At the tail end of Cape Cod lies a land of art, nature and openness.
Provincetown, Mass., is not just a place to party away the warmer days of summer. Visitors have found this historically gay-friendly destination a place to literally chill out during the off-season. Although some shops and clubs close up, a hearty number remain open for the winter and cater to a slightly more subdued traveler looking for undisturbed tranquility.
“The first thing you experience is just the incredible silence,” said Provincetown sculptor Didier Corallo. “And the fact that you can go out to the beaches here and just see a clear horizon line — a clear line of flat water and this beautiful dome of sky.”
Corallo works at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (www.paam.org) at 460 Commercial St., where, if the mood strikes, you can engage your artistic spirit. Take one of the walk-in life-drawing classes for $8 (no registration required) and you can make your attempt at adding to Provincetown’s storied lineage of artists.
The solace of Provincetown, or P-Town as it is affectionately known, can be a respite for city lovebirds looking for a quiet escape.
“It’s really cool if you’ve never walked around a seaside village in the wintertime,” said local retailer Dennis Lemenager. “There’s something very romantic and peaceful about it.”
For admirers of Philadelphia’s easy walkability, Provincetown provides an opportunity to leave the gas cap on. “For walkers, this is a fun and amazing place,” said Corallo. So although Provincetown is just shy of 400 miles from Philadelphia, “you don’t need a car to get from one part of the town to another.”
Shawn Nightingale, owner of the Vixen Nightclub at the Pilgrim House Hotel (www.ptownvixen.com), 336 Commercial St., said that Provincetown in the winter is “cold and cozy.” It’s a place where relationship-oriented couples can come to relax, rent movies or play cards. “It’s not the party craziness ... it’s more of the relaxed beauty that P-Town has.” On Sunday nights, Vixen presents “Stitch & Bitch,” a hosted evening of crocheting, knitting and crafting with plenty of opportunity to kvetch about world events or make a new friend.
Nightingale noted two highlights of the region’s natural allure: dunes covered in pure white snow and spectacular sunsets. So don’t forget to save some room on your camera’s memory card. When the air is clear, the evening skies are purple and shocking pink all winter long, he said.
In addition to performing whale rescues and looking out for the welfare of seals, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies offers nature walks along the coast.
Said center biologist Lisa Sette, “What’s really amazing about the winter months is that it finally slows down. You’re typically alone or with very few people; you can be on this pristine beach with not another person in sight — it’s so unique to experience.
“It’s one of those places where you get those gifts of natural history that’s pretty incredible. People have to be willing to walk and look,” Sette added. “But you always get rewarded with something ... If you’re patient, you can see whales right from the beaches.” More information about the field walks can be found at www.coastalstudies.org.
And when it’s time to eat, a nice place to head for a relaxed evening and a view of the harbor is The Mews Restaurant & Café (www.mews.com) at 429 Commercial St. It’s open year-round for dinner. For those who crave variety — especially in their spirits — general manager Ron Robin said the Mews has the largest selection of vodkas on the East Coast (256 different kinds). It’s an assortment “which opens the door to many creative martinis,” he added.
The Mews is also celebrating almost 20 years of presenting “Coffeehouse at The Mews,” which Robin described as an “open mic for all kinds of performers, writers, playwrights, poets and comedians.” Performances usually carry a humorous twist. Robin noted that one year Bruce Vilanch showed up to participate in their send-up of “Hollywood Squares.” The fun starts Mondays at 8 p.m.
Robin said that as Provincetown’s population shrinks from a summertime high of around 60,000 to perhaps 3,500 in winter, the good times are just beginning for the permanent residents — and they welcome visitors to join in. One annual rite is the celebration surrounding the Academy Awards broadcast. “Of course it is shown on two large-screen TVs and we put the red carpet outside, some of us are in tuxedos and we feature a contest,” Robin says. Restaurant gift cards are given as prizes.
And for the bargain-hunters out there, don’t leave your credit card at home, as Provincetown is a destination for post-holiday sales. Lemenager, owner of Utilities (www.utilitieshome.com), a homewares store at 393 Commercial St., said, “We do have different kinds of sales all winter long. Usually on almost everything.” Utilities is open year-round, but only on weekends in January and February. “We do a lot of same-sex registries for people coming to Massachusetts to get married,” Lemenager said.
To help transfer the landscape’s restful contours a bit inward, consider a visit to what owner Dougie Freeman described as Cape Cod’s first spa and the first salon to book appointments until midnight. Located in a 150-year-old captain’s house with a private beach, West End Salon & Spa (www.westendsalon.com) at 155 Commercial St. is a place where clients can “look forward to the latest haircutting and big-city treatments at small-town prices.” Freeman said the spa has served everyone from Lily Tomlin to Margaret Cho to Olympia Dukakis (who wanted pizza and a fine red wine). Even Anderson Cooper stopped by for a pedicure.
“We have a large staff of people who can make your event a happening thing,” said Freeman, referencing the secluded villa that can be rented by a group of up to six for anything from a get-healthy weekend to private catered dinner parties. “We are here to live life and have fun.”
Freeman also offers concierge services for practically all of Provincetown’s offerings. “If you wanted a baked stuffed lobster, dry cleaning, a tour to Boston or a wedding cake, we can do that for you,” he said. In winter, the salon is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays and all of March.
For all of P-Town’s solitude and serenity, perhaps it’s worth checking out at least one of the more raucous nightlife diversions. The biggest of them all is the Atlantic House (www.ahouse.com), also known as “A-House.” Regarded as Provincetown’s top dance club, this disco also has two additional bars: P-Town’s oldest bar, The Little Bar, and the leather-oriented Macho Bar upstairs. All three are located inside an old inn at 6 Masonic Place.
Provincetown in winter may not be a tourist’s first thought, but at least one resident is hooked: “This is where I plan on dying. This place is magnificent,” said nightclub owner Nightingale. “It definitely owns my heart.”