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 is nice”.
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.