Just as we civilians were getting comfortable with the knowledge that our planet, our solar system, our galaxy was just a speck of dust on an elephant’s ear in a giant jungle, word came that there were (possibly) other vast hidden dimensions, whole universes slicing through ours; imperceivable but nonetheless real and equally incalculable in size and complexity.
Well, I for one was not surprised, because I have always sensed that there were whole other strange new worlds among us, invisible but to the trained eye. In fact, I kept hearing about one right under my nose, here in the Hamptons; a world where the recession didn’t exist, where excess was still en vogue (if no longer in the pages of Vogue) and where $595 rehoboams of Bertaud Belieu Côtes de Provence rosé can’t be iced fast enough.
There have long been overpriced liquor and faux chic watering holes out here, but there was always a “Lawn Guyland” vibe to them. Picture Lizzie Grubman shouting “White trash!” while backing into nightclub history and you’ve got the vibe.
I guess I expected that the cigar-chomping, money-burning crowd would take a breather this summer, but I was wrong. Instead, I found a whole new subculture of high-end partying going on out here. Newly enabled by luxury booze buses and scooter chauffeuring for the impaired, the wildlife has been thriving out east. There’s even a new veneer of sophistication. Just don’t scratch too deep or messy layers of unpaid bills, bankruptcy, and even a little rough stuff will show through.
Day & Night: Hot Fun in the Summertime
The party kicks off at noon at Day & Night, a weekly weekend party that takes place on the front lawn of the Capri Hotel, the same lawn that the established Southampton club Pink Elephant uses at night.
Twin brothers Derek and Daniel Koch came up with the creative concept of leasing the nightclub's space and creating a daytime, but super hardcore, dance party, and they have succeeded.
This “brunch” party kicks off at noon. By 3 p.m., the music is so loud that the windows in my (admittedly old) convertible rattle as we pull up. A handsome doorman named Matt asks our names, has no clipboard in sight, and immediately knows who we are and why we are here. He’s a pro. Within minutes, handsome owner Daniel is on hand and giving us a tour. He apologizes that “it is a little slow today.”
Let me describe “slow.”
Maybe 200 guests, almost none of them sitting, are gyrating to the sounds of a DJ imported from St. Tropez. (Everything has a St. Tropez tie-in here, but it is nothing like the St. Tropez I remember.) Behind the bar, two shirtless hot guys are clearly part show; within minutes of my arrival, a girl in a bikini top has gone behind the bar and splashed a drink on the chest of one, who lovingly rubs it into his chest and keeps on serving. Another girl in only a chic string bikini and heels dances by, carrying a bottle of rosé and a glass. She seems a bit tipsy. In another corner, a guy who looks kind of traditional for this place (madras shorts and a polo shirt) takes a bottle of Dom Perignon, shakes it suggestively in front of his pelvis, then pops the cork and sprays a trio of girls in kind of a mock porn scene. They literally lap it up.
There are bed-style lounges where revelers recharge and lay lugubriously with bottles and glasses in hand, their wet, sandy feet making a horrible mess on the white cotton mattresses.
Strangers make eye contact, clink glasses, and I can’t help but think, “Half this crowd is stone drunk and the other half just stoned.” It seems like wild, dangerous fun and I wish I were younger.
Twin Derek, equally handsome and twice as flirtatious (he kisses me on three cheeks, as they do in St. Tropez, he tells me) sits down with us and I get their story.
They are consultants in the restaurant game. They used to operate Jour et Nuit (French for “day and night,” get it?) and now they run Merkato 55. This is their first summer promoting this party, and they are strictly season only. The last rave will be held on Labor Day, then they’re folding up the cabanas until next year.
They serve food here, although I don’t see any. The “Le Speciale” platter costs $250. Daniel describes the menu to me as a “gimmick,” which is born out by the chef Marc “Fish” Elliot. A bottle of Dom Perignon costs $375, and they are moving 15 cases of rosé a day.
The signature party fuel of Day & Night is a rehoboam (bigger than a jeroboam, and equal to six bottles) of rosé wine called Bertaud Belieu. At just under $600 a pop, the rosé, Daniel explains, is a bargain compared to Dom Perignon … mais bien sur.
As Derek winks at the ladies and calls shout outs to the DJ, I learn these guys want to go global with their new brand and open places in Europe and the Middle East.
I ask about corporate and business events, and they mention that Stoli vodka has done an event there and something was done with Cadillac. “But we don’t want to do boring corporate events,” he tells me.
I ask them about a press report about bankruptcy. Apparently a vendor had tried to collect on a bill and was told that the club had debt protection due to Chapter 11 filings. The vendor's response: “But you just opened!” Daniel told me that it was just a brief hiccup and that was a necessity and something else I couldn’t really get.
