2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip ThumbnailBoatslip Waterfront Hotel & Beach Club.

Tea Dance. Those two words are pretty much all you need to know about the Boatslip, a 1969 motel that has never gone out of style. (Not that its design, by Burnett V. Vickers, was ever in style.) The freewheeling summer afternoon dances held on its harborside deck — with crowds that are largely, but by no means entirely, gay — have defined this establishment since the disco era. To some casual visitors, Tea Dance defines gay Provincetown; no visit to the Cape is complete without it. (There are two other words that attach themselves to gay life around the Boatslip, but we’ll get to those at the end of the article.)

“The Boatslip should be in the National Register of Historic Places, forever protecting it as the central space for Provincetown socializing,” William Mullin, a producer, writer, and comedian who lives in town, suggested on Facebook in 2020.¹

Commercial 161 Boatslip 01Men of Color Tea Dance in 2016, in a photo by Dan McKeon posted on Facebook, 12 July 2016.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipThe Boatslip deck in 1982. Photo by David Jarrett (as David T. Terray) for Mandate, November 1984. Posted on Instagram by provincetown_history, 18 September 2018.

Commercial 161 BoatslipTea Dance, in a photo by Dan McKeon posted on Facebook, 24 March 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipDavid A. Cox of Droning Provincetown took this amazing view in 2019. He posted it on Instagram on 18 July 2019.

Clive Driver, a town historian, acknowledged the loss felt by many residents when this 200-foot-long structure not only eradicated Grozier Park, but eliminated almost every bay view from the houses between Atlantic Avenue and Central Street. “On the other hand,” Driver wrote in his 2004 book, Looking Back, “if this had not happened, the Boatslip, a prosperous and well-run establishment, would not have come into being, and perhaps even that Provincetown institution known as Tea Dance might not now exist.”²

“I remember the Boatslip in the late ’70s,” Marion Sharp, the principal owner, said on Facebook in 2015.

“Whenever I walked through the gate and into Tea, it was a magical experience. For decades, the Boatslip has meant different things to different people, and I get to hear and see their experiences when I am at Tea. After 35 years, it is still a place where everyone who is there seems to want to be there. … Let’s also remember the staff and crew who have been there one year, 10 years, and even 25-plus years. They are also the reason everyone looks forward to coming back each year.”³

“What everyone comes back for is the music of Maryalice Kalaghan, who spins daily from 4 to 7 p.m., nearly 130 times per season,” Dan McKeon, formerly the official Tea Dance photographer, wrote in 2020, introducing a photo album on Facebook.⁴

The existence in the West End of a parcel large enough to accommodate a big motel was thanks to Edwin Atkins Grozier (1859-1924), who owned the great house across the street, at 160 Commercial Street. In the early 20th century, he assembled the lots opposite his home and cleared them of structures, opening an uninterrupted view. Rather than keeping the view to himself, however, Grozier welcomed visitors. His privately owned public park had a lawn sheltered from the beach by a ballast-stone wall, a walkway, benches, and a bird house. Grozier enjoyed it mightily, as did his neighbors. After his death, the family continued to maintain the park for 40 years.

In 1963, the Town passed up its first chance to formally acquire Grozier Park, when it declined to pay $29,000 (around $245,000 today) to the Grozier family for parcel.

That year, Reginald Warren “Reggie” Cabral (1923-1996) and his wife, Meara (McKie) Cabral (1926-1996), paid $40,000 for both the house and the park from the Grozier estate. Almost immediately, the Cabrals filed plans for a motel on the beachfront site.

But the Cabrals also offered the Town another chance to acquire Grozier Park: either through a $75,000 purchase or a negotiated condemnation. Once again, the Town demurred, partly out of concern for the cost of maintaining a sea wall there.

Despite the pleas of other town residents, neighbors, and visitors, the Cabrals then pressed on with their motel plans.  They hired Burnett Vickers (1906-1981), an architect in Orleans, who had designed the New Art Cinema at 214 Commercial Street (now known as the Art House) and a recreational pavilion at the Provincetown Inn, 1 Commercial Street (now largely demolished, except for the pool in the shape of a Pilgrim hat).

Commercial 161 Boatslip 02Reverse side of the building permit application filed in 1965 by Burnett V. Vickers on behalf of Reginald Warren “Reggie” Cabral and Meara (McKie) Cabral. Courtesy of Len Bowen and Anne Howard.

To judge from water consumption records, the Boatslip seems to have been substantially completed in 1968 and fully operating by 1970.

