Volume 20, Number 40 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | DEC. 29, 2010 - JAN. 5, 2011
Downtown Express photo by John Bayles
Dr. Lewis Gross holding a copy of his first book, Montauk Tango, at his dentistry office on Park Place.
Local author chronicles family’s journey to ‘the End’
BY John Bayles
Lewis Gross had a choice to make on the day following the attacks of 9/11, and he chose to keep moving. He woke up in his mother’s apartment, where he and his family had retreated and he chose to relocate his life, along with his wife and kids, 90 miles east to the hamlet of Montauk, commonly referred to as “the End.”
“Montauk Tango” is the story not only of that decision but also of the life lessons he learned as a result and of one family from Tribeca deciding to move on with their lives after a life-changing incident.
It’s not a unique story that someone living in Lower Manhattan was able to take refuge in the enclave that is the Hamptons in the months after 9/11. Indeed, Gross said he even ran into some familiar faces once his family made the move. And readers of the book may even recognize a few characters.
But what is unique is the tale of a family that chose to call the East End home and then decided to make an impact on their new community just as they had on their former.
Gross was known as the “mayor of Tribeca,” though he admits the label was contested. He said it could’ve very well been applied to Bob Townley or former C.B. 1 Chair Madelyn Wils.
When you walk into his holistic dentistry office on Park Place, there is a prominently displayed award from the Downtown Little League for his dedicated service over the years. He also served on Community Board 1 for 10 years. He helped, in his words “turn Tribeca into a community” and “a real neighborhood” and likes to think his activism had a lasting impact.
But when 9/11 happened, he simply couldn’t keep still. He had to keep moving and he had to keep making a difference.
“Social activism can change a community,” said Gross. “We went [to Montauk] with that same mentality.”
“Montauk Tango,” though, is in a sense an ode to his wife, to whom he turned over the activist role after moving out east. This much is alluded to in the book’s dedication where Gross writes, “I want to honor my wife, whose bust has proven the perfect partner for my pedestal.”
Gross used the community board and the Downtown Little League as a way to instill in his kids and kids throughout the community a sense of fulfillment and to advocate for an environment that fostered his vision. Once in Montauk, his wife saw an opportunity to do the same, only through food. Opening up the Gig Shack was her way of providing an opportunity for local youth to learn about the restaurant business and develop a sense of what small businesses mean to a community.
“She wanted to apply the same community activism for youth, but for 21-year-olds,” said Gross. “We’ve always been a ‘foodie’ family.”
Gross said the Gig Shack was his wife’s version of the Downtown Little League.
As for his account of the highs and lows of opening a restaurant, Gross chose to take some liberties. He mentioned the literary fiasco that was James Frey’s (another author who calls the East End home) so-called memoir “A Million Little Pieces.”
“I felt a straight memoir would be subject to a higher level of scrutiny,” said Gross.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of “Montauk Tango” is the resistance the Gig Shack encountered. There’s an eerie parallel between the hamlet of Montauk and the neighborhood of Tribeca. Both places have their old-timers, their year-rounders and a tendency, albeit often hidden beneath the surface, to resist change.