Fire Island is known for many things — oceanfront circuit parties that draw thousands of muscle-bound boys, kitschy drag queens of varying degrees of talent and good taste, and sexual liaisons on the stretch of seashore between Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines dubbed the Meat Rack.
This 34-mile-long barrier island that parallels the South Shore of Long Island, roughly 60 miles east of Manhattan, has something for everyone. Raucous nights on the town? Check. Quiet days where you hardly see a soul? Check.
Approximately 500 people live year-round on Fire Island, but the population can swell to as many as 30,000 people on one of the summer's busiest weekends, such as Independence Day or Labor Day. The Fire of last November isn't yet forgotten in the Pines - reconstruction plans for Pavillion call for a 2013 opening -- but they're ready for another busy summer season at Hotel Ciel, Canteen, the Blue Whale and at Sip n' Twirl.
For most visitors, getting to Fire Island requires taking a train, then a van, then a ferry. The Long Island Railroad provides train service to from Penn Station in Manhattan or Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn Sayville ($21.50 off-peak roundtrip.) Islip Limo and Colonial Transportation are among the companies that offer $5 jitney rides between the train station and the ferry terminal. Sayville Ferry Service takes passengers between the mainland and the Grove and the Pines ($14 roundtrip.) The ride across Great South Bay takes between 15 and 20 minutes.
You’ll have to use your own two feet, because there are no cars on the island. Folks get their luggage or groceries home with little red wagons.
Fire Island Pines. A hangout for A-list gays, the Pines has massive houses hidden behind tall fences.
Cherry Grove. More laid-back than the Pines, Cherry Grove has a easy-going mix of lesbians and gay men.
What to do
The centuries-old Sunken Forest, roughly half a mile west of Cherry Grove, is among the best places within the Fire Island National Seashore to see brilliant foliage. The wooded area appears as though it is below sea level because of an optical illusion created by the dunes. The Sunken Forest contains a number of trails on which visitors can explore Fire Island's unique flora and fauna. Deer, fox, turtles and an abundance of birds are among the animals that can be spotted within this protected area.
The Arts Project Cherry Grove (180 Bayview Walk, Cherry Grove) has stage performances, concerts, art exhibits and sales of original works in oils, photos, crafts and jewelry - among other things. Free summertime movies are screened each Tuesday at 7pm.
Belvedere (Bayview Walk, Cherry Grove) guest house/ hotel in in style of Venetian Palace, men only, with patio, clothing-optional swimming pool, hot tub, gym / workout area, WiFi throughout. Shops, bars, discos and restaurants nearby, plus jogging trail into the Sunken Forest.
Dune Point Guest House (134 Lewis Walk, Cherry Grove) secluded rental apartments studios, one and two bedrooms, by the day, week or month.
Grove Hotel (Holly Walk, Cherry Grove) Fire Island's largest hotel at the heart of Cherry Grove,steps from beach, restaurants, shops, dance clubs and bars in same complex as the Ice Palace.
Hotel Ciel (Harbor Park), newly renovated in marina hub complex of restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, near beach. Balconies with harbor views, cool bay breezes, pool parties and Bier Garden parties at the Deck poolside bar. All rooms have fully stocked ‘alternative’ mini bar.
The Madison (22 Atlantic Walk, Pines) guest house just off the beach, with pool and pool deck, roof deck, hot tub, all-room satellite TV and internet, massage therapists by appointment.
Pine Bluff Overlook (362 Ocean Walk, Pines) all-season delux apartments, full kitchens, satellite TV/DVD; rooms with private baths, refrigerators, iPod players, WiFi, swimming pool, roof-top Jacuzzi with ocean and bay views.
Bars Cubs & Restaurants
Bay Bar (Harbor Walk, Pines) bar and café at the hub of Pines Harbor. Starbucks coffee over morning papers, protein shakes, breakfast until noon, lunch and dinner, afternoon cocktails.
Blue Whale (Harbor Park, Pines) restaurant and nightclub doing double duty this season while Pavillion is rebuilt. Thursday through Saturday Low T dance 5-7pm, Middle T 7-9pm, then dinner served 9pm to midnight. Sunday brunch (also Saturdays), pool parties, Low and HIgh T dances, then dinner. Saturday/Sunday diva shows, Friday variety shows.
