Monday, August 4, 2014

The Allure of Cherry Grove as a Gay Man's Playground Diminishes

On Saturday night I went to Cherry Grove for the second time in three days.  I haven't gone there this year as much as I usually do in the summer, but judging from these last two visits, I'm not really that upset about it. You see, there's been a definite change in the place over the past few years, one that's becoming more and more a deterrent for us gay men, and I'm starting to think it's gotten to the point where to me it's become decidedly sad.  Both evenings were disappointing, a beautiful, but empty Thursday evening and a dreary (okay, I'll give you that one!) Saturday with drag shows and lots of gay women and straights gave this gay man a reason to rethink going to the Grove regularly anymore

I've been going to Fire Island regularly now for more than thirty years. When I was partnered, Joe and I would usually go only on holiday weekends in the summer, and since I'm single, I've become much more of a regular on Saturday nights in the summer.  Like anything else, things invariably change over time, but not always for the better.  The crowds that frequent the Grove, as well as the bar scene and the cost, are much different today than they were in years past and neither bodes well for the town's future.

Ice Palace - Joe Ruffino and Bobby Gurecki

Cherry Grove Nightlife

The landscape of the nightlife at Cherry Grove has both dwindled and morphed into something entirely different than it once was.  Where there was once at least four nightclubs in this writer's memory, there are now only two.  Unfortunately, the recession of the mid-2000's hit the town hard and both The Monster (then Tides) and Sunsets sadly shuttered their doors forever during the decade.  All that's left are Ice Palace and Cherrys on the Bay, and even these two clubs are much different today than in the past.

Back in the 90's, when I really started to spend more time at the Grove, Ice Palace was THE place to be. The bar was a genuine dance club that saw plenty of crowds both at the bar, on the outside deck, and on the dance floor.  Today, the club's main Saturday night attraction is The Porshe Show, followed by a Saturday night dance party that hardly fills up the cavernous dance floor in the place.  Now Porshe is a very entertaining performer, but not the type of entertainment clubbers like me are looking for. Daniel Nardicio's Friday night underwear parties attract troves of gay men from the Pines, and is the one regular event that hearkens back to the old days.  Cherrys on the Bay is the other bar/club at the Grove, the one I most frequent. Ever since the Ice Palace started to wane from its glory days as a dance club and the other bars closed, Cherrys became the catch-all for people who want to let loose and have a good time.

Traditionally, Cherrys was always known to me and my friends as the "lesbian bar," the one place where ladies of the gay persuasion would gather.  I don't even think I ever went there until a few years ago, after I started frequenting Fire Island more in my secondary single days, but once I started going, it became my place.

A Gay Man's Deterrents

The lesbian majority at Cherry's has remained throughout, and almost always the women outnumber the men at least two to one.  I know friends and acquaintances who don't like going to the Grove because of that.  I don't exactly love it either, but there are guys who do go there and I do often have fun when I go.  But there's another reason a lot of people I know have stopped going to the Grove and that's the straights.
Straight people have always frequented the Grove in the evenings, and it's never been a big deal, but these days there seems to be more and more of them.  Between the lesbians and the straights, it's no wonder why gay guys no longer make the Grove their hangout like they once did.

That's my pal Laura Kim with Porsche in 2012

Shows like Porche's, and the Ice Palace's famous Sunday afternoon pool shows are one thing that attracts the straights in droves, but from interactions I've had with many of them over the years, they also come because they see gay men as a safe folly with whom they can have some real fun.  I'm sorry straight people, but you have the whole world to hang out in.  Why you gotta rain on my gay parade?

Show Me the Money

There is one other reason I think the crowds, and especially the crowds of gay men, have dwindled at Cherry Grove is economic.  Though cover charges have halted, the prices at the ferry booth, parking lot and bars have jumped significantly.  Where I used to bring around $80 for a day at the Grove, I am now bringing even more.  The price of drinks has risen astronomically.  I bought a round of three drinks the other day at Cherrys and it cost me a whopping $38.  I mean, I know all about inflation, but this is ridiculous!

Perhaps the rise in prices is caused by the less than stellar attendance I've witnessed on my jaunts over to the Grove during the summer, but if I'm going to be spending that much money over there, I should have reason enough to want to go there.  Smaller crowds, and filled in large part with lesbians and straights for that matter, do not warrant the regular Saturday night jaunts I used to love so much.  Perhaps it's time for this man to start frequenting the Pines.

Now, I hope that no one takes any offense to what I've said here.  I still love Cherry Grove and I will still visit.  I've had a lot of great times over there and it will always have a special place in my heart.  Besides, I'm not sure what the folks over there could do, even if they wanted to, to revamp the place as a prime destination for gay men...lesbians and straights have money, too!  Don't get me wrong, though, I have nothing against either lesbians or straights, but when I want to go clubbing, part of the allure is to meet someone and neither of those groups fit that particular bill for me.    

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