But who’s going to let a little Chapter 11 status and pesky bill collectors spoil the fun? Not these guys. I ask if there are any complaints. You can hear the music (and see the debauchery through a peek-a-boo window—remember this is going on in daylight, under the hot blazing sun) on the Montauk highway. He says “No complaints. Sometimes police come and ask us to turn it down, and we do … for a while.”
Fashion Feeding Frenzy at Nello Summertimes
The summer offshoot of the Upper East Side haunt Nello is not new to the scene, this being its fifth year on the main drag of Southampton, on the site of the former Tavern, which was a landmark for decades.
This is a massive joint. The staff has seated 325 for a wedding and still kept the barn-like dance floor and outdoor banquette space free. The male executives all wear jackets and ties; manager Zach Erdem mentions that his suit cost $4,000. The restaurant, which has ambitious (and pricey) food opens at 6 p.m., which is when I conducted my first tour, and clearly everyone had just rolled out of bed. The front-of-house man Alan, in a navy blazer and very sheer white linen pants, came over to greet me, but I could tell his heart wasn’t yet in it. He was saving his strength.
Nello Balan himself is a big, burly man, barrel chested, oddly peroxided hair. I was there when he arrived on another day, pulling up in a fancy convertible that I couldn’t identify (and which, like mine, needed a rinse). I greeted him and gave him my card, explaining I was there to write about his place. He said, “You’re great,” and kept moving. I watched as he gave the parking attendant elaborate instructions, which involved backing the car right into the very front entrance, ready for a quick getaway.
Makes sense. After all, Balan has to move quick to stay out of reach of the long arm of the law. His New York spot was briefly chained shut by the IRS this past winter, and local produce king Dennis Schmidt of the eponymous Schmidt’s Market (like the Fairway of the Hamptons) went public to Page Six with claims that Balan is a deadbeat.
A few seasons back, there was some nastiness with a model/girlfriend who he attempted to strangle with his knee, but he paid his debt to society with some community service and a fine, so all was forgiven. Presumably. I didn’t talk to the model/girlfriend.
Nello tells people he is a descendant of Vlad the Impaler and thus he likes to ride horses (and who knows what else). He rides at Wolffer stables, just about the toniest place to ride out here, and he decorates the patio with rusty horseshoes to help remind you. I noticed that there were a few empty nails sticking out of the wall—it was hard to miss them—and mentioned that there seemed to be a few missing.
As if on cue, Elbi appears. Elbi is glamorous and Eastern European, and she is either Nello’s wife or ex-wife. It isn’t clear, and when I asked, I was told that is personal information (despite the fact that Nello and Elbi’s daughter is in the advertisement for the nightclub and a giant reprint of such is mounted on the wall behind me).
Anyway, Elbi told me that she too rides at Wolffer, dressage I think, and that she keeps a very sharp count of the horseshoes. No one is allowed to take them. I again pointed out what to me were glaring gaps in the collection, but Elbi said “Oh no,” and walked away.
On my next visit it was a sweltering day, but that didn't stop about 100 women from turning out for a Dolce & Gabbana trunk sale. There were big-time society gals there. I saw Jamee Gregory, Joanne de Guardiola, and Helen Schifter. And this was no ordinary trunk show either; the 100-foot-plus dance floor was piped and draped into makeshift stock and fitting rooms. Mannequins and t-stands were fitted out in the bar, and later there were live model presentations. I overheard the event cost $100,000. But if each guest averages $3,000, the outlay could make sense. Kim Heirston told me she’d already bought four items. Another girl, an acquaintance from the fashion world, who asked not to be named, gave me the biz. “They do this every year. If you are invited, you come. And you buy something if you want to be invited back.” I asked if there was a special deal of some kind. “There’s no discount, if that’s what you mean.” How about a charity tie-in? “Oh maybe, like 10 percent or something.” And who would the charity be? “I have no idea.”
Despite the heat, or maybe because of it, there was more liquor being poured here than I expected. Bellinis were popular. One woman ordered a potent-looking number in a rocks glass and asked the bartender to keep it on the bar for her. “It’s hard to shop with a drink in your hand.”
This was fall merch—furs, python, all sorts of sexy-but-heavy-looking stuff—and business was brisk. A number of women are wearing similar satin dresses in gunmetal and taupe. I found out that these were clothes they bought at last year’s sale, worn as a kind of badge, despite the fact that they looked heavy and out of place.
WWD was taking pictures, plus a few paparazzi I recognized, but the whole thing made me a little queasy. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. The heat, the fashion, and the steep competition for Bill Cunningham’s eye got to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff (who is related to, but not properly recognized by, the Winston family, despite her stint as special events director of Vogue) and she fainted. An ambulance came and later, Page Six reported she is fine. No word on what she bought.
Coming up in Part II: a visit to Montauk.