The Cabrals sold the property in 1971 to Peter E. Ryder for $875,000. Ryder immediately transferred title to the Boatslip Realty Trust, in which he was a partner, as were Roland L. “Chick” Chamberland (1920-1990), Ryder’s companion in life as well as in business;  Charles E. “Chuck” Mehr, Alan E. Mundy, and Jennie A. Fratto.⁵

Tellingly, the Boatslip was absent from the list of gay-owned and gay-friendly town establishments in John Francis Hunter’s exhaustive 1972 guide, The Gay Insider USA. But that was about to change. Chamberland, Ryder, Mundy, and Mehr “made the place what it is,” Richard White told me in 2014. He was the Tea Dance manager for 11 years. “This group of owners started the whole Tea Dance thing going and put the place on the gay map — including the town as well.” (For the record, Jennifer Cabral also credits Meara Cabral, her mother, with having started Tea Dance when she owned the Boatslip.)⁶

Early days at the Boatslip

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipThe motel under construction, in a photo posted by Bob Sanborn on the Provincetown in the ’70s Facebook page, 29 July 2013.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipThe Boatslip in 1976, in a photo posted by Dwight Meissner on the My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection Facebook page, 14 January 2018.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipThe Commercial Street entrance in 1976, by Dwight Meissner.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipLabor Day Weekend of 1976, in a photo by Dan McKeon posted on Facebook, 26 March 2011.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipPoolside in 1976, by Dwight Meissner.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip“You could dance and then jump into the bay to cool off,” Dan McKeon recalled of his first summer at the Boatslip in 1976, in a caption for this photo, posted on Facebook, 26 March 2011.

Among Ryder’s friends was Joyce Galway, who’d arrived in Provincetown in 1953 to begin a Bohemian life that included a romance with the author Stephen Seley (The Cradle Will Fall, Baxter Bernstein: A Hero of Sorts, and The End of Mercy); the birth of their daughter Bridget Seley Galway; and a stint as a cocktail waitress on the Boatslip deck.

Now an artist and poet in her own right (What Moments Yield, 2019), Bridget sent me photos of those days, including one of her mother dressed in “something like she would wear when cocktailing the deck.”

“Except her usual tops were sleeveless, often see-through. She could work the deck alone like no other, and sometimes when ordering drinks from first-time young bartenders, tell them how to make them, because she tended bar most of her life. She would give lip to anyone who got impatient. If they were friends, they may say, ‘Hey, Joyce, we fucking need you,’ and she may say something like, ‘Hold your balls,’ or, ‘Wait a fucking minute,’ with an add-on of their personal relationship humor. If someone was rude and she didn’t know them — watch out.”

A Galway family album

Joyce Galway, who served cocktails on the Boatslip deck. Courtesy of Bridget Seley Galway.

Left: Bridget Seley Galway and her son, Blake, in Peter Ryder’s apartment at the Boatslip, 1982. Right: Madame, Wayland Flowers, and Peter Ryder. Courtesy of Bridget Seley Galway.

Peter Ryder. Courtesy of Bridget Seley Galway.

Both, courtesy of Bridget Seley Galway.

L. Lewis was the artist. This is from Joyce Galway’s postcard collection. Courtesy of Bridget Seley Galway.

Chick Chamberland was perhaps the best known of the partners. A native of Chicopee — from which he took his nickname — he served with the Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater during World War II before his career as an accountant at the Singer Corporation in New York. He moved to Provincetown in 1967. At one time or another, he and Ryder also had an ownership stake in the Anchor Inn, 175 Commercial Street; the Inn at the Mews, 359 Commercial Street; and the Somerset House Inn, 378 Commercial Street.⁷

Under Chamberland et alia, the Boatslip Restaurant aspired to be taken very seriously. “The atmosphere is Noël Coward and could pass inspection on the Riviera,” said The Complete Food Guide to Provicetown (1976). “The elegant French cuisine moves from Nicky Koich’s kitchen to your table in a smooth and relaxed manner. … Among the many distinguished entrées: duckling with brandied apricot sauce ($8.50), scampi à la Nicky ($8.50), Mediterranean suprême (large wooden bowl of seafood in a court-bouillon, $11.95), and steak escargot ($10.75). Thirty-five wines on the card, mostly French.”⁸ (Koich’s panel in the AIDS Memorial Quilt includes a chef’s toque.)

But what attracted the crowds was Tea Dance. The Boatslip partners certainly did not invent thé dansant. The custom of embellishing an afternoon tea with a small orchestra or band to which couples might dance was well enough known in late 19th-century New England. Nor was Provincetown the first place in which gay men successfully appropriated the genteel term. Credit is often given to John B. Whyte for inaugurating tea dance in 1966 at his Fire Island Pines Botel.⁹

David Jarrett portfolio

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip1981. Provincetown in the ’80s, 20 November 2016.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip1989. Provincetown in the ’80s, 11 December 2016.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip by JarrettEstelle Rivers, right, and an admirer, in 2006.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip1973. Provincetown in the ’80s, 11 December 2016.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip1981.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip1989. Provincetown in the ’80s, 11 December 2016.

Tea Dance took root in the sands of Provincetown Harbor. In fact, in the early years, the event spilled off the deck, which was almost at ground level, and on to the beach.

