Located on the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is what an every town USA might look like if the locals had fabulous design sense, extensive Broadway training, and a bevy of accomplished celebrity residents with arms brimming with Tony Awards, Pulitzer Prizes and even Oscars.
It’s just that little bit – different. And that difference makes all the difference.
Every day you’ll see a world famous writer, journalist, playwright, actor or director mix it up with muscle boys, bears and scores of cabaret performers and accomplished musicians on quaint little streets of the town cradled by the sparkling Atlantic.
It’s because P-Town, as the locals call it, has been a beacon for artists and free spirits – and an open minded haven for the nation’s gay community – for at least a century.
On Commercial Street, the main street in town, it’s common to see drag queens sashay past as though it's Paris in the 1890s and not 21-century Massachusetts. That flair for drama would be courtesy of the LGBT contingent, whose contribution to the eye-popping, freewheeling do your own thing atmosphere is what makes it such an electric holiday vacation.
But if you prefer a slower pace P-Town has you covered too. There are art galleries and fine dining all over town, so you plan a leisurely day and unwind at your ease.
First of all there’s the question of how to get there. For the sheer drama of the arrival nothing really beats the fast ferry courtesy of Boston Harbor Cruises. It’s a direct trip from port to port and it’s an enjoyable jaunt in itself (you may catch sight of passing whales along the way).
Residents and longtime visitors will insist the fast ferry is the best way to get there and as you watch the town's famous Pilgrim Monument (built between 1907 and 1910 to commemorate the arrival of the Mayflower) come into view on your arrival you’ll take their point.
It’s delightful to think of what the arriving Puritans would have made of all the shenanigans that transpire in an average day in P-Town now. They may have inspired an impressive monument, but they didn’t leave much of a lasting legacy here.
But where to stay when you get here? First time visitors can be overwhelmed by the options. So let me direct first time Irish visitors to the wonderfully welcoming inn run by Patrick Flaherty (originally of Southie!) and his partner John Jay Wooldridge. Proprietor of the gorgeous Inn at Cook Street, it’s the perfect place to stay in Provincetown.
Located close to the center of town but far enough away to be a perfect retreat, the Inn at Cook Street is an ideal blend of home comfort and upscale elegance and is spotlessly maintained around the clock. John and Patrick are also very knowledgeable about the local scene and will help guide first time visitors with regard to what to see and do.
As is traditional among some of the more popular guesthouses in P-Town, barbecues are often held at the Inn at Cook Street to allow guests get to know each other. This being Provincetown, you can expect to meet lively and accomplished people. It’s no wonder that friendships often bloom here and that guests vow to return again after their first delightful stay. (I raise my own hand here as a recent convert, because in my opinion as a frequent visitor you’ll never need another guesthouse address.)
P-Town, like most towns on the east coast, has a storied Irish history of its own, chiefly to be found in the kind of artistic figures who made their homes here over the decades. Master playwright Eugene O'Neill arrived as a 27-year-old untested dramatist to stage his debut play, “Bound East For Cardiff,” and found that the dense fog that helpfully rolled in on opening night was an ideal accompaniment to his old sea dog's play.
Theater is still a huge part of P-Town’s charm. After all, Broadway is run by the gays so can you be surprised when they bring a show or two with them on holiday?
On our recent visit we caught drag queen Varla Jean Merman and Ryan Landry starring in "The Golden Gals," their end-of-the-pier style salute to the classic 80’s comedy now playing at the Art House, located at 214 Commercial Street.
Running through August 30, the show is a side-slapping spoof crafted to delight devotees of the four elderly ladies and their Florida misadventures. Merman is particularly good as Blanche, the oversexed southern belle, as is cast mate Brooklyn Shaffer as the wisecracking Sophia.
Between acts the show features real commercial breaks from the 1980’s that flog ridiculous and long forgotten products, so there’s no part of this well crafted production that fails to hit its mark. This show and these performers know you’re on holiday and they want to give you a night to remember, which they do, sending audiences out beaming. Don’t miss it.
First time visitors should make pilgrimage to the excellent Connie's Bakery, located at 205 Commercial Street (in the Aquarium Mall). Their choices include made-to-order egg sandwiches, fresh muffins, amazing cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, bagels, croissants, and a full line of coffees and specialty teas.
But for us the standouts included their handmade breakfast sandwiches and pulled pork pies (I want to rebook my vacation just to experience another one, they're that good) which, served with a fresh green salad, can set you up for the entire day. Do not miss this place. It's one of the keys to the real P-Town.
The Irish make their presence felt here in the bars, restaurants and shops that roll out the welcome mat to tourists. You'll find them behind the ice cream parlors, coffee houses, fudge shops and fried clam stands the entire length of the town.
The Squealing Pig is one welcoming Irish bar that's a good mix of locals and blow-ins. With its low key charm and friendly staff, it provides first time visitors with an ideal way to get to grips with the P Town scene (and also an ideal way to get away from it, since this bar is a bit of a sanctuary). It's one of the best places in town to have lunch too.
If you want to get a piercing (as so many people do these days) I recommend Piercings by the Bearded Lady, located at 336 Commercial Street, Unit 4. Staffed by the delightfully straight talking Amiee Ross, whose beard and butch demeanor fail to conceal the heart of a lion. Her store is one of the beating hearts of P-Town and makes for an unforgettable visit.
Everyone who goes to P-Town goes in search of their own private experience. For some it’s all about the nightlife. For others it’s all about sea air, the fine dining, the theater, and most of all it's about the endless miles of scenic bicycle trails that are among the most breathtaking in the nation.
P-Town is fun, just about any kind of crazy fun, but it's natural beauty provides a restorative experience that only truly memorable vacation destinations can provide. This is a place to quietly renew your spirit on the beach, in the water, on the endless bike trails or out dancing.
A morning bike run to the beach or through the pine scented trails will cure what ails you for the rest of the year, I promise. And if you haven't brought your own bike you can easily rent one at an affordable price at Arnolds, located at 329 Commercial Street. Ideally located to pick up and drop off, they’ll be your 'go to' source for wheels for your whole visit (tell them IrishCentral sent you).
So why should you go? Because in Provincetown every side street leads to the sparkling water or it takes you toward fragrant gardens boasting old world Cape Cod architecture. Flowers, climbing vines, fragrant herb gardens, unspoiled beaches that stretch for miles, they're on every corner here and they add immeasurably to the charm of the place.
There are few seaside towns anywhere who make more room for diversity and good humored tolerance. P Town won’t just revive your spirit it will renew your faith in life. Where else can you get that?