Ruschmeyer’s Reborn, Electric Eel to Follow

Ben Pundole and Rob McKinley
Ben Pundole and Rob McKinley are poised to re-open Ruschmeyer’s in Montauk on Friday, May 27. David E. Rattray

    Almost anyone who’s lived in or visited Montauk over the last three or four decades is likely to have a tale to tell about the property at 161 Second House Road, recently known as Second House Tavern, and now about to be reborn as an old-new South Fork icon — Ruschmeyer’s.
    Ben Pundole, who spent years with Ian Schrager and Morgans Hotel Group, and Robert McKinley, who created the interiors for Montauk’s Surf Lodge and New York City’s Gold Bar, among others, have taken over the former Second House Tavern and are planning a May 27 opening for the restaurant and the eight cabins in the back.
    It was only in the last week that the two came into management of the property, which is now in the midst of a top-to-bottom overhaul. It was clear this week that Mr. Pundole and Mr. McKinley were enjoying the mayhem and excitement that come with opening a new place.
    They met a few years ago, when Mr. McKinley was about to do the Surf Lodge. “I’ve been coming out here for 10 years, and I’m still not a great surfer.” Mr. Pundole admitted with a smile.
    Mr. McKinley has been coming to Montauk since he was a kid.
    They each grew up in the hospitality business — although they only realized that during an interview this week.
    “My dad was the chef of the inn he owned in Norfolk [England],” said Mr. Pundole. “It was just a small place.”
    Mr. McKinley’s uncle owned an Italian restaurant, and let him take bread to the tables when he was little.
    “I didn’t know that,” Mr. Pundole said, when he heard his business partner’s story.
    The two have brought their combined experience in the restaurant and hospitality fields to bear on a venture they call King and Grove Hotels. It sounds aristocratic, but the name, said the pair, comes from the streets where they lived as babies.
    “King Street in Pleasantville, New York,” said Mr. McKinley.
    “Grove Street in Isleworth, London,” offered Mr. Pundole.
    It’s their similar vision, not their similar backgrounds, that brought the duo together for their inaugural enterprise at Ruschmeyer’s. King and Grove will also operate the Surf Lodge.
    “It was just too good of an opportunity to pass up,” Mr. Pundole said of the Ruschmeyer’s property. “There’s so much history here.”
    And it is the historical angle that they want to play up — especially using information about the place from the 1950s and ’60s.
     “We definitely have a strong idea of the stuff we like,” said Mr. McKinley, who added that the restored Ruschmeyer’s “has a midcentury slant, and a nod to the ocean.” Mr. Pundole said that Ruschmeyer’s will return to a “nautical summer camp” feel, with a pool and poolside bar, a family-friendly atmosphere, and activities like Ping-Pong and boccie.
    “It’ll be cheeky, not too serious,” he said.
    As to the restaurant, the pair has tapped Ben Towill and Philip Winser of Silkstone in Manhattan, which operates the Fat Radish, to create the menu.
    “It’ll be simple,” said Mr. McKinley. “Fresh ingredients, and not a lot of ingredients.”
    But aside from the menu, Mr. McKinley and Mr. Pundole expressed a deep affection for Montauk’s resources and its people. The fish will be dock-fresh, they said. As many ingredients as possible will be sourced from local vendors. “And there are so many great craftsmen out here,” Mr. McKinley added.
    The two have been around Montauk long enough that they are known to the locals as well. Walter Galcik stopped by in his truck to talk and show them a Cor-Ten steel mailbox he had just created, which elicited an enthusiastic reaction from the duo, and others drove by and waved. Just that morning, Mr. McKinley had gone to the local hardware store to pick up some paint and spackle and other necessities for the crew.
    “I guess we could go farther west,” said Mr. McKinley. “But I like going to Becker’s.”
    The main Ruschmeyer’s building is comprised of three distinct areas — a restaurant, a bar, and a smaller spot that once was known as the Electric Eel Disco at Ruschmeyer’s.
    “We’re going to bring that back,” said Mr. Pundole, who then looked at Mr. McKinley. “I mean, we haven’t discussed it . . . ,” he hesitated.
    “Let’s do it,” answered Mr. McKinley with a smile and a shrug.
    “Right,” Mr. Pundole said with emphasis. “The Electric Eel is now official. You read it here first.”
    Ruschmeyer’s will open Memorial Day weekend and will shut down for the season sometime in October. Or maybe Thanksgiving. Or somewhere in between. As with a lot of the decisions, the pair are thinking on their feet.
    “I think people are happy we’re bringing it back to Ruschmeyer’s,” said Mr. McKinley.
    “It’ll be great,” said Mr. Pundole, looking happily around at the gutted building and empty grounds.
    One can only imagine their joint vision. At least until May 27.