Stephen Milkewicz, a longtime DJ on WOMR-FM and proprietor of the Lamplighter Guest House and Cottage, 26 Bradford Street, recalled how close the beach used to be:

“I’ve gotten into arguments with people who could not believe that after sitting in front of the Boatslip deck all day drinking cocktails — yes, with alcohol; served by Boatslip waiters! — we would leave the beach in our bathing suits and just go up the one step onto the pool deck into Tea Dance (free). Everyone dancing, hot, sweaty, salty, and still in our bathing suits! Truly a different time. Ahhh, the ’70s. (And ’80s).”¹⁰

It was liberating. “I lived in Boston and we’d hitchhike back and forth, starting when I was 15,” Bobby Busnach said in 2019 on Facebook. “It was the only safe place. In Boston, we were chased in our platforms by gangs of guys with baseball bats. Or by the cops.”¹¹

It was intoxicating. “I recall spending the day at the pool getting sloshed and black with tan,” Richard B. Hall said in 2015. “I recall the preponderance of Quaaludes, then I had to be at work by 4 in the afternoon to work a full shift at the Plain and Fancy. There are monstrous memory lapses, but damn.”¹²

It was exhausting. “O.M.G., how I remember running up and down the beach serving drinks,” Paul Tibbets wrote in 2020. “White shorts so short you had no place to put change.”¹³

Leonard Paoletti portfolio, photographs and paintings

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipProvincetown in the ’80s, 20 June 2015 (left), 20 June 2015 (right).

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipGrandstand, 1988. Photo by David Jarrett.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipProvincetown in the ’80s, 20 June 2015 (left), 20 June 2015.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipSunburnt, 1986. Photo by David Jarrett.

Someone had to tend to all those chaises, too. Jim F. Brinning managed the deck from 1978 to 1981. “I was paid a nice salary, got a cut from renting the chairs, and tips from those I rented the chairs to,” he recalled on Facebook in 2017. “Even now, it would be considered good money, but for a kid back then even more so. I had such a blast, people buying me drinks, and often on ‘X,’ and so forth. … No days off unless it rained. I loved it!”¹⁴

Andy Towle also fondly remembered his days as a chair boy in the summer of 1992, after he had finished a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center. He writes and runs the gay news blog Towleroad and publishes the minimagazine Ptown Hacks, with Michael Goff.

“I was hired by Peter Simpson to be the — they called it the ‘chair boy’ at the time. I was working that deck every day of the summer from 8:30 a.m. until it closed for Tea Dance. They had cocktail waiters during Tea at that time and I occasionally did that too, pushing through the crowds on holiday weekends with full trays of frozen drinks over our heads. I returned the next summer to work as a bartender at Tea. … It was certainly one of the best and most formative summers of my life and planted the seeds for my ultimately becoming a homeowner 25 years later.”³⁹

While at the Boatslip, Towle came to know Lawrence Carl Wald and Scott W. Belding. “Larry ran the upstairs bar where Buoy Bar is now, and was a huge attraction at the time,” Towle told me in December 2020. “I am not sure how long he was there, but long enough to attract a big following. That bar — it had the unofficial name of Larry’s Bar — was fully packed even at tea time, and was decorated with a massive collection of his Barbie dolls which he would use to tell ribald jokes. He really put on a show. Scott was a bartender at tea downstairs and they became romantically involved.” They moved Larry’s Bar in 1994 to 177 Commercial Street.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipAndy Towle as a chair boy in 1992. By his courtesy.

Larry’s Bar, run by Lawrence Carl Weld at the Boatslip in the early 1990s, moved to 177 Commercial Street. The T-shirt is from the collection of Bill Dugan.

The Boatslip Motor Inn had restyled itself the Boatslip Beach Club by 1981, leaving the ’50s-sounding “Motor Inn” in the rearview mirror. At this time, the DJ was David LaSalle. He was to become the longtime resident DJ at the Atlantic House.¹⁵

Early on, the Boatslip allied itself with charitable and communal causes and events. Among the fundraisers begun during the Chamberland-Ryder years was the annual Hollywood Party, to benefit the Provincetown Rescue Squad, at which attendees were costumed like the stars. “I went once as Grace Kelly,” James Hubert recalled in 2018. “I was very young then and pulled it off.”

“I did a Gilda look for one of them but the star was Divine that night,” Tita Rutledge acknowledged in a 2018 Facebook comment. “Two buff blond boys rowed her to shore there, a spotlight behind her in the dinghy. As they helped her out of the boat, she snagged her mermaid gown or something and they dropped her in the water. Still she made a fabulous entrance and continued up the beach to host!”¹⁶

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipLeft: Ad in The Guide, August 1992. Posted on Instagram by provincetown_history, 14 September 2018Right: Ad in The Guide, June 2003. Posted on 19 July 2019.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipAd in the 1974 Provincetown Art Association summer catalog.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipAd in the 1978 Provincetown Art Association and Museum summer catalog.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipAd in After Dark, July 1979. From the Municipal Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 6038.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipLeft: Ad in Provincetown Magazine. From the Kelly Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 6407Right: Ad in Provincetown Arts, 1996.

Chateau Marmont it wasn’t, but the Boatslip has had any number of celebrity habitués — from the famous (the singer Grace Jones) to the infamous (the New York lawyer Roy M. Cohn). As a prosecutor in the early 1950s, Cohn had helped send Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to the electric chair. He then served as chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy and as an architect of the hysterical and destructive hunt for leftists and homosexuals. He was later a mentor to and lawyer for Donald J. Trump. For his final act, Cohn steadfastly denied having AIDS, complications from which killed him in 1986, at 59.

