If you drained Montauk Harbor of its water and replaced it with all the short drafts ever poured at The Dock, there would still be enough beer left over to enjoy happy hour. The Dock embodies Montauk, from the regulars sitting outside draft in hand, to the home style cooking and the welcomed feeling you get when you walk in the front door.
Behind this unique slice of Montauk culture is George Watson, a man with more personality than the shelves and walls of his restaurant. There is a reason a guy who throws out insults and heckles doesn’t get mauled, cause he does it with humor. There are those who don’t have the ability to take it, but the core Montauk locals can’t get enough. The following interview was conducted over a cup of coffee, 8 a.m., at The Dock.
Grant Monahan: How long have you been living in Montauk?
George Watson: Full time, 42 years.
GM: What brought you out here?
GW: We started camping in Hither Hills probably around 1950, and in ’57 my father… Well my Grandfather, he had the money. My father had nine kids; he had no money. They bought a lot over where the Tipperary is, a half-acre lot. They paid 1,300 dollars for it. Then they built the house and we spent summers out there.
GM: When did The Dock start?
GW: The whole thing just fell into my lap. I was working for the Fire Department (FDNY) at the time, and I had just passed the test for Lieutenant, so I had a home. That was, and still is a good job, so I had no intentions of leaving. Then this thing just suddenly fell into my lap, and I jumped because I always wanted to live out here. I was still in the Fire Department and was trying to do both, go back and forth, but after I fell asleep on the expressway a couple times I realized it just couldn’t be done. So I packed it in and moved out here full time.
GM: You bought The Dock, right? It was already a bar?
GW: Yes… Excuse me… (lights cigar) A guy was getting divorced; he was fighting with his wife. It was really just a run down saloon, called Fitzgerald’s. That’s when I came along. Did a handshake deal over blackberry brandy and beers at about nine in the morning. Next thing you know here I was.
GM: I always heard these stories of The Dock Fights. It was an example my dad used because he watched Danny Dalbora beat up a guy much bigger than him. He would always say to me “you are a big kid, don’t think that makes you tough. Someone smaller can beat you up.” It was this myth to me as a kid, these fights. What is the story behind those?
GW: I was doing a lot of different sporting events: sailing races, running races, rowing races, bike races. My father taught us how to box, and we used to have fights in the cellar back in the neighborhood on Staten Island. That kind of gave me the confidence to do it. We just built the ring. The nice thing about that was, like that story from your father, all the tough guys got beat up. Guys you didn’t expect to do well did well and guys you expected to do well didn’t do well. It was a fun day.
GM: Did it only happen once, or where they’re multiple Dock Fights?
GW: No no no. Ha! To say the least it was volatile. I will give you an example of what happened. Do you remember Bruce Erikson?
GM: No, I don’t think so.
GW: Bruce was a big, 240 pounds type guy. He was a bar room brawler, every weekend he got into a fight. He was in the heavy weight division and he fought Charlie Whitmore. Charlie was kind of a clean-cut college type guy, and think he weighed maybe a little over 190. I had a referee named Charlie Kelly, and I said, “Charlie, my main concern is I don’t want anyone getting hurt. You can’t let someone take a beating out there.” So what happened was, I up on the roof screwing in spotlights cause the ring was right there. (Points to the parking lot). So they started the fight and I was looking down on it. Bruce just overwhelmed Charlie, he came in swinging and Charlie just went down and covered up. He was in a crotch and didn’t throw any punches, for maybe, pushing on 40 seconds. Bruce was just pounding away on him, but you could see after 30 seconds he was running out of gas. And right then the ref stepped in and stopped the fight. Charlie had all his East Hampton guys supporting him and Bruce had all the Montauk guys, you know, all the tough guys. And they were all screaming and yelling. No one wanted the fight stopped. Charlie jumped up and he was even protesting. Everyone talked it over and they decided to start the fight again. But at that point Bruce had shot his load and Charlie just came out and pummeled him, then they stopped the fight for good.
GM: Were there any long time local disputes settled over the Dock Fights?
GW: There was a guy I really disliked, his name was Jimmy. They were building Gosman’s at the time and he was a bricklayer. He was in my weight class; we were welterweights. We drew all the names out of a hat, but I really wanted to fight that guy because he just pissed me off. I never got to fight him, but what happened was Danny Dalbora got to fight him. Danny fought in the Golden Gloves, he was throwing uppercuts and stuff, and you could tell he knew what he was doing. He beat the piss out of this guy Jimmy for three rounds. I mean pounded him! This is the guy I wanted to fight, I thought he would just fucking roll over and play dead but he hung in there and I had a little more respect for the guy after.
GM: That is classic! The Dock has a certain charm about it. I come in here all the time year after year, and I still see something new or something I didn’t notice the last time. Everything on the walls and shelves here has to have a story that only you and some people know.
GW: It’s funny cause most of these pieces came from wives who told their husbands, “Get this piece of shit out of here!” That’s where most of the taxidermy came from. But about two years ago my wife goes, “Look you got to thin out the herd. There is too much shit in here.” The stuff still had life to it, you know, I didn’t want to just throw it in the dumpster and trash it. So I had Chris bring it down to the dump, and put the heads on the table. Some one will like it. Within 45 minutes I had two people drive back here with stuff in their cars and say, “George. George I got some great stuff for you!”
GM: (laughter) Is there anything that has been here since day one, never left?
GW: No no. There was nothing here to begin with, and we just kind have accumulated stuff over time. I can’t think of anything that has been here forever. Except myself.
GM: The rules at The Dock; no cell phones, no yapping mutts, no public restrooms, no sensitive drunks, take screaming children outside, etc., are such a classic part to this place. Did those just come over time of dealing with those situations, and just not wanting to anymore?
GW: I mean, like yapping mutts. People were coming in here to have a drink and they would tie their dog up outside, and the dog is going YAP! YAP! YAP! YAP! You start to loose your mind after a few minutes! What is wrong with you? Roll the window down and put the dog in the car. I will give him a drink of water. You know?
GM: So Irish drunks are allowed now?
GW: You know the story. If you are going to dish it out you got to be ready to take a few insults. What happened was fifteen Irish guys came into the bar after being on Block Island all day. They just assaulted me for a couple hours screaming and yelling. In good fun! So that’s where the Irish Drunks came from. People knew the story and the sign was up for five years. The Irish have a sense of humor. If you put up something about _____ or someone else you would be in federal prison. But the Irish they loved it!
GM: Yeah the fake protests and all that.
GM: Is Cheech your most regular customer?
GW: Yeah yeah. He is my best boy so to speak.
Film photos, words and interview by the ever-talented Grant Monahan.