With the release of Tom Bianchi’s new photobook paying tribute to the beautiful male specimens of a lost era and the Pavilion making a comeback as highly anticipated among the gays as Cher‘s new face and/or album, interest in Fire Island Pines has been, shall we say, reignited. With that, as well as a day at the beach, in mind, Queerty sent assistant editor Lester Brathwaite (this gay) to the Pines to see what all the hubub was about.
I’ve actually never been to Fire Island and like any virgin anticipating the first time, I was nervous, anxious, excited and wishing I was a little drunker. The extent of my knowledge of Fire Island comes from the seminal gay novel, Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran. It paints a romantic but ultimately heartbreaking (like every gay novel from the 70s or ever) portrait similar to Bianchi’s book of Polaroids. And of course I had heard of and seen pictures of the pumped and primped Chelsea gays tonguing each other like cats in heat, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
On a Saturday morning I rolled out of Brooklyn and met my gal-pal Leon at Penn Station to begin our mini-odyssey to the gay mecca.
Photo: Tom Bianchi
Click through to read Lester’s Fire Island Pines Diary…
My gaggle of gays usually go to Provincetown, the other gay mecca up in Cape Cod, so Leon and I were no strangers to trekking to the absolute ends of the earth where we as a people seem to find the most comfort. Getting to Fire Island, in comparison, was pretty easy — and nearly as shirtless as depicted in the video above. And if you get lost, simply follow the well-formed calves of your fellow ‘mos making their way to the Pines:
The entire trip will set you back about 50 or 60 bucks, but both the LIRR and the ferry have multi-trip options if you want to make this a regular thing.
Despite withstanding some damage from Superstorm Sandy, Fire Island remains a serene and picturesque beach town. Everything’s charmingly connected by boardwalk and the beach itself is a slice of heaven. Put an Instagram filter on that and suddenly it’s 1978 and you can’t toss a seashell without hitting a handlebar mustache:
I’m not even a big beach person, but I still managed to enjoy myself. I’m black so I don’t feel the need to tan usually. I can’t swim– fulfilling at least one stereotype — and I’m also not about playing beachy sports — thus fulfilling another — so that leaves “relaxing.” And that just makes me uncomfortable. But the beauty of nature, and the beauty of some dudes in speedos, can do wonders to relax the mind.
Leon and I were also lucky to sit next to a sleuth of bears, the few ones we observed in the wilderness of the Pines. When they spotted another ursine pair coming down the shore, the leader — a mighty silverback — let out a mating call, in a thick Long Island accent: “Hey you beahz, get ovah heeah!”
It was like a touching episode of National Homographic.
Other than that, it was very peaceful, which as a New Yorker is a foreign and potentially dangerous concept. I was surprised at just how peaceful it was, but we went the first weekend of June. Shit gets a bit more cray on the “party weekends” — Invasion/4th of July, the Pines Party (July 26-28) and Ascension (August 16-18). Prices also go up so depending on what you’re in the mood for and what you can spend, plan accordingly.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
When I grow up, I want to be a professional beach-homeowner. After staying in one, I’m sold. I mean, tastefully decorating a home I don’t really live in very often and renting it out to a bunch of queens for the summer? Yes please.
Until then, there’s always the less glamorous role of a beach-homerenter. Or sharer. If you have a group of friends, you can split the cost and live like the one percent. Or at least the 3.5 percent of the 1 percent. Sharing is caring, kids and there are three different kinds of shares you can choose from:
Full share – you and your group of friends have “shared” in renting a house for the summer
Half share – you’ve rented it every other weekend
Quarter share – you get about 4 – 5 weekends, or one per month. (I was told Jon Wilner of Pines Harbor Realty has been the go-to share guru for the Pines for over 20 years.)
If you’re scared of commitment, there’s The Botel, where the average room will run you $99 on weekdays and $2-300 on weekends, depending on whether or not it’s a party weekend.
This summer the Pines will launch Pinesbooker, which is basically like an AirBNB or a less skeezy Craigslist for Fire Island. When people need to sell a room or a part of their share, they list it on Pinesbooker and people can rent rooms/spaces for single weekends on the fly.
Gays as far as the eye can see at Low Tea
I was really impressed by how dedicated to drinking the culture of the Pines is, something near and dear to my liver. Let’s see, there’s unlimited boozy brunch from 11:30 to 4 pm, then there’s Low Tea at the Blue Whale from 5 pm to 8 pm, Mid Tea from 8 pm to 10 pm and High Tea until you can’t stand anymore. Once the Pavilion opens, it will take back the night as the island’s primary club with the slightly smaller but perfectly named Sip n Twirl next door.
In between all that drinking and dancing, the Pines also offers drag, burlesque and vaudeville shows, as well as comedians and the popular Broadway Talks series, which in 2011 played host to Larry Kramer discussing that other seminal gay novel from 1978,
Nocturnes for the King of Naples Faggots.
A delightful mix of drag, vaudeville and comedy were the ladies of the Haus of Mimosa, giving us Long Island house wife realness — and singing live, hunties — by the pool as we ate lunch. If there’s anything I love with a meal, it’s a side of shtick.
‘What gay mecca would be complete without a gym?’ I ask in complete seriousness. The Pavilion usually houses the weights, but when we went there was an outdoor set-up happening, full of dudes working out without shoes, shirts, sometimes pants. There’s no real dress code, when I think about it.
When Leon and I went to the general store, Pines Pantry, on the hunt for some toothpaste, the policy was apparently “no shirt, no shoes, no effing problem.” Meanwhile, after a futile three minutes of searching, Leon exclaimed in the middle of the pantry, “An aisle full of lube in every flavor, but I can’t find a goddamn tube of toothpaste?!” Of course, it was around the corner, but it reminded me of this, nonetheless:
After a delicious dinner at the Blue Whale, we returned to our share, fondly named Cher, promising ourselves that we’d make it out for an evening of dancing because, dammit, we’re not 30 yet and we’re still in the thick of our partying days. I settled down for a nap and woke up the next morning to this instead:
And I kind of got a glimpse of what Tom Bianchi was photographing and what Andrew Holleran was writing about a decade before I was even born:
It was very hot that summer by the end of June and even queens who cared nothing about dancing had taken their tambourines to Fire Island. The city was deserted and Sutherland found a house in the Pines taken by an Italian princess whose husband had once been his lover. Even when he was on welfare his first summer in New York, he managed–like so many others in the same straits–to make the annual migration to Fire Island; it hardly mattered how you got there, who you were, or where you came from.
Sadly, I had left my tambourine back in Brooklyn.
Lester Brathwaite, I love your writing!
kind of strange seeing that Quebec flag in the last picture.
Hey Lester, as a BGM, how would you describe the level of racial diversity in Fire Island?
@Joetx: Not gonna lie to ya, it’s not super diverse, but there was a nice (and surprising) mix of people over all.
Thank you for a wonderful guide. I am a 64 years young African-American male whose first visit to Fire Island was last Summer, at the invitation of a friend who, has a house there. The experience for me was exciting, anxious, and terrifying knowing I didn’t fit the stereotype of the average island goer.
There is not much diversity there and I would not be able to hide there. I am an artist and the island is a tremendous source of inspiration along with peace and quiet. The fun starts on the ferry from Sayville.
It’s certainly worth the trip, go, play, relax and enjoy.
Have a great Summer!!!
@Lester Brathwaite: Thanks, Lester, as well as bobbyo2, for the input re: racial diversity (or rather, the lack thereof) in Fire Island. Although I was expecting that, it’s disappointing nevertheless.
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