You might look at this grand Queen Anne-style structure and imagine that it was a captain’s house. You’d be right — up to a point. Capt. William Matheson (1828-1896) did live here briefly in the 1890s. “The beauty of the finish, the elegant appointments, and spacious halls of the house make it an ideal dwelling, fit for the occupancy of the best in the land,” the Advocate gushed in 1895. “It is none too good for Capt. Matheson, however. He deserves what is best, and his friends rejoice that this little gem of a house belongs to none other than him.” But he was dead within two years of acquiring the property, and the house became much more the province of his widow, Mary (Matheson) Matheson (1833-1926), and two of their daughters, Lizzie Leah William Matheson (1872-1957) and Jessie Taylor Matheson (1865-1962). Jessie, born just as the Civil War was ending, resided here until she was 97 years old and astronauts were orbiting the Earth.
John Love “Jingles” Yingling — the legendary proprietor of Bubala’s by the Bay, 183-185 Commercial Street, and Spiritus Pizza, 190 Commercial Street — has owned 186 Commercial Street since 2005. At this writing, it is divided between the Grotta Bar on the lower floor, the Local 186 restaurant on the main floor, and the Enzo Guest House upstairs. The businesses are owned by John’s son, Guillermo “Gui” Yingling, and Eric Jansen. Oriana Conklin is the general manager of Enzo and Local 186. During the Covid-19 winter of 2020-2021, Local 186 doubled as a pop-up restaurant operated by Michela Murphy of Sal’s Place, 99-101 Commercial Street.
186 Commercial Street with its new porch, in 2012. Photo by David W. Dunlap.
That delightful garden of iron and steel flowers, pussy willows, butterflies, and dragonflies — fabricated from rebar, diamond plate, springs, bolts, and nails — is the work of the Kacergis family and their Provincetown Welding Works, 3 Bradford Street. The perky bird atop the turret, cousin to the group nesting on Bubala’s roof, is the creation of Alfred Glover of Cataumet.
The house, as originally constructed, was not nearly as showy. In the 1880s, it was the home of Capt. Gideon Bowly (1816-1893) and his second wife, Laurana M. (Lewis) Bowly (b1819). The house shared a front pathway with the slightly smaller home of Captain Bowly’s slightly older brother, Joshua Elsbery Bowly (1813-1883), at 184 Commercial Street. The path’s existence is recalled to this day by a five-foot-wide right-of-way between the two lots.
The Bowly brothers were both born in town, to Mary and Gideon Bowly. They’re best remembered for the exceptionally long wharf bearing their name, at 187 Commercial Street. They constructed it in 1849 and then extended it in 1863 to receive the Boston passenger steamer George Shattuck. With that, it became better known as Steamboat Wharf. The Bowlys’ headquarters were in a wharf-head building at 185 Commercial Street (then denominated 186 Commercial Street). They had one of the more commonly misspelled names in Provincetown; it was not “Bowley” — despite what you have read in Building Provincetown, and other books.
On the death of Joshua Bowly in 1883, Bowly’s Wharf and the wharf-head building were sold to Captain Matheson. Following Gideon’s death a decade later, Laurana sold their home to Mary Matheson.
Left: In Capt. Gideon Bowly’s ownership, 186 Commercial (numbered “509” for record-keeping) was a one-and-a-half story house, shaped like a backward “L.” Right: Under the Mathesons, a mansard roof and porch were added (shown by dotted lines), as was a corner turret. Details of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map From Provincetown, Barnstable County, Massachusetts of 1889 and 1912, in the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. Digital IDs g3764pm.g038261889 (1889) and g3764pm.g038261912 (1912).
Mary was the daughter of Elizabeth and John Matheson of St. Esprit, a tiny settlement on the south shore of Cape Breton Island, at the eastern end of Nova Scotia, or New Scotland. “Her parents were among the original Scottish settlers of Cape Breton,” the Mathesons’ great-great-granddaughter, Charlotte Matheson (Moat) Fyfe, told me in 2021. The Province of Nova Scotia was freestanding at the time of Mary’s birth, more than three decades before the founding of the Dominion of Canada.
About seven miles west of St. Esprit on Cape Breton, at Grand River, William Matheson (Uilleam Mathanach in Scottish Gaelic) was born in 1828 to Jessie and Alexander Matheson. They had come to Nova Scotia from around Loch Alsh, in an area of northern Scotland then known as Ross-shire and now as Ross and Cromarty. William “chaidb e do na Stàitean ‘nuair a bha e naodb bliadhn’ deug,” according to his obituary in An Mail; that is, he emigrated to the United States when he was 19. He returned to Cape Breton long enough to wed Mary Matheson. She was obliged to uproot her life to join her husband in Provincetown, but — since they shared surnames — “at least Mary didn’t have to change her monogram,” Fyfe said wryly.
