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Stuart Carroll

Provincetown. A tiny little Massachusetts hamlet, three blocks wide and maybe 20 long, perched on the very tip of Cape Cod, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Cape Cod Bay on the other. Almost 400 years ago the Pilgrims first spent a winter here, before heading over to Plymouth to establish the first permanent European presence in the New World.

A lot has happened since then.

Now this quiet fishing village plays host to nearly a million visitors a year - and most of them are gay.

Each week in summer thousands of beautiful men flood the town, to bask on the beaches and party in the clubs for a day, a week, a month. They fill the shops that line Commercial Street, bike along the over 20 km of nature trails that meander through the Provincelands National Seashore Park, then dance till they drop in one of the dozens of gay bars.

Drag queens, leather daddies, gym bunnies and young couples share the streets with straight daytrippers from Boston, creating an eclectic but ultimately relaxing atmosphere.

While most of the visitors are drawn from the Eastern Seaboard, people do come from all over the country, in fact, all over the world. You'll hear French, both from France and especially Quebec, German, Italian, Japanese and more while wandering about.

Provincetown has been a refuge for artists, writers and bohemians since the turn of the century, all of which groups contain plenty of gay men and lesbians. Some of the major names in painting, sculpture, literature and the theatre have gotten their starts while living here. Summertimes always attracted a diverse crowd, and WWII only accelerated the trend. During the 40's and 50's that crowd became more and more gay, and today's Provincetown may well have the highest percentage of gay men and lesbians of any city in the world. Public displays of affection between same-sex couples are so common as to be unnoticeable, though tourists from the hinterlands still gawk and take pictures of the more flamboyant drag-queens.

Summer temperatures range from warm to roasting during the day, but the nights can get fairly chilly, so bring a sweatshirt or two. Dress is aggressively casual; beachwear, shorts, tank tops (or no shirt at all) and sandals are perfectly acceptable almost anywhere in town.

Provincetown is unique as a vacation spot because whatever you're in the mood for, you can find it here. If your pleasure is lazy days lying around soaking up the sun like a lizard, you can do it. If you're a nature boy and favor hiking, biking, kayaking and sailing, you can do it. And if you're a party queen, looking for the best in drinks, drugs, dancing and dick, you can surely find them all... Or mix and match, collect some shells at low tide, study a horseshoe crab, have a light meal in the afternoon, then sometime deep into the evening, look across a rough hewn bar at a sexy bloke (or two or three), lit by candlelight. It's all there.

Be prepared to pay for your pleasures, though, as this ain't no charity ball. Due to the extreme seasonal nature of the economy, the merchants and restaurateurs are trying to make the bulk of their year's income in 12 weeks, and it shows. Most dance clubs have cover charges, ranging from $5 to $25, and a middling-to-decent meal for two can run you $50 (or lots more, if you're drinking alcohol).

Some stuff is free. The main beaches, Herring Cove on the bay side, and Race Point on the Atlantic side, are both National Parks, so walking in is free, and parking a reasonable $7 a day. There's a shuttle bus that runs from the center of town out to the beaches, and will only clip you $1.50. Seasonal beach passes are only $20, which is worth it if you stay the week and go to the beach every day. If you get out at the main parking lot for Herring Cove, head to the left (as you face the ocean) for the gay section. The further down you go, the less the guys wear... In contrast, Race Point is more hetero-oriented, but there are still plenty of queerboys.

The best way to get around town is by foot, or renting a bike. Just about everything is within a 20 minute walk, and a bike can be had for about $25 a week. Watch out for the pedestrian traffic though; Provincetown has a decided lack of sidewalks, and most people just wander down the middle of the street without bothering to look either way. And do get a lock, since bicycle theft is the only major crime in town. Of the two major places in town to rent, try P'town Bikes [42 Bradford Street] first, their stock tends to be a little better cared for and the owners are really nice guys.

In all this twisted little town, my favorite spot to perch is the Marigold Café [214 Commercial Street]. Directly across the street from the US Post Office, if you're lucky enough to grab one of the sidewalk tables, you can sip espresso and watch the world go by. Sooner or later everyone you know in town (and a few surprise visitors you didn't expect) will wander past and stop to chat.

