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Hamptons Life

Montauk's Ronjo Gets A Makeover, And A New Name

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Michelle Trauring   Jun 30, 2012 12:06 PM
Jul 2, 2012 2:04 PM

It all began with $4.3 million and a paint job for a Montauk icon.

The multicolored outdoor tiki statue on Elmwood Road outside the former Ronjo motel—renamed The Montauk Beach House by its new owners, Chris Jones and Larry Siedlick, when they closed on the 1-acre property in March—now glimmers under a coat of copper paint and represents the dawn of a glitzier era for the famously salty, gritty and free-spirited hamlet, not to mention one of its hotels.

“There are very few places on the East End, actually on the Eastern seaboard, where you get the downtown, the fishing, golf, sailing, boating, literally all in the same location,” Mr. Jones, a Sag Harbor resident, said on Thursday during a tour of the new hotel. “Montauk is incredibly unique. I can see why, back in the ’50s or ’60s, [the Ronjo] was such a cool place. Somewhere along the line, people just lost sight of how much potential it had, if it was done a different way.”

The Montauk Beach House—a 33-room luxury resort boasting two pools, 120 cabana beds, outdoor bar and a pop-up retail shop that opened this past weekend—maintains its original bones, built by the Stuart family when they owned the motel in the 1950s, Mr. Jones said.

“It was a super hip place. It modeled itself on Hawaii and, for 20 years, was up there among Gurney’s, the Manor, as being one of Montauk’s premiere resorts,” he said. “The Stuarts had two kids, Ron and Joanne. And they called it ‘Ronjo.’ There was a lot of love and a lot of attention that went into it back then.”

The motel sold in the early 1980s, and when Mr. Jones looked at it in October once it came on the market again, he made an offer that same day—but for no other reason than he saw its potential, he said. He is no stranger to major renovations, he added, noting that he is also one of the partners of Solé East resort in Montauk. This is his ninth hotel.

“I really would hazard a guess that between when they sold it and when we bought it, which was March this year, they literally didn’t spend a penny on it,” Mr. Jones said. “And it just went gradually down, down, down, down. We had caravans, we had stray cats. It was bad. What I wanted to do was restore it to its modern equivalent of what it used to be, and that’s what we’ve done.”

The resort evokes the mood of a European beach club, Mr. Jones reported. Visitors don’t need to leave the hotel in order to enjoy themselves, he said. Instead, they can sit by the pools, have a few drinks at the outdoor bar while listening to music and the ocean waves in the background, he said, and venture downtown at night.

For non-hotel guests, there is the private membership club, No. 50, which offers access to the resort’s music and art functions, pools and local shopping promotions, explained director Renée Lyn.

“Any member has this gorgeous, fun place to spend the day, as well as having access to anything we’re running on the nighttime side,” she said.

As of Thursday afternoon, the construction crew was putting the finishing touches on the bedrooms, pool area and lobby in anticipation of the hotel’s opening. The project took 102 days and cost a total $6.5 million—including the sale price and more than $2 million in renovations. There isn’t one surface that wasn’t completely redone, Mr. Jones said.

In the hotel world, the cost works out to be about $200,000 per key, which is a “good price” and exactly where he wanted to be for a project like this, he said.

The space is divided into four room types, all furnished with Egyptian cotton bedding, Italian vintage velvet drapes, flat-screen televisions and either two queen-sized beds or one king. The poolside, ground-floor “Oceanmist” rooms each feature a 14-foot-wide wall of glass looking out onto the heart of the resort, and some interconnect to bunk rooms that can accommodate up to six.

“This is, like, Mom and Dad with kids, or me and my five mates in my 20s where I can only spend 120 bucks a night,” Mr. Jones said. “They’re multiple-purpose, really. The idea is we can appeal to basically everybody: people who are maybe not budget-conscious to those who are.”

Upstairs, now fitted with glass hand railings, are the “Moonlight Suites,” which have richly hued walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, full-height mirrors, 14-foot-high ceilings and clawfoot bathtubs in the bedroom.

“The lighting in here is really kind of sexy. It’s not bright,” Mr. Jones said, pulling together the blackout curtains. “It’s a nice, soft orange glow. This room in the night is just gorgeous.”

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