“I’d see him at the Boatslip with his cohort of young guys,” Frank Regan recalled in 2019. “Sunning, early in the day, like a snake.”¹⁷

“Roy had been going to Provincetown at least since the mid-’70s,” Ed Gillis, who met Cohn around 1975, told me. “He stayed at the Boatslip more often than any other place; usually for long weekends, not a full week. He’d sometimes go up by chartered plane. I remember once he changed aircraft at the last minute in order to give several casual acquaintances — friends of friends actually — a lift back to New York. That was typical.”¹⁸

David Jarrett noticed Cohn at the Boatslip restaurant with several young men. Paul J. Asher-Best, co-proprietor of the restaurant from 1983 to 1985, admitted he’d failed to recognize Cohn. “Although I had certainly heard of him, I didn’t know who he was when he was right in front of me,” Asher-Best said on Facebook in 2019. “Brian Dunne, who happened to be dining there the same night, had to tell me.”¹⁹

Around the time that Cohn moved eastward, to 621 Commercial Street and then 625 Commercial Street, the performer Grace Jones (Pull Up to the Bumper, Slave to the Rhythm) brought her star power to the Boatslip. Though she performed in the Shakra’s Alley disco at the Provincetown Inn, 1 Commercial Street, she patronized the Boatslip. “Lots of commotion with her daily appearances at the Boatslip pool,” said Glenn Gerace, who worked at Shakra’s Alley. “I remember seeing her walking down Commercial Street,” Jill Turner Odice said. “She was very tall and gorgeous!” (Odice later acknowledged, “Me being 4-feet-10-inches, everybody looks tall.”)

Peter Warnock had a slightly different experience with Jones: “She took my sunglasses at Tea Dance and I couldn’t get them back. She had goons with her.”²⁰

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipDavid Bishop at the Boatslip, Provincetown, 1975, by David Armstrong. Posted by Eugene N. Fedorko on Provincetown in the ’70s, 9 May 2013. “I love the thin waistline and hips,” Fedorko said, “the crossed legs, the shorts belted with a piece of rope, the rings, the cig, the drinkie at 2 p.m., the Café Blasé T-shirt. This is iconic in so many ways.”

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipLeft: Miguel Roldan and Steve Mondi, 1977. Posted by Bobby Busnach on Provincetown in the ’70s, 2 March 2019Right: Butchie, Steve Mondi, Miguel Roldan, unidentified, 1977. Posted by Bobby Busnach on Provincetown in the ’70s, 2 March 2019.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipFrom the May 1979 Ciao! Posted on Instagram by provincetown_history, 24 June 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipLeft: Bridget Seley Galway and her friend Kerstin. Posted by Galway on Provincetown in the ’70s, 9 July 2017. That very morning, Galway had met Ivan Hubbard, who would one day be father to her son Blake. “He took the photo,” Galway said. “You can see the spark in my eyes.” Right: Craig Russell as Anita Bryant, a spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission and leading anti-gay campaigner of the 1970s. Courtesy of Steve Desroches.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipBoatslip Barbara, by Michael Costello, posted on Provincetown in the ’70s, 30 May 2014. “This is Barbara who was the head housekeeper at the Boatslip in the ’70s,” Costello wrote. “She was always being followed by dogs she would adopt. I never learned her last name.”

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipLeft: Cover of a 1989 brochure. David Jarrett Collection. Center: Roland L. “Chick” Chamberland, uncredited photo from his obituary in The Provincetown Banner, 4 November 1999. David Jarrett Collection. Right: John “Peter” Simpson, uncredited photo from his obituary on the Farley Funeral Home website.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipLeft: Cover of the condominium brochure issued by the Bostonian Corporation in 1985. Right: First-floor plan from the condo brochure. Units 2 through 8 were offered for $120,000. Units 17 through 25 were priced at $115,000. Units 41 through 46, facing the parking lot and Commercial Street, were $90,000. David Jarrett Collection.

The condo craze reached the Boatslip in 1985. A Boston developer named Edward F. Simpson, doing business as the Bostonian Corporation, prepared a plan — the Boatslip Condominium — under which the motel would be divided into investor-owned one-room units on both floors of both buildings in the L-shaped complex. Prices ranged from $90,000 (around $210,000 in 2020 dollars) for first-floor units facing the Commercial Street parking lot in the West Wing to $125,000 ($295,000) for second-floor units facing the harbor in the perpendicular Bay Wing. Simpson promised potential investors that the management would undertake an “improvement program to the rooms, common areas, and exterior,” and “ongoing programs to enhance the entertainment and ‘fun’ long associated with the Boatslip.”²¹

Apart from the 48 sleeping rooms, Unit A was the ground-floor beach club and pool deck (constituting a 50 percent interest in the overall condo); Unit B was the second-floor restaurant, straddling the two wings through the crossover pavilion; Unit C was the streetfront lounge.²²

