By Bill Husted
The mere mention of this Long Island outpost brings to mind privilege, celebrities, writers, hedges, hedge funds, trust funds, old money, new money, the 1/10th of the one-percent, private tennis courts, private baseball fields (Jerry Seinfeld has a well-groomed diamond just off Further Lane in East Hampton), yachts, clubs, beautiful beaches, beautiful people, expensive dinners, lobsters, clams, corn, bottles of cold Domaines Ott.
To visit the Hamptons is to walk into the real world of Ralph Lauren. (He has three stores in East Hampton plus daughter Dylan’s candy emporium.) Unlike Lauren, denizens of the Hamptons aren’t aspirational. Most have arrived. They saunter down the sidewalks with a confident sense of belonging and entitlement. It’s as if everyone effortlessly stepped out of the pages of Town & Country. Shuffling by in their Tod’s drivers, they see the world through rose-colored Oliver Peoples. It’s a Slim Aarons photo.
For our purposes, the Hampton start at the Lobster Inn in Southampton and continue east on the South Fork through Water Mill, Bridgehampton, Sagaponack (perennially anointed the number one most expensive zip code in America, median house price $5.1 million), East Hampton, Amagansett - ending at the lighthouse in the suddenly raucous Montauk. Sag Harbor is an honorary Hampton. The once affordable, blue-collar village does not lie on the ocean, but has emerged over the decades as a low key Hampton. The service and construction crews can no longer afford Sag or anything anywhere near the Hamptons. They commute daily to mid-island towns like Riverhead. The resulting morning and afternoon traffic jams are called, without even a hint of irony, “The Trade Parade.”
Sounds like a perfect and fascinating spot for a vacation, right? Like, say, Hilton Head or San Tropez or Porto Ercole. But think again. Here are 10 things you need to know about the Hamptons before you go.
- IT’S REALLY HARD TO GET THERE: Getting to the Hampton is difficult. If you’re coming from a distant shore, you fly into LaGuardia, an airport Vice President Joe Biden has described as “third world.” You can get picked up there by a car service which will drive you slowly out to East Hampton for $300-$500. For a more reasonable tariff, you catch a cab from the airport to the Long Island Jitney Airport Connection (cab ride $30). There you wait for the Jitney in front of a Hooter’s. The Jitney is a convenient and popular bus service making stops on the way to Montauk, one way $30. The ride is usually comfortable but often long and dreary and the crowd on the bus can be, err, challenging. If you live in NYC, you can catch a train for $17. Or you can use Blade, an Uber –like App to hail a helicopter ride to East Hampton starting at $600-a-seat if the copter is full. Blade is comfortable, thrilling and speedy (hey, you get a complimentary cup of rose wine) – to the chagrin of many settled Hamptonites who hate the noise and have tried to shut down or severely limit private helicopter flights. The courts kick the issue down the road, although a judge just put a modest limit on number of flights and a curfew. But to seriously cut helicopter service to the Hamptons seems an impossible proposition. The horror!
Any way you slice it, getting out to the Hampton is a challenge.
- YOU CAN’T GET AROUND ONCE YOU GET TO THE HAMPTONS. Traffic is notoriously awful in the Hamptons. The Montauk Highway, a.k.a. “27,” is usually a parking lot, what with all the weekenders, commuters, and that “Trade Parade.” Its two lanes snake like pipe smoke from Southampton to Montauk. Weekly accidents are dramatic. The ratio of cabs to customers is insanely out of whack. When I was last in Sag Harbor, the xUber fare to Sagaponack, just 3 miles away, was $80-$100. And the Town of East Hampton has recently been arresting Uber drivers claiming the service is against local laws – causing Uber to end service WITHIN EAST Hampton and to and in Montauk. Taxis are unavailable, unreliable and its fares are unregulated. A New York Times story recently recounted how taxis charge $40 PER PERSON for a late night ride from Montauk to Sag Harbor. A couple that rented a house in East Hampton this summer arrived via Jitney and could not find a cab to take them to their house. After 30 minutes, one taxi finally showed up, driven by a 16-year-old boy who crashed the dilapidated van on the way through town. Car rentals are about $600-a-week and you can’t drive anywhere anyway.
- THERE IS NO PLACE TO STAY. There are no luxury hotels in the Hamptons. No Ritz-Carlton. No Four Seasons. No Hyatt. Not even a JW Marriott. No nuttin’ except aging, once-quaint, expensive country inns and a handful of half-forgotten motels. Room service? Forget it. Montauk was once a hideaway for Peter Beard, Andy Warhol and the Rolling Stones. Not anymore. Montauk has some hotels – but they have morphed into party-centric road houses where the bands or deejays play all night. CBS News recently ran a report on the chaos in Montauk with affluent 20-somethings party till 4 a.m. at the Sloppy Tuna bar and urinate anyplace that’s handy. Over July 4th weekend this year, the town police were overwhelmed with more than 100 calls, 74 code violations, 34 traffic tickets and seven arrests. The accommodations aren’t for sleeping. Surf Lodge is a legendary party inn, rooms start at $650-a-night on weekends, but they’re all booked. Sorry.
