“Northeast fishing villages all have their local watering holes. Fortunately for those of us who live in Montauk, we have The Dock. This small, dark tavern embodies Montauk — from the happy hour regulars sitting outside draft in hand, to the homestyle cooking, to the welcomed feeling as soon as you walk in the door. For so many locals and transients alike, The Dock is a safe haven — an escape from the rapidly changing world around us. Sitting at that bar you experience a sense of community and the special energy that is Montauk. This photography book is my attempt at capturing that slice of Montauk culture by focusing on the visual ephemera, of the many curios and the stories they tell, all located on the walls and shelves of The Dock.” Says photographer Grant Monahan of his new self-published book, “The Dock,” a unique visual tribute to a favorite local bar in his hometown of Montauk, New York. I had the pleasure of catching up with Grant recently at his own storied local establishment on the beach; the Ditch Witch to talk about this beautiful, labor-of-love photo project.
Why The Dock? What makes this place so special for you?
I choose The Dock for a few reasons. For starters it is my favorite bar in the world; everyone knows your name, the beer is ice cold, the food is amazing, and the mix of people is second to none. If i ever have friends visiting Montauk I make them go to The Dock and experience the sense of community you feel there. That sense of community is what i cherish and love so much about growing up and living in Montauk. My mom was the chef at The Dock from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, she was actually pregnant with me cooking in the kitchen for an entire season. We were laughing about it today, she told me, “The sound of George’s voice and the smell of french fries left an impression on my infant brain.” I thought that was hilarious. There is so much rich history and amazing stories all over Montauk and I want to do photography projects that showcase that. This project was my attempt at showing a piece of what Montauk is about by focusing on the smallest of objects and honoring one of the towns most iconic bars.
Give us some more “historical” background on the bar & restaurant.
The Dock has been open since 1973, prior to that it was called Fitzgerald’s. George was a FDNY fireman at the time and was doing both that and the bar, eventually he decided both was too much and stuck with the bar. I think part of what makes The Dock so amazing is that it has stayed so true to itself and hasn’t changed a lot with the times. You can have a beer at that bar and almost feel like you are in an older Montauk, like I heard stories about from my dad as a kid. I think that is why the place is such a local institution with so many regulars, it has remained the same. Consistency always wins.
Knowing the venue and its dark and eclectic ambiance, it’s surprising to see how white, clean and polished the book is. What made you decide to go that route aesthetically?
Originally I planned on doing a portrait series of all the regulars at the bar. I knew i needed to do a photography project about The Dock and had been thinking about it a lot. I was having a beer with my friends Javas and Olivia and was explaining my idea for the portraits, and out of the blue the concept of removing all the objects, trinkets, painting, animal heads, hand made signs, etc. from the bar and shooting them in a studio evolved. So I ordered what i needed, and would set up a small studio every morning in the bar before they opened. I shot everything in the bar one by one, it took two weeks. The whole idea behind the clean white look was to focus your attention to the individual object. There is so much in that bar that you notice something new every time you walk in. I bet there are guys that go to happy hour every day that will open that book and not even know an object on the page was in the bar. Javas Lehn did the design of the book with me and he really made it special! The whole book is kind of ironic you are looking at a lot of random crusty, rude, and funny objects in this beautiful aesthetic. The cover is actual bar coaster set into the book, it is suppose to be an art book you can put your beer on.
Can you give us a preview of some of the content of the book? A couple favorite stories behind some of the objects featured in the book?
My personal favorite part of the book is the index. The owner of The Dock George Watson wrote captions and stories about every object photographed. It is absolutely hilarious! It really gives credit to who gave the bar what, even if its not in the nicest way. haha. One of my favorite captions is for the human skull… “This real human skull, donated by Dennis Sweeny, sits in a corner of the back bar. Once a customer asked the waitress to have the bartender turn the skull around so it wouldn’t be staring at her. After that incident, I thought of putting a small shade with a penis on it that could be drawn down if it ever offended anyone.”
George’s sense of humor is legendary. Where does he get all this shit that’s in the bar?
George and his son Chris both have the most incredible sense of humor. That is another draw to the bar, you are going to laugh, either at your own expense or at someone else’s. The chalkboard next to the front door always has some sort of witty joke usually making fun of a local current event or incident. The place is just all around so classic! The introduction for the book was also written by George and he really explains where most of the stuff came from, “gifts from irate wives, as in, ‘get this shit out of my house!'”
I’m not from Montauk, but I have so many special memories from going to The Dock over the years. What are some of your favorite local stories from there?
My favorite tall tale from The Dock is hearing about boxing match they had in 1977. They constructing a boxing ring in the parking lot and drew names out of a hat and had legit boxing matches. I use to be put to bed by my father to stories about “The Dock Fights.” George’s brother Tom is a great photographer and shot all the fights in black and white. There is a photo book of those images behind the bar, they are incredible and worth a look.
What was your experience like self-publishing this book? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced from concept to execution?
I worked with my friend Bill Duer from Hatteras Press while self publishing this book. Bill put in so much effort into making our concept a reality. He truly believed in the project and produced an incredible product that we are all very proud of. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to incorporate the actual bar coasters in the cover. Thanks to Bill it happened! This book was an incredible collaboration, from George allowing me access to take everything down in his bar and writing the introduction and captions for every photo, to Javas doing the design work and helping me every step of the way, and Bill putting in so much effort to make our idea a reality. Projects like this are dreamy!
It’s clear that you have an affinity toward dive bars with character, what are some of your other favorite haunts in Montauk and beyond?
My favorite bars in Montauk are The Dock, Liars, and Montauket. Favorite bars elsewhere are Clem’s in Brooklyn, Star Tavern in Westport, New Zealand, AC’s in Charleston, SC, and Olga’s in Playa Pelada, Costa Rica.
Any other details about the book?
This book would not be possible without the support of George, Chris and the crew at The Dock.
Signed and Numbered
84 pages pages, 64 images
Hardback / Clothbound
7.75 X 10 in
Edition 01, 2017
Designed by Javas Lehn Studio
Printed in the USA by Hatteras
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