Hamptons Confidential

Insider Jodi Della Femina's new book doesn't tell all about this elite N.Y. hideaway, just enough to make some folks nervous.

July 10, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. -- Sun-streaked hair whipping behind her, Jodi Della Femina vrooms along a labyrinthine back road like Speed Racer in a white VW bug convertible.

She's fearless behind the wheel. But she stalls when asked the name of the road taking us past potato fields, farm stands and one-room schoolhouses in this rustic section of the Hamptons, the famed Long Island retreat for the elite.

"It's an off-the-record shortcut," Della Femina, 31, says with a laugh. "I've given most of them away."

Actually, in her new book, "Jodi's Shortcuts '99," she "gives away" just two back-road shortcuts to motorists hoping to avert the crunch of Route 27, aka the Montauk Highway, the only main road to, from and within the Hamptons. Her book is a travel guide that reads like the ultimate list you'd leave for a house guest, covering everything from restaurants to best places to view a sunset to how to find a baby sitter.

But it's the publicizing of those back-road shortcuts that has some locals, wary of tourists and outsiders swarming their delicate country roads, upset.

"People are very territorial about the area, particularly the back roads," she says. "My opinion is, if there are three ways to get somewhere and you're only telling people one way, if you divide it in three, it'll all sort of even out."

Maybe she's not the "least popular girl in the Hamptons," as the New York Post predicted she'd be this summer, but she has gotten a few nasty letters. She should be ashamed of herself, one said. Someone at a party told her several people wanted her address so they could bomb her house. And Thelma Siven says her Hamptons-dwelling son isn't too thrilled with Della Femina either.

"He said the shortcuts are as crowded as the main road," says Siven, who is in her 70s and has owned a house in the Hamptons for seven years. "All his friends feel the same way."

Territorialism in the fertile, beach-framed East End of Long Island known as the Hamptons is nothing new. The region, whose residents turned "summer" into a verb, has represented the material American Dream since the turn of the century.

Since then, families like the Vanderbilts and Bouviers have given way to the Spielbergs, Baldwins, Popcorns and Perelmans. To have a house in the Hamptons, whether as a seasonal vacationer or local is to have officially "made it." Celebs and business giants sit side by side at hot-spot restaurants like Nick and Toni's and Della Femina -- owned, by the way, by her famed ad-man dad, Jerry. Luxuriant homes are served by swank country clubs. It's a place where Puff Daddy and Martha Stewart peacefully coexist. A place with zoning laws so strict, one of Della Femina's buddies has dubbed it "Nazi Mayberry."

Steven Gaines, author of "Philistines at the Hedgerow," a novel dramatizing the history and denizens of the Hamptons as forever locked in an Us vs. Them battle, has two words of advice for outsiders with Hamptons aspirations: "Don't come."

"I hope people lose interest in the Hamptons as soon as possible," he says.

That's not likely. And Della Femina, who grew up in New York City, knows that. She doesn't care if you're old money, new money or no money. She insists the Hamptons aren't some elite party with an immutable guest list. There's something for everyone, she says. You just have to know where to find it.

The best places

And Della Femina, who has been coming here since she was an infant, knows where to find everything.

You can tell from the way she navigates, talking about spots of interest minutes before reaching them and then pointing at them as soon as they appear without even turning her head.

There's Loaves & Fishes in Sagaponack (ridiculously overpriced, but the most incredible food, she says). And to your right, the American Hotel in Sag Harbor (the ideal place for cigars and cognac.)

The Hamptons that Della Femina presents on an outsiders' minitour is bucolic and pleasant. No Christie Brinkley sightings. No snubs from well-heeled locals. Mostly small shopping strips, the occasional mammoth residence, lush rural scenes and, of course, food.

At Plain and Fancy, a country-perfect roadside food shop with plump, berry-stained pies, fresh coffee and savory tuna salad, the owners, who greet her by name, envelop her in a major gush session. They've read in the paper about her recent engagement to John Kim and want to talk wedding dresses, party food and antique engagement rings.

If anyone here is miffed by her book, you wouldn't know it.

It's not as if the vivacious Della Femina single-handedly outed the Hamptons. Gaines says conflict between locals and outsiders has always been a major issue. It was during the 1980s, he says, when Hamptons fever exploded. A booming economy sent young, newly wealthy executives and entrepreneurs flooding in, and summer house-shares began to boom.

"The '80s and '90s were brutal for the Hamptons," Gaines moans.

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