the Rolling Stones, the model Cheryl Tiegs and the photographer Peter Beard, whose photos—including one of Mick and Bianca Jagger mouthing “To the Shagwong” in a cartoon bubble—hang with a gallery of historic photos on the establishment’s walls.

The property is listed with Tony Cerio of Brown Harris Stevens of the Hamptons for $3,995,000. It consists of the 112-seat restaurant and bar as well as a four-bedroom, two-bath upstairs apartment with a fireplace. There is outdoor seating as well.

Mr. Hewitt, who is 70, said last week that he decided about six months ago to sell the Shagwong and instead turn his attention to growing oysters on bottomland that he owns in Lake Montauk. Over 42 years, he has developed “a very steady and faithful” clientele, he said, based on the philosophy that “there’s nothing a restaurant does that is necessary to life—other than offer compassion, consolation or whatever other mental functions,” a place where patrons can find comaraderie and “commiserate upon their daily travails.”

He was a supervising chef at the Sheraton for 12 years, and his two sons, Christopher, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and Sean, who has worked with Bobby Flay and with David Burke at the Plaza Hotel, join him in the kitchen. Although the menu changes daily, the restaurant’s fixtures—copper tabletops, a tin dining room ceiling, stained glass behind the bar, Tudor-style exterior—have stayed the same. “Nothing has changed whatsoever for better or worse,” said Mr. Hewitt, who recently found the receipts for the original, hand-carved bar and stained glass, as well as several photographs of the sinking Pelican party boat dating from 1951, some of whose victims he still remembers seeing in the boat when it was beached near his parents’ house on Old West Lake Drive.

Built in 1927 in the same style as Herb’s Market and White’s Liquor Store, two of its Main Street peers, the Shagwong harks back to the days of the developer Carl Fisher, who used it to house his staff, according to Mr. Hewitt. Frank Tuma Sr. went on to run a successful bar there known as the Montauk Tavern, and Mr. Hewitt said the restaurant was at one time run by a family that owned a “candy kitchen” in Orient Point. “The kitchen was more of a dining room and the actual kitchen itself was downstairs” where the basement is now, he said.

Mary Wood and her husband, Walter, bought the restaurant in the late 1940s. “She benefited mainly because of the Air Force and Army base—they used to bring rotations every two weeks,” Mr. Hewitt said. “The Army trucks would bring them right to the Shagwong ... same thing with the submarines at Navy Road ... it was interesting to see the Army and Navy mix.”

Mr. Hewitt bought the Shagwong from Mrs. Wood in 1969. As the sale listing proclaims, it has been “a,” if not “the most,” popular meeting spot “from lunchtime through the late-night party scene” ever since.

If those walls could talk ... they can’t, but the pictures on them almost can—whether it’s Al Capp’s original cartoon of the well-worn Shagwong’s bar, a black-and-white photo of besuited men fishing on the Sea Queen, Peter Beard’s 1972 photo of Jackie Onassis putting some kind of headdress on her husband, Aristotle, or his photo of a rhinoceros, or some long-gone photographer’s landscape shot of the lighthouse before its perch had been chewed away.

Mr. Hewitt sold another Montauk restaurant, Ruschmeyer’s, about five years ago, and he sold a neighbor of the Shagwong, the Main Street Cafe, before that.

The Shagwong was listed locally earlier this year with a $4.5 million price tag until Brown Harris Stevens picked it up as an exclusive listing on December 3. Last week photographers paid a visit to shoot photos for what Mr. Cerio said would be an international online marketing effort. Draft beers had already been drawn for two customers by 11 a.m.

“If they have the money they can damn well do as they want,” Mr. Hewitt said of whoever buys the property, “but it does draw a lot of local flavor.”

Mr. Cerio called it “the coolest listing in Montauk and the best restaurant deal hands down.”

“Own an icon,” the listing says.

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