The Hamptons: Under the White Tents

Mint Ponies at Polo, Moet Ice Imperial on Yachts … come along with me as I drink my way through the Hamptons.

photograph by DAVID BRAUNSTEIN

I never tire of the thrill I get when driving along the hedgerow-strewn roads of the Hamptons and suddenly spotting a tall majestic white tent. Soaring high at several points or festively billowing out into bespoke configurations, the white tent is a symbol of the Hamptons’ social scene and signals an elegant evening to come, usually for some worthy charity. The gorgeous tent at Bridgehampton Polo rising to three high peaks or the enormous graceful big-top tent at Wolffer Estates … their silhouettes sometimes appear to me in my dreams.


photograph by DAVID BRAUNSTEIN

What’s under these Hamptons tents is usually a gala party with chefs handing you beautifully plated small dishes from their elaborate cooking stations or teams of barmen or wine pourers graciously filling up your glass. I just love mingling with the crowd and moving from food station to the bars, crisscrossing the room with precision, never missing a delicacy or potential conversation. I’ve even perfected the art of holding a stemmed wine glass and plate of food in one hand and gracefully handling my fork with the other.

Held under the fanciest tent at Wolffer Estates, the James Beard Foundation’s Chefs and Champagne gala just might be my favorite charity event of the Hamptons season. It is always scheduled for the third Saturday of July and conflicts with the opening game of polo, so it’s a chaotic day for me, driving first to Bridgehampton to attend the opening of polo, tearing myself away from the handsome Argentinean polo players and leaving before the last chukker and heading over to Sagaponack to catch the VIP segment of Chefs and Champagne (when they serve the good stuff, the vintage Champagne). This time I just made it in time to have the last glass of Palmes D’Or, Nicolas Feuillatte’s vintage cuvee.


photograph by DAVID BRAUNSTEIN

Emeril Lagasse was the guest of honor. Remarkably, there was Emeril at his station, serving folks huge white shrimps just like any other lesser-known chef. Famous chef and restaurateur, Daniel Boulud (his new Boulud Sud restaurant is getting rave reviews) was strutting around and sometimes manning his station, handing out delectable fatty lamb ribs. Together Daniel and I stood in front of a huge fan, finding the only oasis of cool air, and clicked glasses of Nicolas Feuillatte Rose. The day registered a temperature of 95 degrees, making for a steam bath under the tent, but despite the heat, I couldn’t be happier. I even stayed on for the after-party in another side tent. And after that it was off to finish the night till midnight at the ACRIA event (one of the main AIDS charities) at a beautiful estate on nearby Lumber Lane in Bridgehampton. There the Veuve Clicquot capped off the Champagne night.


That Chefs & Champagne weekend turned out to be probably the best of the summer and the champagne continued on into Sunday afternoon at the FEED charity, Lauren Bush’s wonderful cause of feeding the world’s hungry. A small group of press (covering the event) took Riva Yachts from Sag Harbor to Navy Beach in Montauk, where there was a luncheon on the beach for FEED.

Moet Ice Imperial, Moet & Chandon’s new cuvee of Champagne meant to be consumed on the rocks, was served on the boat and during the lunch. Navy Beach restaurant went all out with courses of crispy calamari, tuna sashimi, chilled lobster rolls, miso glazed salmon and buttermilk fried chicken. (I felt a little guilty eating all that when this was a charity about hunger.) I sat with a designer, Sergio Beretta, of the Riva Yachts, in from Bergamo, Italy. He and his partner, Dino Mori, are collectors of the artists Gilbert and George (coincidentally I had worked at the gallery in SoHo, Sonnabend, that first brought them to prominence).

Another of my favorite events of the white-tented variety is Bridgehampton Polo, games held for six Saturdays in July and August. For the past eight years I’ve been to every single match and enjoyed sipping mini-bottles of champagne and feeling so much part of the Hamptons’ charmed set. And I am proud to say that I was one of the few who actually sometimes watched the polo (yet still socialized during the stomping of the divots intermezzo).

Well, this year has brought extreme changes to the polo event. Everything is different, the drinks, the sponsorship, the concept, the publicists. No more champagne. The cocktail is now the Mint Pony. For all the years it was called the Mercedes-Benz Polo Challenge and the main sponsor, Mercedes-Benz, was emblazoned prominently on the big white tent. Now the tent sports the name Blue Star (Jets). There used to be 2000 people madly networking under that VIP tent, circulating in fancy clothes and sometimes big hats. Now the crowd is limited to 500 polo enthusiasts (or at least pretend-polo people).

