Throw Back Thursday – Fun & Games

Rendering of the Star Island Club, no date. | Richard T. Gilmartin Collection, Montauk Library Archives
Montauk Island Club, 1929. Picture from Montauk Yacht Club brochure. | Richard T. Gilmartin Collection, Montauk Library Archives
Party aboard a yacht in Montauk, 1928. An elegantly dressed group including General William Wallace Atterbury enjoying a day of yachting at the Montauk Yacht Club, which was next door to the Island Club. Note the saddle and rug. | Montauk Beach Development Corporation Collection, Montauk Library Archives

For what could be more ideal than dining and dancing in the cool moonlight of a summer evening, with beams from a high, sailing moon sprinkling diamonds on the water, and sweet strains of soft music luring you to a glistening dance floor?  — Montauk Beach promotional brochure, referring to the Star Island Club in 1932

The Montauk Island Club opened in June of 1928 on Star Island, which at the time could be reached only by a bridge. One of a number of swanky attractions developed by Carl Fisher in his attempt to create a Miami Beach of the North, it became a prime spot for gambling and drinking during the days of Prohibition, which ran from 1920 to 1933.

Outwardly it was known as a “supper club” catering to well-heeled, well-dressed and well-connected yachtsmen who stepped off their boats in Lake Montauk. “The Montauk Island Club was the scene of many pretty dinner and supper parties last week-end,” the East Hampton Star reported in August of 1930, going on to observe that this “delightful place,” like Fisher’s adjoining Yacht Club, was “becoming more and more popular.” Vanderbilts and Wanamakers were among the clientele, as was New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker, who was rumored to have camouflaged himself as a waiter to escape one of several raids at the club.

The county sheriff paid a visit in the first season but could not find evidence of gambling, apparently because the management was tipped off. “It was claimed at that time that ‘everything and every table was on ball-bearing skids ready to move at a minute’s notice’ and that it took only a few minutes to clear the club of any evidence,” the Star reported the following year, when another raid, led by Assistant DA Alexander Blue and eight deputy sheriffs, proved more successful. (Law enforcement may have found extra inspiration in the appearance, in the new Time magazine, of a nautical chart showing Montauk with an arrow pointing to “gambling casino.”)

By this time betting at the casino seems to have become more entrenched. “On Saturday night Mr. Blue found that everything was securely fastened, and it took his men two hours to move the gambling evidence out of the club,” the Star said. “The gaming tables, roulette wheels, bird cage dice games and chip racks taken Saturday night filled a huge moving van, which was taken to Riverhead early Sunday morning.” The wheels and tables were said to be worth a cool $25,000.

”’It was a pretty swell layout,’ said Blue’s men when commenting on the raid. ‘About the swellest bunch of stuff we have ever seen.’”

Even after Prohibition ended, gambling raids at the club continued into the 1950s. The building was destroyed by fire in the 1980s.


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