Curious about the lifestyles of the East End's rich and famous but turned off by the area's crowds and sky-high prices during summer? Well, empty highways and steep hotel room discounts make the off-season a whole lot more appealing.
Parking spaces galore and available tables at celebrity hangouts like Nick & Toni's are just a couple of the attractions of the off-season Hamptons. Wineries on both the North and South Forks offer shelter from the cold as well as warming libations. Culture abounds. Although it might be too chilly to sport a swimsuit on the beach, there are plenty of other invigorating outdoor activities to enjoy, including ice skating, seal watching and the most popular year-round Hamptons sport, shopping.
Beachfront motels are great in August, but cozy village inns with fireplaces are better in February. Here is a roundup of the East End's best winter accommodations:
ART AND HISTORY
1708 House, 126 Main St., Southampton
Its name says 1708, but parts of this impeccably restored and updated inn actually date back to 1648, making it one of the oldest buildings in New York. Furnished with period art and antiques (owner Skip Ralph owned an antiques shop nearby for many years), the 1708 House is a warm, welcoming and very comfortable museum of early American history. Perhaps that's why the architect of the new Parrish Art Museum stayed here during its construction. Ralph recommends a visit to the acclaimed and decidedly 21st century Parrish. On your return, warm up with a glass of local wine (complimentary every afternoon) down in the Colonial-era wine cellar, where you can sit by the fire playing backgammon or checkers. Rooms now go for $150 to $195 a night, including breakfast and afternoon tea, and wine service. Through March 31, take advantage of the inn's midweek winter special: Stay one night for $150 a night, two nights for $140 a night, and three nights or more for $130 a night. For reservations: 631-287-1708, 1708house.com.
BEGINNING WITH BREAKFAST
Mill House Inn, 31 N. Main St., East Hampton
In addition to its legendary breakfasts (lobster frittata, chicken sausage and wild mushroom hash, eggnog brioche French toast), the Mill House Inn prides itself on personal service. Front desk attendants are more like full-time personal assistants, ready to suggest a screening of a vintage Elvis film at the Bay Street Theatre and arrange for a cab to deliver you there. Take Fido for a walk on the beach, and when you return, warm up with hot cider and homemade cookies, baked around the clock. Is Fido peckish, too? The Mill House Inn is so dog-friendly that it offers chef-prepared meals for four-legged guests. East Hampton's tony shops are just steps from the inn's front door. After an afternoon of retail therapy, pick up a charcuterie plate waiting for you in the reception area refrigerator and retreat to your immaculate room or suite (all have fireplaces and either steam showers or soaking tubs). The staff will make dinner reservations, of course, but if you prefer to eat in, someone will pick up your dinner from the restaurant of your choice and deliver it to your room. Winter rates start at $225, with an off-season midweek promotion: two nights, 10 percent off; three nights, 15 percent off; four nights, 20 percent off. For reservations: 631-324-9766, millhouseinn.com.
NORTH FORK STYLE
When innkeeper Halina Siemaszko renovated and redecorated this stately Victorian on Greenport's Main Street in 2012, she eschewed ruffles and lace in favor of a more streamlined traditional style. The result is straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad, with bedrooms and common spaces that are understated and elegant but in keeping with the history of the building and the town. She is equally proud of her breakfasts, with ingredients sourced from local farms and food artisans. When you check in during the winter (rooms go for $200-$275 a night) you'll receive a discount card for local shops, restaurants and wineries along the North Fork wine trail. Another way to enjoy the wine trail: Jazz on the Vine, a series of live performances at various tasting rooms from Feb. 8 to March 17. Greenport itself has a lot to offer. Within walking distance of the Inn: A microbrewery (Greenport Harbor Brewing), harborside ice skating and an adjacent old-fashioned carousel inside a heated pavilion. For reservations: 631-477-8998, fordhamhouse.com.
Inn at Windmill Lane, 23 Windmill Lane, Amagansett
If you want to vacation like the 1 percent, spend a night at the Inn at Windmill Lane. Suites and free-standing cottages on a manicured Amagansett property offer genuine luxury and privacy, discounted in wintertime so anyone can indulge. All accommodations have Duxiana beds, wood-burning fireplaces, and enormous (we're talking studio apartment-size) tile and marble baths. The cottages have private gyms and saunas. The helpful but unobtrusive staff, on call 24/7, are happy to make suggestions tailored to your tastes. They might point you to one of the great fixed-price deals at a normally pricey East Hampton eatery such as Fresno ($30 for three courses) or send you to hear a local band at the Stephen Talkhouse a few blocks away. But manager Erin Harris warns that the rooms are so comfortable and attractive at this time of year that guests are reluctant to leave for dinner or a show. A suite that goes for $800 a night in the summer can be had for as little as $375 on a midweek winter night ($400 on weekends). Mention the weekend special when you book two nights and you will be immediately upgraded to a more expensive room. For reservations: 631-267-8500, innatwindmilllane.com.
SEALS AND SURFING
Sunrise Guest House, 681 Old Montauk Hwy., Montauk
This small guesthouse run by veteran innkeeper Jim Barnds has a funky Montauk vibe. Well located 300 feet from the ocean (three of its four rooms have ocean views) and just a short walk along the water into town, it is a low-key getaway spot for nature lovers, surfers (yes, some people surf Montauk's famous breaks in February) and fans of beach-town life. Hikers, runners and mountain bikers can take advantage of Montauk's extensive trails, most of which lead to the ocean. Guided seal walks depart from the Montauk Light House every weekend. Although Montauk is quiet at this time of year, there are plenty of fun things to do in the village, including fine dining at Harvest on Fort Pond, karaoke at the Liar's Saloon and shopping for longboards at Air and Speed Surf. Rooms now go for $95 to $175 a night, including continental breakfast. Stay two weekend nights and get a third night (either Thursday or Sunday) free. For reservations: 631-668-7286 or sunrisebnb.com.
All-Day Dining, Hamptons-style
Most new Hamptons restaurants shoot for a Memorial Day weekend opening, hoping to attract the summer crowds and their cash. The Highway Diner and Bar, in contrast, opened in November, signaling that it intends to cater to a local crowd. Taking over the Sagaponack VFW hall that formerly housed such higher-priced hot spots such as Rugosa and Almondito, the new owners have installed a stylish soda fountain where you can enjoy a chocolate egg cream or a root beer float. Breakfast is served all day, but before you conjure up the image of a greasy spoon rest assured that you'll also be able to order roasted beets and goat cheese ($10), grilled vegetables with quinoa ($16), and tuna tartare ($16) after noon. You're still in the Hamptons, after all. The modern, airy, kitsch-free dining room, soda fountain and bar are open 7 days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., with an earlier opening planned for later this year. Highway Diner and Bar, 290 Montauk Hwy., East Hampton, 631-324-0130, highwaydinerandbar.com. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.