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An unexpected hot spot: ‘Southie Beach’

Once overlooked shore draws crowds, complaints

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By Billy Baker
Globe Correspondent / August 11, 2010

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On the surface, it’s a typical beach scene. Muscular young men walk the sand, their arms in the posture of someone carrying suitcases. Girls lie nonchalantly in their bikinis because they are going to be 23 only once. Here and there, people drink from red plastic cups, the world’s worst camouflage.

What’s different here is that the scene — quite possibly the hottest beach for young people north of the Cape Cod Canal — is playing out on a long-ignored stretch of sand in South Boston. And, like any change that has occurred in the post-Whitey Bulger, post-“Good Will Hunting,’’ post-condo era in the 02127 zip code, this one comes with a strong undercurrent of natives versus newcomers.

It is technically called M Street Beach, but this two-block shoreline between the Curley Recreation Center and the Boston Harbor Yacht Club has become such a mecca for beautiful young people that many are now calling it “Southie Beach,’’ an homage to Miami’s South Beach.

“The general mood is: Everyone is aspiring,’’ said Joe Saracco, a 23-year-old from Nashua, who was visiting with some buddies from University of Massachusetts Amherst on a recent crowded Saturday.

Nearby in a couple of beach chairs were Chrissy Vigneron, 27, and Carrie DeBlasi, 28, friends from Marblehead who have been coming to the beach for the last three years. They said they have watched the scene mushroom to the point where it is becoming a bit much.

“There’s definitely some Jersey Shore-esque people,’’ Vigneron, who now lives in Southie, said, throwing the fist pump that has become an icon of the MTV reality show.

It was not long ago that M Street Beach was just a rocky stretch that was largely passed over, even by locals. After the massive harbor cleanup began bringing bathers back to Southie’s beaches a decade ago, it was Pleasure Bay, where locals congregated, and Carson Beach, where visitors came from the Red Line and the Southeast Expressway, that thrived. M Street remained a no-man’s land in between, attracting just a smattering of older sunbathers and families with small children who liked catching crabs behind the yacht club.

But then in 2006 the state Department of Conservation and Recreation completed a $2 million overhaul that included a new sea wall, improved plantings and grass along Day Boulevard, and a substantial amount of new sand. With the new sand came throngs of see-and-be-seeners from outside the neighborhood who staked their flag on M Street Beach and turned it into a destination spot. It became a phenomenon that people raved about on Facebook.

In the three years since, resentment in the neighborhood has mounted. Some residents have described an unchecked party scene at the beach, where alcohol was so rampant that local liquor stores were delivering beer. Defenders pointed out that Southie natives have long enjoyed a beer at the beach. The M Street crowd was far from out of control, they said, and was being targeted simply because the people holding the drinks were not from Southie.

In May, at a community meeting hosted by state Senator Jack Hart, complaints led to increased State Police presence on the beach, and a number of big fines for public drinking. The red plastic cups, most say, have now become scarce.

“It’s basically like spring break without the booze,’’ Mike Curadossi, a 23-year-old landscape architect from Sandwich who now lives in the neighborhood, said as he lounged in the sand.

While the booze has largely disappeared, the newcomers have not. And the time-worn turf battle of natives versus “yuppies’’ — the widely used term for anyone who was not born and raised in the neighborhood — has divided even some Southie natives and led to something of a street-corner standoff between two neighborhood columnists. Peter Gailunas, a 40-year-old Boston firefighter and occasional columnist for the website “Caught in Southie,’’ stepped in to defend the newcomers. Gailunas wrote that he took his kids to the beach, saw no major problems, and blamed the entire commotion on anti-yuppie sentiments that bordered on a “residential slur.’’

“The us against them, locals against yuppies — that ship sailed 20 years ago,’’ Gailunas, a South Boston native, said in an interview.

Gailunas’s column got a scathing response from John Ciccone, another native and a longtime columnist for the South Boston Tribune, who wrote that while the yuppies — “we are not afraid to use that term here,’’ he wrote — were not the only ones to tip “the occasional frosty’’ at the beach, locals were smart enough to be discreet.

Then it got serious. Gailunas, who felt Ciccone’s barbs were aimed at him personally, wrote that he took it as “the written equivalent of ‘I offer you out’ ’’ — an old Southie term for “Want to fight?’’ “I accept,’’ Gailunas wrote at the end of one column. Ciccone replied in an e-mail sent to the “Caught in Southie’’ website that he could “certainly accommodate and will be in touch.’’

At “Southie Beach,’’ the newcomers seem largely oblivious to the controversy surrounding their presence. On a recent Saturday, a local radio station was broadcasting live from the grass. Men played horseshoes and cornhole. Women hid behind oversized sunglasses.

Ramona McFall, a 24-year-old from North Andover, said she can’t come to the beach without seeing someone she knows. “There were just these kids here from North Andover that I haven’t seen since high school.’’

And while the scene is mostly popular with the post-college crowd, there are still a few families with children and older folks who like to relax while enjoying the views of the JFK Library and boats sailing on the harbor. Or the other sights.

“I think it’s the best kept secret in Boston,’’ Bob Carney, 60, from Brighton, said before his daughter, Allyson Carney, 30, stepped in to correct him.

“He likes it because he says there’s a lot of ‘talent,’ ’’ she said.

At Grammy White’s, a concession stand at the N Street entrance that has been there for three years, owner Tom White said that recently a man made a purchase that exemplified the youthful spirit of the place.

“He was 70 years old. He got a sausage,’’ White said, “and a Red Bull.’’

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