Fire Island home to modernist beach houses and buff boys in Speedos!
Far from the prying eyes of friends and neighbours, gay boys would flock to Fire Island for some summer fun and enjoy a dreamy beach escape. That tradition remains to this day.
Just 50 miles from Manhattan, the Island is often referred to as “Chelsea with Sand” and has maintained its mythic status as the No 1 Summer gay destination in the US, a title it won’t be giving up any time soon!
Fire Island is the larger, center island on the south shore of Long Island, New York. Though Fire Island refers to the full island, the most famous hamlets are the Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove.
Home to legendary Summer parties and “invite-only” pool rendezvous, Fire Island has managed to maintain its rustic charm over the years. No cars are allowed on the Island. Visitors join the 500 or so permanent locals along wooden paths, pulling red Radio Flyer toy wagons packed with groceries, booze and sunscreen.
The Summer brings oceanfront circuit parties, thousands of muscle-bound guys, legendary drag acts and simmering beach hookups along the Meat Rack, a stretch of seashore between Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines. The Island has something for everyone, from calm days where you can relax all alone, to crazy nights on the town that last until dawn.
The Pines Party is a legendary beach event that lasts 24 hours or longer!
Gay life in Fire Island revolves almost totally around the beach. After a day of sun bathing, the post beach rituals of Low Tea and High Tea begin at various cocktail bars across The Pines.
Almost everyone visits Cherry Grove for the Underwear Party on Fridays.
Weekly event highlights include Friday’s legendary Underwear Party in Cherry Grove, a sort of rite of passage for new visitors to the Island.
Crowds gather at the pier for the arrival of the “Invasion” of the Drag Queens.
Fire Island has no shortage of annual Summer events and large, over-the-top circuit festivals. Many are held during national holidays. The Fire Island Invasion is one such event, held during the 4th of July celebrations. The event has become world famous and its roots in the community go deep.
In 1976, a Pines bar turned away a man in drag, which prompted immediate local backlash. Today, this event is commemorated with the annual “Invasion of the Pines,” where more than 300 drag queens arrive on the ferry and take part in one of the sassiest catwalk shows you will ever see.
The Fire Island Dance Festival Charity Event
Later in July, some of the world’s best dance troupes descend upon the island for the Dance Festival, an AIDS fundraiser.
And don’t miss the Pines Party, a 24 hour dance event held each July on the beach. Each year the party has a different theme and the costumes are outrageous. This epic party ends when the sun rises over the Atlantic. Truly magical.
Splash Fire Island, in August, is the one of the highlights of the end of Summer season hosting a popular beach party and Sunday pool event.
Private pool parties on Fire Island are the stuff of legend. If your beach house has a pool, you will be a very popular guy! If not, make friends with some locals or a visitor who has a pool and grab yourself an invite!
Some pool parties are planned well in advance and are held to help LGBT charities and local organisations. Splash, the pool party hosted by Callen Lorde is always a popular party. Liberation, hosted by Jon Tilli with VIP brunch and Stoli party is a hot ticket in August. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) annual pool party fundraiser was held at “Beachcomber”.
Low Tea at the Pavilion is the biggest daily event in The Pines, especially during weekends. The event kicks off at 5pm and continues until 8pm. Low Tea is at its busiest from 6.30pm.
As Low Tea ends, High Tea begins. The event moves to the pool deck and the upper Pavilion deck towards “Spin and Twirl”. As the dust settles the music gets louder and the guest DJs arrive for a night of partying.
On Friday Nights everyone heads to The Ice Palace on Cherry Grove for the weekly Underwear Party. Guests can check-in their clothes with the attendant and pay cash at the door to gain entry. Don’t forget to check the times of the last water taxi if you are staying at The Pines.
“There’s always another Ferry”, a common refrain from day-trippers who don’t want to leave!
The only way onto Fire Island is by Ferry from Long Island. Most visitors leave from Manhattan and take the Long Island rail road before disembarking and heading to the Ferry terminus.
The Long Island Railroad (LIRR) provides train service to from Penn Station in Manhattan or Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to Sayville for $19 to $25 each way (onboard during peak hours) or $13.75 to $20 between 10am and 4pm off peak.
A step by step guide on how to get to Fire Island.
- First, check the ferry schedule timetable so you can plan your departure in advance ensuring your train arrival and ferry departure are reasonably synchronised. During peak-season, ferry timetables typically depart shortly after the train arrives.
- At the ticket machine in Penn Station, choose the option “Getaways” and you can print out a set of tickets that include your train, shuttle bus and ferry pass.
