Young Cratchits Canned by Fire Island Scrooge?

Is a commercial-property baron in the Fire Island Pines micromanaging his cute young staffers' personal lives like an old-school MGM matron? A few years ago, gay fortysomething developer Eric von Kuersteiner bought, for a rumored $7 million, most of the cedar-shingled business strip that abuts the Pines' ferry landing. Each summer, he hires a slew of twentysomething male hotties, many of them out-of-towners, to bartend and wait tables (often shirtless) at his establishments, most notably the Pavilion, a late-night disco. But several longtime Pines-goers and former staffers say that he forbids the boys from entering a neighboring rival club, Sip 'n' Twirl, off hours. They also allege that Von Kuersteiner discourages them from dating patrons, fires them capriciously, and kicks them out of his housing — and off the island.

"You have to obey all these crazy rules because if you're fired, you don't have an apartment or job," says Brad Hammer, 29, who alleges that Von Kuersteiner made him do an hour's hard cleaning right before handing him a pink slip two summers ago. (Hammer, then an Angeleno, and his dog had to shack up with a Manhattan friend.) Blake Peyrot, 24, says that when he returned to Fire Island last summer to work at Sip 'n' Twirl after being fired by Von Kuersteiner the previous year, "I was told to leave his property right away." A spokesman for Von Kuersteiner denied that staffers are banned from visiting other clubs, just that they "prefer to support the establishments that they … work at." Still, the reputed ban is a hot topic in the hothouse atmosphere of the Pines, says Gil Neary, a Manhattan Realtor and Pines homeowner, who can see the reasoning behind it. "If you go out of your way to hire people to make your bar sexy," he says, "you don't want them bombed at the neighbor's bar. They can go to Cherry Grove" — the Pines' nearby, scruffier gay cousin — "instead and do whatever they want." —Tim Murphy