By Phebe Wahl By Phebe Wahl | April 12, 2023 | Lifestyle
Shelter Island’s Sunset Beach captures the spirit of the French Riviera, right here, much closer to home.
Shelter Island’s Sunset Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
If you have ever experienced one of André Balazs’ properties (Chateau Marmont, The Mercer, The Standard hotels, etc.), you have experienced firsthand that he is indeed the master of mood. His signature spaces offer a magical mix of European chicness with a bohemian, Balearic spirit. However, for those who don’t want to fight the crowds of the Côte d’Azur or the madness of the Mediterranean islands, there is, thankfully, an option much closer to home, nestled on Shelter Island, N.Y. A longtime local hot spot for those who love to dock and dine, Sunset Beach is also drawing crowds beyond the Hamptons.
Balazs’ signature touches are all there: impeccable food and cocktails, a sexy staff, a cinematic scene (the beach faces west to catch the picture-perfect sunset right on cue)—and, of course, amazing DJs spinning a soundtrack that perfectly sets the tone. For those wishing to come for a more extended stay, there are 20 ocean-facing rooms perfectly appointed in a vibe-y, surf-chic look. There is plenty to keep busy with complimentary bikes, family-friendly lawn games, and available water sports ranging from paddleboards to boating and fishing.
“Sunset Beach has been 25 years of evolution inspired by where I spent every summer for 40 years in St-Tropez at our family house,” shares Balazs.
Spaces morph throughout the day, with dance parties lasting until the early morning hours on weekends.
A longtime resident of Shelter Island himself, the hotelier has a house near Sunset Beach and first snatched up a little scallop shop as his dream began to take shape. “This will be our 25th year of operations. And every year, it’s been a project of evolution,” he says. “It started with just a small building… then we added a deck, and we added another deck, and another deck—all underneath this beautiful tree that acts like a big canopy,” he explains. “It’s a big outside fairground.”
The sandy playground-like spaces range from the “Sandbox” in front to a “Wine Garden” to separate areas for games. “Because of all the various spaces, not only does it run very late, but it also morphs throughout the day just like it keeps morphing season after season. At lunchtime, we have a food truck with lighter fare for kids and people who might want a hamburger or something to take to the beach. Then we have a lunch menu, which evolves into the dinner menu. And then, of course, the late-night menu.” On weekends, it often stays open until the early morning hours. “You can come for lunch, and somehow it turns into dinner, and you are still dancing at 1 o’clock in the morning.”
Guests who wish to stay longer can enjoy one of the 20 ocean-facing rooms.
Often celebrated as being like Montauk in the old days, Shelter Island retains its salty charm and boasts some of the best beaches in the world. “The Hamptons, in general, has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world,” says Balazs, who notes that Shelter Island easily wins out over the beaches of Europe in terms of crowds and pure physicality. Balazs initially recognized the uniqueness of Shelter Island’s Crescent Beach, now known as Sunset Beach. “What’s unique about this bay is it has an all-sand beach—and then it drops and gets deep very quickly, so you can bring large boats very close to the sand,” he explains. “So it’s an easy place to bring the largest boats on the East Coast.” Today, guests can arrive via ferry, boat or even seaplane. According to Balazs, who used to fly his own seaplane to Shelter Island, “You can leave New York City, fly out for lunch, and be back in your office by 3:30 and pretend to have just had a long business meeting,” admitting he might have done this himself once or twice.
“Shelter Island is unique to the Hamptons precisely because it’s an island. It has some of the best sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing and whatever you want to do on the water is spectacular. Then, of course, there’s always the fishing, which is utterly remarkable due to the circulating currents, one of the reasons it has always been such a wonderful place for fresh fish, scallops and oysters,” he says, noting these are the standouts on the menu.
Fresh seafood is a standout on the menus.
“The intention was always to create something a little bit otherworldly,” Balazs says of how the primarily international staff add an exotic feel to the experience. “The staff is wonderful and exuberant. The food is unique not only because of the fresh fish but also the local produce, much of which is grown on the island itself.” And oh, yes, the style. That is one thing this master of mood has in spades.
Photography by: Vintage photos courtesy of Sunset Beach; other photos by Nicole Franzen