Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Day at the Beach

The Hamptons Film festival was reaching its final reel. With the invasion of cinema luvvies and dahlings, their hangers-on and the great unwashed public trying their best to look and behave in an avant-garde way, it was definitely a day to get out of town. Sandi had a business meeting in Westhampton Beach, and so it was a perfect opportunity to have a family day out. Westhampton Beach is a village within the town of Southampton, with a population of a little less than two thousand souls. It is not to be confused with the neighboring Westhampton Dunes, two lines of large, ugly and crowded beachfront houses with a year round population of eleven. (2000 Census.) No, Westhampton is a compact and delightful place, and great fun to spend a few hours doing nothing in particular.

As you drive west along the old Montauk Highway through the leafy properties of Quogue you might be forgiven for thinking that that Westhampton contained little more than the usual collection of hardware and gas stations, a Walbaum’s supermarket (oh, please!) and the string of cheap pizza joints that define so much of commercial Long Island. But take the road south (signed “Beach”) and you will have a pleasant surprise. With a plush tennis club and high privet hedges the landscape changes within a short distance. Turn left at the Episcopal Church (Saint Mark’s. which has a commanding Baptist-style architecture) and enter Main Street.

To describe this two-hundred yard long street as “old-town” USA would not be an exaggeration. Quaint and old clapboard, stucco and shingle buildings line both sides, and occasional alleyways invite you to explore the shops that are tucked away. Of course the whole thing is designed to appeal to the visitor, but once you get into that way of thinking you actually start to enjoy it. (Besides, if you wanted hardware and car tires, not to mention pepperoni on thick crust, you should have stayed on the highway.) And then you start spending money, which is what they want you to do in the first place.

It’s not all sweet service however. I wandered in search of a cup of coffee and found Goldberg’s Bagels. The advertised iced coffee sounded good and I ordered a medium cup, except that they had no ice. No ice? But it’s iced coffee. It is chilled! It’s delicious! It wasn’t.

The architectural gem of Main Street is the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Built in 1932 as a large screen cinema the old style building has undergone many incarnations and usages before being turned into a state-of-the-art facility in the late 1990s.

And lunch? Nowhere better than the Post Stop CafĂ©, the pub at the east end of the street. Now this is a building with a colorful history. Built in 1914 as the first “free standing post office” it collected and dispatched the mail until 1941 when a replacement modern building was opened. Enter the Schramm sisters. Later that year Hattie and Nettie Schramm, the daughters of Max, a local entrepreneur, opened a stationery store which also sold fireworks in the back room. They were bought out in 1947 by one Myram Straw (with a name like that he must have worn boater and bow tie, surely) who continued the same line of business until the US government declared fireworks illegal. So what did he do? Well it was Mrs. Straw actually, who opened a “Luncheonette” which fed locals until 1958. That changed hands and name, and again, and again, but the place remains an eatery to this day. And a rather fine one too!

1 comment:

Saintly Ramblings said...

Order me the Frittata of the Day please. Yum yum.