At the tip of Cape Cod, on a narrow strip of land 60 miles out to sea, lies Provincetown, Massachusetts—the end of the world (or, at least, New England), and the place I’ve called home for close to two years. Locals might call me a “washashore,” but I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
That’s because Ptown is (per capita) the queerest town in the country and one of the most sought-out vacation spots for anyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. It’s a place of extraordinary natural beauty (the dunes! the beaches! the gardens! the architecture!) as well as a playground for freedom and pride. The main drag, Commercial Street, runs the length of the town along the bay side and is home to the majority of the restaurants, clubs, shops, and galleries. During the summer, it overflows with people of all flavors of gender expression, kink, and sexuality.
I landed in Ptown after 20 years in professional kitchens ended in epic burnout. In 2021, mid-pandemic, I sold Willa Jean, my restaurant in New Orleans, and headed north. Love was waiting, as was eventual heartbreak and, ultimately, recovery and healing in Ptown.
I’m not sure if it was the sunset G&Ts with friends on the beach, the impromptu clambakes, or the slices of pizza I devoured in the street after raucous nights out, but eating my way through the city has taught me that to be a queer person in Ptown is to be part of a community. Every restaurant and bar contributes to this spirit, and these are some of my favorite places.
The Nor’East Beer Garden is an unassuming outdoor space on Commercial Street that serves some of the best food and cocktails in Ptown. That’s because you never get bored: The culinary “theme” changes each season; this summer, it’s “light Italian,” which means you can savor dishes like mushroom pâté, burrata with fried dough, and minty brown-butter mussels.
Sal’s is by the water in the West End, which makes for spectacular views. Cash-only and often difficult to reach by phone, Sal’s is worth the trouble of getting a reservation, whether you’re booking dinner with friends or a date. Don’t skip the cauliflower Caesar with baby romaine, which I love to order alongside the charred octopus with garbanzo beans and smoked chile oil.
This inviting little bakery in the West End makes a variety of breakfast and lunch sandwiches—great for a handheld meal while strolling about, or as beach picnic fare—but I always go for the pastries. Spring for a wedge of key lime tart, or grab a cookie or a slice of coffee cake.
Shirtless muscle gays, margarita-sipping drag queens, straight vacationers who love to party—Ptowners of all stripes congregate every afternoon at the ultimate pregame called Tea Dance (or just “Tea”), held at the Boatslip Resort from 4 to 7 p.m. The legendary bartender Maria reigns over the right side of the bar, the end closest to the water, and will happily start you off with the Planter’s Punch, their official cocktail.
After Tea, many revelers flock to Strangers & Saints, housed in an incredible 1850’s Greek Revival homestead. The Ken Fulk-designed interior, and well-made cocktails make for a dependably enjoyable second stop. The food goes well beyond basic bar snacks with dishes like meatballs with salsa verde and cucumber kimchi (my go-to dish), which pair nicely with the charred shishito peppers or spicy Moroccan carrots. Eating at Strangers & Saints feels like being welcomed into the home of someone with impeccable taste who loves throwing dinner parties.
Long before Provincetown was an LGBT+ mecca, it was a Portuguese fishing village. Remnants of that past can be found at the Mayflower, where traditional Portuguese flavors endure in dishes like the Portuguese kale soup, made with spicy linguica sausage and red beans. Its obligatory sidekick is an order of garlic bread, and if you’re still feeling peckish, a dozen steamers, a Cape classic of brothy soft-shell clams that you dunk one by one in melted butter. Family-run with a no-reservations policy, the Mayflower has an old-school diner feel with a down-home friendliness to match. They also happen to make the best Manhattans in town.
Provincetown has a large, vibrant Jamaican population—many first arrived as seasonal workers and wound up making Ptown a year-round home. A little off the beaten path is Irie Eats, which offers spicy Jamaican food that fuels my summer season. My favorite dishes in the regular rotation are the curry goat, jerk chicken or pork, salt fish, and oxtails—all of which come with rice and red beans, and slaw. It’s a grab-and-go vibe, but they do have a small outdoor seating area to soak in the sun (and the flavor).