They lived at 10 Conant Street. Mary had seven children: Charlotte, or “Lottie” (later McKay), born in 1857; Georgianna D., or “Georgie” (later Paine), born in 1859; Mary Stewart, “Mamie” (later MacMurray), born in 1862; Jessie Taylor, born in 1865; John Alexander, born in 1867; Murdock, who died in infancy in 1869; and Lizzie Leah, born in 1872. Five of the seven are entombed with the Mathesons in one of the most imposing vaults in the Town Cemetery.
The Matheson family vault in the Town Cemetery. 2018, Dunlap.
William assumed his first command, schooner Abstract, at age 21. During the spring and summer, Abstract was a Grand Banker, working the rich cod fishery in the enormous submerged highlands off Newfoundland. The rest of the year, it was a coaster, trading along Atlantic coastal routes, with occasional voyages to the Caribbean and South America.
Profits from Abstract enabled Captain Matheson to construct a schooner fleet of his own, beginning with Lotta Belle, which had a capacity of 2,000 quintals of fish (224,000 pounds). Next came schooners William Matheson and Mary Matheson, both built in Essex, and each having a capacity of 2,600 quintals. Matheson’s partner in these vessels was his son-in-law Capt. Angus McKay. He was married to Lottie Matheson.
Almost all the Matheson children had schooners named after them: Georgie D. Paine, Jessie T. Matheson, John A. Matheson, and the three-masted Lizzie T. Matheson, which was built specially for Captain Matheson’s command. He also owned Addie F. Cole, Belle Bartlett, Lizzie Smith, and Willie L. Swift, and held fractional interests in other vessels.
Advertisement in the 1885 guide and directory, Chequocket; or, Coatuit; The Aboriginal Name of Provincetown. From the MacMillan Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 364.
Left: A newspaper engraving at the time of Captain Matheson’s death in 1896. Right: Matheson sponsored the exhibition of a 65-foot-long whale in Brooklyn and New York City. The creature was dead, so its smell soon overtook its size as the most salient feature, as this contemporary newspaper cartoon attests. Both illustrations collection and courtesy of Charlotte Matheson Fyfe.
Captain Matheson last went to sea in 1880. That year, he was persuaded to sponsor a voyage quite unlike any other he’d undertaken: the public exhibition in Brooklyn and New York of a 65-foot-long finback whale that had been taken off Provincetown. Capt. Robert Lavender was responsible for hunting the whale and killing it with two bomb lances. He evidently sold the carcass, for $600, to Captain Matheson and Samuel S. Swift (father of Willie Swift). They, in turn, engaged the tugboat Curtis to tow the whale to New York Harbor, after the creature’s entrails were removed and replaced with water-tight barrels to keep it buoyant.
“The whale is the largest ever brought to New-York, and is well worth seeing,” proclaimed none other than The New-York Times, noting its location in Brooklyn, next to the slip for the Fulton Ferry. The public responded lustily, according to another newspaper account: “The gate tenders could not make change fast enough to satisfy the impatient mob of sightseers. … Occasionally one flourishing a $1, $2, or $5 note would force it on a bustling collector with, ‘Keep it all; I can’t wait for change,’ and struggle excitedly toward the whale tent. Silver and greenbacks, a perfect shower, poured in.”
Even in March, however, a mammal carcass cannot withstand decomposition indefinitely, and it didn’t take long before the size of the whale was not its most salient feature. Another newspaper reported after a few weeks that the spectacle was principally “for the benefit of those people who rejoice in the possession of nasal organs that disdain anything weaker than Limburger cheese.” By then, the partners had more than recouped their expenses.
Quarterboard of the schooner Jessie T. Matheson, named for one of the captain’s daughters, who lived at 186 Commercial until just after her 97th birthday in 1962. Collection and courtesy of Charlotte Fyfe.
Perhaps using some of those proceeds, Captain Matheson purchased Steamboat Wharf in 1883, which is why you’ll see references to it as Matheson’s Wharf (as well as Bowly’s Wharf). The captain made his headquarters in the rear of the wharf-head building. The retail frontage, on Commercial Street, was given over to daughters Mary and Jessie to operate as M. & J. Matheson Millinery & Fancy Goods. William Matheson was a director of the First National Bank of Provincetown, the Equitable Marine Insurance Company, and the Boston & Provincetown Steamboat Company, owners of Longfellow, which succeeded George Shattuck on the Provincetown-to-Boston run.
“He was an adept businessman who found creative ways to keep his family afloat as the fisheries tanked,” Charlotte Fyfe said.
