Saturday, July 20, 2013

Postcard from Cherry Grove

Arriving in Cherry Grove

This year we went out to Fire Island and stayed in Cherry Grove instead of the Pines because we were only coming for a few days and accommodations were somewhat less expensive there. Both communities have reputations as being gay, very gay. Historically, the Pines appealed to men and Cherry Grove to women. But while the Pines seems to still be largely a bastion of affluent gay men, Cherry Grove doesn’t fit a stereotype. It is much more democratic. As one of our friends from the Pines says, “honky-tonk.” Both communities were damaged by Hurricane Sandy, but somehow Cherry Grove, with its slapdash bohemian air, was already on the edge of disrepair. You feel like many of the wood structures are just one good wind away from blowing over. The Pines, on the other hand, with its manicured modernist homes, shows every scratch. The boardwalks in Cherry Grove are warped and uneven, and nobody seems to care. In the Pines, you know they are using a level.

Downtown Cherry Grove

An abandoned cabin in Cherry Grove

Honky Tonk retail
Our ramshackle guesthouse

Between the two communities lies a patch of national park commonly called the “Meat Rack.” The hostess at our guesthouse (hotel would be too generous) told us a story of two of her guests, a straight couple, wandering in there at night not knowing its reputation and the husband being chased by a man. “Who would chase after my husband?” the pregnant wife said. Which reminds you that there is somebody for everybody. The couple scared off their mistaken predator with the bright flashlight attached to the room key. We got lost in this stretch of nature during the daytime and got a nasty reprimand from a park policewoman for being in the wrong area. She was, like most police I’ve encountered, very mean. She certainly didn’t make us feel welcome, nor was she eager to help us find our way. I think she exists to intimidate gay folk, or like the NSA, all folk. It was like a return to the bad old days when the police would raid the Meat Rack. But as I told our friends over lunch, “Leave it to me to nearly get arrested for not having sex.” Paul didn’t find the humor in this, but he did use his British accent and innocent blue eyes to get us out of the jam. Like so many people in front of the police (especially marginalized folks), we just kept saying “I’m sorry.”

The (in)famous Belvedere Guest House
Houses inspired by the Belvedere's questionable architecture

Besides a few famous cruising spots, the Pines has a concentrated entertainment district around the harbor. Noted New York architecture firm HWKN has built a new Pines Pavilion to replace one that burned to the ground. Although not quite finished, it opened for business earlier this summer. The form and material seem to take some inspiration from Horace Gifford’s work, but updated in terms of structure and size. While Gifford’s work was drawn from Kahn, this is a modernist interpretation of Venturi’s “duck.” There is really one elevation that matters.

The view from the deck in Cherry Grove
View towards The Pines from Cherry Grove
Tasteful private pool in The Pines
New Pines Pavilion

In the Pines, people go to the beach, go to “tea,” and entertain at home. In Cherry Grove, it feels more like Carnaval at the Seashore. The houses and accommodations are generally much smaller and denser. Since folks in the Pines eat in more, the best restaurant we found was in Cherry Grove. But of course, the market in the Pines is far superior. Politically, I am more drawn to Cherry Grove, with its eclectic mix of incomes, gender preferences, short-short gold lamé shorts, tall-tall blonde wigs, and excessive tattoos. Aesthetically, I am drawn to the clean modern lines and private pools of the Pines. Different locale. Same old conflicts.

View from the dock at Cherry Grove