Should summers in the Hamptons start to feel frantic, the idyllic village of Bellport, New York, may provide the perfect antidote. Less than an hour and a half from New York City, the greater Bellport area, which includes neighboring Brookhaven hamlet and part of East Patchogue, has emerged as a bucolic respite for a subsection of the city's creative class.
“Sometimes you're here, having coffee or a cocktail on the porch, and you just get the feeling that you're sitting in a Norman Rockwell painting,” said John DeStefano, a horse trainer who keeps a second home here with his partner, the designer Francisco Costa. The two used to have a house in East Hampton, but found the commute too tiring, and relocated 15 years ago.
Bellport’s creative ethos has long attracted those in fashion, media, and the arts. Anna Wintour had a house here, as did Ronson matriarch Ann Dexter-Jones and designer Isaac Mizrahi. Art dealer Angela Westwater and her husband, Studium owner David Meitus, have a weekend home in Bellport, while artists Hugo Guinness and Malcolm Morley are nearby in Brookhaven.
On a crisp Sunday afternoon in March, the actress Isabella Rossellini, wearing little makeup, sauntered into The Bellport restaurant. A longtime resident first introduced to Bellport by the photographer Bruce Weber, Rossellini bought 20 acres in Brookhaven three years ago and turned them into an organic farm, where she raises goats, sheep, and exotic chickens, and has hosted charity dinners for the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society.
A large part of the area's appeal is its pastoral, overgrown quality. In the 1900s, it was a favored setting for rich families to build palatial compounds surrounded by wildlife and the Bellport Bay. These families put considerable resources into land trust and preservation, and today, the town still echoes a bygone era.
Despite the number of bold-faced residents, and there are many, Bellport is not for sycophants. Citizens wax poetic about the area's tranquility and old-fashioned sense of community, which, according to DeStefano, gives you the feeling of “being a thousand miles away from [New York City].”
“You come here, and either you instantly get it or you don't,” said Costa, referring to the area's subdued calm. For New Yorkers who thrive on the beat of the city or the social intensity of the Hamptons, the placid nature of Bellport could be anxiety-inducing, or simply boring. But unlike the calculated chic often found farther East, Bellport has both an instant ease and a palpable cool, the equivalent of a secluded corner booth in an amber-lit restaurant.
Bellport is roughly 60 miles from Manhattan (usually an hour and a half drive, depending on traffic). The LIRR takes approximately 2 hours from Penn Station to Bellport Station on the Montauk line.
Where to Stay
For a long time, Bellport didn't have tourist accommodations, but the recent addition of the Bellport Guest House (197 S. Country Rd.; 516-318-3976; bellportguesthouse.com) has made it much easier for weekend travelers. Eileen Green Realty (153 South Country Rd.; 631-286-3366; firstname.lastname@example.org) also offers seasonal rentals.
Where to Eat
The Bellport (159 S. Country Rd.; 631-286-7550; thebellportrestaurant.com), a pastiche of colorful kitsch, is the area's de facto clubhouse. Costa and DeStefano estimate they go every other weekend. Charlie Rose is a frequenter, as is the philanthropist and financier Alexandra Lebenthal. Anchored by their signature buttermilk fried chicken, the cuisine is a small-town spin on European café fare, a comforting spread of appetizers, proteins, and pastas plucked from Italian and French menus.
Bellport also has the Bellport Country Club (40 S. Country Rd.; 631-286-4227; bellportcountryclub.com), but it's hardly the type to require tennis whites. Its restaurant, Peter’s On The Green, is open to anyone with a craving for jumbo lump crab cakes and strawberry mojitos.
When it gets warm enough, sit on the patio and order the Grand Raw Bar at Porter’s on the Lane (19 Bellport Ln.; 631-803-6067; portersonthelane.com), a steakhouse on the bottom floor of a converted Victorian house.
DeStefano and Costa are fans of Le Soir (825 Montauk Hwy.; 631-472-9090; lesoirbayport.com) in neighboring Bayport, an elegant French bistro that serves escargots, salmon fume, and oregano crusted lobster over linguine.
What to Do
Despite the deliberate pace, there's still plenty to add to your to-do list. We suggest picking up a lunch of organic berries, fresh goat's cheese, and freshly baked pie at Deer Run Farm Stand (282 S. Country Rd.; 631-926-9946), and then chartering a boat (or take the Whalehouse Point Ferry) to Ho Hum Beach, a secluded stretch of sand about half an hour away.
The Gateway (215 S. Country Rd ,631-286-1133, thegateway.org), also known as the Bellport Playhouse, is the focal point of the Bellport social scene. Locals convene at the small theater for openings and events, and their yearly benefit is almost a requirement for artistically-inclined residents.
Unlike the Hamptons, where the glitzier social strata revolve around a calendar of big name events, the mingling here reflects the camaraderie of the small town. Neighbors drop by each other's houses for afternoon tea and late evening drinks, and someone always seems to be having a dinner party. Smile at the other patrons ordering deli sandwiches at Cirillo's Market (115 S. Country Rd.; 631-751-3728; cirillosmarkets.com) and you might just get an invite.
Image Credits: Courtesy Bellport Country Club; Flickr: Nick Normal