From the courtyard of the luxury resort complex The Brass Key Guesthouse in Provincetown, Mass., I dutifully took mental notes of the inviting view that greeted me when I arrived on a Saturday in mid September: a hot tub where an army of gay pilots in town for Gay Pilots Association Weekend congregated like moths to a flame.
The iconic sight of barely clothed gays—one that is the promise of Ptown in the summer, when speedos and unicorn floats are inexhaustible—was short lived when I excitedly dipped into the hot tub on Sunday. Those gays were gone. Ptown was becoming, believe it or not, less gay. (Mind you, “less gay” in Ptown is still relatively very gay).
“Gay men: they follow the sun and they all wanna be where the action is,” says Thomas Walter, the Brass Key co-owner who hosted their biggest pool party yet this past summer for the 40th anniversary of the Cape’s biggest bash, Carnival, held in August.
Talk about action. For the summer bash, he flew in a porn star who did a meet-and-greet on the resort property. A line looped around the block, because of course it did. But when the party stops in Ptown, so does much of what queers come to Ptown for: fun (and flirting and porn stars) in the sun. When I walked Commercial Street on a Monday night in September, it was cool and quiet. I met a gay couple who comes to Ptown at the end of summer for those very reasons.
In fall and winter, the “shoulder season,” employers brace themselves for a tourism lull, causing many employees to leave the coastal resort town to find work elsewhere, returning again when it’s not freeze-your-tits-off weather. Businesses close until the following spring (in September, some already shut down, including food-and-drink hotspot Monkey Bar)—or they get savvy.
Walter’s other property, Crowne Pointe, transforms into a quiet, sit-by-a-fireplace, read-a-book escape and stays open year-round. On-site is a warm and inviting restaurant, called The Pointe, and one of only two Kiehl’s spas in the United States (ask for Peter Sapinski, a masseur; he has God’s hands). “Crowne Pointe becomes the destination, not necessarily Provincetown as much,” Walter says. From November through May, “Cape Escape” weekend-getaway packages offer two-night accommodations, dinner for two and two spa treatments at discounted rates.
The fall chill certainly doesn’t keep the LGBTQ community away for Halloween weekend, beginning October 26, in Ptown; the festivities have grown considerably in the last few years, says Walter. The Saturday before Halloween, when a giant parade literally stops Commercial Street traffic, is now “one of the busiest nights” at his cozy bar, The Shipwreck Lounge, which is attached to the Brass Key. “Any excuse to put on an outfit,” he laughs.
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Adam Singer, the owner of Adam’s Nest on Commercial Street, a socially conscious and charitable T-shirts-and-more queer store, does off-season business through his online shop (adamsnest.com) after closing post-Halloween. Last winter on the site, he launched the AIDS Memorial T-shirt, created by artist Zach Grear, and sold shirts to buyers in over 18 countries (their efforts raised over $5,000 for Housing Works, a New York City-based non-profit fighting AIDS and homelessness).
If you’re strapped for cash but could use a pampered winter wonderland getaway, you might consider a more-affordable-than-summer shoulder season trip to Ptown, says Walter. Plus, “there’s also something to be said for seeing a beach with snow – it’s really beautiful,” which is why he says Ptown stills attracts many LGBTQ people, especially New Englanders who venture over for dinner parties and holiday gatherings.
“Way back in the day, Memorial Day to Labor Day was it. The day after Labor Day, the stores were boarded up, and there was nothing to do,” Walter says. “It’s not like that anymore.”