For the best breakfast, try Cafe Edwidge [333 Commercial Street], across the street from the library. Beautiful presentation, imaginative (but not too weird) menu, and a full bar (though due to antiquated liquor laws you can't order booze before noon on Sundays). Also excellent, though somewhat more crowded, is Cafe Heaven [199 Commercial Street]. They make their own breads, and the soups are out of this world. If you want to people watch while dining (breakfast, lunch or dinner), try Bubala's [183 Commercial Street]. A pretty basic menu, though the tuna sandwich and burritos are well above average. The Provincetown Cheese Shop [225B Commercial Street] does really good sandwiches, deli stuff, bagels, etc., which you can then take with you to eat on the beach or the benches in front of Town Hall.

For dinner, if you're looking for good, fresh seafood, you've come to the right place. Just about every restaurant in town does lobster in one form or another, and when they say 'It was caught this morning' they're telling the truth.

Head and shoulders above the rest are Cafe Edwidge (see above), Front Street [230 Commercial Street], and Martin House [157 Commercial Street].

Cafe Edwidge does really amazing things with fresh fish, from sea bass and tuna to cod or salmon. Not to mention the truly sinful Molten Chocolate Cake and deceptively mild Strawberry Cosmos (made with house infused Skyy vodka, fresh squeezed lime juice and garnished with a nasturtium. Don't miss this place if you care at all about food.

Front Street's chef has discovered the secret to perfect Tea Smoked Duck, and isn't telling how she does it. The rest of the menu is every bit as well done, and you won't regret the expense.

Martin House is probably the closest you'll get to 'formal' dining in Provincetown. But with a menu that includes duck, venison, and rabbit, it's worth dressing up for (and 'dressing up' in this town means putting long pants on over your swimsuit...).

For plain, simple seafood, try Post Office Cafe [303 Commercial Street]. Cute waiters, a full bar, and a wide range of dishes on the menu means everyone in your party should be able to find something to please them.

For afternoon partying, the Boatslip's [161 Commercial Street] daily Tea Dance is a great place to begin. From 3:30 - 6:30 p.m. the huge waterfront deck and hundreds of gorgeous men dancing shirtless will give you plenty to look at.

You can skip 'After-Tea' at the Pied, however. The door charge is the highest in town, the drinks are overpriced, and you've already seen all the men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For evenings, you've got a couple of choices, depending on what you're looking for. You can take in a show, such as Beauty and the Beehive at The Union (see below), featuring Miss Q and Jackie Collins. Or A Pair of Queens at Stormy Harbor [277 Commercial Street] with Gingervitas and Pearlene. There's also Khris Francis at Steve's Alibi [291 Commercial Street], though he's not for the faint-of-heart or thin-of-skin. Most shows cost $10 - $15, and run 60 - 90 minutes. Those listed here are all live, no sissy lip-syncing or bad Cher impersonations.

The Atlantic House (locally referred to as the 'A-House' or 'A-Hole') [4 Masonic Place] is your best bet if your taste runs to really loud music, really packed dance floor and really strong drinks. The patio is less crowded, and wonderfully pleasant on warm nights. And the Macho Room upstairs is pretty lively for a non-dancing crowd... bartender Terry is sufficiently slutty to see to that.

The Union [9 Carver Street] at Gifford House is a cavernous space with three bars, an excellent dance floor, and theme nights throughout the week, including Bound on Sunday, Provincetown's only leather dance night, which is usually jammed.

Antro [258 Commercial Street] draws a crowd that's more interested in dancing (and illicit substances) than drinking or talking, but it's the closest you'll come to raving in Provincetown.

Despite the fact that the bars close at l:00 am, most people don't head for the dance clubs until 10:30 or even 11:00, so don't be surprised if you show up and they look deserted.

After the clubs close, the crowds all head for Spiritus Pizza [190 Commercial Street] for a slice, a cone, or a cuppa and some last minute cruising. Check out their live webcam. Somehow, even though the pizza stinks, it's still the most popular after-hours spot. Maybe that's because it's really the only after-hours spot...

