The Legend of the Ridiculously Long Montauk Bathroom Line
It was a quirky rite of passage, until the queues at Surf Lodge spilled onto the street and its septic system leaked into a pond.
By Alyson Krueger
May 24, 2019
Last summer, on a typical weekend at Surf Lodge in Montauk, Jaden Smith performed Saturday night while the surfer Evan Valiere cheered him on and Tiffany Trump and Naomi Biden posed for photos — with each other. The next day, the rapper Lupe Fiasco would draw almost 400 people at a packed, outdoor performance; some guests showed up on kayaks to watch from nearby Fort Pond. It was so crowded that the guest list ceased to make a difference.
“Last year it was politician year, all the kids,” said Alan Rish, a spokesman for Surf Lodge. “Malia Obama comes every year over the Fourth of July for her birthday.”
The Surf Lodge, a casual-chic hotel and lounge known for free concerts and its outdoor deck, attracts celebrities like Rosario Dawson and Jon Bon Jovi, as well as local fishermen and weekenders.
But in recent years, Surf Lodge has also been known for something else: Its ridiculously long bathroom lines. The queues for the four tiny women’s stalls were the stuff of local legend, curving into the lobby and at times out the main entrance, creating fire hazards. V.I.P.s with security details would have to notify a staff member in order to be escorted to a “secret bathroom” (which a lot of people seemed to know about) in the manager’s office.
“So much of my daily job involved people needing to pee,” said Jonny Lennon, a bouncer who has been with Surf Lodge since it opened 11 years ago.
There were also environmental concerns. The few overused bathrooms relied on an old septic system that hadn’t been renovated since the 1940s. “Nitrogen from waste was leaking into the pond,” said Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, deputy supervisor of East Hampton, referring to Fort Pond, the 181-acre body of water behind the lodge where the concertgoers on kayaks sometimes congregate.
After years of Surf Lodge trying to address the problem, it seems to have been resolved. This Memorial Day weekend, it will unveil 12 new bathroom stalls. They replace what used to be an art gallery. A special tank, brought over from Japan, was installed to stop the pollution of the pond. The entire project, including the new units, will cost $1.4 million, according to Surf Lodge.
For some this development marks a new beginning for Surf Lodge, and a better relationship with the hamlet of Montauk. For others it signifies that Surf Lodge is no longer a place where strangers make out on the dance floor, and celebrities throw caution to the wind, chugging as much rosé as they like.
For Jayma Cardoso, one of the owners and the face of the hotel and lounge, it simply means her baby is growing up. “It’s an opportunity to say we are getting older, we need to get a little bit more mature,” she said. “We need to end this bathroom business.”
When it opened in 2008, Surf Lodge was a little beach shack located at the very tip of Long Island that played reggae. “I remember raising money,” said Ms. Cardoso. “They were all like, ‘It’s too far, nobody will go there.’”
People went. As the popularity of Montauk and Surf Lodge grew, the creaky old facility, the main part of which had been built in the mid-20th century, could barely handle the numbers.
The Surf Lodge has a capacity of about 395 people, which it hit on summer weekends from the moment it opened. Crowds formed outside the door and spilled into the busy intersection of Edgemere Street and Industrial Road. Surf Lodge had to start limiting the number of people waiting outside just to get in.
Meanwhile its septic system was overwhelmed.
“Jayma was pumping her old system every few days because it was filling up so quickly,” said Laura Tooman, president of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, an environmental group that had lobbied for the lodge to fix the situation. “You should only have to pump every three to five years.”
Almost from the beginning, the out-of-control bathroom lines started. “We would have security meetings about it every day,” Mr. Lennon said. “We tried all sorts of things,” like opening up unoccupied hotel room bathrooms, he said.
Of course, the important summer people, the celebrities who stayed there and the regulars who learned how to game the system, always somehow managed to skip the line.
Mr. Lennon, in fact, met his future wife, Ashley Aversano (now Lennon), when he took a liking to her and her friends who naïvely stopped by the lodge to use the bathroom. “I had a room in the hotel,” Mr. Lennon said, “and I let her and her friends use it all night. The rest is history.”
Jonny Lennon works security at Surf Lodge. While policing the bathroom line, he met his future wife, Ashley. He let her jump the queue.CreditJohnny Milano for The New York Times
Peter Darrow, 32, who spends his summers in Montauk and has been a Surf Lodge patron since 2012, found a secret bathroom upstairs years ago and used it to his advantage socially. When women he was chatting with would say they needed a bathroom break, he would say, “Follow me,” he recounted. “After that they would think I was amazing and go get a coffee or drink with me.”
Mr. Rish, the Lodge spokesman, was not above escorting celebrities to the V.I.P. bathroom. “One day Blake Griffin, a basketball player, came in, and I walked him to the bathroom,” he said. “He told me how much he loved the busboy uniforms so I took him into the office and gave him one to try on. This bathroom thing led to a lot of great conversations.”
But for those who couldn’t skip the line, the charm wore thin quickly. So the Surf Lodge started drafting proposals to update its bathrooms four years ago.
But the lodge found that when it was ready to submit its plans, regulations would change. “It’s been sort of a moving target in some respect,” said Andy Hammer, Surf Lodge’s lawyer. “Technology and town code has evolved, so we’ve evolved our proposals.”
Ms. Overby has a different take. She said that Surf Lodge agreed to install new technology after it faced other violations like crowding and safety violations.
For now, Surf Lodge and the municipality seem to be on the same page. The bar has promised local officials that it will use a new crowd control tactic for Saturdays in the summer: Only those with reservations will get in.
It’s a compromise that will certainly change the freewheeling vibe of the place. “I never wanted Surf Lodge to be this guest-list-only place,” Ms. Cardoso said. But, she added, it’ll make the neighbors happy and it’ll make the town happy.
So far, they are. “In terms of water quality, it’s a win for Fort Pond,” Ms. Tooman said.
Of course, new ideas could introduce new problems. The recent construction has actually sparked some inspiration.
“The other day there was literally a hole in the middle of the parking lot, where they were installing everything,” Ms. Cardoso said. “I was like, ‘Can we do a pool?’ It would be amazing. The rooms could be cabanas or bungalows, and it would solve the overcrowded parking issue, because no one could park.”