Lizzie Grubman was prepping for a summer in the Hamptons, and already she was having too much fun. It was June, and the petite, perma-tanned publicist’s client, Jay-Z, rapper and Hamptons renter, was hoping to kick off Fourth of July weekend by promoting his new single, “Big Pimpin’.” Grubman had booked the club Conscience Point, but two weeks before post time, the party started to get too hot for its own good. “We were getting 20 to 30 calls a day, without invitations,” she remembers.
Outside the environs of Route 27, this would have been a good thing. But a mob scene was hardly desirable for Jay-Z, who has labored to make a splash while staying on the good side of the East Hampton town board. And so the Tuesday before the party, Jay-Z and his partner Damon Dash asked Grubman to change the venue to Jay-Z’s modest five-bedroom summer rental. It may have been the challenge of her career: four days, no invites, one rapper, and a town board shell-shocked from party requests. “Guys, this is going to take blood, sweat, and tears,” she says she told them. “Now I’ve got to get a permit.”
The party permit is the last line of defense the East End of Long Island has against an A-lister who wants to have fun within earshot of another human being. It is what Sean “Puffy” Combs famously rebuffed last year when he welcomed 700 people at his Gwathmey-designed spread – only to be humiliated, forced to appear in person at East Hampton Town Hall to pay a $2,000 fine.
With Puffy’s problems fresh in everyone’s memory, Grubman left little to chance: She hired a local security company to expedite the permit paperwork and smooth over the police’s valet-parking regulations. She guaranteed no more than 150 people at the party, posting an attendant at the entrance with a clicker.
And because no Hamptons party can survive even one noise complaint, Lizzie Grubman personally went knocking on Jay-Z’s neighbors’ doors, flashing a sheepish smile and inviting them to come to the “Big Pimpin’ ” party. “Everybody was gracious,” Grubman says. “Most of them told me they had dinner plans.”
But Jay-Z had shown that he could play by the rules: The music went off promptly at 11 p.m. In the days that followed, word spread that Grubman had acquired a new marketable skill. “Everybody’s calling me, saying, ‘Lizzie, you’ve got to get me a permit,’ ” she says. “I’ve become the permit queen.”
Until this summer, the East End seemed defenseless against the inexorable march of excess. The giant mansions, the giant parties, the giant SUVs clogging Montauk Highway seemed to proceed by right of eminent domain, no matter what legal barricades were put in their path. But now, just as it seemed that the last vestiges of the quaint old Hamptons were on the verge of disappearing, a counterattack has been mounted. The story of the Hamptons summer so far is the parties that haven’t happened, or have been scaled down, or have been forced to move to different venues. “They’re enforcing the law,” says John Kowalenko, co-owner of Art of Eating caterers, who is putting on a big benefit with Jimmy Buffet in August. “These ordinances have been on the books for a while, but there’s a new administration in town, and they’re trying to send a message.”
The chilling effect is potent: Puff Daddy’s party was also small and proudly middle-class this year; Lizzie Grubman’s father, Alan, canceled his annual bash; Nike scuttled its plans for a summer-long promotional party with a revolving roster of sports stars and models. When Russell Simmons and the Democratic National Committee flatly denied a “Page Six” item about Al Gore’s personally petitioning the East Hampton town board to grant a permit for a Simmons-hosted August 5 fund-raiser, the scenario still somehow seemed entirely plausible.
The season’s biggest party, Ted Field’s 1,200-person love-in at the $200,000-plus-per-month Goose Creek estate in Wainscott, came at enormous cost. The entire city of East Hampton had to be insured for up to $5 million against any incident related to the party, and Field paid for an 11,000-square-foot tent with a ten-inch Styrofoam wall on one side to keep the dulcet tones of Funkmaster Flex from reaching a nearby neighbor. “Even three weeks before the party, we didn’t know we were going to be approved,” complains Elizabeth Nottoli, Field’s girlfriend and the planner of his events. “These people – I don’t know if they want to act like big-city folk or what. Our party was supposed to be Woodstock revisited, in a really loving and peaceful way. But anytime you have a party in the Hamptons, people think drive-by shootings.”
