When Andrew Sasson, the owner of the Jet East nightclub in Southampton, allegedly chauffeured his ex-girlfriend, publicist Lizzie Grubman, from the bloody mess she’d made at Conscience Point to his Bridgehampton house on July 7, he gave his competitors just the opening they needed. For Mr. Sasson may have made Jet East the most lucrative nightclub in the Hamptons since it opened in 1997, but his strong-arm business tactics have made him decidedly unpopular around town.
In the week following the incident at Conscience Point (where the31-year-oldBrit is also a consultant), a feud between Mr. Sasson and a band of Hamptons nightclub owners has come to light. Southampton residents have been asking the town to purchase and shut down Conscience Point, as well as rallying the planning board to reject Jet East’s renovation plans at a Town Hall meeting on July 19. But local nightclub fixtures–including John Flanagan, an owner of the Tavern nightclub in Southampton; David Sarner and Michael Ault, who are opening Cabana in Southampton this weekend; and Rocco Ancarola, who owns Rocco’s a la Playa in Sag Harbor–have no desire to defend Mr. Sasson as he faces off against an increasingly hostile group of locals, lawsuits and now the media.
It’s a whole new game since Mr. Sasson gave Ms. Grubman refuge until her lawyer, Edward Burke Jr., and the police arrived about two hours after the 2 a.m. incident. Perhaps Mr. Sasson had Mr. Burke’s number on speed dial. After all, Mr. Burke–a powerful Southampton lawyer whose father is tight with Governor Pataki–was Mr. Sasson’s lawyer when he settled a case with the town of Southampton last August regarding residents’ complaints about the noise and traffic at Jet East.
Though Mr. Sasson came to Ms. Grubman’s rescue, she may have caused his demise. Mr. Sasson and Ms. Grubman broke up over a year ago but have remained close friends and business associates: Ms. Grubman’s P.R. firm represents Jet East and Conscience Point. They started dating in 1997, shortly after Ms. Grubman separated from her husband of about two years, lawyer Eric Gotoff.
“He was positively driving [Ms. Grubman],” said Mr. Flanagan. “In the beginning, no one wanted to say anything, but then they realized the gravity of the situation and started to face facts for what they are. I feel bad for Andrew that this whole thing happened. No one gains from this. It was an accident and a tragedy.”
Mr. Sasson wouldn’t comment on his involvement with Ms. Grubman until told of Mr. Flanagan’s remark. “That comment is absolutely not true,” he said. “I completely deny that I was driving Lizzie.”
Asked of Mr. Sasson’s chance of losing his liquor license if he is convicted of helping Ms. Grubman flee a crime scene and harboring her in his house, lawyer Warren Pesetsky–partner with Pesetsky and Bookman, who specializes in representing restaurants, nightclubs and hotels–said, “If he was convicted of a misdemeanor, it would be discretionary. If he was convicted of a felony, [taking away his liquor license] would be mandatory.” He added, “I can’t imagine him being convicted of a felony for that.”
Though Mr. Flanagan, who calls Mr. Sasson “a pain in the ass,” is by no means grateful for this excuse to bash him, he’s not holding back his feelings about Mr. Sasson, who’s known for his explosive temper and underhanded dealings. “He’s upped the ante and changed the game and is not playing by the rules,” said Mr. Flanagan.
“I am an aggressive businessman,” Mr. Sasson countered, adding that his goal is to earn profits, not a high social standing. “[Owning a nightclub] is not a hobby, it’s my trade.”
Such dedication to his métier might explain a story that Mr. Flanagan told. On July 11, he said, he ran into two of his promoters at the opening party for the restaurant Man Ray in Manhattan. The men complained that Mr. Sasson wouldn’t let them work for Tavern on Saturday nights and keep their Friday-night gig at Jet East. The promoters have since ditched Mr. Sasson for Mr. Flanagan’s club.
And that’s perhaps the smallest of the perceived slights. Last year, Mr. Sasson approached Mr. Flanagan with a deal: They would both save money by pulling their ads from Hamptons magazine. Mr. Flanagan agreed. A few months later, Mr. Flanagan spotted a Jet East ad in the magazine. “I said, ‘Andrew, you’ve got to be kidding me!’” said Mr. Flanagan. “His excuse was that we had stolen his D.J.” Mr. Flanagan said he didn’t steal the D.J., but had given him a chance to work on his night off from Jet East last summer.
