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July 1st, 2003

Go West Young Man

by Sean Jaeger

Take my advice: go west, for the best Hampton. You know it’s time when you see that endless snake of red brake lights in front of you. Traffic starts to back up right after the canal on the way to the maniac merge. Arteries clog with a deadly mixture of citidiots and trade parade. Just turn off right there. Take exit 66, turn right around and head west,. toward where the sun sets on the best Hampton, Westhampton Beach.

You could ask, what are you going to miss out there along the long slow route 27? But the real question is what are you gaining on the west side of the canal?

You like that pretty Main Street they love in East Hampton? They don’t call it Route 27, the Montauk Highway for nothing. Don’t look now but in the summer there is no place to park. Drive down the street and you will feel like you might as well be parked while you watch the people walking on the sidewalk pass you on the right as they browse in shop windows. You soon realize you aren’t going much faster or further than the parked cars. And the gas pumps aren’t the only places with sky high prices.

Bridgehampton makes a nice wide spot in the road, with a great library, but after that the high point is Bridgehampton Commons.

In Southampton they roll up the side walks before the sun goes down in the summer, whether they need to or not.

But go West to Westhampton Beach and Main Street, is Main Street, with angled parking and big parking lots out of the way behind the shops on both sides. You want to play on the highway, get out of town to the Montauk Highway running past the village instead of right down the middle of downtown. For speed you can really move on the big 4 lane Sunrise Highway in the Pine Barrens, a few miles north.

You want to eat? Probably the best restaurant East of Queens is The Crazy Dog, a gourmet version of the Chelsea diner, right at the gateway to Westhampton Beach. Even in the winter the Olde Speonk Inn, just down the road, is jumping at the bar every night and groaning with good food at the tables. In the summer, if you want a dining room with a view, head over the bridges to Dune Road, let the valet park your car at Tierra Mar at Atlantica, and dine on the beach, looking out over the dunes at the Atlantic Ocean. Drive further down Dune Road for the same view at Dune Deck, with Starr Boggs. For good creole eats, year round, and music weekends, head out to the airport, BYOB, and dig in at Belle’s Caf? perched on the runway and snuggled in under the control tower. Watch the Lears come in and the C-130’s go out. There’s a view.

The beach you say? Well amble on down to Rogers Beach, with showers and bathrooms, and even hotdogs and hamburgers (maybe not for 7-11 prices but, hey, it’s on the beach). Surfers and spongers head further west to jetty four, or they head back east to the alphabet roads on the west side of the canal. From Rogers beach you can walk five miles East in the sand, past the fishing docks to Sunwaters and Oaklands Restaurant, where you can sit on the deck and look east toward Meadow Lane in Southampton. Or you can walk five miles west, to Cupsogue beach at the tip of Westhampton Dunes and look west toward next stop, Fire Island. Ten miles of the finest sand beaches in the world and most of it almost totally deserted even Memorial Day to Labor Day.

A broker friend from Manhattan just bought another house in Westhampton Beach, his second or maybe his third time around. But first he just had to go take a look at Bridgehampton, Wainscott, Water Mill and Southampton.

“The effin traffic just isn’t worth it.” he finally concluded.

“I come out to relax. Not to get stuck in traffic.” He said.

He decided he could get more fun and less hassle for his money right back in Westhampton Beach.

Share houses and party animals, you say. Look elsewhere. That infamous ABC mini series on the Hamptons was actually shot within a stone’s throw of the Sunrise Highway in East Quogue, about as far out of the way as you can get.?Ǭ Most of the groupers these days swim around north of the highway and east of the canal, if they haven’t moved to the Jersey shore.?Ǭ But in Westhampton Beach you can go to the beach, come back, take a shower and sit on your deck watching the sun set and the smoke rise off the steaks on the barbie while your friends heading east are still waiting for the light to change in Watermill.

Last summer, I was standing at the tiny bar of a Chinese restaurant waiting for a take out of hunan beef, hot and sour soup, and fried dumplings. It wasn’t even nine o’clock in the evening.

“Quiet.” I said.

“Always quiet now” .The guy behind the bar said. “Used to be rush hour started after the beach and midnight the rush hour was even bigger, whole tables coming in starving, after drinking and dancing?Ǭ?Ǭ Now it’s families. Everyone comes at seven. They leave at eight.”

Westhampton Beach was already becoming a family town before a night club bar called Marrakesh bottomed out a few years back. Used to be midnight on Main Street Friday night you could barely walk on the sidewalk. Every shop was open. Sometimes I miss it, like other places and other times, Stanley’s Bar, Slugs and The Mudd Club on The Lower East Side and The East Village Other. Some stores are still open till Midnight on the really big summer weekends.

But now the village has a temple, The Hampton Synagogue, and a lot of places you can walk to the temple from, a good thing. It’s a small village and people pay a premium for it. Right now prices are not quite the same as further east but the C.E.O. of The Real Estate Store, Rocco Oliverio, with offices in Westhampton Beach, Quogue, Hampton Bays and Water Mill says things are changing.

“The west of the canal is hot and it can only get hotter. Only so many people can fly airplanes?Ǭ and helicopters to the East Hampton airport. For everybody else, who wants to sit around for two hours on a single lane highway when you come out to the Hamptons for fun and sun on the beach? And believe me I think the casino in Hampton Bays is going to go through and that’s going to make it even harder. It already takes an hour or more to get over the canal.”

But that doesn’t mean the bang for the buck is gone. How about a boat house on more than half an acre of waterfrontin the?Ǭ Remsenburg estate section, with a boat slip for a basement and endless bay and ocean views for under a million? That’ll get you a hunk a hunk a burnin’ junk on Peconic Bay East of the canal. Less than three million will get you almost two acres on the ocean in Quogue with five bedrooms, four and a half baths and a fifty foot pool. Or in Hampton Bays not far from the sweeping Ponquogue Bridge there’s an acre on the water with stunning bay views, a sandy beach, a dock,?Ǭ a pool , a tennis court and not one but three houses with about a dozen bedrooms all told, for only a million and a half dollars.

But it doesn’t end there. Back here in the wild west just because you got here doesn’t mean you are stuck here, trapped by that endless line of cars on Montauk Highway.?Ǭ Movies? Two screens at the Twin Arts in Westhampton Beach and always something happening at the magnificently renovated Westhampton Beach Center for the Performing Arts, anything from a movie to a master class with Billy Joel. United Artists in Hampton Bays has five more screens. There is another handful at Movieland Mastic fifteen or twenty minutes down the road west or you can load up on wine at the North Fork Vinyards and go the multiplex in Mattituck. Construction is due to start on an even bigger one in Riverhead, now undergoing a huge commercial building boom.

Speaking of Riverhead, there’s a place to go when you are ready to shop until you drop. Tanger Mall provides over the top outlet shopping, from Pottery Barn furniture and fittings to Ralph Lauren Polo to Coleman’s for camping. Closer to town you’ve got Walmart and Kmart and BJ’s for bulk buying binges. Throw in a Home Depot for all that work around the house and TJ Maxx to get that bargain feeling. And coming soon, Target,?Ǭ known to some east of the canal as Tarjay. Add to the list Polish Town,?Ǭ 3000 miles West of Krakow, for good smoked cold cuts and sausage.

You can find a little bit, or more, of everything. Want antiques, to browse or buy at maybe a little less than Manhattan or Atlantic Avenue prices? Go west to Eastport, or further west to Barntique, a collection of small shops, shoppes and barns filled with antiques in the Moriches. Need a horse fix? If the traffic on Snake Hollow Road is too much for you get a head start and try the North Fork Classic in Calverton the week before the Hampton Classic in Bridgehampton. There is a drag race strip in Westhampton and a short track oval with demolition derbies in Riverhead. Take flying lessons or go up in a glider at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, once home to Dr. Strangelove SAC bombers and with a runway?Ǭ so long a Concorde could and did land there as well as Air Force One with President Clinton. Or if you want barn storming airports head down the road to two grass strips side by side between Eastport and East Moriches.

In one way you could even say the west is a little bit like Soho, which was the place to go long before it became the place to be.

Back in the good old days Charles Addams had a house in Westhampton Beach and in the even older days so did P. T. Barnum. He knew what he was talking about when he said there’s a sucker born every minute. There’s probably one going East over the canal right now.

Not that there aren’t great things on the eastern shore of the Hamptons, like Mecox Bay and “the Cut”. Simon’s great Beach Bakery in Westhampton Beach has a branch in the East, and believe it or not for the best croissants this side of La Coupole in Montparnasse go to the bakery counter at the Bridgehampton Commons King Kullens.

After all, whichever way you are driving, in a car, on the Jitney or even?Ǭ lounging in the new cars on the?Ǭ LIRR, the Hamptons neither begin nor end at the canal.

-Sean Jaegr

Filed Under: Articles | Arts & Leisure | the Hamptons

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