As the 1890s began, cod were scarce on the usually reliable Grand Banks in 1891. Contemporary fishermen blamed the practice of throwing offal overboard into the fishing grounds. Modern historians blame overfishing. “The once vast fleet faded as by magic,” one account stated, but Matheson did not panic. “He rose superior to an adversary that forced ruin upon the mass, and, like the skillful general, who failing to overcome his opponent withdraws his forces without loss from the field, he had, in his later years, gradually reduced his working force of craft methodically and without injury to his business.”
“Of late years he had but few vessels going to the banks, some of them manned by crews from St. Peter’s and vicinity,” the Bras d’Or Gazette said. But that did not curb his charity. “Many a Cape Bretoner in days gone by, on landing at Provincetown empty handed, found in him a ready help.”
Memorial bouquets and wreaths commemorated Captain Matheson after his death in 1896. Collection and courtesy of Charlotte Fyfe.
Eighteen ninety-one was an especially awful year. In the fall, schooner Georgie D. Paine, commanded by the Mathesons’ son-in-law, Capt. Oren D. Paine, disappeared far out in the Atlantic — most likely consumed by a hurricane. Three grandchildren were left fatherless. (More about them below.)
So, this was the William Matheson — diminished but deeply respected — whose wife bought 186 Commercial Street from Laurana Bowly, for $1,250, in 1894. The Mathesons transformed the structure from one-and-a-half to two stories by constructing a mansard roof. They added an octagonal turret to the southeast corner and a deep porch to the front facade.
The Advocate took its readers through the house in April 1895:
“Stepping from the broad front piazza, [the] roof of which is supported on fancy carved pillars, one passes through double doors of hard wood and plate glass into the wide front hall and is at once impressed by the beauty of the finish, which is of elm, elaborately carved. The flooring on this, the first floor, is of beech and maple.
“Opening to the left of the hall is a drawing-room with a room designed for a library in its rear. To the right is the parlor with a spacious alcove, called a music room. [The wallpaper in the halls was olive green.] From the left side of the hall rises a wide staircase, which, having one landing midway, turns squarely back on its upward course to the upper hall. The beauty of this staircase is easier imagined than described.
“At the rear end of the lower hall is the dining-room, a very roomy place finished in ash, with a cunning three-cornered china closet [set] into the corner of the room with a series of drawers for table linen, etc., beneath. A large mantel, with [a] plate glass mirror in [the] colonial style of architecture, is a pleasing feature here. [The wallpaper was a reddish hue.] Back of this room is a fine large kitchen, and opening off it an immense pantry, with pie closets, shelves, etc., ad. lib.
“The second floor rooms are finished in Washington cedar, very handsome. Six large sleeping apartments are on this floor. There is also a roomy bath-room and lavatory, and a finished store-room. The hall and bath-room are flooded with light that enters through richly stained glass windows.
“An octagonal tower that rises on the front of the dwelling gives cozy nooks to the rooms on that corner of the house.”
But the feature of the house that most impressed the Advocate — judging from the prominence it was given in the article — was the furnace, manufactured by the Gurney Hot Water Heater Company of Boston, “which keeps the temperature of the whole house at an equable height.” This early central heating system was connected to 14 radiators throughout the house.
Captain Matheson’s coffin being placed in a horse-drawn, glass-sided hearse in March 1896, outside 186 Commercial Street, where he died. You can see a corner of the front porch at far right. Mourners stood on Court Street, before 188 Commercial, for a better view.
The funeral cortège set off along Commercial Street, perhaps for the Congregational Church of the Pilgrims. Both, collection and courtesy of Charlotte Fyfe.
Captain Matheson made it through only one heating season. In fact, the elegiac tone of the Advocate tour suggests it was known even then that he didn’t have much time. He died in this house. Photographs furnished by Charlotte Fyfe of the funeral procession make plain that his death was a momentous event in town.
Mary Matheson survived her husband by 30 years, remaining closely involved with the Congregational Church of the Pilgrims, 256-258 Commercial Street. In 1909, she deeded 186 Commercial to her daughters Jessie and Lizzie, but remained here until the end of her days. “Her fireside was ever the center of hospitality and good cheer,” the Advocate said. Though Mary Matheson became the oldest citizen of Provincetown — 92 years, 8 months, and 22 days at the time of her death in this house on 8 January 1926 — she would not, as a woman, have then been eligible to hold the Boston Post Cane.
Don’t imagine the house frozen in amber under the Misses Matheson. Instead, conjure the sounds of little feet pounding all that beech and maple flooring. “It would seem that the ‘maiden ladies’ may have raised a whole brood of children in the 186 Commercial Street house long after Captain Matheson died,” said Fyfe, who was herself a childhood guest of Jessie and Lizzie, her great great aunts, in the 1950s and ’60s.
