Fire Island, the 31 mile long barrier island that sits a ferry ride away across the Great South Bay from Suffolk County’s south shore, is a lot of things to a lot of people. It is a laid back collection of small, quirky towns connected by miles of beach filled with people who love of nature and good times. Fire Island is a magical, fun summer spot only two a half hours from NYC that feels like another country.
Fire Island is also a hard partying seaside destination with some great restaurants and nightlife experiences for every possible appetite. Each town is different, some have fun, vibrant nightlife scenes and some are very much do-it-yourself.
Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park are happy hour hot spots for young singles with summer shares who like to party all night and lay on the beach all afternoon. Fair Harbor is town of modest houses, a few shops along the bay with a mix of families and singles getting out of the city to enjoy the quiet.
Kismet nightlife is The Inn and Surf’s Out. Kismet has a modern 100-slip commercial marina that is a favorite with boaters and fishermen. This country-like atmosphere is a refuge from the steamy city. Cherry Grove is gay friendly, proud, neighborly and a little loud at night. FI Pines is also mostly gay, but reserved and more established, with some of the finest homes on the whole island.
The wooden paths connect the side streets with the center of town. Bicycles and carts are the preferred modes of transportation. There used to be almost no cars, but as the post-Sandy rebuilding continues in many places, contractors use vehicles to haul supplies.
But it is mostly quiet. Sometimes very quiet. You can usually hear the surf from blocks away. Birds chirping as you stroll the walkways, music playing softly as you pass a house or the loud siren to tell you it is noon are the few exceptions most times.
I have been coming out to this thin waddle of land since 1987. At first Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park at share houses. The partying was non-stop and a swim in the ocean was enough to revive you the next day. In the late 90’s, I wrote a bi-weekly column for The Fire Island Tide covering the Fair Harbor Community. Fair Harbor is much more secluded and casual. The crabbing and fishing was great and we cooked great feasts at home there. I find it a peaceful, natural place where releasing the stress of the city begins as the ferry leaves the dock.
The home cook is challenged here because you have to haul almost all of your supplies on the ferry. Some towns have stores (Kismet, Fair Harbor, OB and OBP, Cherry Grove and The Pines all do), but they can be expensive because of the cost they have to bear to bring supplies across the bay. Plan wisely.
Experienced FI visitors can be spotted with their modern spiffed up versions of the old red wagons that serve as a symbol of the island.
Fishing can be amazing with a great variety of species to be caught. As with other supplies, be sure to bring your bait because it is hard to find and expensive out here.
If you are ready to enjoy some of the most unspoiled beaches Fire Island is waiting for you. Somewhere, beyond the sea…
My friend Lou Schwed, RIP, became the unofficial mayor of Corniele and Ocean Beach by having the most jamming beach share within walking distance of the party bars of Ocean Beach. Lou was a true ambassador of the island and I always think of him when I am there. I miss him very much. No Fire Island story can be told without his mention. Viva Lahoo!!