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The Hamptons' Hot Hotelier

HRH Resorts owner David Waksman has some of the area's best venues.

With the three hotels in his HRH Resorts portfolio, David Waksman could be the Ian Schrager of Southampton.
With the three hotels in his HRH Resorts portfolio, David Waksman could be the Ian Schrager of Southampton.
Hello from the Hamptons. As a hard-working journalist, I have been going to parties out here, partially on your behalf. This is what I go to:

I go to benefits for arts and diseases. I go to friends’ houses or things they organize. (I prefer to go to their houses.) I go to political fund-raisers. (This season’s deal was the Eliot Spitzer cash grab at the home of Michael and Annie Falk—sorry, off the record, no goodies for you—and you get remarkably high political wattage with unfettered access out here, FYI.) I go to family get-togethers and low-level country club dinners.

I have been giving and going to parties in the Hamptons for so long (I’ll put it this way: since before there were deer), please believe me when I say it is work. So I draw the line. I do not go to nightclubs anymore (for fear of being backed into, rear-ended, etc.). I do not generally go to things that take place during the day, or that do not serve wine.

I start with my Hamptons credentials for this resort update because I am giving what I almost never do, a very positive review.

I think that this company HRH Resorts has a nice corner on the market out here as the first full-service lodging and entertainment company in the Hamptons. With three hotels—the Atlantic, the Capri, and the Bentley—plus event venue Hampton Hall, I think they are very close to becoming a big deal, and while they are mostly full and they have a full slew of events planned, I think the company is underutilized. (By the way, HRH isn’t His Royal Hamptons, although I wish it were.)

HRH owner David Waksman and his investors have been on the scene here for about eight years. They began with the purchase of Route 27’s Sandpiper Hotel, which had been there for more than 20 years. (Despite the drive-by locale, it had a decent reputation, and my family had friends stay there once when our house was full.) HRH turned it into the Atlantic, with 60 rooms that have nonlumpy beds, TVs with movie players, shabby-chic-style loveseats, minibars with sodas and chips and no charges, phones, and computer access—in short, more than most places out here.

Now if you know anything about the Hamptons, you know that getting acceptable hotel accommodations in any quantity is a procedure.

When my firm did events in East Hampton, we always needed two bed-and-breakfast outlets, plus my own slightly overtaxed kitchen. (One morning the bagel bill was $239, and I thought, “This has to stop.”) Anyplace that was decent—meaning that my snooty interns would agree to stay there—had a two-night minimum, and nothing was cheap.

Booking rooms for clients was even worse. Here off the top of my head are places where we would regularly call: the Point, where the condolike living was large and clean and quiet and almost never available. The American Hotel, despite the very good lobby restaurant, had lousy room service in tiny, fussy rooms that made everyone feel old. Both Gurney's and the Montauk Yacht Club were pressed into service, despite the extra half-hour of travel, because you could book a group of 10 rooms together and get breakfast.

I was constantly being updated on the ebb and flow of rooms. The goal was to avoid midnight phone calls of “There’s a frog in my room, and it doesn’t seem to want to leave.” Surprisingly, many New Yorkers were still completely clueless about how cow-town the Hamptons still is. They think you just call up Barefoot Contessa and the bagels just pop into your room.

It’s not that way out here. My road was blocked off once because Clinton was staying with Spielberg down the road, and I had to go on bike to ask them to let my caterer through. That’s what works.

After the Atlantic, Waksman grabbed the Capri, another highway motel with an attached nightclub, Cabana. This is when I guess I and everyone else started paying attention. Cabana was an instant hotspot—I always think of it as the place I took perfume executives. Either way, Cabana’s first round of investors (disclosure: one was a cousin of mine) offered a sophisticated mix of drinks and hoity-toity snacks. We booked a number of events there that went well, but the place lost money. Now it is hosting an outpost of meatpacking district nightspot Cain.

Sitting on the deck at Cabana, as I did many an evening, gazing at the Capri property gave you a chance to see an idea in development.

It’s really a motel, let’s be honest. But it has a Yankee-style foyer that this summer has been turned into a Cynthia Rowley store. Cynthia commented in the press that they gave it to their interns to run—a clever idea in the paper, but after three visits I haven’t seen anybody in there really buying anything. But the shop is still pleasant to pass through, and there I think Waksman quite clever.

The Capri has the nicest grounds of HRH’s establishments, none of which are “swimming in flowers,” as Mercedes Ruehl’s Married to the Mob character prefers. But here an arresting maze of low daybeds, torchieres, shrubs, and stuff shoot for and kind of channel a Mondrian (the hotel, not the painter, sigh) vibe. Overall, I wish HRH would spring for some geraniums or something. The minimal look out here, in the hot crab-grassy summer, looks a bit too minimal, if you know what I mean.

