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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Provincetown: Gay Mecca-by-the-Sea

It seems like I’ve been going to Provincetown, MA so long I think I saw the pilgrims checking out when I first rolled in.  Nestled on the tip of Cape Cod, this historic, artsy little colony has been a travel destination for LGBT folks for decades and decades.
Hanging out at The Boatslip
Provincetown is familiarly called P-Town.  A gay resort that at one time used to attract primarily New Yorkers, New Englanders and Canadians, it’s now a global Mecca with visitors from all corners of the world.

In many ways, P-Town is timeless.  The ice cream cones and pizza have always been tasty.  The Lobster Pot restaurant is iconic. The Boatslip tea dance remains a standing and modeling show at the bay’s edge.  The ocean is bone crunching cold.   The cabarets and street theater are as outrageous and campy as they have ever been.

But there have been noticeable differences, too.  With the expanded popularity there are, of course, the soaring prices of cramped guesthouse rooms, pricey dinner menus, and skyrocketing property values. 

And gay and lesbian couples have been able to marry here since 2004.  In July 2009 Bob and I chose to be legally married in P-Town because this was our first vacation spot together and it had grown into our favorite. 

More straight families partake in the Cape Cod ambience of P-Town now as the comfort level with gays and lesbians has increased.  Earlier on, they were a rare presence.

There isn’t as much tawdry “action” at either the dunes or the notorious cruising at the “meat rack” because the emergence of HIV/AIDS and heightened police awareness put the brakes on that. 

The numerous guest houses in P-Town can accommodate a variety of tastes and budgets (but more on the high side).  Most of these, as well as the other businesses in town, are gay- or lesbian-owned.  Although the rooms are often “cozy,” these houses offer many amenities including complimentary breakfasts, televisions, Wi-Fi, air conditioning, fireplaces, common rooms, porches, and colorful flower gardens in front. 

During the summer, if you plan on visiting on a weekend, it is highly recommended that you make reservations well in advance.  Mid-week stays may not be as tight.  Holidays such as Fourth of July, Halloween, New Year’s, Carnival and Bear Week attract the largest crowds, so reservations are a must.  

Bradford-Carver House
We have been staying at the Bradford-Carver House for years and love the hosts Jose and Bill as well as its convenient location.  Having free off-street parking available is a big plus.

You should definitely check out the Provincetown Business Guild, which lists all the events, lodging, dining, entertainment, shopping and even marriage information.  Also, visit here provincetown.com for additional information.

A stroll along Commercial Street, hand-in-hand is a delight not only to shop but to also snack, dine or enjoy people-watching.  Many visitors bring dogs, so Commercial Street can seem like a veritable dog show.  Like any tourist destination, you do have the “schlock” shops, sundries stores and tee-shirt emporiums, but there are also businesses that sell jewelry, leather goods, upscale clothing, antiques, books and fine gifts.
A number of visitors partake in bicycling at various land trails at the edges of the town or even inside P-Town center.  There are several bike rentals available.  And if you want to stay in shape further there are a couple of good gyms to work off your delicious meals. I happen to like Mussel Beach gym (musselbeach.net).

Famous Pilgrim Tower at left
P-Town is known for its beaches on the other side of the previously infamous dunes.  You can reach the beach by car, bike or on foot; it’s pretty close to the town center. There are gay and lesbian sections on the beach for further sightseeing and a neat way to make new friends.  But keep in mind, even during the summer while the sand is scalding hot, the water temperature is shiver-inducing.

Whale watching from a boat is a popular pastime during the day, and you can purchase tickets at the pier in the center of town. 

There are restaurants aplenty.  Seafood is king in P-Town, especially lobster and clams, but there are a variety of choices to go with every taste.  The restaurants are by no means cheap but the food is consistently excellent as well as the casual and often scenic atmosphere.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert—the selections are vast with few complaints.

For LGBT visitors, The Boatslip resort (boatslipresort.com), overlooking the bay, is world famous for its popular happy hour on its outside deck along with the high-energy daily tea dance.   Here you can enjoy cocktails, check out shirtless men or sexy women, gyrate to the music and build up an appetite for dinner.  Before the tea dance that usually begins at 4:00 p.m., many relax in lounge chairs near the pool and the deck and sip their favorite beverages while soaking up the sun (hopefully with sunscreen).
The 'A'-House

Nighttime brings a good choice of bars.  The Crown & Anchor complex is enjoyed by everyone.  For women, the Pied Piper is a favorite.  Men like the A-House and the Gifford House as well as other establishments.  Bars close at 1:00 a.m., and afterwards, crowds descend upon Spiritus Pizza on Commercial St. to purchase a tasty late night snack and to mill around outside for a while before bed.

And there is a wide array of cabaret and drag acts to enjoy.  You should definitely take in at least one per visit.  Celebrities from all over come to perform in P-Town. 

There is no question that Provincetown is a magical place for LGBT visitors for the spring, summer and fall.  But we love it during the summer, and that’s why we keep returning.

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