On Memorial Day weekend each year, at the end of May, moneyed Manhattanites jump in their cars to flee the sweltering metropolis for the seaside resorts of Long Island. Wall Street types in pinstripes follow behind, aboard the Hamptons express; disembarking hours later they seem to have morphed into the cast of a Ralph Lauren catalogue, all pastel slacks, polo shirts and country club chic.
Despite the economic downturn, this legendary East Coast playground seems determined to carry on in the style of its most famous inhabitant – one Mr Jay Gatsby. Fictional he may have been, but F Scott Fitzgerald’s anti-hero certainly knew how to throw a party. His mansion in West Egg was modelled on the old money village of Great Neck on the North Shore, but it’s Long Island’s Eastern shore, with its windswept dunes and starry residents, that’s party-central these days.
Cooled by the Atlantic breeze and fuelled by good time cocktails, it’s easy to get caught up in the Hamptons hype. Lobster and champagne seem as much a part of life as Bentleys and benefits, with charity fundraisers some of the hottest events in town. A trip here, in season, may remind us how the other half lives, but nothing beats peering through a Hamptons estate agent’s window. They say there are more realtors in Long Island than fancy restaurants, and you’ll find them dotting every village main street, plying their impressive wares.
The ubiquitous chocolate box homes may strike you as low key and modest in comparison to the ostentatious confections of Beverly Hills or Malibu, but these classic buildings still command some of the highest residential property prices in the US. Many were built in the 1890s and boast the painted shingles and generous porches that have come to define American holiday architecture. But don’t be fooled by the down-home facades: out back you’ll find large pools, tennis courts, hot tubs and private jetties.
Celebrities from P Diddy to Paul McCartney, Vera Wang to Calvin Klein, Steven Spielberg to Jerry Seinfeld and Martha Stewart to Gwyneth Paltrow have second homes here, though somewhere between the Hollywood and hedge fund sets there’s somehow room for the rest of us to holiday – even if it does come at a premium.
First you’ll need a holiday rental – the only way to fit in around these parts. Unless you’re super organised or super rich, those in the know recommend waiting until late June, when people who haven’t yet rented out their houses start panicking. Some hamlets are more fashionable than others and you may just bag yourself a bargain, although don’t expect a premium beach house.
The beach is at the very heart of Hamptons' life and while many are private, there are plenty of public ones with miles of wild dunes to explore. The fresh ocean air is as loved by locals as it is a tonic for weary city slickers. When you're not swimming, tanning or leafing through a copy of Vanity Fair on your beach towel, it's worth hiring bicycles to explore the pretty hamlets. Parking permits are required at most beaches and, aside from being expensive, are hard to come by in season.
The other favourite occupation of the Hamptons set is eating out, with everything from al fresco lobster rolls to fine dining on the menu. Westhampton’s Starr Boggs (no – it’s not a play on the coffee giant, it’s the owner’s name) serves some of the finest food around: the sensational bouillabaisse is one of the reasons it’s hard to get a reservation. Michael J Fox and Tyra Banks are regulars, although the vast collection of original Warhols may prove to be all the eye candy you need.
It’s entirely possible to keep your budget in check with a mix of picnics, beach time and home cooking, but accommodation is always going to push a Hamptons trip into luxury territory.
If a weeklong rental is out of the question consider making a weekend trip part of a New York holiday. It's not quite "summering in the Hamptons" but when you're sipping that cocktail overlooking Long Island Sound at sunset you're guaranteed to feel more Gatsby than wanna-be, and that memory will be worth every cent.
Where to stay
Lauren Berger Collection offers a selection of properties in the Hamptons. Houses are available for weekly holiday lets and longer monthly rental. Weekly prices for Westhampton Beach are $10,000 low season to $20,000 high season; Westhampton Manor $10,000 to $20,000; and Southampton House $7,000 to $10,000. For reservations contact Karen Park on email@example.com or call 001 239-362-0823 laurenbergercollection.com
Return flights from Dublin to New York (JFK) with American Airlines cost from €538 (inc taxes and surchanges). A direct year-round route from Dublin to New York (JFK) starts June 13th. Until then flights connect through Chicago (O'Hare). Book at aa.com or call 01-602 0550.
The 100-mile road trip from New York to The Hamptons can be done by car rental, air con coach (hamptonjitney.com) or train (mta.info). Allow for serious traffic jams in high season.