Falling in love with Provincetown (14112)
October 20 2004 12:00 AM EST
November 17 2015 5:28 AM EST
Falling in love with Provincetown
Everyone asked me upon my return from P-town if I fell in love. Yes, I did, and not just with a cute guy from Chicago but with Provincetown itself. I enjoyed practically every aspect of my stay. What better way to spend a week?
I needed somewhere to go on vacation where I could both get some sun and work on my novel, so I figured Provincetown, Mass., famous as both gay getaway and artists' retreat, would be a good bet. And my inclination turned out to be right.
Provincetown has recently been the setting of several gay best-sellers, so in preparation for my trip I did my homework, reading William J. Mann's Where the Boys Are and Michael Thomas Ford's Last Summer, two books that succeeded in whetting my appetite for a week on the cape.
For those who've never been, Provincetown is situated at the very tip of Cape Cod. It is accessible by ferry from both Boston and Providence or by car. I chose to drive and, depending on traffic, it's about a seven-hour drive from New York.
The first thing that surprised me about Provincetown is how many straight people there are. Unlike Fire Island (or even West Hollywood), Provincetown is far from exclusively gay. A fishing village with Portuguese roots, Provincetown attracts tourists from all walks of life. Some come for the best shopping on the Cape, others come because of the many fine art galleries, and some come just to gawk at the gays and lesbians, blithely holding hands as they stroll down Commercial Street.
No matter how many heterosexuals may visit each summer, Provincetown is a gay resort. Two thirds of the property owners are gay, and no one hides their homosexuality. Each day around 3 p.m., half a dozen drag queens appear on Commercial, hawking tickets to their evening shows. Two leather shops and an erotic-goods boutique stand proudly in the heart of town. Gay men and lesbians are everywhere.
The Gallery Inn
For my first few nights I stayed at the Gallery Inn, one of the less expensive guest houses in town. Just off Commercial, the Gallery is centrally located but far enough away from the nighttime action to provide escape. The accommodations and the service are simple but satisfactory. Don't expect homemade muffins or fresh-squeezed juice for breakfast.
It quickly became apparent that the way to get around Provincetown is by bike. In fact, visiting Provincetown without renting a bike is like visiting New York and not going to a Broadway show. Part of that experience includes navigating Commercial, the town's main thoroughfare, which is usually jammed with cars and pedestrians. (Why the townspeople allow cars and trucks down the narrow street is anyone's guess--chalk it up to local tradition. Don't make the mistake of trying to drive down Commercial yourself; you could end up in traffic for hours).
A bike is essential for excursions to the beach, but it can be inconvenient. Beachgoers bike about a half mile from the center of town, lock their bikes to a fence, and then tread across sand and dunes another half mile to get to the water. Be forewarned: There are no foodstuffs available at the beach, so be sure to pack a lunch and plenty of water. At the end of a day at the beach, which can involve 40 minutes of hiking to and fro, you'll be very glad to find your bike waiting for you at the fence. (Some drive to the beach, but the walk from the parking lot to the gay area is even longer than it is from the bike rack). There are four bike rental shops scattered around town; their prices are all comparable, at roughly $75 for a weekly rental.
The Boatslip Hotel
The Provincetown beach is rocky, which makes walking the sand uncomfortable, so it is not as social as other gay beaches. Provincetown has plenty of traditions to compensate. At 5 o'clock, practically all gay men congregate at the Boatslip Hotel for dancing and drinks at tea. Then it's off to dinner and a show. At 11 the boys head to the "A-House" (short for the Atlantic House), the Crown and Anchor, or one of the various other dance clubs, which all play the same kind of music. The A-House is worth a special trip just to see the men's room, the walls of which are completely plastered all the way to the ceiling with spreads from gay porn.
Even by Boston standards, Provincetown is an early town. The clubs all close at 1 a.m., but by tradition, everyone heads down to Spiritus Pizza for a late-night bite and last chance at love. By 2 a.m. on any summer night, the street outside Spiritus is usually packed with more than 500 hungry and horny guys.
