On the trail of the not always lonesome Pines… Welcome to Fire Island

For gay men in New York, summer often means one thing — Fire Island. Unless you’ve been there before, you’ve never experienced a place quite like FI.

Even with the boycotts, expensive drinks, and actual fires that so often consume the area, there’s simply nothing like a weekend amid all that sun, sand and s…ultry salaciousness. Here’s what you need to know to avoid a Fire Island flame-out.

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The dimensions of the island have changed over time and they continue to change. At one point it stretched more than 60 miles (97 km) from Jones Beach Island to Southampton. In 2019, it’s approximately 31 miles (50 km) long and varying between just a sliver of 500 and 1,300 feet (150 and 400 m) wide.

This small but perfectly formed outer barrier island in Suffolk County, off the south coast of New York‘s Long Island, has been a popular destination for the LGBTQ community since the 1930s. Consequently, it’s home to two thriving resort towns famous for their predominately queer population: Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines.

I can tell you that the island as a whole does not attract a gay crowd, but the Pines and the Grove are the places people think of when they hear the words Fire Island, and therefore think of the entire strip as one long, sandy cruising ground.

Due to their accentuated aesthetics, gays (well, gay men anyway) often turn marginal areas into desirable ones, probably faster than any other defined group can. Aside from the high end restaurants, art galleries, clubs and antique stores, home purchased in up and coming gay neighbourhoods are destined to go up in value.

Accessible in summer only by ferry, there are no cars here, just smart wooden boardwalks and people puffing and pulling little red wagons full of their groceries.

Every year on the fourth of July hundreds of drag queens board the ferry in a re-enactment of the 1976 act of solidarity now known as the Invasion of the Pines.

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The two communities each have their own vibe: The Pines feels more like NYC’s Chelsea: pretty party boys and well preserved gay professionals; the Grove is more diverse and down to earth, and, conversely, attracts a younger and an older crowd, as well a plethora of cute dog owners, as well as a plethora of local wildlife such as beautiful and fantastically tame deer that roam freely.

Between the two towns is a small strip of forest affectionately known as the Meat Rack – apparently it gets a bit frisky but that may be just a rumour.

Excuse me, I just need to cough.

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Be sure to get a feel for the ‘schedule’ when you are there, almost everyone follows the crowd from low tea to high tea, from dinner to dancing.

Just ask a friendly passer by (or at least a cute one).

Thanks to The Guardian’s Ramón Philippe for the last minute surprise birthday treat. Yup.

Steve Pafford

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