New York's creative class goes communal in the Hamptons
In Bridgehampton, there is an enclave of charmingly disheveled converted outbuildings with appropriately rustic appellations which includes the Barn, the Tool House, the Chicken Coop and the Orange Crate. The property once belonged to the rundown farmhouse next door, a Sears and Roebuck kit house built in the 1890s. With its outdoor showers and rusty old bikes for excursions down to the beach, the place has a strong hippie flavor, like a little piece of the Catskills that got lost and wandered into the Hamptons by accident.
But make no mistake: the surrounding area is seriously Hamptons-y. Turreted, Gatsbyesque mansions peek over impeccably pruned hedgerows that could have been imported straight from the gardens of Versailles. Some of the estates have names: Silver Leaf, Diamonds in the Night. There are said to be Rockefellers living nearby. Up the street, a pair of Richard Serra sculptures sits on a fairground-size lawn for the neighbors and their gardeners to admire.
"This is a group of friends who love to show off their excellent taste—in Brooklyn rock bands, in exotic travel destinations, in baby clothes, but especially in food."
For the city folk (mostly Brooklynites from along the Carroll Gardens-Fort Greene-Williamsburg axis who rent the place by the week all summer), the duality is part of its appeal. For one thing, this verdant little plot of land is probably among the last in these parts that the 22 adults (and seven kids) staying here this week could go in on together without breaking the bank. But it’s also fun operating this scruffy summer camp amidst so much wealth.
It’s one of those word-of-mouth places that get passed along from one overlapping circle of friends to the next. You usually know someone who stayed in the Chicken Coop last week, or the whole group that’s got it for the last week of August. This week’s guests include a gaggle of photographers, a restaurant designer, a couple of creative directors, a retail exec, a pair of editors, a couple of filmmakers, a producer. Most came to New York from somewhere else (New England and California, especially), but all have been self-identified New Yorkers for a long, long time. Everyone here is deeply engaged, on a professional level, with the cultural life of the city.
They also have a hard time leaving their work behind, especially in the middle of a workweek. At 11 a.m. on Thursday morning, birds are chirping and benevolent sunlight is filtering through overhanging branches. So why is everyone on their MacBooks? Do you need to have that tense conference call with a client in the middle of the lawn? What’s with the stacks of invoices piled on the picnic table?
But the jobs are back at home and the small children are right here, and honestly, they’re really the ones running the show these days. So before long there’s a movement afoot to take them down to the beach to fling sand and bury dad in a hole and run around in ecstatic circles until they collapse. It’s misty every day down at the beach, with no real horizon line, just a blue-gray gradient from water to sky. But it’s still warm enough to lie on blankets for a few hours reading food magazines and The New Yorker; to body-surf in the frothy, washing machine-like waves; to stroll along the water as gulls scatter before you, admiring the rectilinear bleached-wood houses that overlook the dunes.
The beach goers reconnect with others just returned from a grocery run or a yoga class or an afternoon surfing the break next to the Montauk Lighthouse. The mellowness of the gloaming settles over the place. A game of badminton breaks out. Someone uncorks a bottle of rosé; someone else mixes a round of Negronis. Parents make mac ‘n’ cheese for the kids and put them to bed. In various kitchens, people begin chopping the produce they’ve purchased from nearby farm stands. The grills get fired up. Eventually, everyone sits down to eat together.
This is a group of friends who love to show off their excellent taste—in Brooklyn rock bands, in exotic travel destinations, in baby clothes, but especially in food. This tendency comes to a head at the Saturday night dinner. It begins with a vertical wine tasting, two meat and cheese plates as long as your arm, and the most beautiful bruschetta and goat cheese crostini you ever laid eyes on. Sweet barbecued ribs follow the antipasti; grilled vegetable pizzas, Greek lamb meatballs, pasta with lemon preserves, an asparagus salad and a pea shoot salad. For dessert: strawberry rhubarb compote. Even the dinner conversation is about food. It you were stranded on a desert island and could choose only ten ingredients, what would they be? There is considerable consensus about lemon, salt, pepper and rice. There’s some skepticism about whether kimchi and pickles qualify as ingredients. The one teenager at the table sagely suggests water as one of his selections, then repeats himself several times to make sure everyone has heard.
I love every meal, love the camaraderie around the picnic tables, love running down to the beach and back, love going fishing for fluke in the Long Island Sound, love biking out to the Montauk Lighthouse. But the most indelible moment of all comes after dinner my first night. Someone has a “disco frisbee,” and probably half of the adults present gather on the big lawn at the south end of the property to toss it through the fragrant night air. Long rolls of thunder sound for more than an hour without bringing any rain, and fireflies blink cheerfully on and off as the flashing disc arcs, Tron-like, through the darkness, passing from one happy shadow to the next. It feels as close as a grown-up can get to being a kid again. Next summer can’t come soon enough.