Discovering that it's (almost) business as usual in the Hamptons

Credit cards disinfected and socially distanced poolside loungers: Discovering that it’s (almost) business as usual in one of America’s most exclusive playgrounds – the Hamptons

  • Lockdown restrictions are gradually being relaxed, allowing people to travel for leisure once again 
  • Parts of New York State opened up at the start of June but big changes have had to be made in hotels
  • For the time being, guests must wear face masks in public areas of the hotel while all dining is alfresco 
  • James Gordon headed to the quaint Hampton village of Sag Harbor to experience the ‘new normal’

New York’s wealthy elite can breathe a sigh of relief, because their vacation playground – the Hamptons, a world of vast mansions, lawn tennis and yacht clubs – is up and running again.

With a few coronavirus tweaks.

Desperate for a break from simply going from the bedroom to the living room in my New York apartment, my family and I decided to take advantage of the lockdown restrictions loosening and head out to the Hamptons, which lies at the eastern end of New York’s Long Island, to see how tourism on this most exclusive sandbar had changed.

James Gordon stayed at Baron’s Cove, pictured, a luxurious waterfront hotel in Sag Harbor with an outdoor pool

The village of Sag Harbor, located in the Hampton’s on New York’s Long Island, wants everyone who visits to wear a mask

Once a thriving port, Sag Harbor is now known for its waterfront resort qualities, meandering tree-lined streets, 18th and 19th-century architecture and casually sophisticated way of life 

At the Baron’s Cove hotel, only outdoor dining is permitted with tables spaced six feet/two metres apart

We headed to the quaint Hamptons village of Sag Harbor, which lies around 100 miles east of NYC. 

Once a thriving port, Sag Harbor is now known for its waterfront resort qualities, meandering tree-lined streets, 18th and 19th-century architecture and casually sophisticated way of life. 

Upon driving into the village evidence of a ‘new normal’ was present everywhere. Beneath the sign welcoming visitors was a reminder for all guests to wear face masks wherever they may be. The same reminders lined the village’s Main Street. 

Stickers had been placed on benches lining the streets, reminding visitors and village residents alike not to sit on them unless they are wearing a mask, with suitable spacing between them and the next person.  

Stores were also enforcing strict policies with only a limited number of people allowed in shops at any one time, with sometimes as few as four people at once. Some venues had tape markings on the floor to show customers how to distance themselves from others.  

On Sag Harbor’s Main Street, all kind of social distancing techniques are in effect, including huge glass screens

In a frozen yoghurt outlet, left, a one-way system is in place, while tables at a nearby restaurant, right, are spaced far apart

Virtually everyone walking along the main street in the village was wearing a mask last weekend

Shops have set up strict policies and require everyone entering to wear masks, with a limit on the numbers allowed inside

Even benches lining the main street in Sag Harbor have had stickers placed over them reminding people to wear face masks

Walking through Sag Harbor I found that more people were wearing masks than in Manhattan. The reminders to wear face coverings could be seen hanging from lampposts and trees everywhere. At one restaurant I went to my credit card was disinfected! 

We were staying at Baron’s Cove, which publicized itself as having adapted new hygiene measures as a result of the pandemic. 

‘We give you the space that you need,’ the hotel states. 

Upon walking into the lobby, we were greeted by a receptionist standing behind a large plastic screen, similar to that found in a bank. A similar device was set up at the hotel bar to prevent staff and customers getting too close.

After checking in we went straight to our room. Social distancing wasn’t a problem as we didn’t need to walk through any corridors to get to it. The venue is motel-like in its set up, which means all guests have direct access to the outdoors.

At Baron’s Cove hotel, reception staff speak to guests from behind a plastic screen

Glass screens have been erected at the Baron’s Cove bar to reduce the chances of coronavirus being spread

Welcome gifts: Face masks and Clorox wipes

Our room looked normal, but there were some subtle changes.

There was a packet of complimentary face masks and hand sanitizer, and all in-room reading material such as the room service menu is replaced with each guest. 

In the restaurant, everything is printed on single sheets of paper.

The interior of the 67-room hotel is essentially closed until restrictions are further lifted. 

The bar was open, but drinks had to be consumed on the outdoor patio. 

Inside the hotel there was a lovely breeziness to the place as it has become policy to have all the windows and doors wide open to ensure fresh air is constantly flowing through.

The restaurant, meanwhile, had been moved outside. 

All the dining tables and chairs were on the veranda and even the lawns surrounding the main building. 

It’s the only way the hotel and restaurant can function and make money while keeping people socially distant.

All staff are required to wear face masks while working at the hotel, with some even wearing rubber gloves

Restaurant tables that were once inside have been set out on a newly constructed patio

All dining is now outdoors for the time being, making for a much more relaxing experience overall

‘It’s going to be a summer season unlike any other, but somehow even with all this social distancing I feel as though we may all end up closer than ever,’ said Curtis Bashaw, pictured, who runs Baron’s Cove

One common rule is that all tables must be located six feet/two metres apart from each other and for some restaurants where space is at a premium this means far fewer customers can enjoy a meal at any one time. 