Title transfer to Simpson and the Boatslip Investment Trust, of which he was trustee, from Chamberland, Ryder, Mundy, Mehr, and Fratto was recorded in April 1986. Simpson paid $4.3 million (around $10.2 million in 2020 dollars).²³

By 1991, Simpson had sold only 18 units. The developer himself was “insolvent and experiencing severe financial problems that included the Boatslip,” Judge Robert Somma wrote in a decision for the United States Bankruptcy Court in Massachusetts. The 33 remaining units had a market value of $2.69 million, but were subject to three mortgages, two attachments, and a tax taking by the Town of Provincetown.²⁴

Dan McKeon portfolio

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonBilly Rodriguez. Tea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonDJ Maryalice Kalaghan and Charlie Roye. Townies Mostly 2014, posted 6 April 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonLeft: Marion Sharp and Eddy Lupien Jr., as Drunkerella. Tea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020Right: Jeffery Roberson, as Varla Jean Merman. Tea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonTerry McCumber at right. Tea Dance Opening May 2015, posted 28 April 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonTsetso. Tea Dance August 2019, posted 20 September 2019.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonLeft: Elbert Ruff. Tea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020Right: Mackenzie Miller. Tea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonYasir Rashid at left. Tea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonJoey Grant Luther and Dan McKeon. Tea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonTea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonLeft: Summer’s Coming, posted 15 April 2012Right: Tea Dance July 2013, posted 4 August 2013.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonSummer’s Coming, posted 15 April 2012.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonBear Soup July 2010, posted 12 July 2010.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonStormy Weather June 2012, posted 23 June 2012. Dale Szczech commented: “Still working hard even when the sky looks like a scene from the Wizard of Oz!”

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonNothing Stops Tea Dance, posted 10 July 2015.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonCarnival Tea Dance August 2019, posted 20 August 2019.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonTea Dance July 2013, posted 4 August 2013.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonMemorial Day Tea Dance May 2011, posted 6 June 2011.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonThe Hat Sisters, Timothy O’Connor (left) and John Michael Gray. Tea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonLeft: Hat Sister John Michael Gray (1950-2016). Tea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020. 24 March 2020Right: John Michael Gray — in the hat, of course. Tea Dance June 2010, posted 19 June 2010.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonCarnival Opening Party August 2013, posted 23 October 2013.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonHalloween 2010, posted 1 November 2010.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonGreg Robles, with upraised arm. Tea Dance July 2013, posted 12 July 2013.

2020 Commercial 161 McKeonRoland St. Jean, Trampolina Glenellen, and Orland Del Valle. Tea Dance Compilation 2011-2015, posted 24 March 2020.

Simpson transferred 33 units — representing an 83.8 percent interest in the condominium — to the Boatslip Management Trust, of which his wife, Joan Beard Simpson, and his brother John “Peter” Simpson (1951-2017) were beneficiaries. Peter and his partner (later husband), James F. Carlino, were the public face of the Boatslip’s management and ownership during this period.²⁵

During the 15 years the Boatslip was controlled by the Simpsons, there were two consequential milestones. As the AIDS epidemic was approaching its peak, the annual Swim for Life (now the Provincetown Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla) was inaugurated in 1988 by the artist Jay Critchley and the dancer Walter McLean. Participants, sponsored by the pledges of friends and family and neighbors and colleagues, raised money for local health services by swimming nearly 1.4 miles across the harbor from Long Point to the Boatslip. There were 18 swimmers in the first Swim for Life. Together, they raised $6,000. (In recent years, some swimmers have individually raised more than three times that amount.) The event is under the aegis of the Provincetown Community Compact.

Intended in part “to celebrate the healing waters and ecology of the harbor,” the Swim for Life has had to accommodate that ecology. In 1998, the presence of an entangled right whale in the harbor compelled Critchley to revise the route as a round trip from the Boatslip to a buoy set halfway along the route, then back to the Boatslip, avoiding the deep waters off Long Point. In 2019, the presence of seals and the attendant appearance of great white sharks caused the route to be moved closer to the town shore, from the Provincetown Inn to the Boatslip. Worse yet, the edge of Hurricane Dorian slammed into Provincetown on the day of the swim, forcing its postponement altogether. Inside the Boatslip, however, pledge registration went on as Zoë Lewis played her music, Far Land Provisions served the Mermaid Brunch, and Critchley presented awards.

David W. Dunlap portfolio

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2010.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2010.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2012.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD


2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2010.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2008.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2019.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2008.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2010.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2008.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2010.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2010.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2010.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2009.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2009.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip DWD2012.