The sisters Jessie and Lizzie Matheson cared for many young members of their extended family, so children were a constant presence at 186 Commercial. Collection and courtesy of Charlotte Fyfe.
Perhaps the first young children to have been reared in the Matheson household were Rufus Matheson Paine (1885-1953), William Miller Paine (1888-1956), and Jessie Lincoln Paine (1892-1968). Their mother, Georgie, was a sister of the Misses Matheson. She was also not only the wife of Capt. Oren O. Paine of Wellfleet, but the namesake of Georgie D. Paine, a two-masted, 100-foot-long, 168-ton schooner built at Bath in 1883.
In September 1891, Mrs. Paine, then pregnant with her third child, took her young sons Rufus and William up to Boston to bid farewell to their father, headed to Suriname aboard Georgie D. Paine with a cargo of ice and a complement of seven or eight men. The ship sailed on the 13th. Five days later, at a point in the Atlantic roughly 835 miles east of North Carolina, Georgie D. Paine was spoke by the brig Rocky Glen, headed in the opposite direction, from Suriname to Boston. With that, Captain Paine sailed into increasingly foul weather, turning from gale to hurricane on the 21st and 22nd. Georgie D. Paine was never seen again. By November, it was given up as lost. Four months after that, Jessie Paine — Charlotte Fyfe’s grandmother — was born, on 15 March 1892.
Rufus, Jessie, and William Paine were the children of Georgie D. (Matheson) Paine and Capt. Oren D. Paine, who was lost at sea in 1891, just months before Jessie was born. Collection and courtesy of Charlotte Fyfe, Jessie’s granddaughter.
The fourth child reared in the house was Janette May MacMurray (1899-1942), another of the Misses Matheson’s nieces. Janette’s mother, Mary (Matheson) MacMurray, was widowed after only two-and-a-half years of marriage. “I’ll bet anything Mary returned home to Provincetown and family to have Janette and raise her there after the untimely death of her husband,” Fyfe said.
The fifth and sixth children raised at 186 Commercial were Janette’s: Mary Stuart Miller (later Henrique), born in 1932; and George Fillmore Miller III, born in 1933. They are both shown as part of the 186 Commercial household in the 1940 census, together with their parents and the Misses Matheson. For the record, Jessie Matheson, then 75, was recorded as the head of the household.
Janette Miller was well engaged in civic causes through her membership in the Masonic organization Order of the Eastern Star; the Nautilus Club, 161 Commercial Street; and the Anchor and Ark Club, another Masonic organization, at 175 Commercial Street. But she came to the fore in the early days of World War II as “particularly valuable worker in the Civilian Defense program,” as the Advocate described her. Because the Cape had been attacked by German submarines in World War I, defense was a matter taken very seriously.
The corner turret and deep front porch, added by the Mathesons, gave 186 Commercial a distinctive identity. Of course, the great elms [?] out front didn’t hurt. Collection and courtesy of Charlotte Fyfe.
It was a special shock, then, on 12 October 1942 when Mrs. Miller died in this house of a pulmonary embolism, at the age of 43, leaving young Mary and George in the care of their father and great aunts. (Mary went on to make an important name for herself in town, as a proprietor of the B. H. Dyer & Company hardware store, 173 Commercial Street, and Dyer’s Beach House Motel by the Sea, 171-173B Commercial Street.)
In one way or another, Jessie and Lizzie Matheson cared for at least six children. “No wonder they never married,” Charlotte Fyfe said. “They must have been exhausted!”
Not too exhausted to involve themselves in the community, though. Jessie was the “J.” in the M. & J. Matheson Millinery & Fancy Goods store, across Commercial Street. She attended the Boston unit of the national Bryant & Stratton Business College chain of business schools. As was true of the rest of the family, Jessie was involved in the affairs of the Congregational Church of the Pilgrims and — like her mother and sister — belonged to the Masonic Order of the Eastern Star. Jessie served as a delegate of the Red Cross to the Provincetown Tercentenary organization in 1920.
Lizzie died in 1957 in this house. Jessie lived another five years, but finally succumbed 23 days after her 97th birthday.
Althea Boxell took this photograph in 1944, after a hurricane (they were nameless in those days) devastated the town. From the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 6, Page 140, in the Dowd Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 1975.
Another Boxell photo after the 1944 hurricane. Imagine the force needed to uproot this elm [?]. And imagine how grateful the Misses Matheson must have been when it landed where it did. Posted by Ben Kettlewell on the Facebook page, Provincetown in the ’40s, 17 February 2021.
To judge from this later picture, at least one of the big shade trees in front of 186 Commercial Street was spared. Collection and courtesy of Charlotte Fyfe.
