As history tells us, the Mayflower and its unhappy boatload of disgruntled worshipers found the shores of what would become Provincetown Harbor in 1620 by following a copy of John Smith’s map of 1614. But from that point on, P-town, as it is commonly called, would get a reputation for living on the edge, both literally and figuratively. Set at the very tip of Cape Cod, this spiraling bit of sand dune which from above, looks like nothing so much as a Robert Smithson land sculpture, earned its reputation early on.
“Helltown” it was referred to at one point for its collection of scofflaws, pirates, and raucous mariners. After a prosperous 19th century of cod fishing and salt production (the tiny town once had over 70 salt-works), World War I and America’s entrance into the European conflict had the odd side effect of funneling artists, writers and other unorthodox nonconformists to the tip of the Cape instead of to their preferred European haunts.
By the 1930s, the town once known for Portuguese fishermen and a rough and tumble lifestyle had re-blossomed as an artist’s colony. Painter Hans Hoffman opened his Summer School of Art in the West End. Soon the town was host to Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and other painters. Playwrights and authors swarmed to Provincetown as well. The ghosts of Tennessee Williams, Sinclair Lewis and Eugene O’Neill can still be sensed in its centuries-old houses. Known today as an extremely gay-friendly city, it continues to live life on the edge. The sight of a drag queen in evening gown and full make-up zipping by on a motorized scooter doesn’t raise an eyebrow.
Provincetown is comprised of two, cobbled together little neighborhoods, the East End acting as a foil to the West End. Both offer a mix of Greek Revival houses, shingle-sided cottages and gardens overflowing with flowers or vegetables, and a bohemian spirit that lives on as strong as ever. Locals do not look upon chipped paint and broken shutters as finable offenses. Rather, they are put up with as signs of authenticity. The West End doesn’t aspire to pictorial perfection, and that’s just fine to these streets filled with suntanned faces and wet dogs come August and September, the best months of the year here. As long as there’s a place to pull up a chair and cool off with a tall Tom Collins in the late afternoon, all is right with the world. The East End is all about art and is chock full of galleries brimming with original paintings, prints, sculpture and photography, most open both day and night.
Spending a few nights at one of P-town’s inns and discovering the town on foot or bike is a guaranteed cure for cooped-up-in-the-city blues. Easily accessible from New York or Boston via CapeAir, it’s also just a ferry ride away from Boston as well. Without a doubt, some of the absolute best dining spots on all of Cape Cod call P-town home. Here are a few of our suggestions for where to dine and where to stay:
Yolk Breakfast at Yolk – and that could mean any time from 8:00am to 3:00pm – is truly the way to start off. Their “folded eggs” are made with avocado, roasted tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onion and topped with just a touch of shredded sharp cheddar, served up with a side mouthwatering roasted sweet potatoes. Want something bigger? Try their chicken and waffles. I promise you’ll be back every morning. Yolk, 401 ½ Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA
The Dining Room at The Red Inn This spot is not to be missed for drinks and dinner. Here you can expect a convivial scene with soft lighting, a wraparound porch for drinks overlooking the beach, and the best Dijon-crusted lamb chops I’ve ever eaten. Don’t miss their signature bread pudding for dessert. The Red Inn, 15 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA
Pepe’s Wharf Looking for quick and simple New England fare for lunch? Try the upstairs deck on the water at Pepe’s Wharf. Low key and laid back, it’s ideal on a clear, sunny day for the best lobster roll in town accompanied by a round of icy cold margaritas.
Salt House Inn Voted “Best New Beach Hotel” by Condé Nast Traveler in 2014, Salt House has hit its stride with its signature rustic breakfasts, their chic but simple rooms and decks for reading or just enjoying a drink at sunset. Located near the center of town, pretty much anything you want to see is walking distance. Many places in town claim to be its best kept secret, Salt House Inn really is that secret. Salt House Inn, 6 Conwell Street, Provincetown, MA
The Red Inn It’s in this exact spot that the Mayflower pulled ashore to the “New World” in 1620. President Theodore Roosevelt stayed at The Inn in 1910 during the dedication of the Pilgrim Monument, a 77m tall granite tower built to let the world know that in fact Provincetown, not Plymouth was the first landing site for the settlers. This amazing “only in Provincetown” lodge overlooks the sandy bay beach and has been in service now for over 100 years. While The Inn only has a handful of rooms, it is home to what is arguably the best restaurant in town. Drinks on the bay-front deck start mid-afternoon and dinner here is so popular, staff suggests reservations up to six weeks in advance. The Red Inn, 15 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA
Roux Newcomer to the Provincetown Bed & Breakfast scene, Roux is contained in a fabulously restored, ‘Stick Style’ Victorian within the town’s art-filled East End. The day starts off with a full, hot-plated breakfast that might include something like a crustless quiche Provencal or a stack of steaming hotcakes served in an antiques-filled dining room. After a day exploring town on one of Roux’s bikes, be sure to return for savory small bites at their ‘Happier Hour’ before the sun sets. Roux, 210 Bradford Street, Provincetown, MA