Headed to the Hamptons

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By Erin Geismar

They come for the beach, the sun, the waterfront vistas, the parties, the people and the opportunity. Each summer, Long Island’s South Fork swells with visitors from all over the island, the region and even the world. The Hamptons is known for its glitz and glamour – and there’s a lot of that – but plenty of people without VIP access fall in love with these beach towns too. See what makes the Hamptons a special place to so many, and how the pricey real estate fits into their budgets. From the 20-somethings who serve drinks and food at a trendy Montauk bar to a reality TV star who calls her new $3 million Hamptons “cottage” home (and even one guy who plans to couch-surf his way through August), see who’s headed to the Hamptons this summer and how they make it happen.

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'You're so burnt out ... It's just a blur'

Victor Centeno, 24, and Jessica Hindman, 27

• Work and rent in Montauk

• Price: $26,000 split between five roommates

• Come for: The experience

Centeno and Hindman found Montauk from their own corners of the world. Centeno is from Puerto Rico and heard about Montauk from his older brother, who started working there summers before him. Hindman grew up in Kansas City, Missouri — though her mother and grandmother now live in Massapequa — and knew about Montauk from relatives who live there. She used to spend summers with them.

They both came to Montauk because the opportunity to make money was too good to pass up — they modestly estimated the average summer earning potential in the serving industry is between $10,000 and $20,000 — and the lifestyle is something of an adrenaline rush.

By the end of the season, you’re so burnt out…it’s all just a blur.”

Hindman, who works six days a week serving at The Sloppy Tuna, a bar in Montauk, and then supplements that as a cocktail waitress two nights a week at Ruschmeyer’s, another bar in town, said working at a hip Hamptons bar is like “controlled chaos” — and it fosters a strong bond.

“Everyone knows what they’re dealing with,” she said. “The people you’re serving are a little bit entitled, and they come out here and act … like not how you’d think a normal person would act.”

She recalls one summer when she feared a customer was going to walk out on $2,000 bill at Ruschmeyer’s. She couldn’t find him. His friends were rowdy. They knocked over a table and broke some bottles. In the end, he came back but demanded the broken bottles be refunded. He was obliged. “He said, ‘I’m glad you did this because I’m a podiatrist.'”

“By the end of the season, you’re so burnt out…it’s all just a blur,” she said. “But even with the craziness that at times can be deterring and overwhelming, it’s also what makes Montauk fun.”

Centeno, a bar-back at The Sloppy Tuna, said as soon as he came to Montauk, he was hooked by the diversity he found and the welcoming nature of everyone he met in the service industry. “When I first came here, I found it very interesting,” he said. “There are a lot of cultures around, people from all over the world — Irish, German, Latinos, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans. It’s interesting to see how everything comes together in this little town.”

This season, the couple, who started dating last summer, are renting a house in Montauk’s Camp Hero State Park with three co-workers from “the Tuna.” They both plan to work through October, when the tourist season dies down, and then they may travel before settling down together somewhere. Centeno said they’d like to experience other places in the world, but they’d always be happy to come back.

Jessica Hindman’s Hamptons

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'It was like being in a different world'

Therése Palmiotto, 33, Merrick

• Insurance underwriter

• Rents in Montauk

• Price: Starts at $3,500 per week

• How to afford it: Rental cost split in lieu of holiday gifts

• Comes for: Family

When Palmiotto married into her husband’s family, she married into Montauk.

“I grew up on Long Island and I had never been to Montauk,” she said, but when she started dating her future husband, she continually heard about their big Montauk family trips. “That was the big thing, we’re gonna go to Montauk. I finally got the invite after dating for a few years.”

She was instantly hooked. “It was like being in a different world. You got to go on a really awesome vacation and you never leave the island. You never cross a bridge.”

James Palmiotto, her husband, has come to Montauk with his family every summer for the last 28 years. This summer, about 50 members of his extended family are expected in town for a reunion.

Therése, James and their 2-year-old son Dominick will spend the week at a three-bedroom house within walking distance of Ditch Plains Beach, which the family will share with two other couples. The couples split the cost of the summer rental in lieu of Christmas gifts.

It was like being in a different world. You got to go on a really awesome vacation and you never leave the island.”

Therése Palmiotto said they like to spend their days at the beach, walking around town, and having family dinner together each night. Often, they have fresh vegetables for dinner, and fresh seafood if anyone caught something in the water that day. After dinner, they sit on the deck and watch the sun set over the lake.

“Montauk affords you that type of atmosphere,” she said.

Therése Palmiotto’s Hamptons

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'I don't want to miss any of the good days...'

