East Hampton Winter Survival Guide

I HAVEN’T SEEN STATS, but the population around here drops precipitously in winter, probably to not much more than the 20,000 recorded in 2000 by the U.S. Census Bureau (that includes East Hampton, Springs, Wainscott, Amagansett, and Montauk, a 25-mile-long swath). Traffic dwindles to nothing, you can park right in front of wherever you’re going, and you don’t need restaurant reservations, even on a Saturday night. The vaunted Hamptons scene just evaporates, and I’m fine with that.

The big homes of summer residents sit silent and empty along the ocean. Up here in Springs, there’s more of a year-round population, but it’s still laughably sleepy.The last car to go by my house was probably 30 minutes ago. Yes, it’s quiet in February. Not that I mind.

But if one does want to do something for not very much money, there are a lot of options. Consider the following:

  • I’ve mentioned the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society, with their regular 3-to-7 mile rambles on Wednesday and Saturday mornings at 10AM, and challenging monthly 10+ milers. The Feb. 10 hike (which could well be snowed out) holds the possibility of seal-sighting along the rocks off Montauk. Feb. 13 takes in saltwater marshes and historic structures in the backwoods of Amagansett. Intriguing, yes? The hikes are free.
  • Gurney’s Inn, the un-glitzy Montauk resort and spa, has a $175 winter pass good for 10 visits, with access to the Olympic size salt-water pool (wonderful to swim in – soft and buoyant), sauna, steam, and so on. The usual day rate is $30. You can sit by the pool and read or gaze out at the ocean for hours, from the comfort of a chaise longue.
  • Rowdy Hall is a pub with a fireplace tucked away behind Main Street’s shops. On Tuesdays at 12:15 in winter, they have a brilliant high-concept reading group. Instead of having to read an entire book, which has always felt to me like homework, this group reads and discusses a short story: a classic of literature chosen by Bookhampton’s Mary Braverman. Chekov’s coming up, and James Joyce, and more. You don’t have to eat, but should you choose to, the food is good and comforting (mussels in cream sauce, roast chicken with pureed root vegs).
  • There’s yoga for a dollar a day at KamaDeva Yoga; their $90 pass for 90 days of unlimited yoga is on sale ’til April 1. The studio is in a serene, high-ceilinged room; there are 26 weekly classes to choose from, and the instruction is excellent. Free guided meditation on Sundays from 3-4.

In a bid to keep restaurant tables filled in the low season, prix fixe and happy hour are the names of the game.

  • Nick & Toni’s, legendarily lively in summer, is fairly hushed in winter. The winter draw is Mediterraean menus – a four-course meal including aperitif for $38. They’re working their way through France, Greece, Morocco, and Portugal in turn. There’s also a 2-course prix fixe for $30 that includes a voucher for the Regal multi-plex in East Hampton, so you can do dinner and a movie for $30 (if you don’t drink, of course).
  • Few East Hampton restaurants are open 7 days in winter, but Della Femina the top-rated place in town, is. Their 3-course prix fixe is $25 Sunday through Thursday, $30 weekends.
  • Citta Nuova is modern Italian; I like their white pizza with wild mushrooms and friendly bar. They have a Monday-Friday happy hour from 4:30-6 with $5 quartinos and Thursday night Italian wine-tasting, $15 with bar food.
  • The Living Room, the chic bar/lounge at c/o The Maidstone Hotel, features $5 Stockholmipolitans (cosmos, Swedish-style), below, on Wednesdays from 5:30-8:30, and complimentary smorgasbord.

This list is by no means comprehensive. I’ve just given you my own small, biased sampling (I left out the karaoke). There are art courses, bird watching, writing groups, knitting groups, photography workshops, live jazz at the Wolffer Estate winery, and much more. You’ll find complete listings in the East Hampton Star.