The other consequential milestone of the Simpson era was the arrival in 1994 of Maryalice Kalaghan as the Boatslip’s resident disc jockey and “vibe manager.” By her own description, DJ Maryalice‘s signature sound is a blend of “progressive and disco, house, tribal and top 40 dance music.” She came to the Boatslip after a 10-year career at the Pied Piper, 193A Commercial Street, which began in 1982. While at the Pied, Maryalice began the After Tea Dance.²⁶

“Maryalice’s music remains one of the soundtracks to the town,” Michael Cook wrote for Instinct in 2019. “Spending some time on her dance floor is absolutely crucial each and every time you visit.” (Failing that, you can listen to her exuberant Tea Dance playlists, year by year, on DJ Maryalice’s Podcast on Podomatic. Just try to sit still.)²⁷

Also in the Simpson period, the restaurant was renamed Giovanni’s at the Boatslip (under John P. Moffatt) and then the Boatslip Bistro (under Robert Matthews, Michael Woolfson, and Christopher Kerins). John Twomey took over the place in 1995 and restyled it the Restaurant at the Boatslip, with offerings like herb-roasted chicken and pan-seared lobster.

In early 2001, the Simpsons sold all 51 units in the condominium to a new group of owners, doing business as The Boatslip L.L.C. of Key West, Fla. Investors in the group included Marion Sharp, Clifford Botway, Michael J. Browning, Marva E. Green, and Harold E. Wolfe Jr.²⁸

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipAd in Provincetown Magazine, 6 August 2009.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipLeft: A one-day Tea Dance pass from 2004. David Jarrett Collection. Center: A pass from 2007. David Jarrett Collection. Right: The newly simplified Boatslip logo.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipLeft: Cover of a glossy 1995 brochure for the Boatslip. David Jarrett Collection. Right: Ad for the Pet Tea benefit from Provincetown Magazine, 22 September 2011.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipAt the 2019 Pet Tea. Photo by David A. Cox posted on Instagram, 30 September 2019.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipMatchbook from the Salvador R. Vasques III Collection. Posted in My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 9 December 2014. The (617) area code gives this away as a pre-1988 relic. That was when Cape Cod was designated (508).

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipA contemporary rack card, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sharp was the leading figure among the investors. After growing up in Pittsfield, she spent time in Provincetown before moving to the Florida Keys in 1980. There, she transformed a boarding house called Chantilly Lace into the Rainbow House, the only all-woman guest house on Key West. The guest house was sold in 2000, the year before Sharp and the others took over the Boatslip in Provincetown.²⁹

The Boatslip Management Company L.L.C. was organized in Florida in 2006 to manage The Boatslip L.L.C. The principals included Botway, Green, Sharp, and Wolfe. Terry McCumber, the manager of the Boatsip, was designated the resident agent in Provincetown.³⁰

Sharp has long been adamant about keeping the Boatslip on an even keel. “Not even an ice cube will change,” she said in 2009. At the time, her biggest transformation was to rename the Wet Spot Lobby Bar as something more businesslike: the Buoy Bar and Patio.³¹

The Boatslip has also continued to support the work of charitable organizations like CASAS, the Carrie A. Seaman Animal Shelter. Every fall, the Pet Tea, to which pets are warmly invited, raises money for the shelter.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipPrayer ribbons adorned the entrance to the Boatslip before the 2010 Swim for Life, now known as the Provincetown Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla, which was the traditional end point for a fundraising swim that began at Long Point. Photo by Dan McKeon posted on Swim for Life 2010, 14 September 2010.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip by Dwight MeissnerWaiting for the finishers on the Boatslip deck. Photo by Dwight Meissner.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipThe route of the 2019 harbor swim had already been modified to a shoreline course, out of concern for great white sharks, when the edge of Hurricane Dorian made conditions impossible for the swim. Photo from the Swim for Life blog, posted 12 September 2019.

What has changed about Tea Dance, Sharp told Maryellen Fillo of The Hartford Courant in 2011, was that it had grown more integrated. “There is a different generation coming up now, more tolerant, more accepting, so they don’t have a problem being here,” Sharp was quoted as saying. “We have bachelorette parties come here, girlfriends who just want to come out and dance and have a drink without guys bothering them, tourists who want to do something truly Provincetown.”³²

And, as if to prove that nothing stops Tea Dance, the Boatslip and DJ Maryalice inaugurated the 2020 season — in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic — with a two-hour-long virtual First Tea on 1 May that was attended by more than 300 festive participants using the Zoom and Twitch apps.³³

The biggest change at the Boatslip since its construction was the expansion and reinforcement of its beachside deck. Leonard Paoletti (1943-2018), an artist, innkeeper, and student of gay history in Provincetown, told me in 2014:

“The original deck rested flat on the beach, but a series of winter storms repeatedly destroyed the deck and washed away much of the beach in front of it and, most crucially, under it. The Nor’easter of [February] 1978 was the first major storm to destroy the deck and the beach. The deck, in order to be basically restored to its original incarnation, had to be raised up on a series of pilings, struts, and beams. Thus was created the space under the actual deck, which became know locally as ‘Dick Dock.’ … Before this time, there was no space between the deck and the sand. Now there was. And well, boys will be boys.”³⁴

What also undermined the deck — requiring the use of pilings to support it and opening space beneath it — was the dredging of sand in the West End, Dan McKeon said.³⁸

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipReinforcement and expansion of the Boatslip deck created a semi-hidden space that became known as a venue for nocturnal public sex. 2011 photo by David W. Dunlap.

