An Oceanside Colony Where the Elite Meet and Greet
On weekends and during summer months, the seaside towns of eastern Long Island are inundated with beautiful people, their Jaguars and BMWs clogging the narrow roads in a conga line between hot spots. East Hampton is a peculiar mix of rustic charm and urban taste, local year-rounders and vacationing celebs, and simple seaside pleasures protected for the seriously rich.
During the off-season, though, you can still glimpse patches of the “real” Hamptons, with the colonial dignity, gorgeous homes, long sweeps of beaches abutted by grassy dunes, and casual-chic eateries. “Going to the country” it’s not – you’ll run into as many Manhattanites at Sag Harbor’s silent-era movie house or its Bay Street Theatre, or at Bridgehampton’s 1920s-soda-fountain Candy Kitchen as you would on Madison Avenue – but along with polo fields, there are still potato fields, vineyards, and pumpkin patches, and roadside farm stands that ask you to kindly leave correct change in the can after you load up on fresh local produce.
The towns of the Hamptons blend and merge with one another and share a centuries-old history, but they differ greatly in character today. Southampton is perhaps best known, the grande dame of old money and sweeping estates. But the homes in East Hampton are no less staggering, comprising some of the most coveted real estate in America.
Founded in 1648 and “discovered” by society as an escape resort in the late 1800s, it was later the destination of artists like Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock (and, more recently, Eric Fischl and Julian Schnabel), who came for the big sky and golden light. Today East Hampton is arguably the East End’s most fashionable and preferred town and beach, confirmed by a new wave of 1990s summerers from the West Coast’s film industry and Manhattan’s fashion world.
Creature comforts are taken seriously and restaurants have grown to be as fine as any of their New York City peers, with people watching and reservation waiting lists to match. You’ll do less begging for a table offseason at classics like longtime favorite Nick & Toni’s, which has long been the star-sighting venue of choice. Its menu is as impressive as the celebrity clientele. Health-conscious (and not) foodies have put the much more informal Babette’s on the map, where everyone shows up sooner or later.
For the marriage of excellent food and perfect accommodations in a historically appropriate setting, book way in advance at the stately Maidstone Arms, an elegantly cozy 19th-century white clapboard inn overlooking the town pond, swans and all. During a wintery midweek stay, you might even have the nineteen-room charmer to yourself – or at least it will feel that way.