My personal “best sandwich shop” award goes to Pop + Dutch. Their slogan is “Sandwiches. Salads. Lube,” and their tiny market selling vintage, often slightly titillating textiles and art only adds to the appeal. The shop carries everything you need for a day at the beach or pool, including sunscreen and, yes, lube. The fridges are stocked with fresh potato salad, pimento cheese, chicken salad, dolmas, and a variety of drinks including a great Arnold Palmer. But the sandwiches are the main event (lately, I’ve been loving specials like turkey topped with Cool Ranch Doritos and ranch-flavored mayo). In the morning, they make a mean scrambled egg sandwich on brioche, but slugabeds be warned: It’s only available from 9 to 10:30 a.m.
The grande dame of Ptown is Crown & Anchor, an entertainment venue that sits in the center of town. Housing six bars and entertainment venues, a restaurant, a pool club, and a hotel, it caters to visitors and locals of all types. In 2021, it got new owners who were determined to turn the complex into a safe (and profitable!) space for queer artists, musicians, and chefs, among others. The restaurant concept changes daily, while the oyster bar is open seven days a week. Brunch (Thursday through Sunday) is hosted by yours truly and features a New Orleans-meets-New England menu. Expect my famous biscuits and gravy, plus live drag performances fueled by talent and fantasy.
The bright neon lobster sign, one of the Cape’s most recognizable images since 1979, welcomes stampedes of seafood lovers to the Lobster Pot. Tanks of fresh lobsters? Check. Ocean views? check. Consistently friendly service? Check.
The plan of action here is to venture upstairs to the “top of the pot,” snag a seat at the bar, and kick things off with a perfect bloody mary. Then, it’s lobster rolls all around—or, for the lobster-averse, a wide-reaching menu of all sorts of fish and shellfish that you can order pan-roasted, grilled, stuffed, baked, blackened, fried, and more. There are also to-go dishes around the corner at Lobster Pot Express (5 Ryder Street).
Happy hour at the Red Inn is peak Ptown. From 2 to 4 p.m. daily, you can enjoy a raw bar menu, cocktails, and wine specials—all on a deck overlooking the beach that’s blessed with the best natural light in town. If oysters won’t cut it, chase them with heartier dishes like panko-crusted shrimp with sweet chili sauce, bacon-wrapped oysters, or shrimp remoulade salad.
Legend has it that Provincetown, because of its remote location, used to be a hideaway for smugglers and pirates. That’s why Puritans began calling it Helltown, a nickname that inspired the name of this restaurant that blends international flavors with New England ingredients. There’s truffle-scented, South American-spiced lobster risotto studded with peas and mushrooms. And if lobster isn’t it for you, Helltown does an incredible pork vindaloo that comes with mango chutney, basmati rice, and naan to sop it all up.
Provincetown Brewing Company is fueled by community activism, and its business model reflects that. Not only does the brewery donate 15 percent of proceeds to LGBTQIA+ and Outer Cape causes; it also buys from queer-owned businesses and farmers. I’m big on their artichoke-cheese dip and jerk chicken sandwich, which I wash down with a flight of whatever PBC beers happen to be on tap. Keep an eye out for themed parties, trivia nights, “fag-out Fridays,” women’s night, and even a “yappy hour” for dogs.
If Tea is where the party starts in Ptown, the Atlantic House (aka “A House”) is where it ends (or at least where last call happens). Most patrons have no idea that the establishment is a contender for the oldest gay bar in America, having been in continuous operation for over two centuries. It draws the biggest crowd of any bar in Ptown and has three spaces: little bar, macho bar, and the dance floor, where the lights are low, the music is loud, and little by little the clothes seem to disappear.
Spiritus pizza is an old faithful and has become the staple stop between the party and the after party—so much so that the hour from 1 to 2 a.m. is called “pizza dance.” Spiritus is the only late food option in town, and after last call at the bars, the pizzeria fills up with hungry crowds, who overflow onto Commercial Street to revel in what’s essentially a nightly pizza party. There are three New York-style slices: cheese, pepperoni, or Greek (cash only!).
Chalice is a new favorite wine and beer bar on the manicured lawn of the Land’s End Inn, which sits atop the tallest point at the end of the Cape. Complete with a fire pit and stunning views of Provincetown and beyond, it makes an ideal pitstop on your way to Tea or pre-dinner cocktails. Look out for the pink martini flag: If you see it flying, then Chalice is open and well worth the uphill walk.