Happening Hamptons Summer

Happening Hamptons Summer

  • Michael Petersohn
  • 08/10/23

By Beverly Stephen

The corn predictably “looks like it’s climbing up to the sky.” The tomatoes are as sweet as candy.  The beaches are heavenly. The snail’s pace traffic is hellish. It’s August in The Hamptons.

Just as predictably, everybody—or at least a good portion of New Yorkers looking for a getaway– wants to be in The Hamptons. Located about 90 miles east of Manhattan, The Hamptons is an approximately 50-mile stretch of pristine Atlantic coastline between West Hampton and Montauk. It’s studded with the best beaches in the United States and villages boasting some of the priciest real estate. Going to The Hamptons—not just to the beach, or the shore, or the country—is almost code for joining the in-crowd. Whether you are actually rich or famous or just hoping for a celebrity sighting, you are in the place to be. The magical, sea-stained light originally attracted artists. Then, as is so often the case, the wealthy followed the artists.

The best place to stay in The Hamptons is in a house. If you can’t afford to buy one or even rent one, the next best thing is to wrangle an invitation to be a house guest. Failing that, there are more hotel options than there used to be.

The 158-room recently renovated Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Saltwater Spa is the only luxury hotel right on the beach and now offers Italian-inflected fine dining at Scarpetta Beach.

Hampton Bays has joined the fray with the carefully restored Canoe Place Inn & Cottages with its Good Ground Tavern and The Inn Spot with Latin-inspired Crash Cantina.

EHP Resort and Marina has 13 one- and two-bedroom cottages. Montauk Yacht Club offers accommodations with docks. Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor supplies 67 village and harbor facing rooms.

But countless restaurants are the strong point with so many hungry seasonal mouths to feed. Each season newcomers try their luck. Some will survive and join the enduring crowd pleasers; some won’t.

Highly regarded Mexican chef Julian Medina just opened El Verano in Southampton. As the name, Spanish for summer, implies, both the décor and the food evoke summer but as it is spent in the vacation houses in Cuernavaca and Valle de Bravo, getaways for Mexico City residents.  Think tuna ceviche with watermelon ponzu, lobster tostadas with avocado aioli, fluke hash tacos.

Lunch, right on Montauk Highway in the space formerly occupied by the Princess Diner, is a great place to grab lunch such as a lobster roll or a bowl of clam chowder.

Also in Southampton, Enchanté Bistro took the place of Red Bar, a long-time favorite. The French bistro was opened by financier and media mogul Heath Freeman (New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, etc.) who originally made his presence felt in the Springs area of East Hampton with the renovation of EHP Resort and Marina, SiSi Mediterranean Bistro (where you can arrive by boat), and Sunset Harbor featuring a contemporary Japanese and sushi menu created by EHP culinary director chef Dane Sayles.

This signaled the influx of a fashion crowd and attracted new attention to Springs where the Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Willem de Kooning first put the area on the map in the 1940s. Today the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center is a small museum. Another wave of attention came from celebrity chef  “The 60-Minute Gourmet” Pierre Franey and New York Times journalist Craig Claiborne who cooked up a storm at their homes in Springs. Today, the late Pierre Franey’s son Jacques is the proprietor of Domaine Franey Wines & Spirits in East Hampton.

There are worries that rising real estate prices and a fancier crowd might signal unwanted changes in this quieter area of The Hamptons.  But Rita Cantina owner Eric Miller is adamant there is room for everyone. “We have a bilingual staff, and everyone feels welcome from the landscapers to the richest of the rich,” he says. ”Late nights we have a big influx of the Latin community. My Mom taught me to be egalitarian.”

A stalwart, Bostwick’s on the harbor, offers a casual locally sourced seafood menu while newcomer El Turco, sister of a Miami restaurant, presents a vast selection of mezze and other Turkish specialties.