LuAnn de Lesseps, 50, Manhattan

• Reality TV star, designer and former model

• Owns a waterfront cottage in Sag Harbor

• Price: $3.1M

• Comes for: The home she always wanted

De Lesseps feels truly at home in the Hamptons. The star of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New York” owned a six-bedroom mansion in Bridgehampton for 18 years before moving into a more modest three-bedroom cottage in Sag Harbor last year.

“I come here as often as possible,” she said, driving out on a Thursday and returning to Manhattan on a Monday.

She’s quickly adapted to life a little farther east. She said she enjoys walking into town; getting to know her neighbors (in Bridgehampton, her neighbor Whitney Fairchild was more than 3 acres away; now, her neighbor Jay McInerney can be reached in a few steps); and taking advantage of her perch overlooking Upper Sag Harbor Cove. De Lesseps bought a boat to keep at her personal dock and uses it regularly to take trips to Sunset Beach and Salt restaurant on Shelter Island, she said.

In fact, most of her days in Sag Harbor revolve around the water. She wakes up and takes her coffee while watching the ducks go by on the bay and swims daily, she said.

There is nowhere in the world — and I’ve been everywhere — as beautiful as the Hamptons.”

In the fall, she’s planning to renovate the house — a captain’s cottage built in 1835 — to add a new master bedroom on the second floor, but she says she’ll delay it as long as possible.

“I don’t want to miss any of the good days out here,” she said.

Although de Lesseps loves to host parties and pops up in nightlife photos from Hamptons hot spots each summer, the Countess — her ex-husband is a French count — said she loves all of the East End for its beauty, its history and its simplicity.

“There is nowhere in the world — and I’ve been everywhere — as beautiful as the Hamptons,” she said. “Nowhere else can you get all this and be so close to the city.”

And de Lesseps, who recorded the song “Money Can’t Buy You Class,” and wrote the book “Class with the Countess: How to Live with Elegance and Flair,” had some tips for her fellow city-dwellers on how to live with class in the Hamptons.

“Respect the locals, respect the environment and the beaches, and respect the history,” she said.

LuAnn de Lesseps’ Hamptons

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'I'm so into the solitude'

Harry Spero, 65, Manhattan

• Advertising executive

• Rents in East Quogue

• Price: Undisclosed

• How to afford it: It just fits into the lifestyle

• Comes for: The quiet

In the 35 years Spero has been summering in the Hamptons, he’s done it all, seen it all. He’s partied at the hot spots, he’s sunned at the beaches, he’s seen and been seen.

“We were in our 20s, we were silly and crazy and just having as much fun as we possibly could,” he said of the first summers he and his wife, Norine, spent out east. Now, it’s completely different, he said. They just bring books and music and rarely even go to the beach.

We have a lot of friends, who own or rent, who we never see just because I’m so into the solitude of being at that house.”

They go for the peace and quiet — “for the express reason of chillin’.”

The Speros, who otherwise live in Manhattan, have rented all over the East End but have returned to the same four-bedroom East Quogue house for the past five years. The wood-shingled home features a big backyard and pool, Spero said, and complete privacy from neighbors. It’s within walking distance of the ocean. They always rent, he said, despite the fact that by now, “we probably could have bought two or three houses.”

Responsibility is the last thing Spero has on his mind when he leaves Manhattan every Thursday night of the summer. After the weekend, he begrudgingly returns to the city Monday morning.

Spero lists “listening to the pool and the ocean,” as his favorite Hamptons activity. Visits out east also gives the full-time advertising executive time for his part-time hobby — writing and playing music. “We have a lot of friends, who own or rent, who we never see just because I’m so into the solitude of being at that house…It’s the only time I get that,” he said, adding that they’ve even declined summer wedding invitations.

Harry Spero’s Hamptons

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There's a 'wacky sense of camaraderie'

Frank Michielli, 24, Brooklyn

• Law student

• Works part-time in Montauk

• Price: Free

• How to afford it: Pay your dues

• Comes for: First the money, then the camaraderie

Michielli will get to the Hamptons this summer, he’s just not sure how. He’ll fit it in somewhere between the end of the semester at Brooklyn Law School, a summer internship in the New York City criminal justice system, and the start of classes again in the fall.

But he’ll make it happen, he said, even if he has to sleep on someone’s floor while he’s there. Montauk is a “magical” place for the 24-year-old, who started working in restaurants there in the summer of 2010.

He said he’s worked in nearly every position at various bars and restaurants, including East by Northeast, Harvest on Fort Pond and Salivar’s. Michielli said he was 19 when he first started, working six or seven nights a week, living out of a “rundown motel,” and loving every minute.

You’re in the ‘in’ crowd…If you have a night out in Montauk, you go out and feel like a celebrity.”