The Matheson family sold the property a year after Jessie’s death, for $14,500 (roughly $120,000 today), to Richard Zaunere and John Hanley. They owned the property briefly, selling it in 1965 to Esther Carolyn (Nice) Chamberlain (1905-1968) and her husband, Stanley G. Chamberlain (±1904-1986). The Chamberlains continued to use the house as a private residence.
Stanley was a member of the fourth generation of Chamberlains to own Chamberlain & Company, a wholesale meat and provision distribution company based in Boston. Esther was the daughter of Marguerite (Sinclair) Nice and Lcdr. E. W. C. Nice of the United States Navy Reserve. After retiring in 1932 from private practice as the head of an architectural and engineering firm, Lieutenant Commander Nice supervised the construction of naval, marine, and civilian air bases, including the field that is now known as Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport (OPF).
By the time they bought 186 Commercial, the Chamberlains already had a fairly high local profile as the purchasers of the former lodge at the Highland House Hotel in Truro, a handsome Federal-style building from the early 19th century that was presumed to have sheltered Henry David Thoreau in his journey down Cape Cod. In 1962, the Chamberlains had the building moved about three-and-a-half miles, from what is now the Highlands Center at Cape Cod National Seashore to 24 Old County Road, where it remains.
Esther died in 1968. Subsequent proprietors attest to the belief that she never really left. “There have been many businesses in the building, and just as many stories of Esther ‘haunting’ the building,” the Yinglings wrote on the Enzo website
Advertisement in the Provincetown Art Association and Museum Summer Catalog 1978.
Two years after Esther’s death, in 1970, Stanley sold the property to Robert L. “Bobby” Werner of Manhattan, the longtime proprietor of the well-regarded S’Il Vous Plaît restaurant. The business opened in June 1956 at 33 Bradford Street. “Patrons were delighted with the authentic French food,” the Advocate reported. The restaurant’s fifth season, in 1960, found it at the Colonial Inn, 603 Commercial Street (now the Watermark Inn). Werner moved back to the West End in 1962, reopening at 193 Commercial Street.
After purchasing 186 Commercial, Werner moved S’Il Vous Plaît here. The Complete Food Guide to Provincetown 1976, by Sally Lindover and Harry de la Houssaye, had this to say:
“Owner/chef Robert Werner tries hard to please and usually succeeds by offering to prepare any dish in his extensive repertoire with a day’s notice. These include Cornish game hen, Cumberland sauce (5.00); sweetbreads à la crème (6.00); and bouillabaisse Provincetown (7.50). Many dishes are on the menu daily, elegantly prepared and moderately priced.”¹
Lindover added that “much of the extensive dessert menu … could be served at the bar,” citing Werner’s Cointreau cheese pie and the angel food cake with bourbon cream. “I dined there many times during my first visits to Ptown,” David Jarrett told me in 2014. “The only real French restaurant in Ptown at that time and wonderful food. Very few people dined there, as French food was not ‘in’ at the time. As a result, it finally closed down, much to my regret.” Jarrett said Werner rented rooms upstairs, but not under the name of any establishment.
The red-and-white awning led patrons to S’Il Vous Plaît in the 1970s. Collection and courtesy of Charlotte Fyfe.
Rosemary Palladino fondly remembered the Shrimp Robert at S’Il Vous Plaît.² But not all of the meals were memorable for a happy reason. “We waited forever for our dinner order,” Stuard M. Derrick said, “until the maitre d’ came out and announced that the chef was too drunk to cook.”²
As much as Lindover liked S’Il Vous Plaît, she seems to have adored the imaginative café-cabaret that (presumably) operated where the Grotta Bar is now. It was called the Alternative.
“This theater restaurant is nonprofit and offers an alternative to people who spurn alcohol and expensive dining. Its high-minded intentions are to serve good food at low prices and provide an arena for new talent. The help have fellowships and alternate between kitchen and stage. Caryl Barker, its founder, offers a versatile menu of waffles and fruit pancakes at breakfast, hot Syrian bread sandwiches, salad plates, and soup at lunch. … No item, other than dinner, is above 2.50. … Entertainment of children’s theater, musical revues, poetry readings, and surprise events depending on the spontaneity of the guests …. The room is spartan but homey, decorated with local art.”¹
Two other businesses that operated at No. 186 while Werner still owned the property were Maggie’s in 1977 (according to Joel Grozier, the formidable local historian), which was run by women; and Back Stage, which opened in 1980, and sold light lunches during the day. “The atmosphere drastically changes as the night deepens,” the Advocate said in May of that year, “and it is transformed into backstage, a place where the ‘in’ diner can eat and hang out.”
