October 24, 2007
Nick Monte, In Memoriam:
Montauk Mover and Shaker Passes Away
Nick Monte (Montemarano), the adored Innkeeper of Gurney's Inn in Montauk and founder of the American seawater spa, passed away on October 13 in Nevada. He was just over a month shy of his 91st birthday.
| (click for larger version)|
Nick was born on November 26, 1916, the fifth of seven boys, in the apartment over their parents' restaurant, Monte's Venetian Room on Carol Street in Brooklyn. Neither depressions nor recessions, major wars nor minor wars, Prohibition nor epidemics ever disrupted the continuity of this tiny Italian restaurant and the love Nick had for his family.
Young Nick was proud that his parents owned the first telephone in town (Number 5129) and the first radio. Backing the dining room was a small herb garden, a bocce-court and a barn for the horse that pulled the delivery wagon for the family's catering business. His father Angelo delivered beer, wine, soda and sandwiches. During Prohibition the restaurant did business as usual, serving excellent home brew, homemade wine and good liquor. They were not considered a speakeasy but a good restaurant that served alcoholic beverages as an accompaniment to great food.
In 1932, Nick, only 16 years old, took over the business after his father had an accident, and he had to drop out of Brooklyn Tech. From that moment on Nick Monte became the forever gracious host of Monte's Venetian Room until he acquired Gurney's Inn in 1956 and moved to Montauk.
As the story goes, one afternoon in the summer of 1955, a friend in Brooklyn who had a house in Montauk invited Nick to lunch in Montauk with the promise of the best linguine and clam sauce he'd ever tasted. For a man who owned one of the most successful Italian restaurants in Brooklyn, Monte had to admit he was intrigued. Upon arriving at his friend's home he was offered a glass of wine on the deck overlooking the ocean. The two men sat and talked for some time.
They talked and then they talked some more . . . there they were sitting on the deck sipping wine jovially and languorously, when low and behold, the bottle was gone and lunch was nowhere to be found. So Nick thought it worth mentioning the promised lunch. Since neither of the men was in any condition to cook at that time, they decided to head over to Gurney's Inn for lunch.
At the time, Gurney's was owned by Mrs. Maude Gurney, who happened to be a Christian Scientist. Christian Scientists do not believe in the consumption of alcohol, therefore the restaurant carried no liquor whatsoever. Well, here he was in such a beautiful place, with good food and a divine view and the glass of wine Nick Monte would have loved to savor with his meal was nowhere to be found! It seemed he had no choice but to offer to buy the restaurant and hotel from Mrs. Gurney so that he could properly enjoy his meal.
Initially, after accepting his card, she refused his offer. But several months later, after giving the offer careful consideration, she phoned Nick to say that she was interested. In fairly short order, the deal was struck, and Gurney's Inn became the property of Nick Monte.
So began his dream. And slowly that dream grew. The restaurant was enlarged and liquor was served. The kitchen was expanded, rooms were added, the conference center and Skippers Dining Room were built and finally in 1979 the Spa was opened.
Not just any spa, but a true European-style thalasso therapy spa. Nick traveled the globe and researched the world of European Spas with the help of Baroness Hildegard van Mengerson. And everywhere he went he learned, bringing home the lessons from abroad and applying them to his booming business in Montauk. His additions were greatly appreciated, enough so to bring Richard Nixon to Gurney's four times starting in 1964.
Nick's achievements did not go unnoticed. In 1971 he received the L.I. Distinguished Citizen Award, by the L.I. Business Review Newspaper for "significant service and uniquely effective leadership in the L.I. community." In 1972 Nick was appointed to the National Innkeepers Hall of Fame by Hospitality Magazine for his "many contributions to the resort and restaurant industry." New York's then-Speaker of the House, Perry Duryea, presented the award.
As "a civic leader and influential citizen," Nick was the only Long Islander in 1972 to be selected for a trip to the NORAD Cheyenne Mountain Complex and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, as well as a tour of the Command Headquarters of the Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska.
His participation in the community was also noticed and the awards were quick in coming. In 1974, there was the Restaurant Man of the Year Award, presented by the Long Island Restaurant and Caterer's Association at a special banquet attended by a mere 800 guests. In 1976, Nick received the Man of the Year award from The Sons of Italy. Whether he served as a council member on the board of Southampton College or as a member of the County Executive's Economic Advisory Committee, Nick Monte made contributions wherever he went.
When a stretch of Montauk Highway seemed uncared-for, he hired two sanitation trucks at his own expense maintaining the road along the seashore at the impeccable standards he espoused.
The one thing loved ones say cannot be disputed about Nick is that he was a visionary and possessed the ability to actualize that vision. He worked with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in establishing an International Deep-Sea Fishing Competition. In 1965 he became enthralled with the idea of an Ocean Science Laboratory in Montauk. It was brought to fruition with a little help from friends Perry Duryea, Dr. John Baiardi, Frank Tuma, and Dr. Gordon Hoxie, the then-President of Post College. By 1970, the idea had become a reality. At their first annual meeting, Mr. Monte received the Laboratory's first Oceanography Award, in appreciation for his efforts toward establishing the lab.
Always looking to preserve the best of what Montauk had to offer, Nick was very active and instrumental in having the Montauk Lighthouse designated as a National Historical Monument.
On April 17, 1979 when the International Health and Beauty Sea Water Spa was finished, it was officially opened by Mario Cuomo, then-Lt. Governor of New York State. To this day, it is still the only spa of its kind in the continental United States using healing seawater in its Roman Baths, the heated indoor seawater pool, and the famous Thalasso-therapies.
Nick Monte's passion for Thalasso "healing sea water" is passed on with The Annual Nick Monte Lifetime Community Leadership Award, which honors a person of the East End community. This individual demonstrates dedication, passion and creativity in preserving and supporting the Montauk community. The honoree has provided valuable service by contributing time and energy to improve the quality of life and preserving of the history of the community. The recipient receives a lifetime spa membership, a gift of health and well being.
Nick moved to Henderson, Nevada in 2003 outside of Las Vegas but remained active in the affairs of Gurney's including its long-term planning. He continued to serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors where he shared his visionary ideas until he stepped down earlier this month.
He is survived by his loving wife of 17 years, Lola, and his younger brother Angelo Monte. A memorial service and a celebration of Monte's life are being planned for Sunday, November 18 at Gurney's Inn. Further details will be published when they are finalized. The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. For more information, contact Jane Heffner at (212) 305-7827 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.