- RENTING A HOUSE FEELS LIKE BUYING A HOUSE. Summer rentals are expensive. A few years ago, the Hamptons reached a benchmark when a summer rental, Memorial Day to Labor Day, went for $1 million. Hillary Clinton is facing a dilemma: How can she look like “one of the people” if she rents a $200,000-a-month house this August? If you’re looking for a more modest abode, houses far from the beach regularly rent for $20,000-$25,000-a-week.
- THE FOOD IS AWFUL. Resort and seaside restaurants are usually sad affairs. Even seagulls avoid them. The Hamptons, so close to food-centric NYC, have a collection of tired standbys serving over-cooked lobster and limp spaghetti. The Palm in East Hampton is certainly happening, but it’s a disgrace to the steak chain. Loud beyond hearing, the steaks are overdone, the service brusque. The Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton serves appallingly awful and expensive diner food. Bobby Van’s next door a nice lunch spot. Some of the best food can be found at The American Hotel in Sag Harbor, French inspired with fresh seafood, a staff that’s remained in place for years in a setting that’s comfortable and classic. (Disclosure: The owner is an old friend and I was the first bartender at the restaurant in 1972.) Nick & Tony’s in East Hampton is always in the gossip columns, but no one raves about the food. Soto Sopra in Amagansett has always been a sure bet for me. I always visit CLAM BAR on the way to Montauk, across from LOBSTER ROLL, the restaurant featured on the HBO series “The Affair.” CLAM BAR serves you Little Necks and oysters and corn and lobster on paper plates with cold beer and blasting vintage rock ‘n’ roll, all outside at a smattering of tables and a sit-down bar. Cash only, bring plenty. My pick for the only 4-star roadside clam shack in the world. Or live like a local. Eat at home. Stop at Loafs & Fishes in Sagaponack for lobster salad to go. At $100-a-pound.
- YOU WON’T SEE ANY CELEBRITIES. Plenty of BOLD NAMES call the Hamptons home: Jerry Seinfeld, Gwyneth Paltrow, Christie Brinkley, Billy Joel, Calvin Klein, Jimmy Buffett, Katie Couric, Matt Laurer, David Koch, Kelly Rippa, Lorne Michaels, Brook Shields, Tory Burch, Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart, Betsey Johnson, Alec Baldwin, Susan Lucci, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon. These people don’t go out. They don’t belong to the clubs, they don’t venture into grocery stores and are rarely seen in restaurants. Their people do the shopping, they have dinner at the homes of other famous people. But just as I was putting this story together while staying in Sag Harbor, Jimmy Fallon, who has a house in Bridgehampton, came into the American Hotel two nights in one week and put on a show in the bar, posed for pictures with waiters and was basically the same guy you see on “The Tonight Show.” Maybe he’s not sick of being famous yet.
- YOU CAN’T GO TO THE BEACH OR PLAY MUCH GOLF. Parking at the beaches in the Hamptons cost $20 – if you’re lucky. If the lot is full, you can park on the side of the road risking a $150 fine ($225 if you don’t pay within seven days). Beach parking passes are free to tax-paying property owners, but only a limited number are available for summer renters, and they cost $375-per-vehicle. You can walk to the beach if you shelled out the money to rent a place close enough. Good luck getting a taxi. Uber? Forget it. The clubs have magnificent beaches, but you can’t go to them unless you’re with a member, and even then you had better behave. There are about 15 public golf courses, most of which are not very special and tee times are elusive. (An exception is Montauk Downs State Park, a course designed by Robert Trent Jones and his son.) The private golf clubs are legendary shrines, The National, Shinnecock. Membership is not out of sight, but you can’t get into these clubs without a certain pedigree. Think WASP. The relatively new and more welcoming Bridge club charges $975,000 (non-refundable) to join (plus annual dues), making it one of the most expensive clubs in the country.
- BUSINESSES ARE NOT VERY NICE. Like so many resorts, the Hamptons treat tourists with distain. Move ‘em in, move ’em out. The workforce is forever changing as no one can afford the rent, so they drive in or work for one or two seasons and then flee. Waiters in most restaurants are ill-trained, rushed and exasperated.
- IT’S CRAZY EXPENSIVE. You know it’s costly going in. Hotel rooms are a fortune. Houses are a fortune. Cars are a fortune. Restaurants are a fortune. You know this going in. Pack wallet accordingly.
IT’S BEAUTIFUL. So why do so many people endure the expense, the crowds, the attitude, the inconvenience? Because on a perfect August afternoon few places are as lovingly, heart-stoppingly, eye-poppingly gorgeous as the Hamptons. The beaches are always rated as some of the best in America. The villages still exude a certain charm. After all, Southampton was founded in 1640. These towns have bones. The air glimmers with salt from the crashing ocean surf. It can and will take your breath away. And so you forget all else and let the Hamptons envelope you. You’re in a beautiful place with the beautiful people. Isn’t that what it’s all about? At least for a week or two in a glorious summer. Screw it. Have another glass of rose. And isn’t that Jimmy Fallon over there?