Werner sold 186 Commercial for $190,000 in 1982 to Richard Allen “Rick” Karp (1953-2015), Richard A. Pozenovich, and Clement A. Silva. Karp and Pozenovich together held a 50 percent interest in the property, while Silva held the other half. Karp, a Coldwell Banker real estate broker and performer in gay pornographic films (as “Cole Tucker”), would go on to run a restaurant at 140 Commercial Street. Karp purchased Silva’s interest in the property in 1983. The partners transformed the building into the Sea Fox Inn and Sea Fox Grille.
Around 1984, the Victor Victoria bar operated in the basement space of the Painted Lady Inn, where the Grotta Bar is now. Postcard posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on his My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection Facebook page, 3 May 2015.
Mark Petteruti captured the Painted Lady Inn in 1991, when it fully lived up to its name. On the canopy at the lower right are visible the letters “Blo,” for Blondies. Posted on his Instagram account, 9 February 2020.
The Court Street end of the building cab be seen at left in Mark Petteruti’s 1991 photo — that is, if you take your eyes off the parade spectators. Posted on his Instagram account, 9 February 2020.
Advertisement in Provincetown Arts, 1990.
In 1984, the property was acquired by American Inns, a corporation led by Betty A. Adams, with Janice Doerler, Muriel Goodwin, and Ann Holoka as the other directors. They renamed it the Painted Lady Inn. Dining and nightspots here included Victor Victoria, the Grille, the Café at the Painted Lady, and Blondies.
Under the name of Resort Ventures Nominee Trust, Pamela A. Childs and Frances Allou Gershwin purchased 186 Commercial from American Inns in 1988 for $500,000. It became the Fiddle Leaf Restaurant and Inn, under Childs’s management. Blondie’s remained in business downstairs. “I worked at Blondie’s for a few weeks (maybe a month) during my first summer, 1989,” the artist M. P. Landis said. “I was a bit too tall to waiter there for too long.”²
On 31 July 1992, Franco’s by the Sea at 429 Commercial Street — called the “hottest meal ticket in Provincetown” by Robert Levey in The Boston Globe — was destroyed by arsonists in what the Board of Fire Engineers called the “worst fire of the year.” The proprietor, Franco Anthony Palumbo (1942-1995), moved the business to 186 Commercial Street, where it remained at least through the 1993 season.
Linda Chase and Linda M. Jennison, as CMJ Realty Trust, purchased this property in 1995 from Resort Ventures Nominee Trust for $400,000. The restaurant became the Cactus Garden.
For $655,000, Ellen S. Freeman, as ESR Realty Trust, bought 186 Commercial in 2000 from CMJ Realty Trust. Freeman undertook a substantive interior and exterior renovation, and renamed the place Esther’s, in honor of Esther Chamberlain.
“This aims to capture all the glamour and ritzy sophistication that embodies her reputation,” Fodor’s 22nd Edition Cape Cod said in 2003, suggesting that Esther Chamberlain was still in the building, “in spirit, anyway.”
“Rooms are serene and cleanly elegant, with custom-designed, Italian-built furniture with blond wood; butterscotch imported marble in all bathrooms; and such luxuries as water views, 310-thread-count sheets, hot tubs or large soaking tubs — there’s even a four-head European shower. Also on hand is a fine dining restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a downstairs, Art Deco-style piano bar. It is said that Esther is most pleased.”
Guillermo “Gui” Yingling and Eric Jansen, co-owners of Local 186. Courtesy of Guillermo Yingling.
Advertisement in the Provincetown Pocket Book guide of 2006.
Left: The weathervane atop the turret was the work of Alfred Glover. 2011, Dunlap. Right: From 2005 to 2012, both the restaurant and the guest house were known as Enzo. 2010, Dunlap.
The sign was made by the Kacergis family of Provincetown Welding Works. 2011, Dunlap.
Michael Kacergis and his Provincetown Welding Works also made the garden-like flora and fauna that double as a fence around the restaurant’s street-level patio. 2011, Dunlap.
Intricate pattern of fishscale shingles on the mansard roof. 2008, Dunlap.
That’s what the Yingling family purchased in 2005, as the 186 Commercial Street Realty Trust, for $1.2 million, from ESR Realty Trust. They transformed the property into the Enzo restaurant and guest house, and Grotta Bar. The name commemorated Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988), a pioneering race-car driver and the founder in 1939 of the Ferrari automobile company in Modena, Italy. Upstairs, the five guest rooms were given the names Beech Forest, Herring Cove, Long Point, Race Point, and Wood End.
Enzo was the Italian restaurant on the main floor of the house. The executive chef was Joe Williams, proprietor of Taverna, an Italian restaurant in Vieques, Puerto Rico.
It was the Grotta Bar downstairs that really put Enzo on the map. Beginning in 2006 and running continuously through 2015, Billy Hough of the GarageDogs (piano) and Susan Goldberg of Space Pussy (bass) put on a once- or twice-weekly musical show called Scream Along With Billy.
