Trail’s End Restaurant, Like Much of Montauk, Changes Hands

The New York Times

By: Matt A.V. Chaban
Nov. 16, 2015

MONTAUK, N.Y. — By many measures — mobbed surf lines, outrageous liquor tabs, noise violations, illegal short-term rentals — this was the biggest summer here since Carl Fisher failed to turn it into Miami Beach North in the 1920s.

This off-season could be big, too, as some of the hamlet’s principal properties, both new and old, are poised to change hands. It starts with the Trail’s End.

Even before this town made the cover of Vogue, wrapped in velvet ropesand bursting with designer surfboards and million-dollar trailer homes, back when it was just fishermen, firefighters and an occasional rock star or banker in board shorts, even then, the Trail’s End restaurant did not look like much. The neon sign and faded awning, the fire pit and Coleman grill, the popcorn stucco walls and battered mahogany bar were all from a bygone era not that bygone.

But it was a real Montauk place, the first restaurant to open here in 1927, won at one point in a card game and moved by a hurricane. And like many real Montauk places thrust into the parallel universe of surf and celebrity, Trail’s End has been on and off the market for a few years. Many local residents were distraught, even if they had not been since the new bars and clubs made downtown Montauk unrecognizable.

This month, the restaurant was sold for $2.2 million to Michael Nasti, a Long Island entrepreneur who got his start in sand and gravel and built his fortune paving the driveways and pools of the Hamptons, the North Shore and New York City. Montauk has been his summer home since 1993.

He was just the kind of buyer Robert Rottach had spent years looking for, after 31 years of running the place with his family. “Even though we’re selling, I didn’t want a crazy place in there, that’s for sure,” Mr. Rottach said.

Elsewhere in Montauk, there is a tentative deal for Ruschmeyer’s, one of the many rundown old motels turned rustic nightclubs. When this one opened in 2011, it became the calling card of the firm now behind the controversial redevelopment of the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan.

The new owners of the beloved East Deck motel, a favorite among Ditch Plains surfers, appear to have abandoned plans to create a private club, after recently filing plans to tear the place down and build five homes in its place. A proposal to replace Duryea’s, the old-school lobster pound, with a 350-seat restaurant and marina, is drawing a steady backlash.

Mr. Nasti, the new owner of Trail’s End, is not a downtown hotelier or club promoter or hedge fund manager/D.J. There will be no strobes or Solo cups, and he has not hired a celebrity chef from Brooklyn to run his kitchen. That job goes to Steven Paluba, who may have done a stint on the reality show “Hell’s Kitchen,” but who also has a respectable local following at the Atlantic Terrace, which he has run for the past eight years.

“Montauk has always been a place for families, but now you can hardly go out without music blaring, people screaming and who knows what,” Mr. Nasti said inside his darkened property last week. (The restaurant closed just before the sale did.) “We want to create something where you can have a nice meal, enjoy a few bottles of wine and escape the insanity.”

That could be the motto of Dylan Eckardt, an agent at the brokerage Nest Seekers International and the prodigal son of sun, surf and sand who helped arrange the deal.

“It’s all about keeping things mellow,” said Mr. Eckardt, who hopes to have a hand in more of the commercial property sales in Montauk.

A native from the Planet, as some call the tip of the South Fork of Long Island, Mr. Eckardt dropped out of high school to become a professional surfer and struck out for the West Coast, only to return last year after a decade away, a hurricane of fast talk and sales contracts. His hair is still long and shaggy, and while he has traded his dirt bike for a Range Rover, he says his commitment to his hometown is as strong as ever.

“When I came back, it was like Montauk didn’t need to be that discovered,” Mr. Eckardt said last week at a boutique hotel in SoHo. (He had come to town to work on a deal for an East End client.) “I’m not the one making Montauk cool, but I’m going to be the one saying how cool it can be.”

Besides arranging the Trail’s End deal and flipping some homes, Mr. Eckardt is negotiating the sale of a 12-room motel fronting the bay, which would become a boutique hotel with each room done by a different artist. He is also working with a Brooklyn investor to buy up bungalows to create a beachside community.

These may strike some local residents as more of the same, but he says the community comes first.

“They know I’d rather burn the place down than see it go wrong,” Mr. Eckardt said.

At Trail’s End, Mr. Eckardt’s former partner, Anna Cappelen, will be handling the redesign, keeping pieces like the neon sign and Prohibition bar while opening up the south wall to the sun, and the community.

“We will need the summer crowds to survive,” Mr. Nasti said. “You couldn’t just survive on the local crowd, but there’s no reason we can’t make everyone happy and comfortable.”

It will not be, people hope, the end of Trail’s End.

“It’ll be great if they can keep it a locals’ place,” said Karin Johnson, who lives across the street and grew up waiting on tables there. “After all, that’s what it’s always been.”



Dylan Eckardt Dylan Eckardt
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson