Is this the oldest continuously operating business at the same address on Montauk’s main street? It sure looks that way!
The now-iconic Shagwong Tavern began its existence during Carl Fisher’s development of Montauk, and first opened its doors in 1927. Not as a bar and grill (Prohibition was in full swing back then) but as a candy store called the Montauk Sweet Shop.
Only a few short months after Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933, candy and ice cream were replaced by beer, wine and liquor, and the Montauk Tavern was born. And since that date, through various owners and managers, the Tavern has been at the center of local life and lore — fitting for a hamlet that self-identifies as “a quaint drinking town with a fishing problem.”
In its early days, the Montauk Tavern gained fame under the management of Frank Tuma for what the County Review called “about the best shore dinner that you could ask for.”
Frequently the site of private parties with singing and dancing to a live orchestra, newspaper articles often appeared with descriptions of these lively events. One notable piece in the East Hampton Star of February 27, 1936 refers to a party in which pillars of the community “brought down the house” with songs like “The Night That She Cried in My Beer,” (E. V. Conway II) and “Come Away With Me, Lucille, in My Merry Oldsmobile,” (Corporal William Brockman).
In March of 1946, the East Hampton Star announced a new name for the Montauk Tavern: the Shagwong Tavern, to be run by Mary A. Williams and Walter Woods. Foreshadowing the Shagwong’s popularity with celebrities, actor Freddie Bartholomew was spotted at the bar only a few months after it opened.
Under the management of Jimmy Hewitt, who bought the place in 1969, the Shagwong continued to embody local authenticity while still managing to attract an impressive roster of household-name-level celebrities who apparently loved it just as it was.
In 1989, an effort by the East Hampton Town Board to remove the Shagwong’s 14-foot-high sign for being “non-conforming” was met with public outcry, and eventually abandoned, as it was recognized to have “historical significance.”
When Jimmy Hewitt sold the Shagwong in 2015, any number of news articles forecast the “end of an era.” Happily, that has not come to pass. Its three current owners, Jason Behan, Jon Krasner and Beau Campsey, have managed to maintain the ‘Wong’s essential character without missing a beat.