“The cash out there is insane,” he said, adding that as he moved up the ranks of the service industry, he could easily earn more than $600 on a weeknight.

But it’s the “wacky sense of camaraderie” formed among servers that keeps him coming back. Many of them work together all night, party together until morning and then hit the beach before their shifts the next day.

“You’re in the ‘in’ crowd,” he said. “If you have a night out in Montauk, you go out and feel like a celebrity.”

Over the years, Michielli said he’s paid his dues, so he knows he can find part-time work and a place to crash when he gets there in August.

Michielli said his final day in Montauk last summer, when he stopped at Salivar’s before leaving for the season, epitomized his feelings for the place. “I shook hands with more people in that bar than I ever have in the hometown where I’ve lived for 25 years,” he said.

Frank Michielli’s Hamptons

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'... avoid looking at the mansions'

Tom Fried, 51, Norwalk, Conn.

• Japanese teacher

• Visits his parents in Sag Harbor

• Price: Free

• How to afford it: Family ties

• Comes for: The nostalgia

Fried has witnessed Sag Harbor evolve from the quiet, historic “Un-Hampton” to a glamorous stamping ground, where celebrities like Billy Joel and Bono might be dining at the table next to him. He prefers the Sag Harbor he fell in love with back in 1986, when his parents first bought their three-bedroom home on Eastville Road for about $175,000, he said.

“It was just kind of laid back then,” he said, recalling that his mother’s family, who had vacationed there since the 1940s, advised them, “Buy now, there won’t be any buildable land out there one day.”

Everywhere you go in Sag Harbor there’s a gem — if you avoid looking at the mansions.”

Fried said it sometimes feels like that day has come, as one after another, small cottages are torn down and rebuilt as mansions. “It’s shocking what they can do with just a little space,” he said.

But still, he said, “everywhere you go in Sag Harbor there’s a gem — if you avoid looking at the mansions.” He loves the Sag Harbor Variety Store, Bay Street Theater and Conca d’Oro pizzeria on Main Street — where he eats when he’s visiting his father after a walk on Haven’s Beach.

He makes the trip to see his dad, Robert, 83, about once a month. He’ll often take the Metro-North from Norwalk to Penn Station and then the bus to Sag Harbor. Especially after a long week at work, Tom Fried said he even enjoys the 2-3 hours he spends on the bus as a chance to unwind and start the weekend. “By the time you get out to the fields of Riverhead it’s just open space,” he said. “The light on Long Island is just so much brighter.”

Even as Sag Harbor has changed, Fried still cherishes his time there, he said. The beauty of the area is that “there’s a niche for every age group. Everybody has their spot — even me, even my 80-year-old dad. It’s just a friendly village.”

Tom Fried’s Hamptons

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'... we have a choice of like three places'

Matt Flachsenhaar, 27, Astoria

• Writer, producer at events marketing company

• Renting just outside Southampton Village

• Price: $5,400 for a long weekend

• How to afford it: Bypass the glitzy areas for the woodsy ones

• Comes for: The convenience

Not many people list “makes fiscal sense” and “convenient” as reasons to choose the Hamptons as a vacation spot (at least not if they’ve seen how high the nightly rental rates can get and how Friday evening traffic can turn the two-hour trip from Manhattan into four). But it works out for Flachsenhaar and his friends — 12 to 14 of them — who find a long weekend to go away together each summer.

“With the size of our group and the length of visit, we’re really restricted on the rentals that are open to us,” he said. “We have a choice of like three places. It’s almost decided for us.”

Flachsenhaar used the website HomeAway to find the listing. He started searching in February and had to book by March for a weekend in late August. The five-bedroom house sits on more than 4 acres of property adjacent to a nature preserve with a pool, hot tub, 50-yard sports field, beach volleyball court, basketball and horseshoe courts.

With the size of our group and the length of our visit, we’re really restricted on the rentals that are open to us. We have a choice of like three places.”

Last year, they stayed in Hampton Bays. Flachsenhaar said he’s found that if you bypass the high-priced villages and go off-the-beaten path, you can find a good price.

“It works out to $115 per person per night,” he said. “It’s actually really reasonable if you look at it like that.”

Flachsenhaar is the organizer of the group, which includes his girlfriend, some couples that they know, one friend from high school, one from college, one from work and others who came into the group from one of those avenues. He said the first time they did a weekend away last year, he was nervous about bringing different social groups together — they’d have to figure out sleeping arrangements, share bathrooms and food, and generally get along — but Flachsenhaar said it was such a good weekend, they promised they would do it again.

“It’s a good group to go with,” he said, adding that everyone is around his age. “We have a lot of fun but we’re not a bunch of stupid drunk kids.”

Matt Flachsenhaar’s Hamptons

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