Melamed, if you’re wondering. Betsy (Rosenberg) Melamed. From Boston. (“We have the most beautiful views of the hahbah,” she said, giving herself away.) In a video posted to YouTube on 11 July 2010, the interviewer Stephen Holt held up a menu with Betsy’s trademark caricature on the cover and confessed to her directly: “All these years, I thought you were a cartoon. But you’re a real person.” She happily assented. “I am real, I am real.” Betsy and her husband, Stephen D. Melamed (1943-2010) — veterans of Stormy Harbor Café, 277 Commercial Street, and Steve’s Alibi, 291 Commercial Street — bought this property in 2000 and renamed it. After 15 seasons, she sold it in 2014 to Irvin Morgan and Donald Vafides. They kept her name on the place. And that cartoon.
There are more surprises in store about 177 Commercial Street. It may very well have been Provincetown’s first true coffee bar, the Coffee Grinder, which served 20 varieties of coffee at a time when most Americans thought there were a total of two varieties: black and regular. The painter and illustrator Pio Junco (1913-1960) and his wife Solveig Harriet “Tulla” Junco opened the Coffee Grinder in 1954. At the time, Howard Schultz, the colossus of Starbucks, was still in diapers in Brooklyn.
The business use of this building goes back at least to the beginning of the 20th century, when it was known as the Cottage and denominated 178 Commercial Street (under the old numbering system). Norman Costa operated the Star Laundry here, one of two in town. The property belonged at the time to Helen P. Rogers (1828-1916), whose home was across the road at 176 Commercial Street. In 1909, Rogers transferred the property to her daughter Salome L. Lloyd (d1944).
177 Commercial Street in 2018. Photograph by David W. Dunlap.
Anyone who has admired Charles Webster Hawthorne’s most imposing painting in Town Hall, Crew of the Philomena Manta, will know the name of the next owner of 177 Commercial Street: Philomena (Amaral) Manta (1857-1936), who acquired the property in 1918 from Lloyd. Mrs. Manta, whose first name was also rendered “Phelomina,” was born in Portugal. She married Joseph Manta, who had been at sea until 1876, when he went into the grocery business. In 1882, he purchased the wharf at 179 Commercial Street that became known as Manta’s Wharf. There, he served as an agent for fresh fishing schooners. The schooner Philomena Manta was active as early as 1903, under Capt. Manuel Caton, who was also a part owner.
The Manta family continued to own 177 Commercial Street until 1951, when it was sold to the Juncos by Philomena’s former daughter-in-law, Doris L. (Manta) Berry, widow of Philip P. Manta (1879-1949).
Pio Junco was born in Havana and studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. In one of the earliest references to his work that I could find, he was reported to have painted a series of murals depicting Havana for the Casa Cubana on West 51st Street in Manhattan in 1938. A decade later, he was illustrating stories for Collier’s magazine — quite competently — in a figurative style that summoned the work of Thomas Hart Benton, but with a more surrealistic palette. William C. Glackin, art critic of the Sacramento Bee and Pulitzer finalist, described Junco aptly: “a polished, suave painter with a hint of Dali in his oils.”
Advertisement in the Advocate, 3 July 1952. Advocate Online, Provincetown Public Library.
Advertisement in the Advocate, 1 July 1954. Advocate Online, Provincetown Public Library.
Advertisement in the Advocate, 30 June 1955. Advocate Online, Provincetown Public Library.
Junco opened a gallery and “art counseling” service here in the summer of 1952. The building also served as home and studio. The next summer, he also opened a studio and gallery at 1132 Madison Avenue (East 84th Street) in Manhattan. Then, in 1954, he and Tulla took the next step, opening “Provincetown’s only continental coffee house,” the Coffee Grinder. Among the 20 varieties of coffee on tap, the Advocate reporteed, were “such creations as Cafe de Diablo, Roman Expresso, Cappuccino — things we’ve never even heard of.” Or spelled correctly.
