By Ernest Barteldes
For Labor Day Weekend Renata and I decided to spend two days around Fire Island (we stayed overnight at a budget motel on Long Island), so that meant that all the food shopping for the weekend had to be done ahead of time – and to top it off, I was also covering for a few coworkers at the college where I teach.
We woke up early and headed to Penn Station, where we’d buy the package deal offered by the MTA during the summer season. We decided to visit Kismet on the first day because it was closer to Bay Shore so we’d save time with transportation. After dropping a few items off at our hotel, we walked over to the ferry station, where the boat was already loading.
We hadn’t been to Kismet for a while – on our last visits we mostly spent our days on Cherry Grove and The Fire Island Pines – the latter of which we visited for the first time during a day trip earlier this summer. I’d heard that a co-worker was going there too, and got in touch with her via e-mail. I wasn’t sure if we were going to meet because I had no clue to which beach she was heading to. That doubt was laid to rest when she sent me a text from Surf’s Out, one of the two restaurants on Kismet’s Bay side.
I always take a cooler with food from home when we go on day trips like that, and this was no exception. The night before leaving I stayed up late and made some egg salad, bread, noodle salad, some fruit and a bottle of pre-made sangria from Trader Joe’s. Once we got to the dock I found my co-worker and the four of us (she came with her boyfriend) and headed to the sand.
The beach was not as crowded as I’d expected for that day. The crowd was the usual mix of families and mixed groups. The sand was very high above the water, and it seemed as if we on top of a 5-foot dune over the water. As we picked a place to lay down our towels, we noticed several houses severely damaged by the aftermath of hurricane Sandy.
There is currently a project in the works for an artificial dune to be built on the path of the natural ones flattened by the storm, and as a consequence some of the homes there will have to be demolished – an unfortunate but necessary move to ensure the survival of the island – and the homes across the bay that are protected by it.
The temperature was comfortable, which made for a nice day in the sun. I brought along my ukulele and played a few tunes, and my co-worker played a few songs from her phone via a small Bluetooth speaker she brought along. At the end of the afternoon, we picked up our stuff and went for a final drink at the Kismet Inn, one of the oldest establishments in that hamlet. The mostly wooden structure seems almost frozen in time, and is one of the few places I know that still has a working cigarette vending machine. The only thing that seems to connect the place to the 21st Century is an Internet jukebox, which I fed with a few singles in order to listen to some music I was in the mood for.
Fire Island’s ability to resist change is one of the things I love about it. I have been reading my late, great friend Jack Nichols’ Welcome To Fire Island: Visions of Cherry Grove and The Pines, and by reading his narrative and looking at the pictures in the book, I realize that there have been very few changes there. “Tiffany’s” Deli looks the same from the outside, and the Ice Palace is still going strong four decades later – even though the Grove Hotel is going through repairs following a devastating fire early in the spring that also destroyed several other buildings.
Incidentally, Jack also wrote about how the residents of Cherry Grove have worked to preserve the dunes – their protection to the elements while other communities have been relentless in building summer homes. As a result, guess which part of Fire Island was the least affected by the storm?
We took the ferry as the sun went down, headed to our hotel and checked in. A few minutes later we went out in search for a place to pick up some food. Renata was in the mood for some Chinese food, so we walked over to a local takeout place with reasonable prices (one quart chicken with broccoli: $ 10), I felt like some pizza, and headed to Fratelli’s, one of my favorite Italian restaurants on Long Island. The front of the shop looks like a regular pizza joint, but if you head to the back there is a romantically lit room where they serve a variety of dishes, and also have a nice wine list to boot.
The next morning I woke up early and went to the nearby Stop and Shop to get supplies for the next day. I’d put the ice packs into the room freezer the night before, and they were ready to go. We’d also bought some wine at a local store, so we added that to the cold cuts, bread and strawberries I purchased at the supermarket that morning.
We checked out of the hotel and took our hand baggage and cooler to the LIRR station to catch the ferry to Sayville, a nearby town where you take the ferries to Fire Island Pines, Cherry Grove and Sunken Forest. We grabbed a drink at their local bar and boarded the ferry, where we met our friend Marta. Once on Cherry Grove, Renata and Marta headed to “Tiffany’s” for a cup of coffee before we hit the sand.
The beach was more crowded than during earlier visits. There were a handful of nude folks there, but the majority was dressed. Jack would be saddened to see that nudity no longer abounds on Cherry Grove, but in the generation of social media I think not many people would be up to being full frontal on Twitter. A few groups were a bit obnoxious, including a couple listening to music on a large Bluetooth speaker that was quite annoying but overall the crowds were pretty respectful of their surroundings.
I was the only one to go into the water in our group, and it felt great. The temperature is the best in late summer, when the water is much warmer and inviting. The undertow was a bit brutal, but I managed fine and returned to our towel after a few minutes. Once the sun started to get cooler, we headed to one of the bars for a quick drink and took the ferry back home.
I still want to go to Fire Island before the end of September, but I feel it’s a bit unlikely even with the extended ferry schedule. It is always a fantastic experience to be there, and every time I look back as the boat makes its way back to the mainland during late summer my heart breaks a little, because it’s a long wait until Memorial Day.
Our cocktail recipe for this week comes from the Kismet Inn —
- 1 part dark rum
- 1 part amaretto
- 2 parts pineapple juice
- 1 part cream of coconut
- Splash of milk (optional)
” Blend it all, top your drink with high-proof rum (like Bacardi 151) , and you will be ready to enjoy life as it is enjoyed on Fire Island – drunkenly.”