Andrew Kirtzman, journalist and author of Betrayal: The Life and Lies of Bernie Madoff and Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City, served as a political reporter and anchor for six year at WCBS-TV in New York City until 2008.
He hosted the popular Sunday morning political show Kirtzman & Co and won an Emmy award for his weekly on-air column, “Kirtzman’s Column”. In 2005, he married Kyle Froman, a former New York City Ballet dancer and dance/fashion photographer. In addition to his current work as a political and media strategist, he is the sole owner of The Madison Fire Island Pines and joined Matt Blesso and Seth Weissman in purchasing three quarters of the commercial district of the Fire Island Pines. We sat down with him for some insight into the Pines, gay New York’s favorite vacation destination, and what’s new this season.
When did you start going to Fire Island?
I’ve literally spent every summer of my life in Fire Island. My family has a house in Ocean Beach and I would get to the island on Memorial Day and stay there until I had to go back to school in September. Those were some of the happiest memories of my childhood.
When I was a teenager I started a newspaper called the Fire Island Villager and that began my journalistic career. As part of that I started traveling around the island and at that age I suddenly discovered The Pines. Something clicked about who I was and where my future would be.
There was literally one night where it all kind of happened. I took a water taxi with some friends to the Pavilion where I had never been before. Walking out on that dance floor was a revelation: it literally changed my life. It was glamorous, decadent, and the music was incredible. I knew at that moment I had discovered a new world and I wanted to be a part of it. A couple of decades later I own it. It’s an enormous point of pride for me.
When I was covering politics and hosting Kirtzman & Co for WCBS TV, I decided to simultaneously open up a guest house in The Pines. My husband and I have our own house there and it dawned upon me that unless you rented a house there was no weekend/week-long place that truly reflected the vibe of The Pines, which is pure glamour.
It was a niche that hadn’t been filled so I bought a property and built a guest house to reflect the environment. It has soaring glass walls, a vast pool deck, central air, high speed internet; all the trappings of a chic guest house. I also staffed it with professionals, including an extraordinary general manager, Luke Escamilla. There’s no place like it on all of Fire Island. That was the Madison, which by the way, I named after my dog Madison.
The Madison became a huge success and I got bitten by the bug. I had a feeling the commercial district might be for sale so I was introduced to Seth Weissman, an investment banker and Matt Blesso, a real estate developer. The three of us raised the money to buy 80% of the commercial district which includes two restaurants, the Pavilion Nightclub, the botel, a pool deck, and a retail strip with a gym and some other stores. That was about five years ago.
The fire of 2011 destroyed a great deal of the commercial property in the Pines. How were you guys able to rebuild so quickly?
It was a traumatic experience for not only my business partners but also the entire community and it was critical for us to rebuild. That being said, times of crisis can bring out the best in people.
The Pines is really a unique place because it symbolizes a special place in the hearts of a lot of gay New Yorkers and really gay people around the world. Some of the most talented people started coming out of the woodwork offering to help us rebuild.
Charles Renfro, the architect who designed the High Line and the new Lincoln Center expansion offered to create a master plan for us. Matthias Hollwich of HWKN (Hollwich Kushner) came to us with an offer to rebuild the Pavilion. We probably couldn’t have afforded people of that calibre were it not the Pavilion. Matthias designed a structure that is by far the most beautiful Pavilion to sit on that spot. It’s strikingly beautiful, welcoming visitors when they come out on the ferry, and the community really seems to love it.
I feel like there’s really no bad time to go to The Pines. What is your time to go?
When Kyle and I bought our house one of the qualities we looked for is for it to be winterized. We go out to The Pines all through the winter: in those winter months it’s a tiny community but absolutely sensationally beautiful. I love my winter weekends out there as much as my summer weekends. There’s something extraordinary and peaceful about walking on the beach in the snow. I always get excited to land on the ferry dock on the Pines as much today as when I was a kid. It’s a transformative moment when you get off that ferry and walk into the Pines; you feel like you’re really walking into an entirely different planet.
The busy summer weekends are always fun but wouldn’t you say there are plenty of advantages to heading to Fire Island during the week?
The Pines has a distinct rhythm: it starts off very zen and peaceful on Monday and builds slowly towards the weekend. On Thursday night people who work in the city start arriving in large waves and by Friday night you can feel the change in the air, everything feels electric. If you’re there for a week you get to experience both vibes: the laid back island vibe at the beginning of the week and then the electrified environment as you get closer to the weekend.
How should you plan for a Fire Island weekend?
There are only a small handful of places to stay if you’re not renting a house for a week. The botel skews younger and the Madison Fire Island Pines is more upscale. It depends on who you are and what you’re looking for out of the week. If you’re young and looking for a wild time there’s a way to do that but if you’re coming out to enjoy a spectacular beach and to lounge around the pool there’s definitely a way to do that.
What’s new this summer?
The amazing thing about The Pines is how little it has changed. It’s always been a great mix of a fabulous international travel destination with a small town. It’s astonishingly beautiful and over the top social. It’s always been and always will be. This summer we are opening a new bar venue inside the Pavilion building called the Harbor Club. It has a different personality than any other club or bar on the island. It’s a comfortable lounge with an eclectic record collection, constructed out of reclaimed wood with a distinct living room lounge feel. There will be high end liquors and during the week there will be be movie nights and other more intimate events.
We’re putting a bigger emphasis on entertainment this summer. We’re going to have a Pavilion performance series with well known singers, comedians, and performers from all over the country. Then there’s club at the Pavilion itself, which we consider to be the cathedral of house music. The sound is particular to the Pines, it always has been. We look at it as a place where the sound reflects the beach atmosphere and we’re starting to become focused on that brand even more. People will notice a more curated sound this summer.
The botel is where you can go to have a fun, wild weekend. It’s a frat house for young, cute guys. This year we’ve made it even more affordable for people in their twenties and thirties by creating a section called “botel barracks” which is set up like a youth hostel. It’s designed to make the island even more affordable for younger gay people.
What is the best way to get to The Pines?
There’s a misconception among people who haven’t been to The Pines but it’s really easy to get there. Most people take the Long Island Railroad followed by a short ferry ride. If you want to go in higher style the Madison will hire a town car or a limousine to pick you up.
Photography courtesy of The Madison Fire Island Pines