Popupla founder Pavia Rosati made her first trip to Quogue, the charming beachside town in the Hamptons that she had ignored for more than a decade, to see what happens when well-intentioned locals get together to preserve a fading, centuries-old hotel.
QUOGUE, New York – I have spent most summer weekends since 2000 in the Hamptons. And although I run this fine travel website and am usually a tireless, see-it-all traveler, when I'm the Hamptons, I become my alter ego, Lazygirl.
Lazygirl gets to her preferred Hamptons hamlet, Sagaponack — a wealthy potato field in Bridgehampton — as quickly as possible, lamenting throughout the entire journey that there is no quick way to get there, and then does nothing more than read books, go to the beach, and eat far too much grilled steak, tomato salad, and peach crumble.
This by way of an explanation for why I have never once bothered to stop on Quogue, which I know to be an equally lovely and sleepy hamlet. It's the town east of Westhampton, which snobs will say is too far west to count as a Hampton. But what are you doing listening to snobs anyway?
WELCOME TO THE QUOGUE CLUB
I was recently invited to visit (47 Quogue St.; +1-631-653-0100), a hotel so new that the paint was still drying when my husband and I walked into our cottage after midnight last Thursday. (Not really, but just about.) The project is a local labor of love in pure capitalist style. Hallock House began its life in 1824 as the farmhouse of the Hallock family, who occasionally took in a few boarders. It was at its heydey during the Boarding House Era from the 1870s to the middle of the 20th century, and later survived a best forgotten moment in the 1980s as a crazy, coke-fueled party hotel. The building had fallen into disrepair recently, which is when a group of locals (250 member families, to be precise) got together to invest in giving the building a total structural refurbishment, including bringing the building up to modern building codes and restoring the facade to its original design, and transforming the property into a dining club and hotel, the only hotel in town.
If you're thinking Soho House by the beach, you're getting the picture. Only you should swap the hipster vibe for a refined English country aesthetic. Designer Alexa Hampton has filled the main house, fourteen rooms, and two cottages with beautiful textiles in gently coordinated florals, stripes, and ikats. (Patterns for him, patterns for her.) There are books everywhere, donated by members and placed on a striking bookshelf arrangement in the lobby as well as in the adjoining library. The sitting room is set up with an large, gorgeous enameled backgammon set decorated with peacocks and floral motifs. Brandy and backgammon by the fire? This is why the gods invented clubs in the first place.
The well-equipped gym, the yoga studio, and spa treatment room in the basement feel surprisingly light for underground rooms. This whole setup seems very impressive for such a small hotel, but then I remember that these are facilities for an expensive club. Hotel guests just get to reap the benefits. The hotel does not have a pool, but the beach is a 15-minute bike ride or a short drive away.
The dining rooms occupy most of the ground floor. Chef Matt Birnstil is using local ingredients — fish and produce — and doing good things with the pizza oven. I did not have dinner here, but he prepared a special lunch for me, my husband, and general manager Timothy Norton, and I can't remember a better lobster salad.
The photography throughout the hotel is noteworthy, images that are striking without being distracting. Tim explains that the majority of it comes from local photographers — an Instagram series in the dining room, an ice sailing series in the multipurpose screening room, beautiful photos of Cuba in the lobby.
Rooms start at $600/night. This, combined with the fact that the dining room is not open to the public, will ensure that Quogue Club remains exclusive. Whether that's for better or for worse remains to be seen, of course. But if the thoroughly affable Tim is any indication of what Quogue Club aspires to be, it's very promising. A lifetime local, there is not a snobby note to him. (I mean, he's a volunteer fireman.)
OUT AND ABOUT IN QUOGUE
Since I am on assignment, I can't just sit around playing backgammon. My Quogue research primarily involves calling my friend Ben Lerer, who has been coming to Quogue his whole life. Quogue is a very family-oriented town, and it's not unusual for someone to be a lifer. Ben gives me the download, which doesn't take long: There are a few restaurants, a beach, and a nature preserve that's great for running. "And that's about it," he says, "and that's why Quogue is so great."
