East Hampton Locals Rally Against Zero Bond

Whether it’s complaints about air traffic at the East Hampton airport, teenagers partying on the beach or the arrival of Uber and Lyft drivers, the controversies that dominate the news cycle on the East End of Long Island, N.Y., are usually about one thing: noise — and who, in a place where residents are used to getting nearly everything they want, is allowed to make it.

This summer, media fireworks are popping over Zero Bond, the members-only club in Lower Manhattan that is attempting to open an outpost here four years after it became the ne plus ultra of downtown status spots — the place Page Six wrote about because it was where Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson had their second date, where Gigi Hadid celebrated her 27th birthday, where Elon Musk hosted his after party for the Met Gala and where Eric Adams made himself at home during his 2021 mayoral campaign.

Much like that of a Birkin bag, Zero Bond’s appeal is due (at least in part) to how difficult it is to gain access. As its founder, Scott Sartiano, has said, “You can’t buy cool.”

Although having money helps: After submitting an application, a suggested letter of recommendation from a current member and a headshot, anyone who wishes to join the club must also pay a onetime initiation fee and yearly dues, which increase with the age of the applicant. (Those under 28 pay a $750 onetime fee and $2,750 annually; those over 45, a $5,000 initiation fee and $4,400 annually.)

Mr. Sartiano’s efforts to establish his private club in a centuries-old building known as the Hedges Inn, currently a 13-room luxury bed-and-breakfast, have been widely reported. But while he is said to be negotiating to lease the property, even town officials do not have confirmation of whether an agreement has been signed.

Mr. Sartiano declined numerous requests for comment. So did John Cumming, the owner of the Hedges Inn, although he emailed a statement saying that “the future of the Hedges Inn is an important and sensitive topic to everyone involved” and expressing confidence that “the next 40+ years of this iconic inn will be as bright as its past.”

Wherever things currently stand with the lease, many neighbors aren’t pleased. On May 18, in the latest salvo, the East Hampton Village Mayor, Jerry Larsen, and the board of trustees passed a law requiring restaurants in the historic district to close and have all customers out by 11 p.m., which would put a damper on Zero Bond’s business, should the club move it. (Mr. Larsen had hoped to establish a 10 p.m. closing time, but encountered resistance from restaurants in the area.)

Back in March, when Mr. Sartiano began his campaign, he attempted to win over the East Hampton mayor by promising to have the New York City mayor, Eric Adams, call and attest to his character.

“I told them not to waste Mr. Adams’s time,” Mr. Larsen said. “It was not going to change my mind.”

“One of the lost things in this world is quietude,” said Carrie Doyle, a village trustee. “People come out for peace and quiet, and the ironic thing is that to get it you have to make a lot of noise. So that’s what we’ve done.”

But the dispute is about more than decibel levels — it’s also about access. One argument repeatedly made for keeping Zero Bond out of East Hampton has do with the club’s insistence that it be welcomed by people it might not welcome in return as members. And the Hamptons is a particularly difficult place to make that pitch.

Almost anyone who goes to the Hamptons can tell you that it long ago shed its reputation as the quiet getaway spot where Jackson Pollock hid out and splash painted his way through existential despair.

The Stephen Talkhouse, in Amagansett, has hosted shows by Jon Bon Jovi and Jimmy Buffett. The lines to the bathroom at the Surf Lodge in Montauk are legendary enough to have inspired their own New York Times article. And that didn’t stop Malia Obama from celebrating her birthday on the outdoor deck.

So it made sense that Zero Bond would try to open in the Hamptons, said Corey Dolgon, the author of “The End of the Hamptons” and a professor of sociology at Stonehill College, in Easton, Mass.

“The Hamptons — as symbolic of the ‘richest and most famous’ — is exactly the kind of cultural capital that Zero Bond craves,” he said. “Every new generation of rich and famous look to put their imprimatur on the land they are conquering.”

Still, Mr. Sartiano picked a tricky spot for his clubhouse.

“Montauk has all those hotels,” said Kathleen Cunningham, the executive director of the Village Preservation Society of East Hampton. “There’s tons of commercial property, and that’s part of why it is a party scene — because it can be. The commercial slice of East Hampton is much smaller, and therefore what is permitted and what should be permitted is different.”

Beyond that, while the Hamptons is no longer exactly quiet, the party scene is a shadow of what it was in the early 2000s, when Lizzie Grubman famously crashed her black Mercedes S.U.V. outside a Southampton nightclub called the Conscience Point Inn, injuring 16 people.