The Coffee Grinder survived the Juncos’ divorce. Tulla kept the business going at 177 Commercial Street for at least one more season, as Tulla’s Coffee Grinder, before selling her one-half interest to J. Steen Jacobsen, who had acquired Pio’s half in a sheriff’s sale. Pio decamped to Monterey, where he opened Pio Junco’s Hidden Village at 220 Olivier Street, in one of the historical adobes near Fisherman’s Wharf. A menu from the Hidden Village turned up on Ebay in 2020, showing that it, too, offered 20 varieties, presumably the same fare as Coffee Grinder:
Albanian Coffee, Angel’s Bosom, Coffee Anise, Arabian Coffee, Cappuccino, Cuban Coffee, Cafe del Diablo, Dutch Coffee, Cafe Espresso, Ice Coffee, Indian Coffee, Cafe au Lait, New Orleans Coffee, Norwegian Coffee, Peruvian Coffee, Roman Espresso, Russian Coffee, Turkish Coffee, Ukrainian Coffee, and Viennese Coffee.
Jacobsen sold 177 Commercial Street to Wilfred S. Godfrey Jr. of Boston in 1957, who sold it in turn to Richard Zaunere of Fort Lee, N.J. He owned it for nearly 20 years before selling it in 1976 to Edward and Emily C. Souza of Long Beach, Calif., for $72,000 (nearly $325,000 in current dollars). Souza requested permission to reopen the property as a breakfast restaurant, with 24 seats. The idea was not universally welcomed by neighbors, who feared further business congestion of the area, but the Board of Selectmen consented, 3 to 1. Mary-Jo Avellar cast the dissenting vote.
Photograph by Duane Steele for the Provincetown Advocate of 2 December 1976 shows Edward Souza in front of 177 Commercial, where he planned to open the Long & Narrow breakfast restaurant. From the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 1, Page 94, in the Dowd Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 748.
Advertisement in the 1977 booklet, Provincetown 250 Years, in the Municipal Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 4988.
Advertisement in the 1985 Provincetown Business Guild guide to Provincetown. From the collection of David Jarrett.
The Long & Narrow Restaurant opened at 7 a.m. every day. It was among the early members of the Provincetown Business Guild. The Souzas sold the place in 1983 to Joseph J. Tringali of Plymouth and Salvo G. Tringali of Provincetown. They slightly amended the name to Sebastian’s Long & Narrow Restaurant and brought John E. Brooks into the ownership. Brooks and Salvo Tringali also lived here, as shown in the 1990 town directory, which lists Brooks as a restaurant owner and Tringali as a cook.
In the name of the Triton Realty Trust, Lawrence Carl Wald purchased 177 Commercial in 1994 for $390,000 from Brooks and Tringali. He lived here in 1995, as did Scott W. Belding. Their business was known first as Larry’s Bar, then as Provincetown Ferry Restaurant. The shipboard solution to space constraints that’s pictured at left was described by Kevin Comey — who took the picture — as Belding’s “creative use of limited square footage in two of the three restrooms.” Paradoxically, however, it was Belding who greatly enlarged the overall size of the building to its current footprint, Comey said.
Andy Towle, the co-publisher of Ptown Hacks, got to know Wald and Belding at the Boatslip, where he worked after completing a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center. “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, later buying 177 Commercial. Larry was extremely creative. I remember the bar area at 177 being covered floor to ceiling with antique paint-by-numbers paintings. They lived there for a bit but later bought 151 Bradford Street, across from Far Land Provisions and lived there for a while. Eventually they left town and moved to Fort Lauderdale where they bought the Cathode Ray bar.”
Left: The ubiquitous caricature of Betsy Melamed, co-founder and, until 2014, proprietor of Bayside Betsy’s. Right: Advertisement in the Provincetown Business Guild guide of 2011.
The exterior stairway at 177 Commercial. Dunlap, 2012.