“He seems to work overtime on other people’s businesses rather than focusing on his own,” said Mr. Flanagan. “He’s the type of guy who will look you in the eye and say it wasn’t him, and after you shake him down a bit, he’ll say it was him.”
“The thing that nightclub owners in the Hamptons don’t like about Andrew is that he’s not a supportive guy,” said Mr. Ancarola, pointing out that all of the other local club owners have stopped by his restaurant for dinner or drinks since he opened. But Mr. Sasson hasn’t stopped by once, breaking an unofficial code of ethics. “He has a jealous streak.”
Mr. Flanagan’s most serious allegation against Mr. Sasson was that he tipped off the town’s building department to the fact that Tavern didn’t have the right permits for minor renovations in May. A few days before the Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Sasson stopped by Tavern to check out the improvements, which included a cement window box in front. The next day, a building inspector hit Tavern with a stop-work order and refused to grant it a permit to open the Friday of Memorial Day weekend–a blow-out night that typically rakes in huge profits during the short summer season–
because the club had not gotten the correct permit to alter the building.
“We feel he did tip off the building inspector,” said Mr. Flanagan, who also thought Mr. Sasson spread the rumor that Tavern would be closed that Saturday–resulting, he claims, in thinner crowds.
Mr. Flanagan admitted that he didn’t have the right permit to add the window box and hired–who else?–Mr. Burke Jr. as his lawyer for a case with the buildings department, which is ongoing.
“I do my business aboveboard. I don’t do any illegal stuff,” said Mr. Sasson in his own defense. “I don’t make telephone calls to tell on people.”
Mr. Sarner also had complaints about Mr. Sasson, which he thinks might be why Cabana hasn’t yet gotten its certificate of occupancy. (Before Ms. Grubman’s crash, Cabana’s P.R. had been handled by her company.) He claimed that Mr. Sasson met with his staff at Jet East and warned them that Cabana would be a client-poaching competitor. He implied that it would be a nightclub, when in fact it will be a relatively sedate restaurant and lounge. As a result, he said, “People are assuming that we’re trying to be a nightclub and we’re totally not. It’s been the biggest thorn in our side.”
According to Mr. Sarner, Mr. Sasson often stopped by to check out renovations to the former Chinese restaurant. “He kept wanting to see what we were up to. He feels threatened by the fact that when we open, he’s going to lose some of his customers, who would rather go to a mellow lounge,” said Mr. Sarner.
“My motivation is to check out the competition,” said Mr. Sasson of his visits to Cabana. “If it’s just a restaurant and lounge, I was misinformed by other people that it was generated to be a nightclub. And if that’s the case, I apologize.”
Mr. Sarner also said that Mr. Sasson admitted to having had a meeting with the Southampton town attorney, David Gilmartin Jr., in May to complain that Jet East, which is located in a residential area, was under heavier scrutiny than clubs like Tavern and Cabana, which are in a commercial area on Route 27–essentially raising a red flag on the other night spots. Mr. Flanagan said he’d also heard this rumor.
On July 16, Mr. Gilmartin told The Observer that he’d met with Mr. Sasson in May to discuss Jet East’s new site plan, but they didn’t discuss the other clubs. Mr. Sasson denied tattling.
In the meantime, he could use the support of fellow club owners on July 19, when he’ll present Jet East’s $500,000 renovation plan, which consists of changes he’s forced to make following last summer’s neighbor-appeasing settlement–some of which will backfire on the neighbors, such as the addition of 150 parking spaces essentially circling a residential property, which would be put in to compensate for getting cars off North Sea Road.
So far, the Grubman incident has had a relatively minor impact on the Hamptons nightlife scene (the increased scrutiny has prompted Mr. Flanagan to refresh his staff on parking procedures and safety issues), but club owners agree that it’s nothing like the negative changes Mr. Sasson has wrought over the years. “It used to be a country atmosphere, and [the nightclub owners] try to adhere to that,” said Mr. Flanagan. “He takes it a little too seriously for what it is. We’re not operating Microsoft here.”