“The era of major nightclubs is over,” said Nick Kraus, a partner at the Talkhouse, rattling off a list of now-shuttered clubs that were known for their popularity with the plastic surgery set and detested for the inclination of those patrons to pitch their plastic cups onto the street. “Those places have become Pier Ones or dog parks,” he said, adding, “The towns bought them because they were nuisances and then transformed them.”

Among the residents disturbed by the prospect of having Zero Bond as a neighbor is Kenneth Lipper, a former New York City deputy mayor under Ed Koch who became a titan of finance, serving as a partner at Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers before opening Lipper & Co., which manages investments for high-net-worth individuals. (He also wrote the novel “Wall Street,” which was made into the 1987 movie by Oliver Stone.)

Mr. Lipper, who lives on a side street a few hundred feet from the Hedges Inn, has shown up at village board meetings to oppose the lease of the property to Mr. Sartiano, including the meeting last week where the 11 p.m. closing time was established.

While Mr. Lipper said he had never exactly been close to Mr. Cumming, things between them were always cordial. He also knew Mr. Cumming’s father, Ian Cumming, a billionaire investment banker, who lived on the block and died in 2018 at 78.

Last summer, he ran into Mr. Cumming at a party in the Hamptons. “He said he had to make money at the Hedges Inn,” Mr. Lipper recalled. “‘Everything has to make money.’ I kind of rolled my eyes.” He added later, “It’s mental gymnastics. It has nothing to do with real business or actual need.”

Mr. Lipper likened it to “Wall Street.” “It reminds me of that line,” he said. “‘Greed is good,’ a kind of modern Gordon Gekko attitude.”

Mr. Larsen, the mayor, has framed the issue as being principally about noise.

“Even the slightest thing of cars idling in the parking lot next to somebody’s house, people talking late at night in a parking lot — after people have drinks, sometimes they come out laughing, and they’re louder than they would normally be — all of that is going to disrupt the neighbors, because that’s how close the houses are,” he said.

But others have suggested that he may have a personal incentive to keep Zero Bond out of East Hampton.

In the past, the mayor has been decidedly pro-business. He has hiked parking charges, introduced a plan to privatize ambulance service and secured funding from Prada, which operates a store on Main street, to pay for the lighting of the Christmas tree in the center of town — where Santa Claus arrived for the 2022 lighting ceremony by police helicopter.

But the possibility of a nightclub opening in a primarily residential part of the village posed an obvious problem for him, said David Rattray, the editor of The East Hampton Star, the town’s main newspaper.

Being the village mayor, Mr. Rattray pointed out, is a side job that pays Mr. Larsen around $26,000 a year. His principal source of income comes from Protec Security, a private security firm he runs with his wife, Lisa Larsen.

“He has clients within earshot,” said Mr. Rattray, whose newspaper is headquartered across the street from the Hedges. “His trucks are there daily.”

Indeed, it was not hard to find triangular Protec signs sprouting from the lawns of numerous homes nearby: one less than a quarter of a mile from the Hedges on the corner of Main Street and James Lane; another at the house directly behind Mr. Lipper’s; and more on Huntting Lane, Middle Lane, Egypt Lane and West Dune Lane.

When asked about a possible conflict of interest, the mayor more or less shrugged. “If someone came before the board of trustees,” he said, and he was doing business with that person, “I would have to recuse myself.”

Still, residents are bracing for a battle that could stretch into next summer, all hinging on a lease and a liquor license.

Liquor licenses granted by the New York State Liquor Authority allow businesses to sell alcohol until 4 a.m., but counties are able to further restrict these hours with their own legislation. And this could set up a potential legal battle between Mr. Sartiano and the village officials.

But perhaps not — for this summer, at least — if Mr. Sartiano runs out of time to get the club up and running. Marcos Baladron, the East Hampton Village administrator, said there is no indication that Mr. Sartiano has signed a lease, much less obtained a liquor license, a process that can take nearly a year. And the mayor noted that the State Liquor Authority will consult the village before giving Mr. Sartiano a license to serve alcohol.

It continues to puzzle them, though, why Mr. Cumming has been so intent on doing business with Zero Bond. “I let the owner know, ‘If you really want to sell the place, I can give you a list of individuals who are happy to purchase,’” Mr. Baladron said. “‘And none of them would do something the village would hate to see.’”

He did seem to understand, however, why Mr. Sartiano won’t give up.

Earlier this spring, Mr. Baladron said, he suggested that if Mr. Sartiano was set on coming to the Hamptons, there were far better places to go. “He could go to Montauk and have zero resistance,” Mr. Baladron said. “Instead, he’s opening in a property that’s defective in terms of what he wants to do — it’s not even a good business decision.”

He recalled Mr. Sartiano’s response: “I hate to lose.”

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