“It’s the new vision of Peter Brant, co-founder of the Bridgehampton Polo Club, celebrating its 15th anniversary,” said Shamin Abas, head of the publicity team. Brant wanted to take the event back to what it was 15 years ago where people actually focused on the game. Brant instructed Abas and her team to declare a new relaxed chic dress code for the games and end the over-the-top fashion show of Kentucky Derby-style big hats. “People should feel relaxed in easy summer clothes, even come straight from the beach to watch sunset polo,” Abas emphasized.

“And now it is an invitation-only private event with a carefully curated guest list,” said Abas. “Friends of Peter Brandt and invitees of the sponsors.” Instead of the open tent, half the space is now a field-side VIP lounge where banquets seating 10 have been sold for the season for a one-time fee of $10,000. Blue Star Jets, Donna Karan, and the owner of Milk Studios have all ponied up the cash.

Polo has some interesting new liquor sponsors: new vodka distilled from four varieties of Florida oranges called 4 Orange Premium Vodka; Sobieski Vodka, a well-priced Polish rye vodka that is the leading premium vodka in Poland and now the seventh best-selling in the world; and Aperol, an Italian aperitif from Padua, Italy, with flavors of bitter orange and rhubarb, owned by the Campari company.

Despite the slimmer, more-exclusive crowd I still managed to spot the “who’s who” in my orbit. George Wayne of Vanity Fair, a good friend from way back, was drinking the Mint Ponies. My dentist, Nick Toscano—once a White House dentist, who even treated Hillary Clinton, now practicing in New York—was observing the state of teeth at polo. Heather Buchanan, the real estate columnist for Hamptons Cottages & Gardens, was enjoying (on my recommendation) the Aperol Spritzers made with Prosecco. While we all sipped away, sadly there was an accident on the field and a player was thrown. The horse limped away, which made Heather, who spends her winter with horses at Wellington near Palm Beach, especially concerned. Did we all like the exclusive new polo? Well, we will decide after the closing on August 27. (I’ll have a report on the closing.)

New polo elixir: The Mint Pony
One and half oz Sobieski Vodka
One oz Chilled sweet tea
One and half oz Marie Brizard Triple Sec
Chopped Mint Leaves
Serve over crushed ice
Chop 4 mint leaves (per serving) and muddle with ice cubes in Martini shaker. Add vodka, Triple-sec and 1 part chilled sweet tea. Crush ice in blender and fill each serving glass halfway full with crushed ice. Strain martini shaker mixture over crushed ice, filling three-quarters of each glass. Top off with additional Sweet Tea and garnish with a few fresh mint leaves.

Two more spectacular charity events under the white tents:

Another grand foodie event, the Great Chef’s Dinner (a charity for the Jeff Salaway Scholarship Fund), featured a remarkable array of talent, among them Claudia Fleming (The North Fork Table & Inn), Bryan Christian Mir (Stone Creek Inn), Joseph Realmuto (Nick & Toni’s) and Michael White (Al Fiori). I snacked on delicacies like Block Island fluke crudo, rigatoni with rabbit sausage and veal tenderloin au poivre and sipped excellent rose wines from wineries right in the Hamptons, Channing Daughters and Wolffer Estates.

The Oceana charity (to preserve our oceans) held at a glamorous huge estate right on the water in Southampton not only had a tent (under which you found an array of biddable lots), Ted Danson (a celebrity spokesman for the charity and author of the book Oceana) but also a live band, the Honey Brothers, featuring the famous actor of Entourage, Adrian Grenier, on drums.

And to my surprise there was the familiar white bottle of Moet Ice Imperial being served. Champagne served in a big goblet on the rocks with garnishes of mint, raspberries or strawberries. The Honey Brothers gave a spirited concert while Ted Danson swayed to the music. There were impassioned speeches. This is a cause I can totally embrace. Oceana works solely to protect the world’s oceans, its sea life—sea turtles, sharks, dolphins—and already has 500,000 supporters. The setting of the party was a stretch of Southampton’s most breathtaking beach along with the majestic ocean seen in the moonlight—the ocean appeared that night like the perfect poster child for the cause.

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