None of the hotels have an in-house liquor license or room service yet, although they have built a full-service catering offshoot. The night I was there, a party for OP sportswear served up an ample, if pedestrian, spread of empanadas and tacos. A stolen brownie was found to be of exquisite quality, and later I sent word to Waksman’s food partner, Frank Tarmontino.

The Capri rooms are small and immaculate white, a safe look that works, although for $450 a night I’d rather be at the Atlantic.

The newest overnight venue, and the one with the most potential and the longest way to go, is the Bentley. Hidden off a Southampton sleeper street known as Longview, the Bentley has a parking lot, 40 condo-style suites, a weedy tennis court, and a pool. There’s a Peconic Bay view if you look carefully. Because each suite houses four, the giant parking lot is a necessity. The rooms have decks, teak dinettes, and a chaise outdoors, and I can see with some candles and loving care they could be real nice at night.

The rooms are less stylish than the other HRH properties so far. I liken them to Andre Balazs’ Standard standards. (Not exactly the Mercer, but not exactly Mercer prices, either.)

Now, what these HRH people are hoping to do is to combine the four units into a seamless network. Not unlike booking, say, an entire Ritz-Carlton unit in Aspen and getting food and beverage, meeting spaces, sleeping rooms, and other services—and taking advantage of the efficiencies that come with volume. But it doesn’t seem like clients have completely discovered it. Ralph Lauren did a retreat, but not for an important-seeming division. Two retailing executives used the entire works for elaborate birthday parties (I couldn’t guess who).

Their catering company promises flexibility, and a willingness to work with even small orders if they are planned in advance. That way if you are there with, say, five rooms, you could get a spread for the whole group Saturday afternoon, with bar and bartender, and not have to lift a finger. Waksman tells me that $75 a head is a good starter price point for Saturday cocktails and snacks. He mentions that event insiders like Matthew David Hopkins, Philip Baloun, and Antony Todd all house their staffs with him when creating big-time events at private homes out here.

And Hampton Hall puts them at the top of the event entertaining market, too. Née Pulaski Hall (for the Polish workers who built it), the building has “blue-collar roots,” sniffed The Southampton Press. Sniff all you want, it is the first fully functioning, air-conditioned, parking- and traveler-friendly (it’s close to the Southampton LIRR train station) event venue here. And let me tell you, after having attended two events at Hampton Hall, I predict smart people will wake up and realize how preferable this venue is to the lawn/lot party tent.

I used to live on Cove Hollow Road in East Hampton, and I had an annual summer event that was “produced,” meaning I got a town permit, hired a parking company, caterers, off-duty cops, etc. It was a complete pain in the ass.

Russell Simmons hosts an annual Rush Arts gala in his backyard down the street (it was my favorite event because I could walk, and my friends from In Style would park in my driveway and have a drink). If I were Russell, and I could ditch the golf carts for the parking staff, and the lawn consultants, and the four-day tent-operating headaches, and the noise, and portable toilets, and bring my party to a professional catering hall like Hampton, I’d do it in a second.

At both events I attended at Hampton Hall, Waksman was on hand greeting guests and answering questions. That’s a sign of commitment to getting things done right. (I think back on how many zillion parties I did at a certain giant Manhattan location, for example, and how it would take half an hour to find anyone connected to the building to turn on the air conditioning.)

Waksman is the majority owner of HRH, which recently bought out the estate of famed Hampton restaurateur Jeff Salaway. He was of course the talented and super-personable owner-operator of Nick and Toni’s (Toni Ross, of course, was his wife). Jeff died tragically in a car accident after a staff event in 2001, and his funeral was like a state event out here. I did a ton of business with both Nick & Toni’s and Jeff’s catering team, and their success d’estime was completely deserved. They were all quality and precision all the way, and Jeff personally had a lot to do with that.

My guess is buying the Salaway estate was a bit expensive for Waksman, chewing up needed capital to bring his whole operation up to snuff.

His very attractive wife, Tina, and kids (Hannah, 15 months, and Evan, 2 1/2) are holed up economically in two rooms at the Bentley, and their colorful toys provide the only color in the bleakly landscaped backyard. I want to volunteer to come by with impatiens.

A tree at the Atlantic needs pruning. All the tennis courts have weeds (as did my family’s court growing up). On a Sunday afternoon at the Bentley, when occupancy is at 100 percent, the front office is Tumbleweed Junction personified, with Waksman himself peering into the dark, unmarked guest entry and explaining that guests can go to the Atlantic’s office for services or free coffee.

I’ve gone on for too long, but there is more to say about the next Ian Schrager of Southampton. Stay tuned.

Posted 08.17.05

Columnist Ted Kruckel is an experienced and opinionated former event and PR pro who ran events for 20 years for high-profile clients like Vanity Fair, Elle Decor, Christian Dior and Carolina Herrera. He shuttered his firm, Ted Inc., in 2003. You can email him at [email protected].