2020 Commercial 161 Boatslip by Dwight MeissnerDick Dock at high tide. Photo by Dwight Meissner.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipLeft: Tim Convery’s Tim-Scapes line of clothing and furnishings includes a witty “Dick Dock,” first released in 2012, in which the piers form the word “Ptown.” Right: The under-deck space seen from the east in a 2018 photo by David W. Dunlap.

Though it was not by any means the first venue for impromptu, illicit public sex in Provincetown — nor was it even the first “Dick Dock” — the capacious area under the Tea Dance deck offered a nocturnal playground of roughly 9,000 square feet, well located but largely out of view. Depending on the tides, there was easily room enough to stand. Typically, Dick Dock was the last stop of the night, after the Spiritus crowds dispersed around 2 a.m., sending foot traffic down to the beachfront along the Fifth Town Landing. Over the years, policing of the area seemed to range from crackdown to laissez faire.

“If the cops do patrol the Dick Dock area,” Peter Manso wrote in Ptown in 2002, “they take their time, make a lot of noise, flash their flashlights, and give everyone time to scamper away.”³⁵

“I didn’t go there,” John Waters told the interviewer Christine Champagne for Out magazine in 2002. “Not that I wouldn’t, but I couldn’t. If somebody — in the middle of all that was going on — said: ‘I really liked Female Trouble,’ it would put a damper on that kind of behavior.”³⁶

Given the grade change in the deck, the Boatslip had to install a railing. But Paoletti saw that as an advantage. “From an artistic and voyeuristic viewpoint,” he said, “this railing added a vital element to the cruising at Tea Dance. Many men, at one time or another, would lean on this railing and strike picturesque poses which might later appear in some of my paintings. At twilight, this railing was a popular place to gather to watch the sky over the harbor change from light blue to pink to a deep blue.”³⁷

As another Tea Dance came to a close.

2020 Commercial 161The first Tea Dance of 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, was virtual. More than 300 people showed up, obviously ready to party. Dan McKeon invited participants to photograph themselves while Tea Dance unfolded. Frank Zahn also took a picture of his iMac. Posted in Virtual Tea Dance May 2020, 6 May 2020.

2020 Commercial 161Brendan Byrnes and Stephen Cabral. Virtual Tea Dance May 2020, posted 6 May 2020.

2020 Commercial 161Left: Charlie Roye. Virtual Tea Dance May 2020, posted on 6 May 2020Right: Rebecca Bruyn. Virtual Tea Dance May 2020, posted on 6 May 2020.

2020 Commercial 161Michael Herrera. Virtual Tea Dance May 2020, posted on 6 May 2020.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipWhen the Boatslip fully reopened on 26 July 2020, deck chairs were spaced distantly from one another. And there were no immediate plans for an actual Tea Dance.

2020 Commercial 161 BoatslipAs the summer of 2020 began, scenes like this — captured by David A. Cox in 2019 — seemed like a dream from another time.

¶ Last updated on 12 January 2021.

Jackson Gregory wrote on 4 August 2017: The building of the Boatslip was one of the saddest events in Provincetown’s history, not because of what the Boatslip became, but because of what was forever taken away: Grozier’s Park , an open space with one of the best panoramic views of Provincetown Harbor. Reggie Cabral offered to sell it to the Town for $75,000, but the Town refused his offer thinking that he was bluffing about his plans to build a motel on the site.

Ronald Pavao wrote on 25-26 July 2020: My dad [John Pavao] was a caretaker for [165 Commercial Street] — repairs and painting — for many years. I worked along with him in my teens around the ’50s, before the Boatslip Motel was built. He was also asked to quote a price on the Boatslip. After seeing the plans, he decided not to do it as he did not like all of the valleys in the roof and said they tend to leak after a while. But the designer did not want to change plans and it did leak badly a few years later. He took care of and built many properties in Provincetown and Truro, including repairs to the Provincetown Post Office.

161 Commercial Street on the Town Map.

Also at 161 Commercial Street:

Grozier Park.

Nautilus Club.

Thumbnail image: Photo, 2009, by David W. Dunlap.

In memoriam:

• Meara (McKie) Cabral (1926-1996)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 107021044.

• Reginald Warren “Reggie” Cabral (1923-1996)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 51635551.

• John Michael Gray (1950-2016)

Current Obituary, No. 198583.

• John “Peter” Simpson (1951-2017)

Farley Funeral Home, No. 105572314.

¹ William Mullin comment on Dan McKeon’s Facebook page, 24 April 2020.

² “Grozier Park,” by Clive Driver, in Looking Back, Provincetown: Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, 2004, Page 21.

³ Marion Sharp comment to the Provincetown in the ’70s page on Facebook, 25 March 2015.

⁴ Dan McKeon comment in the album “Boatslip Resort Tea Dance Compilation No. 1, From 2011 to 2015” on Facebook, 24 March 2020, Set=a.10215333954653662.

