How a Dive Bar in a Glam Beach Town Got a Second Chance
Last spring, Liar’s Saloon, one of the last no-frills watering holes left in Montauk, the rapidly developing beach town at the tip of Long Island’s East End, looked like it was gone for good. The family-owned business had just closed, its longtime owners ready for a change.
“When it was closed, locals saw it almost as a lost way of life,” said Jennifer Fowkes, the executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce.
Residents clucked that another chic lounge or hotel would replace it as the hamlet, with its rustic fishing village roots, continued its whirlwind evolution from casual surfers’ hangout to glamorous hot spot. “Every day there was a new rumor,” Ms. Fowkes said. “It was everything from, ‘They are knocking Liar’s down to build luxury condos’ to ‘The owners of Gurney’s are turning it into something exclusive’ to ‘Liar’s isn’t actually closing.’
That last rumor ended up being true. A local couple, Hali Devlin, and Phil Baigent, along with Ms. Devlin’s mother, Eileen Devlin, 62, plans to reopen Liar’s just as it was, with nothing more than a fresh coat of paint, some new gravel in the parking lot, and a new name.
“We think people will probably still refer to it as Liar’s,” Hali Devlin said. “We did for a long time.”
There’s a reason for that: The 600-square-foot bar, part of a marina on Montauk Harbor, was something of a salty, storied institution.
“It was like the old guard of Montauk type of place,” said Brian Lee, 38, a commercial fisherman who now operates out of New Bedford, Mass. “It was where all the fishermen hung out,” he said, recalling its dollar drafts and generous mudslides. “We could get a little crazier there than at a normal bar,” he continued. “It would be like taking 20 cowboys from the 1800s and putting them in a bar today. We were like wild pirates.
For Hali Devlin, 29, who grew up in Montauk, and Mr. Baigent, 39, a fisherman, taking over Liar’s — and honoring its traditions — was personal. For one thing, the Devlin family owns Salivar’s Clam & Chowder House, a dockside restaurant and another old-school holdout in Montauk. But Liar’s is also where Ms. Devlin used to socialize, and where she and Mr. Baigent, who had known each other from around town, met and fell for each other.
“I always put quotes around the word ‘met,'” she said laughing. “It was one of those typical not all there kind of nights at Liar’s.”
The bar is now called Marlena’s Pack Out, as the new owners don’t have the legal right to the old name. Marlena’s is the name of the marina where the bar is, and “pack out” is a fishing term, referring to fishermen unloading their catch.
Marlena’s Pack Out is waiting for its liquor license to come through to open. But when it does, customers will find the same wooden bar and metal stools, and the same photographs — mostly of local fishermen and patrons holding up their catches. Frozen pizza and mudslides will still be on the menu. Unlike many other bars in Montauk, there will be no cover fee and no “$21-dollar cocktails,” Ms. Devlin said.
Many of the bartenders will be the same as before. “A lot of the bartenders are really good friends,” she said. “We all have a lot of good memories at the old bar, and we are all happy to come back.”
Mr. Lee looks forward to returning with some of his fishing buddies. “My family lives in Noyack, so I end up down there a couple of times every summer, and I’m definitely going to go get a mudslide,” he said. “It felt like home for a bunch of us. I like that it’s coming back.
Some of the younger people drawn to Montauk’s more flashy and Instagram-friendly venues have mentioned their interest in stopping by to pay their respects.
“I always associated Montauk with Surf Lodge,” said Megan Eberly, 26, who works at a public relations company in Manhattan, referring to Montauks’ celebrity-clad live music venue, which opened in 2008. But the more she spoke with people who lived out there, she said, the more she learned that Liar’s, which had been around for well over twice that long, was more representative of the beach town before its glow-up.
For Ms. Devlin, everyone is welcome, especially the Liar’s regulars, she said, adding that she’s feeling the pressure of bringing back a place loved by so many.
“Every time we leave the house everyone keeps asking, ‘When is it opening?'” she said. “I’m like, ‘Please stop asking. We are more anxious than you to have it open.