Keeping It Unreal in 'Montauk'

Bravo’s new reality show was filmed at a group house on Napeague
Cast members from "Summer House," which begins its first season on Jan. 16, party hard. Although it is meant to be about Montauk, it was filmed in a bay-front house on Napeague.

“Everyone’s heard of the Hamptons. That’s, like, your mom’s friend who wears pearls,” says Kyle Cooke, a Manhattan entrepreneur whose startups include a product called Birddogs (“gym shorts for free-balling crotch crusaders”), as a montage rolls of rear ends being slapped with towels and tanned bodies twerking on stand-up paddleboards. “My group of friends, we go to Montauk. Montauk is, like, your mom’s friend’s daughter who’s a little promiscuous. And by a little I mean a lot.”

The word “nipple” is heard repeatedly in the trailer, and the word “wieners” is used in reference to something other than hot dogs. Trousers drop, drinks are thrown.

“Summer House,” a reality series debuting on Jan. 16 on the Bravo network, focuses on the romantic hijinks of a group of nine 20 and 30-somethings who live and work in New York City but spend weekends at their share house in Montauk — although, technically speak­ing, the house where the cast lived and was filmed is not in Montauk but on the harbor side of Napeague.

Temperatures may have run high last summer, but the show’s producers, Left Hook Media, got a frosty reception in the Last Resort. As was reported widely at the time, the trouble started when photographs and video made by James Katsipis, a hometown photographer well known in the hamlet, were used in early promotional materials without his permission. “Then they offered me a job shooting for them on their show,” Mr. Katsipis said yesterday in an email. “I told them not a chance. They said, ‘We get it. We’re the bad guys. But we’re just doing our jobs.’ ”

After that, several business establishments — including 668 the Gig Shack, Swallow East Restaurant, and Shagwong — publicly refused entry to the cast and crew, not wanting to be associated with the show. The effort was spoken of as a boycott. “They were taken aback,” Mr. Katsipis said of the producers’ reaction. “They tried to take the approach of saying, ‘We are here to help Montauk.’ ”

Steven Weinstock, the show’s executive producer, responded in an email today with a more positive takeaway: “The communities and businesses that granted us access were great partners, and the Montauk and Hamptons residents who participated in the show also gave us terrific feedback. Production, cast, and crew all had very positive and respectful interactions with the community. . . . ”

On Tuesday, however, as the video of the trailer spread on Facebook, the reaction in Montauk was again resoundingly negative. One commenter wrote that “lowlifes” were “making my town look horrible.” Another chimed in: “Is this satire? This has to be a joke.” Several others compared “Summer House” to “The Jersey Shore,” the infamous reality show that made “mind condom” and “sandy tits” household words in some circles. “It’s actually worse!” complained another social-media critic.

Jacqueline Lowey, a resident of Northwest Woods, was hiking along Napeague Harbor Road toward the Walking Dunes last summer when she came upon an unexpected scene: “I saw some action and a security guard posted outside of the house,” Ms. Lowey said yesterday. “After talking with him, I figured out what the show was they were filming.”

The house can be plainly seen in the show’s trailer. It is currently listed with Corcoran Group as a seasonal rental for summer 2017 for $165,000, with July and August still open, according to the online availability calendar. The listing does show the East Hampton Town registry number required for all rentals. However, despite the fact that it housed nine adults during “Summer House” filming (only two of whom, a pair of sisters, are immediate family), the four-bedroom structure cannot legally be rented as a share or “group house.” Group rentals (with more than four people who are not family members, as family is defined under town code) are illegal in the Town of East Hampton.

Coming as it does just as East Hampton Town is attempting to rehabilitate Montauk’s image as a peaceful family destination rather than an out-of-control party city, the debut of “Summer House” — while greeted with amusement more than disdain in some quarters — is not proving popular in Town Hall.

“The production company asked for a filming permit, which is required for filming in public places, whether town-owned or not, and that was denied,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said yesterday. “We were aware that they might go ahead and try to film at various public locations around town anyway.”

Cast members and cameras turned up on the party circuit in Southampton (including scenes at 75 Main, Kozu, and AM Southampton), and they were spotted in the I.G.A. in Amagansett at one point, but it remains to be seen what public or private shoots were actually done in Montauk. “It is not a real representation of Montauk, and we do not embrace it,” said Laraine Creegan, executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce. “For one thing, group houses are illegal. Plus, they’re saying they’re in Montauk, but they’re really not.”

“We also were concerned about use of the residence and the number of people that might occupy it,” the supervisor continued. “Enforcement personnel were well aware of the situation, patrolling that location, including at night. . . . There was a rental registry issued for that property, and it was registered to five individuals, two of whom were related. According to the number of people who were registered, they met the requirements. [The producers] had attorneys involved, and they were instructed as to what the town’s code says. They weren’t breaking the law in any obvious way.”

Mr. Katsipis considers the reality-television treatment of Montauk to be a a slur on his hometown’s reputation, as well as a case of exploitation. “Look at the sizzle and what they are trying to represent our town as,” he said. “These producers have one thing in mind: to make money. At the end of the day, they pack up their show and leave.”

Or, as a cast member says, incredulously, in the aforementioned trailer: “That happened in our Jacuzzi?!”