At Baron’s Cove, the space wasn’t too problematic. It actually resulted in a pleasant dining experience – we enjoyed the extra space and not being able to overhear conversations from our fellow diners.

Maybe this part of the ‘new normal’ will stay? 

For summertime alfresco dining obviously isn’t a problem, the challenge will come when the colder weather arrives.

The meals were served by staff wearing face masks. 

I wasn’t sure how comfortable I would feel about this, but it really is not a problem. And in some ways it is nice to know that things are cleaner than ever and that staff are not inadvertently coughing or breathing over the food that they’re bringing to your table.  

Around the pool area, social distancing was also in place. 

Sets of sun loungers were positioned apart from one another – all very pleasant. 

Yes, the number of sunbeds were limited, but as with the restaurant, the social distancing bonus is that potentially intrusive wittering from neighbors is absent. 

Around the pool deck, social distancing measures have been introduced, with sun loungers spaced six feet apart 

Those lucky enough to secure a cabana around the pool area have the added protection of a canopy

The pool area was busy, with guests sitting on deck chairs and sunbeds – but there was plenty of space in between

Other activities on offer included tennis – the courts have reopened and the rackets are disinfected between uses – cycling (bikes are available to rent) and the hotel staff are still able to provide deck chairs and umbrellas for those who want to visit nearby beaches. 

Some gym classes are also taking place – but outdoors.

In some ways the hotel is lucky that the first wave of the pandemic is coming to an end just as the summer season moves into high gear. 

Although the property has had to adapt significantly, it may be able to have a more-or-less normal summer season.

The 67-room hotel on Long Island is reporting a 92 per cent reservation rate for June, with a strong outlook for July and August 

The hotel is just a stone’s throw from the bobbing masts of the boats in the harbor

On the jetty, left, and nearby beaches, guests are reminded to keep their distance and to maintain social distancing

Air purifiers are sent into rooms once guests depart 

While at the hotel, I spoke with Curtis Bashaw, CEO of Cape Resorts, which runs Baron’s Cove, and asked him how things had changed in light of the pandemic.

‘We thought we were going to be closed for two weeks, but it lasted for more than three months,’ Curtis said.

‘Laying off 450 people [who work at all our hotels] was heartbreaking and now navigating the government programs and securing approval to reopen means it has been a busy time. There is an inertia in business. We built this business over 30 years and so to have to stop it suddenly overnight was shocking and traumatic. 

‘There was no time to deal with that. You just have to keep going. For me, the past three months have been the hardest months I have ever worked in my life.’

Curtis said that reservations for June were at around 92 per cent capacity with indications of a strong July and August to come. 

‘Our mantra for the year is that we are going to give you the space that you need,’ Curtis told me. ‘Some guests moved their reservations to next year, but others can’t wait to get out and are booking almost as soon as they are ready to travel with many people booking within the next three weeks.’

When it comes to ensuring guests are safe at the hotel, aside from social distancing in public areas, tougher cleaning practices have also been adopted.      

Curtis said: ‘We looked at the air quality issues surrounding the virus and installed ionizers into public spaces, HVAC systems along with ozone air purifiers. We use them as a cleaning protocol and after each guest leaves we carry out a deep clean and leave the air purifier in there for 30 minutes after guests leave. We’re also opening the windows. Having buildings with lots of windows allows breezes to flow through. 

‘Cleaning is also our obsession. We need to be good at cleaning. We’re doubling down on sanitization efforts. We do our linens in-house, so we feel really well equipped to welcome our guests and are thrilled to see them back. We’re amazed at the early adopters who really want a change of scenery but who also want to do so responsibly.’   

During dinner one evening, I could see Curtis dining out with some friends across the other side of the patio. If it weren’t for the face masks, I thought, this would really have felt like any other summer. 

Indoor dining is off the cards for now, hence this creative sign spotted in a restaurant window 

Many Hamptons residents moor their boats at Sag Harbor, to take advantage of the open waters that surround Long Island

Baron Cove’s mantra is ‘we’re going to give you the space that you need’. It also gives guests lovely bedrooms

He later told me that the people with whom he was eating had just enjoyed their first meal out in a restaurant in more than three months. 

It was the same for me too, but it must surely have been a proud moment that the hotel and the restaurant were almost full on this first weekend of summer.

All is not lost and it appears there are plenty of people who want to go to a restaurant or stay in a hotel after enduring months of lockdown. 

Curtis told me that the staff were eager to get back to work, even though they have to wear masks.

He added: ‘I think in a sense this could be one of the richest summers that we’ve ever experienced because realizing what you had, and then to lose something before getting it back in part makes it more dear and even more special. People’s time together in the summer is special. It’s infused with tradition. The reopening is like a homecoming for us. 

‘It’s going to be a summer season unlike any other, but somehow even with all this social distancing I feel as though we may all end up closer than ever.’


Rooms at Baron’s Cove are available from $329 this summer and are as low as $99 for winter 2020.

The area is easily reached by private bus services via the Hampton Jitney as well as the Long Island Rail Road whose trains connect the Hamptons to the rest of Long Island and to New York City.

Driving from New York City takes approximately 2½ hours along the Long Island Expressway.  

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