Field and Nottoli say they won’t be throwing a party next summer – which is apparently fine with the town elders. In fact, no one whose name you’d recognize will actually admit to a desire to attend the kind of gigantic, pull-out-the-stops, Osetra-for-everyone parties that have characterized the East End in recent years. “The last time I went to a Ted Field party, it took me two hours to get my car out,” says Nicole Miller. “I think people get intimidated, and they want something a little simpler – where they can leave if they want. The focus has gotten to be really having dinner at people’s homes.”
The recent intensification of all manner of legal battles is one signal that the East End endgame has begun. The Hamptons these days are a little like the copters hovering over the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, circa 1975 – everyone wants a spot, but there’s just not enough room. “I see this as the last ten years of big construction,” says Jay Schneiderman, the new Republican town supervisor of East Hampton, who has initiated three building moratoriums during his first six months in office. “Personally, I think the last thing we need to build are more summer houses.”
Amusingly, some of Schneiderman’s staunchest allies turn out to be proud owners of spanking-new multi-gabled, potato-field manor houses themselves. In the Hamptons these days, everyone is minding everyone else’s business. Environmentalism and anti-development positions, once the intellectual property of the landed, year-round middle class, have now been appropriated by the rich and famous, who want to close the door on anyone who might further clog the roads. nimbys (preaching “not in my backyard”) have given way to bananas (“build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone”). The notorious land of No, where Alec Baldwin caught flack for building a chimney on top of his Amagansett home, has become the land of Not on Your Life, where Alec Baldwin now fights to keep a golf course from being built near his property.
A few summer residents, alarmed that their tax dollars are subsidizing someone else’s year-round existence, have even called for local voting rights. The year-rounders, in turn, are watching property values price their children out of their hometowns. The result is a cycle that perpetuates itself until, finally, everyone feels like he’s on the losing end of someone else’s good time. In July, Jerry Della Femina threw a wedding for his daughter, Jodi, on his own property, only to have the cops muzzle the music at 12:30 a.m. – “which was right and fair,” he says. “People walking around as if it were Cannes, waiting for the fireworks. It’s wearing thin. Everybody wants to live in a wonderful, beautiful town. Nobody wants to live in a zoo.” The problem is, who decides which of the animals can stay – or where they’re allowed to park?
It’s about noon on a Monday, deep in the belly of the Fourth of July weekend, and a long beach-permit line of bored people with frowns and tanned shoulders stretches out the side door of the East Hampton town clerk’s office. A few doors down the hall, two boyish Republicans with ties, Jay Schneiderman and his assistant, Eric Brown, are poring over a black binder containing Section 151 of the town’s administrative code – the part about mass gatherings, which forced Puffy to pay for having more than 200 people at his place the previous year. “We have upped our whole code division,” Schneiderman says proudly, “adding more people and giving it more power. But there are still people rushing out here to get to Puff Daddy’s house. The only difference I see is that there are more people with more money.”
Schneiderman, whose wide mouth and Long Island gait invite comparison to new Hamptonite Jerry Seinfeld, is in some ways the most powerful man on the East End. But his job pays in the mid-sixties; he and his wife and 15-month-old daughter can afford Montauk only because of income from a family hotel business. “There are two worlds out there, and they have different sets of priorities,” he says. “Property values are through the roof, so only the superrich can buy here. Now there are people who want to shut the gate and make it more exclusive than it is. People against playing fields, schools, anything that might serve the middle class.”
Schneiderman has his own ties to seasonal Hamptons society. He used to teach at Courtney Sale Ross’s posh private school (the expansion of which is not held back by any current construction bans), and he plays African and Cuban percussion every Thursday night to the party set at NV Tsunami. He is not the only connected townie: The mayor of East Hampton Village, Paul Rickenbach Jr., was once top employee and security chief at the late Steve Ross’s Hamptons compound.
Employed by the tourism and construction industries, even the most resentful year-rounders are beholden to their rich seasonal counterparts, fostering an uncomfortable bite-the-hand-that-feeds-them dynamic. “We’re overwhelmed out here,” says East End publicist Stephen Haweeli. “There are folks out in Manhattan who figure, ‘Oh, God, we have to have an event in the Hamptons.’ But that clientele is being diluted between the Parish Art Museum and Chefs and Champagne or Planned Parenthood, let alone if Peggy Siegal wants to have an HBO premiere. Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, it’s good for the restaurants.’ Bullshit. These guys are getting creamed. They’re basically mom-and-pop operations handing out free food.”
