Provincetown News and Information

Provincetown in Winter

Published: Fri March 03, 2006
By: Straight Dope in Provincetown > News
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BY JEFF WEINSTEIN | Knight Ridder Newspapers

A glass of shell-colored sherry reflecting the flames of a centuries-old fireplace.

A stroll on a damp beach where sand, water and sky are each a slightly different, and completely mesmerizing, shade of lavender-gray.

A silent bike ride through a dormant forest that’s a quahog’s throw from where the Pilgrims first landed in 1620 and drew up the Mayflower Compact before reaching Plymouth Rock.

Such are the winter pleasures of a summer place. It’s no surprise that from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Provincetown, Mass., becomes the welcoming target for visitors ferrying from Boston, driving from the East Coast and Canada, and flying from all points to the one-strip airport at the very end of the very tip of old Cape Cod.

During the high season, the ancient seafaring town of a few thousand—one of the country’s oldest—swells with day-trippers and guest-housers ready to peel for the beach, drip maple ice cream on their sandals, shop the shops of Commercial Street, and party, party, party.

Yes, it’s a party town, as well as a significantly gay-friendly—and gay-marrying—destination. Think Key West, with chowder.

I’ve tasted the joys of P-town in the summer, but my most durable memories from two decades of visits come when the sound and temperature are turned down. Provincetown is exceptional at any time, but its gifts are so unexpected in winter and early spring that it’s almost another place. And that’s when the resort is offering the off-season visitor a wider selection of food and lodging—the latter at remarkably lower prices.

Just what are the year-round attractions? Provincetown is a classic land’s-end; once a whaling and fishing center (its Portuguese-American fishing population still flavors the area), it’s also been an outpost for pirates, Prohibition rum-smugglers and those other law-skirting outsiders: painters, playwrights, poets.

P-town’s few and narrow streets—walking along them as they woo you into their time and place is salutary and restorative in any season—have been home for so long to such a remarkable mix of folks that a “live and let live” atmosphere pervades every aspect of the town.

Yes, there’s a supermarket and real estate offices and arguments about the water table, because this is a real, everyday locale as well as one with a transcendent history. Yet rarely do the ordinary and extraordinary sides of civic life coexist as happily as here.

And then there’s the light.

You have passed the town called North Truro and are driving the final stretch into Provincetown. Suddenly, the vista expands in all directions and everything—the string of shuttered Monopoly cabins on the left, the grass-dotted sand dunes on the right—is bathed in a supernal glow, as if visual oxygen flooded the air.

I’ve read the explanation: Because the tip of the cape curves in on itself, even brittle winter sun is reflected from bay and ocean water all around, back and forth, over and over, accruing unusual hue and depth.

Provincetown’s light makes a trip to the area’s 33 miles of beaches a sensory adventure, whether you stride along the roiling Atlantic in the morning, or listen to the bay water lap the shore at dusk. These beaches are long and wide, and chances are good indeed that, off-season, you will have them—a random trail of paw-prints notwithstanding—all to yourself.

If walks in the cold move you to sit inside by a guesthouse fire and turn pages, the long-established Provincetown Bookstore (246 Commercial St., 508-487-0964) seems to stay open when almost all around it is shut. An ideal purchasing antidote to Web sites and national chains, its single room stocks a quirky mother-lode of genres, specializing in paperback novels you never heard of but always wanted to read.

And if brisk walks make you hungry, brisk walks by the sea should make you hungry for food that lives in it. Although you can polish off lobster rolls, kale soup and fried cod at restaurants year-round, be sure to seek out an Outer Cape delicacy that kings of France sent their ships to pluck from a location a few towns away, where salt and fresh waters merge.

Wellfleet oysters, briny as mollusks can be, are usually in season off-season. They are ideally downed one by one, unadulterated by heat or sauce, in the quieter Provincetown, whose bracing tang and spare, concentrated beauty they echo with pleasure.

If you go

FROM PROVIDENCE: Take Route 195 East to Route 25. Stay on 25 for 10 miles or so to the Bourne Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal, ignoring several exits marked “Route 6/Provincetown.” On the other side of the bridge is a rotary. Take that 3/4 of the way around, taking the last road off to the right, which parallels the canal. Stay on it for about 5 miles and you come to a traffic light. Go right at the light—it’s the ramp to Route 6. Follow Route 6 to the end at Provincetown.


More Provincetown restaurants are open beyond the summer season than ever before. Here’s a recommended selection. (Although regular hours are kept, it’s always a good idea to phone ahead.)

Ross’s Grill is really a waterfront lunch-and-dinner bistro with a high-turnover raw bar (here’s a place to try those Wellfleets), crusty hamburgers, and some quite fine wines and beers. But the excellent kitchen’s best is the perfectly battered and fried filet of cod. Low to moderate prices. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays off-season. 237 Commercial St., (508) 487-8878.

Lorraine’s offers Mexican-oriented dishes such as littlenecks steamed in a cilantro citrus broth, fine ceviche or blackened fish tacos, plus dozens of high-rent tequilas and a velvety margarita. Moderate prices. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays until March 15, then open seven days a week. 133 Commercial St. (508) 487-6074 or

The Mews, on the relatively tony East End, serves dinner all year, which is a good thing. But in a town where places to have a pre- or post-prandial spirit-lifter are few, the Mews’ welcoming, bustling bar is a gift: its generous Provincetown Manhattan—one of many icy standards—fills most bills. 429 Commercial St. (508) 487-1500 or

MORE INFORMATION: For listings of places to stay and other area information, contact the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce at (508) 487-3424 or , and/or the more gay- and lesbian-oriented Provincetown Business Guild at (800) 637-8696 or


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