Sue Goldberg and Billy Hough, the long-running Scream Along With Billy duo at the Grotta Bar. Photograph by Nina West, who created hundreds of posters for Hough and Goldberg. Posted on the Sing Along With Billy page on Facebook, 22 April 2020.
Entrance to the Grotta Bar in 2018. Dunlap.
“‘You need to go to Scream Along With Billy,’ someone will tell you at some point when you announce that you’re going to be in Provincetown,” Kyle Turner wrote for Out Traveler in July 2015. “On my first night, he performed songs from Regina Spektor’s Begin to Hope album. He broke my heart when he performed ‘Samson.'”
“That’s the curious quality to Scream Along With Billy … it’s a show he does once (or twice) a week with his best friend Sue Goldberg on bass, in which they cover albums. In between songs, he rambles nonchalantly to his audience, and the allows the mounting emotion from each track and monologue-esque interlude to be quietly, or even loudly, devastating. Scream Along, in its 10 years, has become somewhat of a staple or cult success ….
“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Scream Along With Billy — ‘It’s the only place in Ptown where you won’t hear Madonna,’ he quips — such an exciting show each week. No doubt it’s due to the collaboration between Hough and Goldberg, able to imbue their distinctive sound in even the most recognizable songs, albums, and artists’ discographies, not least of all Velvet Underground, the Beatles, Lou Reed, My Chemical Romance, Patti Smith, and the Strokes.
“‘We don’t know what’s going to happen,’ Billy says of the improvisatory nature of the show. ‘It can get a little dark and scary sometimes. … [T]o have Sue there makes it a little easier on the audience. We don’t make ourselves easy to love.’ And yet, people do.”³
Among the reasons for ending their solid 10-year run, Hough told Turner in 2015, was, “I wanna kill it before it gets lame.” (The act subsequently returned to the Grotta.)
The restaurant upstairs came in for its own share of attention in 2012 when Gui Yingling, the executive chef at Bubala’s by the Bay; Eric Jansen, the chef at and owner of Blackfish in Truro; Jennifer White; and Williams transformed it from Enzo into Local 186 — “the first truly upscale burger restaurant on the Cape,” Dianne Langeland wrote on Edible Cape Cod.
Left: The Local 186 logo, designed by Susie Nielsen. Right: Mural by Kris Smith. Posted on the Local 186 Instagram account, 21 September 2016.
In 2008, before the front porch was rebuilt. Dunlap.
The 2012 porch addition included pendant saucer lamps that John Yingling had stored in a garage for two decades. Posted on the Local 186 page on Facebook, 19 June 2020.
A diner’s- and server’s-eye view of the Local 186 porch. Posted on the Local 186 account on Instagram, 12 August 2015.
Odean Hill, Jessie Chavez, and Sean Woodman. Posted on the Local 186 account on Instagram, 25 May 2015.
Their most profound and obvious change was to restore a large covered front porch to the house, 30 by 19 feet, replacing a 22-by-9-foot open-air deck. The project had to be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, in part because it would add 7,680 cubic feet to a building that was already exceeded neighborhood scale. The resulting structure was to have 43,376 cubic feet — 69 percent larger than the neighborhood average. Gary Locke of the William N. Rogers II engineering firm, speaking for the Yinglings, told the board that the new porch would benefit the town because it would allow Local 186 to operate in inclement weather. The design, he said, would be based on a 1930s photo. The board approved the porch unanimously, 4-to-0, on 1 March 2012.
Steve McGovern was credited as the architect and John Badam as the contractor by Marni Elyse Katz on StyleCarrot. Katz quoted White, the general manager, as saying about the décor: “It was a collective local effort. Every piece is all made by local artists with reclaimed woods and other vintage materials, all collected from old Provincetown properties.” The overall design concept and layout, as well as the design of the logo, menu, and website, were credited to Susie Nielsen, an artist, designer, and curator who runs Farm Projects in Wellfleet. The murals were credited to the artist Kris Smith, owner of the Coastline Tattoo Studio, 290A Commercial Street, and a co-founder of the Helltown Workshop at Whalers Wharf. The millwork was credited to Matt Millett, another co-founder of the Helltown Workshop, and to Tom Magar, a bartender and carpenter. White found the old feed and flour sacks used to upholster the dining chairs. The pendant saucer lamps on the porch had been stored for more than 20 years by John Yingling in his garage, against the day when they came in handy.⁴
“It is crisp but homey and very pulled together,” Katz concluded.
The pop-up Blackfish Pub began operating in the Local 186 space in 2016 during the off-season. The very off-season. Posted on the Local 186 account on Instagram, 7 January 2017.