The Melameds took over the business — and the licenses — in 2000, renaming the establishment Bayside Betsy’s. They bought the property two years later for $1.121 million. Melamed came from Brockton. He was a graduate of the English High School in Boston and an Army veteran who had served in Vietnam. He and Betsy Rosenberg were wed in 1981. Though they lived in the North End, Provincetown began to exert its lure. By the mid-1990s, they were living on the Lower Cape full time. They operated Stormy Harbor from 1995 to 2000, and Steve’s Alibi from 1998 to 2002. Melamed was the first chairman of the Provincetown Visitor Services Board, a treasurer of the Provincetown Business Guild, a member of the Economic Development Committee and the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a chair of Carnival. He died in 2010, at 67.
By then, Bayside Betsy’s had cemented its reputation as a destination. It was here in October 2006 that Senator Edward M. Kennedy appeared to campaign for Sarah K. Peake, a member of Provincetown’s Select Board who was running — successfully, it turned out — to represent the Fourth Barnstable District in the General Court. “It was a very special moment for me,” she recalled about Kennedy’s telling the crowd what a good representative she would make.
Fodor’s recommended the restaurant in its 2003 guide to Cape Cod, describing its “curious mix of feel-good meals like prime rib and pork chop with splashes of classic French and Italian flavors,” and highlighting Pasta Betsy (artichoke hearts, asparagus tips, roasted garlic, yellow tomatoes, and capers) and the New England clam chowder.
When 177 Commercial Street was placed on the market in 2010, for $2.485 million, it had a capacity of 94 seats; 30 in the street-side bar, called Mixers, and 64 in the two dining rooms. It also came with a two-bedroom penthouse apartment with 400-square-foot private deck, having been much enlarged since its days as Long & Narrow. Betsy moved to Florida, where she continues to work in the hospitality business, at Georgie’s Alibi Monkey Bar in Wilton Manors. (It’s owned by Johnny Pak, the proprietor of Thai Lounge Bistro & Monkey Bar, 149 Commercial Street.) “I see her there every year when I visit in January-February,” Bill Dugan told me.
The most substantive change made to Bayside Betsy’s by the new owners, Irvin Morgan and Donald Vafides, was the addition of a rear deck between the 2018 and 2019 seasons. It was constructed by Coastal Custom Builders. The drawing is from the application to the Zoning Board of Appeals of 17 April 2018.
Left: Beachfront view in 2018. Right: Almost the identical perspective in 2019 after the construction of the new deck. Both photos by Dunlap.
“Our Team,” from the website: Irv Morgan and Don Vafides, the owners; Steven Anderson, the general manager; and Joni Tomlinson, the executive chef.
Vafides and Morgan, the former proprietor of Burger Queen at 331 Commercial Street, purchased this property in 2014 for $1.816 million. They added a substantial waterfront deck in 2019, extending 34 feet from the building, stating in their application to the Zoning Board of Appeals that the structure “will not intrude further into existing nonconforming setbacks,” including an unsightly outdoor generator enclosure. It was constructed by Coastal Custom Builders of Eastham.
The kale soup, with linguiça and chorizo, was the best in season, Christopher Snow said in 2020. The clam chowder was also a bragging point when this article was written, and Bayside Betsy’s had an overall score of 4.0 on Tripadvisor, placing it No. 22 out of 68 Provincetown restaurants. Out of 910 reviews, 441 rated it “excellent,” and 272 “very good.”
To one “average” review in August 2020, Morgan responded: “I’m truly sorry that your experience was less satisfying than you expected. I’m sure you understand that during these times of Covid, many restaurants such as ours have had to pare down their menu. I’m working with far less staff than I normally do. Every wonderful employee at my establishment is working double and triple time. Possibly if you adjust your expectations during these very difficult times, you’ll be more happy. We hope to see you again.”
¶ Last updated on 12 January 2021.
177 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2018, by David W. Dunlap.
• Salome L. Lloyd (d1944)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 51305454.
• Philomena (Amaral) Manta (1857-1936)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 91284368.
• Stephen D. Melamed (1943-2010)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 62735843.
• Helen P. Rogers (1828-1916)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 51305558.