⁵ Cabral to Ryder, 30 April 1971, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 1508, Page 379; Ryder to Boatslip, 30 April 1971, Book 1508, Page 394; declaration of trust, 30 April 1971, Book 1508, Page 381. Recitation of trustees from Book 1549, Page 347.

⁶ Richard White comment to Building Provincetown, 10 March 2014, clarified by Eli Danikow’s comment of 5 April 2014. Jennifer Cabral comment to Dan McKeon’s page on Facebook, 23 April 2020.

⁷ “Roland ‘Chick’ Chamberland, 79; Guest House Owner, Former Marine,” The Provincetown Banner, 4 November 1999, Page 6. David Jarrett Collection.

The Complete Food Guide to Provincetown, by Sally Lindover, Provincetown: The Lindover Press, 1976, Page 3. In the Municipal Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 5794.

⁹ “John B. Whyte, 75, Model and Fire Island Developer,” by Lily Koppel, The New York Times, 12 April 2004.

¹⁰ Stephen Milkewicz comment on the Provincetown in the ’70s page on Facebook, 4 August 2013.

¹¹ Bobby Busnach comment on the Provincetown in the ’70s page on Facebook, 2 March 2019.

¹² Richard B. Hall comment on the Provincetown in the ’70s page on Facebook, 26 June 2015.

¹³ Paul Tibbets comment on Dan McKeon’s page on Facebook, 22 April 2020.

¹⁴ Jim F. Brinning comment on the Provincetown in the ’70s page on Facebook, 4 September 2017.

¹⁵ Advertisement, Applause of Provincetown, 12-31 August 1981, Page 36. David Jarrett Collection.

¹⁶ James Hubert comment to the Provincetown in the ’80s page on Facebook, 24 July 2018. Tina Rutledge comment to the Provincetown in the ’80s page on Facebook, 31 July 2018.

¹⁷ Frank Regan,  comment to the Provincetown in the ’70s page on Facebook, 26 February 2019.

¹⁸ Ed Gillis email to the author, 22 July 2014.

¹⁹ David Jarrett comment to the Provincetown in the ’70s page on Facebook, 26 February 2019. Paul J. Asher-Best comment to the Provincetown in the ’70s page on Facebook, 26 February 2019.

²⁰ Glenn Gerace comment to Neta Cobb’s Facebook page, 28 March 2019. Jill Turner Odice comment to Oki Dan’s Facebook page, 12 October 2016. Peter Warnock comment to Leonard Bonnell’s Facebook page, 16 April 2020.

²¹ The Boatslip Beach Club at Provincetown brochure, 1985. David Jarrett Collection. Master deed, Boatslip Condominium, 14 March 1986, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 4962, Page 237.

²² Boatslip Condominium plan, 4 December 1985, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Plan book 412, Pages 84-92.

²³ Fratto to Boatslip Investment Trust, 14 March 1986, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 4962, Page 236.

²⁴ Lassman v. Simpson, No. 04-1214, United States Bankruptcy Court, District of Massachusetts, 17 December 2007.

²⁵ Boatslip to Simpson, 3 September 1991, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 7666, Page 22.

²⁶ “About” on http://www.djmaryalice.com.

²⁷ “The Provincetown Institution; DJ Maryalice Talks About Being the Maestro at the Boatslip, Getting Her Start in P-Town and That Infectious Dance Floor Magic,” by Michael Cook, Instinct, 1 August 2019.

²⁸ Ship Pond Limited Partnership to Boatslip, 29 March 2001, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 13678, Page 52.

²⁹ “Gossipy Keys Get Crime Stopper,” by Ozzie Osborne, The Miami Herald, 12 May 1991, Page 680. “Women in Paradise Broadens Spectrum of Weeklong Event,” by Nancy Klingener, The Miami Herald, 15 September 1993, Page 63. “A Lesbian Landmark Goes ‘All-Welcome,’” by Cammy Clark, The Miami Herald, 25 November 2010.

³⁰ Letter from Harold E. Wolfe to the Secretary of State of Florida, 28 April 2006.

³¹ “Resort Inn’s Current Incarnation Will Continue,” by Stephen Morris, The Provincetown Banner, 23 July 2009.

³² “Tea Dance Has P-Town Hopping,” by Maryellen Fillo, The Hartford Courant, 21 August 2011, Page F1.

³³ “Photos From the Boatslip Virtual Tea Dance No. 1: May 1, 2020,” by Dan McKeon, on his Facebook page, Set=a.10215734406704713.

³⁴ Leonard Paoletti emails to the author, 9 April 2014 and 30 June 2014.

³⁵ Ptown: Art, Sex, and Money on the Outer Cape, by Peter Manso, New York: Scribner, 2002, Page 55.

³⁶ “Waters Landing,” by Christine Champagne, Out, November 2002, Page 80.

³⁷ Leonard Paoletti email to the author, 9 April 2014.

³⁸ Dan McKeon comment on Facebook, 22 April 2020.

³⁹ Andy Towle email to the author, 26 June 2020.

One thought on “161 Commercial Street

  1. I was Food and Beverage Manager at the Boatslip from 2009-2012. Three of the best years of my life!

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