Deep in the woods of Southampton, up a steep driveway, a hulking nine-bedroom house rises from a white-painted wraparound deck, complete with a baby-blue pool, clay tennis and pebbly volleyball courts, and, usually, lots and lots of models. It’s raining today, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and most of the models, shivering in thin cotton shirts, have gone to the movies; some fashion-industry guys in moony trucker hats who’ve been left behind play a lackadaisical game of basketball on the soggy tennis court. The house’s owners, Noah Tepperberg, 27, and Jason Strauss, 29, however, are hard at work. They pace up and down the house’s vertiginous staircase, jabbering into cell phones.
“How are the tables looking for tonight?” Tepperberg asks upstairs.
“How are the tables looking for tonight?” Strauss asks downstairs.
The tables at issue are cabaret-size and bottle-service only at Jet East, the North Sea Road nightclub Tepperberg and Strauss have been commissioned to run this summer for Andrew Sasson, the headstrong, hyper owner of Jet East and the Light nightclub chain better known as Lizzie Grubman’s infamous turncoat ex. Tepperberg and Strauss, former owners of Conscience Point and collaborators on the celebrity-friendly Chelsea nightclub Suite 16, go way back with Sasson; Sasson’s partner Chris Barish, son of Planet Hollywood’s Keith Barish, has long been a friend. They go further back with each other—the two first met promoting parties at bars amicable to underage crowds as high schoolers in Manhattan, where they attended Stuyvesant and Riverdale, respectively. “I went to one of Jason’s parties,” says Tepperberg, “but he wouldn’t let me in, said it was ‘Fieldston and Riverdale only.’ But I talked to him, was a nice guy, you know, and he opened the door. Eventually.”
Though Tepperberg has a booming bass voice, a sarcastic edge, and a phone that vibrates rhythmically with sycophantic calls from young clubgoers like Tara Reid and Elisabeth Kieselstein-Cord, you wouldn’t say that he was the coolest guy you’d ever met; small of stature, he looks tired and rumpled even now, in the early afternoon. Tepperberg was, in fact, a Stuyvesant chess champion—he talks excitedly about a game he played a couple years back with former Interscope Records CEO Ted Field, a chess aficionado, at his Goose Creek mansion, and how Field invited Garry Kasparov to one of his renowned Fourth of July parties. “To talk to Kasparov,” says Tepperberg dreamily: “Man.”
Tepperberg collects old hand-carved chess boards, too, but that’s where his connection to the world of nebbishness ends. In an attic crash pad appended to his airy second-floor bedroom, an n (for Noah) pillow propped neatly on the king-size bed, two Brazilian models in bright pink tank tops huddle under a duvet on a futon. “Hi, Noah,” they say, giggling.
“We got 42 tables for tonight,” says Tepperberg.
If Lizzie sold the Hamptons down the river, Tepperberg, Strauss, and a bunch of similarly buttoned-down, Manhattan-reared guys in their mid-twenties are here to buy it back. The economy may be faltering, the summer-housing market self-destructing, and even the weather playing a nasty joke, but the much-maligned Hamptons nightclub scene has never been more robust. Even with the shuttering of Conscience Point—seized by the town of Southampton in a move motivated as much by public relations as by the defaulting of its lessee, notorious ex–Morgan Stanley broker Christian Curry—the hot list this year is extensive. There are the disco mainstays—Jet East, Tavern, Rocco’s, the Star Room—and slick smaller lounges, like Cabana, Haven, and Boutique, plus a rechristening of established spots, like East Hampton’s N/V, now Resort, and Japanese restaurant–cum–lounge Bamboo, perched on Montauk Highway across from Jerry Della Femina’s Red Horse Market.
Whether they own the clubs or just work for them, what’s imperative for these guys is making sure that the places are packed with models, celebrities, and that elusive quantity commonly referred to in the business as “high-end people.” A crowded field makes those people harder than ever to catch. “It’s nuts,” complains tiny, wiry Richie Akiva, 26, who co-owns the Star Room with Columbia grad Scott Sartiano, 28. “All these guys saw what we were doing out here, and now they’re coming out too.”
“I’ve been in the Hamptons my whole life,” counters Jeff Goldstein over a scotch on the rocks in Bamboo’s black-and-red lounge. “My scene is all family.”
Until recently a junior associate at Lazard, Goldstein is 26, with light-green eyes and a Pepsodent smile he flashes indiscriminately. Last year, Goldstein was operating partner at the Star Room; this year, he’s helming Saturdays at Tavern and Fridays at Rocco’s, and hoping to convert Bamboo into an after-dinner hipster joint. Goldstein is giddy with anticipation as he details his game plan for the summer, lobbing phrases like maximizing market trends, demographic play, and access to multiple share-house owners.
In this tenacious bid for East End domination, Goldstein has aligned himself with a few friends with a similarly magical ability to send out a mass e-mail announcing a party and deliver a packed nightclub. On Goldstein’s team are the ubiquitous Samantha Ronson; Butch Ural, her twin sister Charlotte’s boyfriend, also known as a longtime pal of Leonardo DiCaprio; and Mike Heller, a friend of Goldstein’s from growing up in the city who resembles a very young, very small Michael Douglas—“the sexiest five-foot-tall man you’ll ever meet” is how he puts it.
“I was the first person to have Mark Ronson as a D.J., at the first party I ever had, for my 14th birthday,” boasts Heller.