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Hamptons Life

Jun 24, 2014 2:03 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Luxury Hotel Market Hits Quogue

Jun 24, 2014 4:46 PM

At age 22, Theresa Fontana went into her first day of work at the historic Hallock House—then operating as the Inn at Quogue—as a bus girl for the hotel’s newly opened All Seasons restaurant.Over the next 16 years, like any true American dreamer, Ms. Fontana worked her way up the ranks until she became the general manager in 2007, having outlasted several owners.

Now, running her boutique store, The Lily Pad, just a block away, she has watched an extensive renovation of her former workplace from afar as the Hallock House joins a burgeoning trend of luxury resorts on the East End.

“The inn always brought people together back then, no matter who owned it,” the now 45-year-old Ms. Fontana said during a telephone interview, standing behind the counter of her store. “It will never change the flavor of Quogue, because it’s a landmark that we love and is a flagship site of the village.”

This month marked the reopening of the renovated Quogue Club at Hallock House—a grand, two-story manor facing Jessup Avenue, flanked by the Quogue Community Hall, Quogue Country Market and Beth’s Café at the end of the village’s downtown.

At the top of the brick stairs, a double-door entrance leads into a casual lobby designed by Manhattan-based interior designer Alexa Hampton, where light beach hues, working fireplaces, and elongated window frames and coffers invite guests into one of two sitting rooms, to the right and left of the lobby.

The building’s brand-new façade appears to be the exact replica of its 1659 predecessor, complete with a perfectly manicured front lawn. In fact, the Quogue Club has maintained its original structure—but only in theory, according to owner Simon Rose.

“The wood was so rotten, you could take a nail and, with your finger, push it into the wood,” he said during a recent tour of the hotel, adding that the club’s board members went through “painstakingly great lengths to salvage the framework” of the original building at 47 Quogue Street after he purchased it for approximately $2.3 million in September 2012.

Soon after, 50 proprietary partners jumped on board to form a “family club,” Mr. Rose explained, which has grown to a 250-family roster, and a full waiting list.

The restaurant is open only to members and guests at the inn. But accommodations at the Quogue Club, unlike its restaurant, is not exclusive to standing members only. Like its historical predecessor, the Hallock House will continue its legacy as one of the longest-running inns on the East End, with 12 luxury rooms and amenities, available for anyone to rent for $475 to $2,000 per night.

“We’re reacting to a need,” Mr. Rose said, declining to divulge the cost of membership.

For thousands of tourists visiting the Hamptons, particularly during the height of the summer season, there are just 70 hotels and motels available from the Shinnecock Canal to Amagansett—right before Montauk’s accommodation strip, featuring more than 30 alone. That is likely thanks to Southampton and East Hampton towns’ strict zoning regulations, barring the East End from being a resort-ridden community.

The only other establishment Mr. Rose considers a luxury hotel between Riverhead and Montauk, he said, is the Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton—which was in its second season when Mr. Rose purchased the Hallock House.

“Building a real hotel in the Hamptons is almost impossible,” owner Bill Campbell, former chairman of Visa International, said during a recent telephone interview. “People were concerned about the building monstrosity.”

With partner Simon Critchell, Mr. Campbell bought the property—housing the former Bull’s Head Inn, also a historic feature of its community—in 2005. After five years of battling town regulations, they broke ground on a two-year-long renovation, which included a contemporary wing designed by Connecticut-based Roger Ferris & Partners. Visitors can stay for rates from $525 to $3,000 per night.

“[Mr. Campbell and Mr. Critchell] had the vision to take the past into the future, meaning taking the historical old and attaching it to today, to modern architecture,” general manager Fiona Riesch said during a recent interview, “and it blends beautifully together.”

Blending old and new seems to be the theme for both Topping House and the Quogue Club, Mr. Rose explained. There was, in fact, a time in the East End when there were plenty of hotels, until it became popular to build or rent a whole house for the summer. Mr. Rose says luxury accommodations are the revival of living in the Hamptons—a move away from shared homes and isolation to social inclusiveness.

The Hamptons hotel scene first began dying out in the 1950s, according to writer Steven Gaines, who authored “Philistines at the Hedgerow” and, as a Press columnist, remains an observer of the local scene. But recently, he says, resorts are gaining more popularity.

“You’re going to see a more [luxury hotels],” Mr. Gaines said. “Things are really changing.”

The question that remains to be seen is whether vacationers will trek “west of the canal”—or, as those at the Quogue Club call it, “the other Hamptons.” It evolved from a boardinghouse community to a residential area, according to Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius, who is a charter member of the Quogue Club.

For local business owners, the answer is “yes.” Ms. Fontana has already seen new customers at The Lily Pad since the hotel opened.

Down the block from the resort, Rori Jones has gotten plenty of business at Flowers By Rori. With two back-to-back weddings coming up, she praises the arrival of this community gathering place.

“I have a very busy flower shop, but you wouldn’t know it,” Ms. Jones laughed. “It’s not like people are running in and out. But they’re definitely bringing me business. And anybody staying there could just stroll up here, go sit at the pond. At least that’s what we’re hoping for.”

Most businesses can attest to the difficulties of maintaining a shop, restaurant or hotel on the East End during the off-season. Many businesses shutter their doors for months at a time, such as Elizabeth Donnarumma’s Homespun, which closes from January to March.

Standing at the counter of the boutique shop specializing in local products, Ms. Donnarumma said, “Quogue is a destination. People aren’t coming to Quogue for the day or anything.”

She isn’t concerned that the club may take away from the local feel of Quogue, and even hopes more people will spontaneously walk through her doors, she said. However, the only complaint she has is that the restaurant isn’t open to the public—one thing Topping Rose has made a priority.

“Although people may not be able to grab a burger at the end of the block,” she said, “bringing in new customers is great. I don’t know if somebody is going to be like, ‘Oh, I hear there’s a hotel in Quogue,’ and just call it up and go.”

Time will tell, she said. If Topping Rose is any model, Quogue may see an influx in visitors looking for a short-term splurge on the East End, simply due to a lack of options.

Topping Rose guest Simon Demeuse, an architect from Switzerland, found it difficult to find accommodations for his brief stay while visiting the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, which he co-designed with Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron. He spent several hours on the computer back home looking for proper accommodations.

“We’re only here for one night, and we looked online. It didn’t seem like there was much offered,” he said. “This is actually quite expensive, but the next price bracket down is actually not so comfortable. So there seems like there’s a market, and there should be more like this.”

Mr. Demeuse might just get his wish. Beside the Quogue Club, several other luxury hotels are set to open in the next few years, including Cape Resort’s Baron Cove in Sag Harbor in spring 2015, and Gabby and Gianpaolo DeFelice’s renovation of the Enclave Inn in Bridgehampton.

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