Just Back: Chasing Summer on New York's Fire Island
It’s either unchecked hedonism or outright
denial that led me to New York’s Fire Island the weekend
after summer’s unofficial demise. While most
vacationers packed up their share-houses and kissed farewell to the spit of
sand off Long Island’s south coast over Labor Day, I
was still dreaming of bike rides, summer ales, and one last coat of sun.
It doesn’t hurt that hotel prices fall off a cliff once
beachgoers pack up their white (I paid $225 per night at Clegg's Hotel, while
rates during summer’s apex can be double that). So I
found myself at the Island Mermaid pulling on a straw filled with its signature
Rocket 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 out
as long as possible before the looming cold throws its death grip around New
York City. I wasn’t ready for fall, not yet.
Fire Island’s most endearing
characteristic is the complete abolishment of cars (save for a few police
vehicles). People tote their belongings around in weathered Radio Flyer wagons
and push pedals for transportation. Congregations of beach cruiser bikes sit
outside seafront bars and anchored boats from Long Island beach communities rock
in 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 10
minutes to walk the width of the island. It’s these distinct eccentricities
that draw famous residents like designers Michael Kors and Calvin Klein.
The few weeks that bridge summer and fall can be the most
charming. There’s something seductive about
catching a place with its guard down. The normally raging rapid of bikers was
merely a trickle. Bars usually stuffed with raucous merrymakers were pleasantly
sprinkled with locals, wedding attendees, and day-trippers. Large swaths of
beach were uninhabited.
There was no fighting for oceanside tables on the outdoor
veranda at Schooner Inn in Ocean Bay Park. A few platoons nonchalantly munched
on calamari and enjoyed whatever beers were left in stock. The private beach
out front was deserted, providing uninterrupted water vistas. Further down the
shoreline, the bartender at Flynn’s casually exchanged chuckles with a patron, untethered from summer’s frantic pace.
“This place was packed to the brim
last weekend,” she told me, not lamenting the
herd of partiers that had exited the island for the year. “This
I sauntered right into beloved Maguire’s for lunch in Ocean Beach and planted myself at the best table in the house with
no trouble. They were out of the swordfish sandwich for the year but the
mango-salsa-smothered Mahi Mahi tacos were delectable nonetheless. Nearby
Bambootique was busy with shoppers snatching up blouses, dresses, and shoes at
50 percent off. The outdoor Laughing Gull Artisans Gallery just off the ferry
dock was hawking its usual mélange of arts and crafts from local artists. A few
browsers sifted through bauble mirrors, ceramic teapots, and stained glass
jewelry boxes. The owner said she’d be wrapping up her
third season on Fire Island within the next couple weeks.
“We’ll go as long as the
weather will allow us,” she quipped.
So will I.
Nate Storey is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure.