Hamptons Crowd Out New York's Solitude Seekers

Popular summer resort has become the place to be seen for celebrities

As a child, Kathryn Griffin remembers the seemingly endless ride in the back of her grandmother's station wagon.

It was so big, they called it "the canoe." It pulled out from Madison Avenue, rumbled through grimy boroughs, past dozens of bland, repetitive suburbs, until finally, when she and her brother and sister had had enough of the winding Montauk Highway, it deposited them behind a high, perfectly trimmed hedge in Southampton.

Then commenced a summer of full, lazy days lounging in the waves at the beach club, riding bicycles along the tree-shaded lanes and strolling through town to the five and dime for a regular supply of flip-flops and inflatable tubes. Southampton was summer heaven.

"It was more like being in the country then," says Ms. Griffin, who adds that she rarely vacations there now.

The Hamptons - once the wealthy Manhattanites' quiet retreat by the sea - now could be undone by their own success.

The popularity of these quaint, New England-like villages not far off the coast of Connecticut but just a 2-1/2-hour ride from Manhattan, has generated legendary traffic snarls, a Darwinian social scene, and seemingly interminable lines at the ice cream store.

"It's getting too overdone," says Adam Greene, the general manager of Manhattan's upscale Aqua Vite restaurant. "There's too much traffic, too many people, everybody's always trying to out-do each other. When I go away for the weekend I want to get away from the city."

Like dozens of other high-end urban refugees, Mr. Greene has left the Hamptons on Long Island's South Fork for the rolling vineyards and unspoiled farmlands of the North Fork.

While the North Fork doesn't have the glamour or the pristine, ocean beaches of its southern neighbor, it does have much of what the Hamptons offered a generation ago: peace and quiet.

"It is more of a blue-collar community," says Stanley Perelman, a real estate developer who shares a house with Greene and other friends in Mattituck. "We went there because the house was lovely, the vineyards are very peaceful, there's a lot of farmland, and it's inexpensive and not crowded."

Low-profile celebrities

David Bouley, owner of one of Manhattan's top restaurants, has bought property there. So has Billy Joel. The North Fork's other celebrity residents include Alistair Cooke and Bob Entemann, the famous baker.

"Our celebrities over here have always been low key," says John deReeder, a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Celic in Mattituck. "You see them in the hardware store; they're not the kind to send their servants out for things, like in the Hamptons. They're the kind of the people who aren't thinking of status."

Mr. deReeder doubts the North Fork would ever develop the money power, status, or celebrity chic the Hamptons have become known for. As a result, he doesn't think the bucolic wonders of the North Fork present any real threat to its southern neighbor.

"The people that can come in and out by helicopter to avoid the traffic," he says, "they aren't going to buck the Hamptons."

No threats

And the longtime Hamptonites aren't worried. Dan Rattiner publishes "Dan's Papers," the summer haven's answer to The New York Times. He says that every five years for the last 35 years, someone has written an article about the place that's going to replace the Hamptons.

"First it was Tuxedo, N.Y., then Cape Cod, then some of the counties upstate and in the Catskills - even Newfoundland," Mr. Rattiner says. "It hasn't happened yet."

Gregg Wasser, a real estate developer who bought a house in Bridgehampton five years ago doesn't think the crowds have gotten any worse since then. While Steven Spielberg and the Hollywood set have recently brought star-gazing here to a new level, Wasser chalks up all the hand-wringing over the Hamptons to hype.

"Almost every writer who lives in New York comes to the Hamptons for the summer," Mr. Wasser says, "and they need to write about something."

Rattiner says nowhere else will you find the combination of sophistication, ocean beaches, and old New England-style just a few hours from New York.

"I think we're just getting started," Mr. Rattiner says. "The traffic is horrendous, but it's also horrendous in Manhattan. That doesn't make it any less exciting."

While Griffin isn't quite so optimistic, she still ventures out a few times each summer for a weekend get-away.

"There's nothing like taking a shower after being on the beach all day and sitting down to a plate of fresh vegetables," she says. "So it does hold some of the same allure, but only if you're doing things that don't involve people."

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