‘Soul’ of Surf Lodge Is on the Line

Overcrowding leads to live music prohibition at Montauk hot spot
The hip-hop artist Smino at the Surf Lodge in Montauk in August 2018. The New York State Liquor Authority has revoked the restaurant and inn’s right to host live music, citing overcrowding and numerous other violations. Adelia Rattray

The New York State Liquor Authority and East Hampton Town have prohibited the Surf Lodge in Montauk from holding live outdoor musical performances after citing the establishment for numerous code violations including overcrowding, most recently for an event held there last September.

At a meeting of the liquor authority in November, Vincent Bradley, the chairman of the agency, expressed exasperation at the number of violations the Surf Lodge has accumulated. “They’re not getting the message, that’s clear to me,” he said. “The number of people that are packed into this place is completely unreasonable.”

On Sept. 1, 2018, the day of the most recent violations, the duo Frenship performed at the resort, according to a notice on its website. That evening, the Surf Lodge was cited for, among the other violations, allowing 250 people to congregate on a deck that has a legal capacity of 112. “That’s a nightmare waiting to happen,” Mr. Bradley said at a March 6 hearing on the matter. 

The resort, at which musicians such as Lauryn Hill, Janelle Monae, Jessie J, and Jaden Smith have performed, has been cited for overcrowding and excessive noise at events since 2015, said Mr. Bradley. On one occasion in 2017, he said, the Surf Lodge had allowed 283 people on the deck.

Following that incident, Jayma Cardoso, an owner of the Surf Lodge, and William Garry, her attorney, appeared before the board in February 2018 to explain how the resort planned to avoid future violations. 

The Surf Lodge would limit access to the deck to keep the number of people under capacity, said Mr. Garry, and it would train employees to do head counts. To ward off noise complaints from neighbors, Mr. Garry said, sound barriers would be installed, and musical performances would end at 8 p.m. 

The board imposed a $25,000 fine for the infraction, and Mr. Bradley warned Ms. Cardoso that the resort was in danger of losing its liquor license. “If you keep breaking town regulations, you’re going to probably end up here again, and that’s going to be the end of it,” he said. 

 When Ms. Cardoso appeared before the liquor authority on March 6, Mr. Bradley castigated the resort yet again for overcrowding on the deck, as well as for allowing a crush of restaurant customers who are waiting for a table to crowd into the hotel’s front parking lot. The board decided to impose a $55,000 fine, and to revoke the resort’s permission to hold live musical performances.

In a letter to the liquor authority prior to the hearing, East Hampton Town lawyers informed board members that the Surf Lodge was still not in compliance with a 2016 legal agreement Ms. Cardoso had made with the town. 

One of the provisions of the agreement limited the total occupancy of the resort — including the indoor restaurant and bar, and the outdoor beach and deck — to 395 people. It also limited the number of people in the queuing area for the restaurant to 50. 

Based on the Surf Lodge’s lack of compliance, the letter said, “the Town of East Hampton will not be issuing the Surf Lodge a music entertainment permit for the 2019 season.” 

Ms. Cardoso said on Tuesday that she accepted responsibility for the violations, and was putting new measures in place to reduce the number of people on the premises. “Our issue is popularity, not the music,” she said. 

The restaurant, which has operated on a first-come-first-served basis, will now be taking reservations on weekends, she said, rather than allowing long lines to form. 

Ms. Cardoso will also seek to work with the town, she said, to establish conditions for the Surf Lodge to have its music permit reinstated. 

“It’s magical because of the music,” she said of her resort. “Would the Surf Lodge survive without music? Yes. Will the soul of the business be the same? I don’t think so.”