Carnival at the Admiral's Landing
Toward the middle of my stay I checked into the Admiral's Landing, a quaint guesthouse owned by two recently married men who are experts on all things Provincetown. The muffins are freshly baked at the Admiral's Landing, the book and video libraries are well-stocked, and the Jacuzzi is open till 11. I also stayed at the Archer's Inn, one of the more upscale guesthouses, where you feel fully removed from the business of Commercial Street. Guests at the Archer's Inn can watch the plasma TV in the living room, help themselves to hot beverages from the Jure espresso machine, store a bottle of wine in the cooler that keeps reds at an even 65 degrees and whites at 45 degrees, or get a suntan on the rooftop deck. The entire inn is networked for wireless Internet access.
As I mentioned, Provincetown is straight-friendly, and during my visit there were straight couples at all three inns. Secluded and situated on the top of a high hill, Archer's Inn has the feel of a place that might be men-only or clothing-optional, but it isn't.
Dining in Provincetown is hit or miss. Most visitors will want to stop at the Lobster Pot (321 Commercial St.), a veritable factory of a restaurant with 104 employees that has been in operation since 1978. The lobster bisque was very tasty, but the fish and chips left something to be desired. No less harried than any of the other serving staff, my waiter turned out to be one of the owners of the restaurant; his brother was busy as head chef in the kitchen.
I was strongly encouraged to breakfast at Cafe Heaven (199 Commercial St.). I was unimpressed by the food (my French toast was greasy and lethargic), but I did appreciate the fact that I was able to access wireless on my laptop. (Cafe Heaven doesn't provide wireless Internet service, but the morning I was there a nearby signal was strong enough to make it possible to log on). The food turned out to be better at Cafe Edwidge (333 Commercial St.). Due to the upstairs location, however, people watching is impossible.
The Red Inn
By far the best dinner I had was at the Red Inn (15 Commercial St.) in the west end of town. Since I was dining alone, I chose to eat at the bar, which is a nice option for single travelers. The lamb chops were lightly blackened on the outside and tender on the inside; the pecan pie stuffed with a layer of cream cheese was well worth the calories and carbs. Although the inn is over 200 years old, it was recently bought and renovated. The new owners--four gay men--have done an excellent job of turning the restaurant into an itinerary stop of its own.
There are plenty of restaurants in town, but it's easy to pay for a meal that's not worth the price. At Esther's (186 Commercial St.) all the dishes (from the risottos to the steaks) have an unfortunate, Asian kick. My fellow diners and I were stupefied by the indifference of our waiter--until we discovered a 20% service charge was included in the bill. You would do better to get some fried clams or chicken strips at Mojo's on the pier.
If it happens to rain during your stay (it did during mine), there are two movie theaters in town, and the old-fashioned local library is a fun place to do some reading. On the other hand, if it's sunny and you get bored with the beach, you can rent a lounge chair for $5 and a towel for three at the Boatslip pool deck. It is quite the scene: Be prepared for the organized "chair turn" to turn as the sun moves across the sky. Smiling waiters will gladly bring you drinks from the bar, but plan on spending $7 for a watered-down daiquiri.
Upon my return, everyone asked me if I fell in love. Yes, I did, and not just with a cute guy from Chicago but with Provincetown itself. I enjoyed practically every aspect of my stay--from the evening performance by Amy Armstrong and Freddie Allen at the Crown and Anchor to the 50-cent homemade chocolate chip cookies at the General Store. I even got plenty of writing done on my novel. What better way to spend a week?
Note: Provincetown house rentals are on a Saturday-to-Saturday schedule--that means the vast majority of visitors arrive Saturday morning and depart a week later. If you are traveling alone, don't bother staying till Sunday; you'll feel lonely when all your new friends and acquaintances head back home before you.