Two escapes, one destination
Hot tubs, high culture, and tea dances vs. biking, the beach, and beers: With $400 to spend, which writer got the better Provincetown deal?
Drag queens chattering, waves pounding, the thud of synthesized dance music — all these are sounds you want to hear when you journey to the end of the Cape. What you don’t want to hear after driving two-plus hours to Provincetown is the sharp clap of thunder, followed by sheets of rain pounding on windows. Unfortunately, this is what I got.
This is the risk of visiting a New England beach town any time before July. But the advantage to off-season travel in New England is that there are bargains galore. My $400 budget would barely be enough to pay for a room during Provincetown’s summer season, but in mid-May, just $90 (plus tax) scored me a deluxe room at the Admiral’s Landing, complete with cathedral ceilings and a gas fireplace. As it turns out, the fireplace was a necessity for drying rain-soaked pants and socks.
Lighting candles in front of my Cher shrine and praying to the weather gods ahead of time did little to help the situation. Shortly after arriving on a Saturday morning with my travel partner-in-crime, Patrick, the skies opened. We were walking toward Commercial Street when the thunder started rumbling and lightning streaked a violent gray sky. The clouds began unleashing the kind of rain that makes umbrellas a cruel joke. With soaked feet, ankles, and other parts, we ran into Utilities, the amazing kitchen store on Commercial Street. This was the game we played for the rest of the morning. The rain stopped, we attempted to run to the next store. The rain would start while we were outside, and we would again be trapped and soggy.
After changing into my new boots and socks in the store and feeling more content, we waited out the rain at Cafe Heaven, where I devoured a plate of dreamy French toast and listened to the locals gossip. Despite the miserable morning, I was enjoying the lackadaisical pace of a rainy day. Because the town was not over crowded, we were not competing for restaurant tables or bumping elbows with fellow out-of-towners while shopping. The weather had scared off even casual weekend visitors.
Our afternoon of leisure led us to Yesterday’s Treasures, an eclectic antiques store on Commercial Street that sells a tempting variety of old Life magazines, postcards, glassware, and other things that I wanted, badly, but felt guilty about purchasing after my Marc Jacobs indulgences. Patrick, however, was not as disciplined and bought a pair of old Life magazines, along with a gentlemen’s “fitness’’ magazine from 1963 called Young Adonis. Only in Provincetown.
It would have been easy to spend the afternoon shopping and eating, but we took advantage of the quiet afternoon to try new things, like a visit to the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. For all the times I have visited Provincetown, I never ventured into the museum and was pleasantly surprised at the range of works. I also knew this is the kind of place that my colleague Courtney Hollands would never visit, because perky blondes aren’t much on high culture. They’re more into chunky necklaces, whale watching, and (yawn) 27 varieties of beer on tap.
Across the street, we walked into Angel Foods, the kind of specialty grocer where you can easily spend an afternoon (and a lot of money) roaming the aisles. But when the owner noticed Patrick taking out his camera, she yelled across the store: “Hey! You! What are you doing with that!’’
After assuring her that we were not engaged in corporate espionage (and escaping the wrath of her wooden spoon), we made our purchases and scurried out. Just as I had broken in my rain boots, the sun tentatively emerged. I thought about trying to return them, but my plan would have been as transparent as the trampy swimsuits we spotted on store racks around town. We decided to take advantage of the improved weather by taking part in a local institution called a tea dance. For the uninitiated, the closest thing to tea consumed at these functions is Long Island Iced Tea. This is an outdoor, afternoon dance that gives patrons a chance to get liquored up before dinner.
After a few adult beverages at the Boatslip, I noticed a ravishing beauty across the bar in a red beehive sporting a conspicuous Adam’s apple. As I complimented her on her 12 layers of lipstick, she mentioned that she works as an au pair in my neighborhood. I had never noticed her, probably because her drag ensemble is restricted to the Cape.
Worried that we were burning through our money too quickly, we opted for a quick, casual dinner at George’s Pizza. It was also one of the few post 9 p.m. dinner options available. Most restaurants were dark by 9:30. As we strolled Commercial Street afterward, we heard what sounded like a roomful of howling cats attempting to sing show tunes. Inside the piano bar at the Crown & Anchor, torch singer Bobby Weatherbee was leading a group of older women through a medley of Judy Garland tunes. I had never seen anything like it. A group of moms, celebrating Mother’s Day eve the way they wanted — meaning without their children — were hammered and dancing around the room. They were taking off their shoes and having a grand time. I scanned the room for cameras, thinking this might be a shoot for a Boniva commercial.
The bartender poured me the strongest lemon drop martini I had ever tasted, which made the whole scene a bit more humorous and left me itching to do a bit of performing myself. From the Crown & Anchor, we staggered over to the Governor Bradford Inn, where drag karaoke was in full swing. With the liquid confidence of the martini still warm in my throat, I signed up to sing a 1960s chestnut called “Midnight Confessions’’ by the Grass Roots. I smugly realized that this is the kind of place Courtney would never step foot in as I belted out — well, OK, massacred — the song. Patrick charitably compared my performance to Milli Vanilli, telling me my stage presence was strong, but my singing left a little something to be desired.
The next day, the sun was sparkling off the water and the sky was perfect and blue. The only problem was that temperatures were in the 40s and the wind was gusting well over 30 miles per hour. Not exactly the kind of beach day I had secretly hoped for. The wind also meant my plan of whale watching was scuttled, and we were stuck on land. But there were advantages. At brunch at the Mews Restaurant and Cafe, we were quickly shown to a table. And I didn’t even break a sweat walking to the top of the Pilgrim Monument — even though I was wearing my winter coat.
There’s another advantage to being in Provincetown in the off-season: When I bought and promptly devoured a giant peanut butter cup, I did it confident that I would be wearing a winter coat the rest of the day, not a bathing suit. As an added bonus, the less-than-stellar weather meant that I spared a full house from hearing my wretched attempt at karaoke.
Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com.