Fire Island New York is a summertime jewel, where LGBT-friendly partygoers celebrate life in the middle of paradise.
The only ‘must-do’ on Fire Island is precisely what you feel like doing.” So says Jeff Monachino, Director of Licensing at Sony Music, who has made this mythic barrier island on the south side of New York’s Long Island his summer getaway for nearly twenty years. “It can be beautiful and serene or absolutely social - whatever you’d like it to be.” Be it a day of sun worshiping on stretches of Atlantic beach; lively poolside barbecues; al fresco dance parties that begin at midday; or book-in-hand “me-time,” Fire Island is a treasured escape for New York City residents and international travellers alike.
Though you can find a number of small hamlets and villages inhabited by wealthy nuclear families, such as Kismet and Ocean Bay Park, Fire Island is best known as the summer Mecca for the LGBT community—rivalled only by Provincetown as the top gay getaway in the Northeast United States. The hamlets of Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove spring to life each May as ferries from the mainland deliver enthusiastic boatloads of gay and gay-friendly share-housers, weekly renters, and day-trippers. They come for a variety of reasons—harmony of land, sea, and sky; the change to commingle outside of the grey city; perhaps some flirtation at the harbour or on the boardwalks. No cars here.
Most importantly, there’s an incredible sense of community - the opportunity to connect and have fun in a come-as-you-are spirit. Monachino and his crew of friends (an attractive, successful, boisterous bunch) consider their summer share house an indispensible yearly stomping ground. “It’s our retreat,” he says.
“It’s a very chic, barefoot community,” says Kris Grae of Pines Harbor Realty, located in the dockside pavilion of the Pines. Grae and his colleagues facilitate home sales as well as seasonal, monthly, and weekly rentals. For Cherry Grove rentals, A Summer Place Realty is a clued-in resource. Visitors to the Island will also find lodgings through sites, realtors like Fire Island Pines, or rent-yourself sites such as Airbnb.com.
For Lisa Canistracci—a co-owner of New York’s longest-running lesbian bar in operation, Henrietta Hudson—Fire Island is a chance to flee from Manhattan’s cars and skyscrapers and recharge her batteries. “When I get off the Ferry, I can breathe so much better,” she says. “This is my second home—familiar, but never boring. I come for the nature and to walk in the Sunken Forest (a magical stretch of beach, dune, and ancient holly forest that looks right out of a Grimm tale). I love the deer that hop around, to reconnect with the flower and trees. And of course, my dog and I love being on the beach. It never fails to amaze me how incredibly lush it is here.”
While many enjoy the placid side of Fire Island, even more come for the chance to live it up on the party isle. “There’s so much going on in the Pines this year,” insists Sean Labbé, Beverage Director of Fire Island Pines Ventures, the company that operates 90 percent of the commercial district and the waterfront Botel hotel. “We have new chefs at our properties, a new menu at the Cultured Elephant (the harbour café), and we’ve updated and refined the cocktail menu at Low Tea (the daily ritual held at the waterfront Blue Whale). There are now blues brunches at the Blue Whale, a new ‘Fun Tea’ dance party at our Pool Deck, and an Ibiza-style refurbishment at the High Tea Deck of Pavilion. The glass-enclosed lounge the Harbor Club is brand new, where you can get some great draft beers and a nice Manhattan or a martini while watching the boats in the harbour.” Over in Cherry Grove, a few mainstay musts include: the great gourmet sandwich shop Floyd’s, lively cantina Cherry’s on the Bay, and the Grove Hotel’s Ice Palace.
The Botel has just introduced a loft-style “Botel Barracks” program, where bunk bed-outfitted, camouflage-painted rooms sleep four or eight for a nominal cost. “The concept is to provide the Fire Island Pines experience for a ‘younger’ budget,” says Fire Island Pines Ventures’ Promotional Director Anthony Michael. Dockside penthouses are available, as well. Other LGBT-friendly Island hotels include The Madison in the Pines and a trio of Cherry Grove hostelries - the Belvedere Guest House, Dune Point, and the Grove Hotel.
Should the urge to day-trip from Manhattan strike you, getting to the party isle is exceedingly easy—two hours by car via the Long Island Expressway to Bay Shore, Sayville, or Patchogue; or via the Long Island Railroad (from Penn Station). A shuttle bus service awaits at the station to take visitors to the ferry. Once on the boat, it’s an enlivening 15-minute ride to Fire Island. And once you’re there, it’s a sun-soaked choose-your-own-adventure.
“When I first visited the Island, I was in a bit of disbelief at the amount of gay people in one beautiful location,” remembers Monachino. “I thought, We have this? It was—and continues to be—a very freeing place.”
Header photo: Fire Island Pines Harbor © american rugbier
Have you visited Fire Island New York? Where are your favourite places to visit on the party isle? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Andrew Stone
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About the author: AndrewStoneAndrew Stone
A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Andrew Stone covers architecture and design for Interior Design magazine and is the former editor-in-chief of Los Angeles Confidential. A busy bee within the worlds of culture, style, and dining, he has interviewed celebrities and hot shots aplenty for various publications. Stone nurtures his two-decade love affair with his city as the resident Manhattan reporter for Hg2.com. Stone is the author of both Hg2 New York and Hg2 Los Angeles. What makes him a hedonist? "The desire to have firsthand knowledge of life's great offerings."