Unless you count dick dock... though there aren't really any set hours for that. Just head down the beach after dark, and you'll find, well, just about anything your little "heart" desires. Do bring your safe sex supplies, and keep an eye out for the police.

For more information about the various restaurants, night spots, shopping and accommodations in and around Provincetown, check out provincetown.com, provincetown.net or visitprovincetown.com.

Getting here is pretty easy. The nearest international airport is in Boston, but from there you have a choice for the final stage of your journey. The Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway bus, which you can get from the airport, is the cheapest - $48 roundtrip - but it takes about 4 hours each way. Bay State Ferries runs a high-speed boat ($70 roundtrip, 1.5 hours, depending on the weather) and a slower one ($55 roundtrip, 3 hours, depending on the weather). Cape Air can get you here in 20 minutes, but it's $120 roundtrip, though the view alone makes it worthwhile. If you're driving yourself, try to get on the road as early in the day as possible, as Route 6, the main road traveling up the Cape, only has one lane in each direction for most of it's length, and holiday weekends especially can turn it into a 35-mile long parking lot. For more information, visit gocapecod.org.

Coming here for a vacation, whether for a day, a week, or a month, can be a wonderful experience. You'll meet friendly people, see some of the most beautiful scenery on the face of the planet (both landscape and human), and get yourself away from the cares of the world for a while. But if you, like so many others, plan to settle here for a season or a lifetime, be forewarned about the nature of the local economy.

This is a seasonal tourist town. From Memorial Day (late May) to Labour Day (mid-September) the whole town revolves around how many visitors are in, and how to get the most out of them. Most of us work more than one job, often putting in 80 - 100 hours a week. From late September into the Fall it tapers off, until just after New Year's, when it totally dies. You can walk all the way down Commercial Street and not see a single person. The cinema runs only during the summer, there's only one grocery store, and most of the bars, restaurants, and shops shut their doors for the rest of the winter. Many residents take off for warmer climes, and unless you're good at amusing yourself you can get mighty lonely. The population drops from a summer high of around 50,000 to 3,500.

Seasonal rentals (May 15 - Sept 15) can set you back anywhere from $3000 to $8000, and some of the lower end ones aren't really fit for habitation. Population density is incredibly high, as most land owners try to squeeze out every possible inch of living space. Very few jobs come with housing, and most employers won't even talk to you until you've got a place to stay. Though that is changing, as rental prices have driven out most of the college students who formerly filled the local staffing requirements.

Once you've found a job, expect to be asked to do extra; extra hours, extra duties, extra shifts. Because the cost of living is so high, most employers are desperate for help, but unless you're working around the clock, you can't afford to live here.

There are compensations, though. Being such a small town, we all know one another. There's a real feeling of community, of common cause and common problems. Private parties, beach cookouts, and shared gossip hold the townies together in a close knit web of relationships.

There's also something magical and romantic about the sea, some comforting and primal quality of the stones on the beach, a haunting stillness on certain parts of the bike trails...you can be utterly alone for a long time, then a few hours later dive into the communal frenzy of sheer maleness, all smelling of sand and salt and soap. Everybody seems cleaner and sexier because there's no need to "dress up." The houses are, for the most part, neat and well kept, with charming and lush cottage gardens, reminiscent of a period in America before front lawns became an icon of sterile suburbia.

One way or another, as a visitor or a settler, you'll never forget your time in Provincetown.

Gay friendly Accommodation:

The Carriage House Hotel Cape Cod Provincetown
Click here to visit our website With just twelve luxurious guest rooms, The Carriage House is the perfect blend of luxury space, amenities, privacy and of course, location, all amidst an 1800's house. Guests enjoy a wonderful courtyard, enclosed colonial porch, guest office with Internet access, sunny decks and outdoor hot tub. Rooms have every amenity in every room.

Address: 7 Central Street, Provincetown, Massachusetts 02657, United States
Tel: 00 1 508 487 3387/8855, Fax:

Website: Click here
Email: info@provincetownguesthouse.com

About the Author: Stuart Carroll is a full-time resident of Provincetown, where he designs websites.

 

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