In the town of East Hampton itself, Tutto Caffe is newly installed  in a walkway off Main Street.  This stylish outpost of the Tutto restaurant group from Southampton and Sag Harbor offers coffee, pastries, wine, and light bites.  The upmarket Sant Ambroeus has also opened a sister restaurant where the cuisine is inspired by Milanese tradition.  Most enduring of all, Nick & Toni’s, opened in 1988, never fails to please or to attract celebrities with its Italian-Mediterranean cuisine, much of it cooked in a wood oven. Menu standouts include grilled octopus with Sicilian purple potato salad, house made ricotta cavatelli with sausage ragu, and a wood oven roasted whole fish with preserved lemon citronette.

Lest we forget, Bridgehampton is where Jean-George’s Topping Rose House, Pierre’s, Almond, and Bobby Van’s continue to attract discerning diners.  Between Bridgehampton and East Hampton, stop to visit Wölffer Estate Vineyards in Sagaponack.

And the former whaling village of Sag Harbor, long home to writers and artists, retains its charm in spite of the mega yachts berthed there. Locals love the American Hotel and the Beacon. Chef Melissa O’Donnell, a pioneer of communal dining in Manhattan, has opened Sag Harbor Kitchen overlooking the harbor. The restaurant emphasizes produce from local farms and seafood fresh from the Montauk boats. Expect steamers, scallop crudo, pistachio dukkah crusted cod, and a seafood pot pie.

Farther east in Amagansett, Wölffer Kitchen has become Christian’s by Wölffer Estate. The emphasis is on local produce and seafood. Needless to say, there is plenty of Wölffer Estate wine, especially their iconic Summer in a Bottle rose. Top notch Fini Pizza has been opened by Sean Feeney, a co-owner with Missy Robbins of Brooklyn’s Lilia and Misi.  Il Buco is not just a place to eat, but to shop for beautifully curated tableware and décor. Coche Comedor, from the team behind Nick & Toni’s and La Fondita, presents a full Mexican menu including pork belly and octopus tacos, local fluke and calamari ceviche, apricot-tamarind duck and even duck fat potatoes. Carissa’s is THE bakery with a breakfast and lunch menu.

At the end of the earth or the beginning, depending on your perspective, Montauk beckons. It’s especially attractive to surfers and it’s a little less scene-y although it  certainly attracts its share of party goers and celebs. New is Talya, a design forward restaurant at Ruschmeyer’s, a vivid part of the party scene, as is the Surf Club. But chef Geoffrey Lechantoux, who has worked for Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsey promises to impress with his Mediterranean-Greek cuisine. Roberta’s (from Brooklyn) now has a year-round spot. Duryea’s endures. Don’t fail to check out the Montauk Point Lighthouse commissioned by George Washington in  1792.

Parties are back post pandemic, and retailers must be confident that there is once again a need to get dressed. The world’s richest man at the moment, Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH who restored the flagship Tiffany in Manhattan, purchased One Main Street in East Hampton for $22 million. His two-level Louis Vuitton store joins Chanel, Prada, and Valentino. Thankfully, there’s also a J Crew.

Beyond eating, drinking and shopping there’s fishing, boating, sailing, paddle boarding, kayaking, tennis and golf, and even pickle ball.

For a calming respite, visit LongHouse Reserve gardens and sculpture park founded by the late Jack Lenor Larsen in East Hampton. A current exhibit of Oscar Molina’s Children of the World ghost-like sculptures is provocative.

And for a glimpse at what the ritzy interiors south of the highway might look like, visit the Hampton Designer Showhouse ($40) in Southampton which features the work of 22 top designers through September 3. It benefits Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. There are numerous other benefits on schedule as well and all it takes to attend one of these is the price of admission. So, if you’re not on the guest list of an estate section homeowner, just bring your checkbook.

Beverly Stephen is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer and co-owner of Flavor Forays, a culinary travel company.

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Over 30 years of experience actively managing & owning residential properties. He has an excellent reputation for honesty & integrity, the talent for being a persuasive negotiator, & the keen ability to effectively match buyer and seller.