Bunkhouse (620 Waverly Ave, Patchogue) long-time Sayville gay club on the Long Island side moved east, open nightly with dancing, shows and special parties.
Canteen (Harbor Park, Pines), casual restaurant next to the Pavilion, popular meeting spot from early morning to late at night. Rich coffee blends, sandwiches, salads and pastries on the menu. Dining, cocktails, beer and wine served poolside or on the Harbor.
Cherry's on the Bay (158 Bayview Walk, Cherry Grove) busy cocktail bar and restaurant with bay side deck has great sunset vistas; also with weekly drag shows, theme parties, contests, Saturday/Sunday brunch.
Deck Pool & Gym (Harbor Park, Pines) massive pool deck behind Hotel Ciel with cabanas, designer pool furniture, with lunch and drinks service poolside and outdoor gym. Friday night Beer Garden and Sunday afternoon pool parties.
Eagle Tavern (94 N Clinton Ave, Bay Shore) Long Island men's bar with rough decor, pool table, outside patio for smokers, informal home bar of the Long Island Ravens MC.
Ice Palace (Ocean Walk, Cherry Grove) at the Grove Hotel with dancing, pool games, drag and comedy shows, big-name entertainment, large outdoor deck, indoor/outdor pool, Sunday T-Dance, mixed crowd of men and women.
Island Breeze (178 Bayview Walk, Cherry Grove) relaxed restaurant near the dock, with reliably good American food, reasonable prices and Great South Bay views. Nice for afternoon and early evening drinks, and open in September.
Pavilion (Harbor Park, Pines), sunset views over cocktails, legendary nightclub, famous DJs, performance artists, High T dances that went on all night on their roof deck. Now being rebuilt - expected to open again for the 2013 season.
Sip n' Twirl (36 Fire Island Blvd, Pines) newly rebuilt dance club, now open every night from July 5, 2012. See their website and local media for updates on their Pines Bistro and Pines Pizza re-opening schedule.
Shopping & services
Gostoso 'On The Harbor' (Harbor Park, Pines) stocks light-hearted men's sports and beach wear.
Oak (Harbor Park, Pines) retail fashion shop, sexy utilitarian wear, cutting edge brand names.
Pines Supply Co. (Harbor Park, Pines) a one-stop general store for flowers, apparel, hardware, snacks and sundries.
Rack (at Hotel Ciel, Harbor Park, Pines), full gym wih free-weights, Life Fitness equipment and classes, house trainers and special guest sessions.
Sugar Shack Spa (Harbor Park, Pines), hands and feet care, hair removal, massage & manscaping.
Fire Island in September
Largely empty beaches, warm surf and an abundance of nature greet post-Labor Day travelers. The weather, which often features balmy days and crisp nights through mid-October, is one of the reasons many are fond of the off-season, also the still-warm ocean water temperatures and the colors of autumn leaves.
The off-season isn't for everyone however. Those who like the easy socializing of the summer months may be put off by the mostly deserted boardwalks in the fall. Many businesses in the Pines and Cherry Grove close, so there are fewer options for meals or nights on the town.
In previous seasons in Cherry Grove the Miss Fire Island contest took place at the Grove Hotel, and singing diva Porsche continued her shows at the Ice Palace. The Arts Project of Cherry Grove showcased "Families of Cherry Grove" an exhibit of photography, and they staged theater productions through the end of September with Circus Side Show. Cherry's On the Bay and the Island Breeze are among the local restaurants that typically stay open on weekends through Columbus Day (if the weather cooperates, of course).
In the Pines, DJs would spin at the Pavilion/ Glo Lounge until mid-September. The uniquely Pines experience known as Tea also ran through the second weekend in September. A large number of Pines residents commemorate the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the beach.
"People think summer is over as soon as Labor Day hits," says Adam Weaver, marketing director of Fire Island Pines Operations. "Really, Fire Island has some of its most beautiful beach days in September. I know because I finally get to go, because I'm not as busy."
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