Excess and charity and regulation collided bizarrely at the James Beard Foundation’s Chefs and Champagne event this month. The Southampton fund-raiser was visited by the Suffolk County Board of Health, which planted thermometers in the food trucks of several famous chefs. When it came to the handiwork of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, one Board of Health inspector was stumped. “He kept saying we had to cook it to 160 degrees, but it would melt at that temperature,” says marketing director Izabela Wojcik. “It was just very amusing. I know what foie gras is, and I know my clientele, and here’s this member of the Board of Health telling me it’s poultry.”
Union Pacific owner-chef Rocco DiSpirito also got busted. “I think it was about the use of gloves while transferring the sliced pieces from the trays to the plates,” he says. “We were using little spatulas, but the Health Department wanted gloves too. I find it almost comical.”
It makes a weird kind of sense in the modern Hamptons that a food inspector protecting diners from undercooked foie gras would become as essential as, say, a lifeguard. But those who make their living serving the bubbly-and-canapés set aren’t so amused. “The people who are here year-round in business, we’re suffering the consequences of a couple mavericks who want to push the limits,” says caterer John Kowalenko. “There’s a new ordinance that says you’re only allowed to have a tent up for one day – which is an impossible thing to do. A lot of tents out there right now are in violation.”
As the numbers and incomes of seasonal Hamptonites grow, so do their power and influence. This spring, part-time Southamptonite Lowell Harwood sent shock waves through the East End when he called for granting seasonal residents the right to vote in local elections – a right that a state appeals court has upheld for second-home owners in Mountain Village, Colorado. “I think they’re very happy to have us out here,” says Harwood, who regularly makes the trip from New Jersey. “I think they’re happy to see the taxes we’re paying so their children can go to school. But I’m paying taxes without representation, and I don’t believe that’s what the Constitution is about.”
As far-out as that notion seems – if you own a villa in Tuscany, should you be able to vote for Siena’s dogcatcher? – Schneiderman believes that battle has largely been lost, too. “The seasonal people may not vote, but that doesn’t mean they don’t affect the political process,” he says. “The high rollers sure do.”
The struggle for control has gotten so extreme that certain people are beginning to think of it along the lines of a Kevin Costner thriller – a sequel, say, to The Postman. How else to explain “The Last American” – the nom de plume used in famously ranting letters to the East Hampton Star by Montauk’s William Addeo?
An ex-restaurateur and ex-builder, Addeo has made the new Hamptons the focus of his rage. “Hollywood is hedonism,” Addeo says. “Drugs, sex, and violence are their culture. They’ve taken over in town. The whole place is run by environmental Nazis. It took me two years just to get a permit to build here, and I still couldn’t get it. But the person I sold the place to, he’ll be able to get a permit, because he’s very powerful, very rich.”
It goes without saying that this new owner is a seasonal resident. “He’s one of them,” Addeo says.
“I’m not gonna take the Rudy angle on this,” says Vincent J. Cannuscio, the town supervisor of Southampton. “But I’d say we still have our share of troubled summer rentals.”
The counterpart to East Hampton’s Schneiderman, Cannuscio has his own mental pushpin map of trouble spots: a Deerfield Road house that could become a bed-and-breakfast; a $50,000-a-weekend house rented by corporations, sneaking commercialism into his town. Come summer, a hamlet of 50,000 erupts into a city of 125,000. Near the top of Cannuscio’s list is “the nightclub scene,” largely consisting of just one club, Jet East – which, like Conscience Point, is handled by Lizzie Grubman. “On a Saturday night,” he says, “you’ve got twenty limousines and 500 people waiting to get inside.”
But who are these people? Probably the same ones complaining about the crowds on Montauk Highway, and the line at the muffin shop, etc., etc. In the Hamptons these days, there’s always a crowd. But nobody will admit to being a part of it.
Anyway, Cannuscio says, drawing one last, futile line in the sand, “Compared to Manhattan, it’s still very nice.”