September 19, 2011

Its either unchecked hedonism or outrightdenial that led me to New Yorks Fire Island the weekendafter summers unofficial demise. While mostvacationers packed up their share-houses and kissed farewell to the spit ofsand off Long Islands south coast over Labor Day, Iwas still dreaming of bike rides, summer ales, and one last coat of sun.It doesnt hurt that hotel prices fall off a cliff oncebeachgoers pack up their white (I paid $225 per night at Clegg's Hotel, whilerates during summers apex can be double that). So Ifound myself at the Island Mermaid pulling on a straw filled with its signatureRocket Fuel (a dark rum piña colada with a Cruzan 151 sinker at the bottom and a pond of Amaretto floating on top) and stretching summer outas long as possible before the looming cold throws its death grip around NewYork City. I wasnt ready for fall, not yet.

Fire Islands most endearingcharacteristic is the complete abolishment of cars (save for a few policevehicles). People tote their belongings around in weathered Radio Flyer wagonsand push pedals for transportation. Congregations of beach cruiser bikes sitoutside seafront bars and anchored boats from Long Island beach communities rockin the tide out front of restaurants after day-migrations across Great South Bay.Deer scamper through backyards and across the beach. It takes no longer than 10minutes to walk the width of the island. Its these distinct eccentricitiesthat draw famous residents like designers Michael Kors and Calvin Klein.

The few weeks that bridge summer and fall can be the mostcharming. Theres something seductive aboutcatching a place with its guard down. The normally raging rapid of bikers wasmerely a trickle. Bars usually stuffed with raucous merrymakers were pleasantlysprinkled with locals, wedding attendees, and day-trippers. Large swaths ofbeach were uninhabited.

There was no fighting for oceanside tables on the outdoorveranda at Schooner Inn in Ocean Bay Park. A few platoons nonchalantly munchedon calamari and enjoyed whatever beers were left in stock. The private beachout front was deserted, providing uninterrupted water vistas. Further down theshoreline, the bartender at Flynns casually exchanged chuckles with a patron, untethered from summers frantic pace.

This place was packed to the brimlast weekend, she told me, not lamenting theherd of partiers that had exited the island for the year. Thisis nice.

I sauntered right into beloved Maguires for lunch in Ocean Beach and planted myself at the best table in the house withno trouble. They were out of the swordfish sandwich for the year but themango-salsa-smothered Mahi Mahi tacos were delectable nonetheless. NearbyBambootique was busy with shoppers snatching up blouses, dresses, and shoes at50 percent off. The outdoor Laughing Gull Artisans Gallery just off the ferrydock was hawking its usual mélange of arts and crafts from local artists. A fewbrowsers sifted through bauble mirrors, ceramic teapots, and stained glassjewelry boxes. The owner said shed be wrapping up herthird season on Fire Island within the next couple weeks.

Well go as long as theweather will allow us, she quipped.

So will I.

Nate Storey is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure.

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