(48 Main Street; +1-631-653-0222) is a casual eatery with a nice outdoor dining patio and a breakfast menu that includes quinoa-scrambled eggs and a killer croissant sandwich. The food is fresh and the prices are outrageous ($1.50 for a bite-size muffin), both proof that Quogue is, in fact, the Hamptons.
(146 Jessup Ave.; +1-631-653-4191), stocked with groceries and prepared foods, is a good place to stop before going to the beach. (94 Dune Rd.; +1-631-653-0653) is a no-reservations restaurant along the beach on Dune Road in East Quogue. Predictably, it's a nightmare to get a table on summer weekends. Cucina (674 Montauk Hwy.; +1-631-996-4550) is a casual Italian eatery in East Quogue. It's a good alternative to the always packed (238 Montauk Hwy.; +1-631-288-6350) in Westhampton Beach.
(the corner of Quogue St. and Jessup Ave.; +1-631-653-6559) sells preppy men's clothing for emergency polo shirt situations. (130 Jessup Ave.; +1-631-653-6575) is a cute consignment shop. (Fun fact: Owner Theresa Fontana used to be the manager at Hallock House when it was the Inn at Quogue.) (140 Jessup Ave.; +1-631-653-6005) carries, well, toys.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
We hop on the beautiful Republic bikes the hotel has for guests and make our way to (3 Old Country Rd.; +1-631-653-4771). We take Jessup Avenue, where most of the shops listed above area located on a one-block stretch, passing a charming old firehouse, the pretty Quogue Historical Society building and pond, and turn left on Old Meeting House Road. We bike as slowly as possible under a canopy of shady, gentle trees. This is a scene out of a movie.
We get to the refuge, expecting to have a quick look around, but we end up spending a few hours. Before we even got onto a trail, we spend time studying the small exhibit about the ice farming, the old action on the pond. (Ice farming! Who knew?) We hit the Main Pond Trail, I spend too much time sitting on the bridge boardwalk, bonding with and taking too many photos of the really friendly turtles who now occupy that same pond.
I meet Marisa Nelson, the kind and gracious assistant director of the Refuge in the Nature Center, and she tells me about the resident chinchillas and tortoises. The Center has a wall of windows overlooking the pond. They do yoga classes here on Wednesdays at sunset. I more than subtly suggest they should do them daily. This is the most serene, postcard-perfect setting. In the winter, it is no doubt just as amazing.
Marisa takes me around the property, through the site where they'll soon build a tortoise house, through the butterfly house. I ask about the animals in pens. The zoo-like setting seems incongrous in a wildlife preserve. It turns out, they're all rescue stories: The bobcat whose claws were removed, abandoned by his owners who no longer wanted him as a pet. The 30-year-old bald eagle who was shot and had to have a wing removed. (He looks like a resigned old man.) She's a really great teacher, and I start thinking that humans are really terrible people when she tells me the worst one of all: That the funny-looking goose who had been following my husband, who is funny-looking because he has weirdly outstretched wings, suffers from a condition called "angel wings" that develops when geese eat human food. (I mean, humans! Can't we do anything right?)
There are some six miles of trails in the reserve. We say hello to a woman sitting on a bench reading and to another one sitting on the ground with a sketchpad. I see a couple working out together, a grandmother and a toddler, and lots and lots of animals. This place is amazing, one of the best things I've ever done in the Hamptons. That it's free makes the case for Quogue not being a Hampton.
Quogue Village Beach was also a ten-minute bike ride in the other direction from Quogue Club, down Quogue Street and over the bridge on Post Lane to the famous strip of sand, Dune Road. You need passes to access the beach, which the hotel provides. It's a classic Long Island shoreline — lots of families, long stretches of sand. Quiet, pretty. There's nothing else along Dune Road except big houses and the two private beach clubs, Quogue Beach Club and .
Ben was right: That's about it for Quogue. Is it a Hampton? Is it an Un-Hampton? It doesn't matter. It's a perfect and peaceful couple of days.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Bus: The bus stop is directly across the street from The Quogue Club. Everything else is walkable or bikable.