Two versions of the Blackfish logo by Susie Nielsen; one for the sign outside, one for the menus.
The food was well regarded, too. Local 186 held a 4.5 rating on Tripadvisor at the time of this writing, placing it No. 12 among 68 Provincetown restaurants reviewed by the site. Out of 486 reviews, 86 percent were categorized by Tripadvisor as excellent or very good. Local 186 was also rated as a Traveler’s Choice. In 2020, Ptownie counted it as one of the best restaurants in town. “The draw here is the burgers,” the magazine said, “and when they say, ‘Build your own,’ you’ll be surprised at the wide range of choices, from fried avocado to duck-fat mayonnaise.”
Though Local 186 was a seasonal operation, it began expanding the business year in 2016 when the Blackfish Pub at Local opened in the space as an off-season pop-up.
Covid-19 hammered the entire enterprise. The Enzo guest house closed for the 2020 season. The Grotta Bar closed for the 2020 season, though Hough and Goldberg’s many fans were able to Stream Along With Billy on Facebook Live. They moved their show from the Grotta to the web on 13 March 2020. “It was a tough call, as town wasn’t closed yet, but we didn’t want to risk it,” Hough wrote on Facebook. “We hadn’t seen people moving their shows online yet, so we made it up as we went.”
Left: Eleanor Score’s sign for Sal’s Place at Local 186, which opened in late 2020, incorporated a portrait of the restaurant’s founder, the painter Salvatore Del Deo. Upper right: Since outdoor dining was encouraged during the pandemic, Sal’s provided blankets and heat lamps to its guests. Lower right: It also offered takeout, under the name Sal’s Place to Your Place. The woodcut artwork was by Megan Billman. Posted on the Sal’s Place page on Facebook, 29 November 2020, 23 January 2021, and 17 January 2021.
This wintry scene showed one of the Covid-19 isolation pods on the front patio. Posted on the Sal’s Place page on Facebook, 26 January 2021.
Local 186 opened on 19 June for takeout only and on 25 June for outdoor dining. In November, Michela Murphy opened a pop-up version of her family’s restaurant, Sal’s Place, in part because she could not winterize the restaurant’s permanent home in the far West End. Under the name Sal’s Place to Your Place, the restaurant delivered boxed meals to customers’ homes in Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, and Orleans. Each box came with a large salad, an appetizer, an entrée, homemade lavender sea-salt fudge, a bouquet, cloth napkins, and a bottle of wine. A box for two cost $125. A box for four cost $200.
Sal’s at Local 186 also had in-person dining. “Everyone I talked to was there on Valentine’s Day” in 2021, said Harrison Fish, co-host of Wake Up! in Provincetown. “It was like the Who’s Who of Provincetown, Valentine’s Day at Sal’s.”
Perhaps Esther was there, too.
Unless the ghosts — as I like to believe — are those of the Misses Matheson.
Posted on the Local 186 page on Facebook, 13 July 2020.
¶ Last updated on 21 March 2020.
186 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
• Capt. Gideon Bowly (1816-1893)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 119084270.
• Joshua Elsbery Bowly (1813-1883)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 124291463.
• Esther Carolyn (Nice) Chamberlain (1905-1968)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 144789562, Truro.
• Mary Stuart (Miller) Henrique (1932-2011)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 74650557.
• Richard Allen “Rick” Karp (1953-2015)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 147726307.
• Mary Stewart “Mamie” (Matheson) MacMurray (1862-1913)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 52875905.
• Jessie Taylor Matheson (1865-1962)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 52877033.
• Lizzie Leah William Matheson (1872-1957)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 52877023.
• Mary (Matheson) Matheson (1833-1926)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 52876994.
• Capt. William Matheson (1828-1896)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 52876983.
• Janette May (MacMurray) Miller (1899-1942)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 155301732.
• Janet Paine (Van Ummersen) Moat (1926-2000)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 52875658.
• Georgianna D. “Georgie” (Matheson) Paine (1859-1931)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 171524356.
• Rufus M. Paine (1885-1953)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 52875708.
• William Miller Paine (1888-1956)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 204722466, Lowell.
• Franco Anthony Palumbo (1942-1995)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 184748827.
• Jessie Lincoln (Paine) Van Ummersen (1892-1968)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 52875643.
¹ The Complete Food Guide to Provincetown 1976, by Sally Lindover and Harry de la Houssaye, in the Municipal Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 5794.
² Comments on a photograph posted by Mark Petteruti on Facebook, 22 June 2014.
³ “Scream Along for One Last Ride,” by Kyle Turner, Out Traveler, 25 July 2015.
⁴ “Design Diary: Local 186 in Provincetown,” by Marni Elyse Katz, StyleCarrot, 19 July 2012.