In Montauk, Smile's Back, With a Wink and Big Plans

New owners want to add a bar-restaurant to the old Oceanside resort
The new owners of the former Oceanside resort have renamed the motel the Hero Beach Club, and hope to add a bar and restaurant to the premises. T.E. McMorrow

The great big smiley face is back on the east side of the former Oceanside Beach Motel, known affectionately in Montauk as the Smiley Motel. Now, however, the smile is combined with a wink, as new ownership seeks site plan approval from the East Hampton Town Planning Board for an ambitious redo of the resort, which it is calling the Hero Beach Club.

Their plan calls for a bar-restaurant, described in the application as a “wet retail” area, as well as a common meeting room in the northeasternmost of the three structures on the grounds. The partners in the project are Jon Krasner, already a principal in two Montauk eateries, the Salt Box and Shagwong, and Teddy Wasserman, a financier.

The property, just under an acre, is somewhat unusual for downtown Montauk. Unlike many of the resorts to the east, it was built behind the dune, not on it. Parts of it date back to the 1950s.

The planning board got its first look at the site plan on May 3. Although the partners have applied to the State Liquor Authority for a license to sell alcohol, Mr. Krasner said during an impromptu tour of the grounds on Tuesday that they had no interest in creating another nighttime destination for Montauk partiers, like the Surf Lodge. He has two children and Mr. Wasserman has one, he said, and their intent is to create a family-oriented business.

Sometime next year, they propose to entirely gut the easternmost building, reducing the number of rooms at the resort from 34 to 30. Several hundred feet of decking would wrap around what they are calling a “wet retail” store and common room, as well as 515 square feet of second-floor decking. The space would have a small kitchen with a six-burner stove, with prep space in the basement.

The common area, combined with the restaurant and kitchen, would cover over 1,400 square feet. Mr. Krasner said all the walls would display artwork. “We have to support the arts and artists,” he said.

The designation of “wet retail” raised some eyebrows on the board, as well as among town planners. Eric Schantz, a senior planner, suggested that the applicants had not provided a “narrative” as to how that building would be used. The narrative, he said, would be key to understanding how the owners view retail use versus restaurant or bar use. The floor plan for the “wet retail” store, for example, depicts four tables. This, he said, is prohibited for retail stores under the town code.

Britton Bistrian, who is shepherding the application, remarked that she expects food and wine to be available when she checks into a resort. “It is a pretty long haul down Montauk Highway to get to a restaurant,” she said.

Though she did not bring up the Beach House, during that establishment’s site-plan process several years ago, the town ultimately accepted the argument that a restaurant and-or bar catering to a motel’s guests was a legal accessory.

“I am concerned with parking,” Nancy Keeshan said. “Your narrative is going to have to answer a lot of questions.”

“It seems quite large for a retail space,” Ian Calder-Piedmonte observed.  “Your intent can be great,” but, he added, the planning board had to think long term.

“Thank you for investing and upgrading and making it a little more upscale,” said Diana Weir, another board member. “The ‘narrative’ will explain everything.”

The question of septic flow swirled around the table as board members sought to understand what is there now and what is proposed. “My understanding is that it would not be feasible to apply for a restaurant in this location because of the sanitary systems and the parking,” Job Potter, the chairman, said. “Wet retail is all you can apply for.”

The board concluded by asking the new owners for a detailed narrative, as well as a copy of their application to the liquor authority.

Mr. Krasner was in attendance during the discussion. “I think owners need to show up, instead of sending lawyers,” he said Tuesday. “We have to say hello to the people in the town.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the owners plan to demolish the easternmost building on the property and build a new one in its place. They propose instead to gut the building.