- Your destination station is Sayville. Some trains require a change of station. The conductor will advise you when checking your ticket.
- When you arrive at Sayville LIRR train station, follow the crowds to the white minibus which will shuttle you to the ferry in under 10 minutes. The shuttles are busy during peak season.
- At the Ferry Terminal look for signs for “The Pines”, or “Cherry Grove”. Each hamlet has its own ferry. The crossing will take approximately 20 minutes. Enjoy your trip in the open air and take in the sunshine on the upper decks.
You will walk almost everywhere to what is close by, as there are no cars on the Island. The Island is quite small. At 31 miles long it takes less than 10 minutes to cross the island.
- The Pavilion is a complex that hosts the famous Fire Island low and high tea, as well as all the restaurants in the Pines and a gym.
- Keep in mind that although the island is a quarter-mile wide, it is 32 miles long. Meaning, if you’re planning to park at one end of the island and walk to the Grove, it’ll take half a day. Once you park, you can walk, bike, or take a Water Taxi to your destination.
- Water taxis run along the shoreline, and they stop about once per hour at each of the 17 communities on Gay Fire Island.
- The fare from Cherry Grove to The Pines is $9 USD cash, unless you buy a ticket on their mobile app. The final boat sailing is around 3:00 AM.
Red Radio Flyer wagons provide luggage transport.
According to the New York Times, “The wagons have the run of the place. Their lives are one long schlep. They schlep luggage from the ferry, groceries and booze from the store, tennis players with sprained ankles to the doctor, babies to the beach. And, when grownups get too old or too tipsy to negotiate the boardwalk, they sometimes schlep grownups, too.”
Fire Island’s busy season kicks off on Memorial Day in May and ends on Labor Day in September. The day after Labor Day is colloquially known as “Tumbleweed Tuesday,” as Fire Island finds itself newly empty after months of crowds. Over the past several years, the season has extended into September and into early October with many restaurants remaining open, especially during weekends.
Fire Island Pines Pavilion and Pool are at the centre of gay life on the Island.
Despite its size, the Gay Fire Island small communities or hamlets couldn’t be more different from one another. It all depends on the type of holiday you are looking for, from buzzy bars and restaurants to off-the-grid seclusion.
Fire Island is made up of 17 different beach communities. The two most popular gay hamlets on Fire Island are Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove. The two towns neighbor each other.
The Grove, is the oldest LGTBQ neighborhood on Fire Island. This half mile of beachfront property is a National Historic Landmark including the Community House & Theater.
- Cherry Grove – Offering a more relaxed vibe than the Pines, attracting an eclectic mix of gays, lesbians, drag queens, leather guys and curious straights!
- The Cherry Grove gays generally skews younger or older with fewer in the mid-age range than in The Pines.
- The downtown business area is home to restaurants, bars, discos, shops and even a small grocery store. All are located close to the ferry dock. To the East and West of the downtown lie the quiet residential areas and summer home rentals.
- The clothing optional beach is the star attraction during the day. At night no visit would be complete without seeing a drag show and dancing till the wee small hours.
Fire Island Pines
- Fire Island Pines – This is where you will find large Modernist homes hidden behind tall fences attracting hot gay men and circuit boys with pool parties and some great restaurants.
- The Pines is located to the East of Cherry Grove. Both communities are separated by a small stretch of undeveloped beach. Visitors can walk on the beach or through the meat rack to go to either of the two hamlets.
- The Pines is much larger than the Grove with somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 homes, many of which are available to rent during the Summer season. The Pines features a marina and a number of restaurants, shops, bars and discos. To the East and West of the harbor lie residential areas.
- Try a Rocket Fuel, the cocktail of choice on Fire Island. All it takes is a few sips to know why. It’s a cool and refreshing concoction. The frozen blender drink tastes very much like a Piña Colada, but it contains some important additions, including amaretto liqueur and Bacardi 151 rum.
Other Neighbourhoods on Fire Island
- Ocean Beach – this is the unofficial capital of Fire Island, operating like a tiny city and home to more than a dozen shops, restaurants and bars.
- Saltaire – Quiet fishing village with no hotels. Home to the private members only Yacht Club the village has a charming market and small library.
- Kismet – home to many of the Island’s summer homes, Kismet is a quaint bayside town with its own market, liquor store, café, and ice cream and gift shop. The views of the Fire Island Lighthouse are some of the best on the Island.
- Atlantique – the narrowest section of the island and home to The Shack beach bar and close to most of the island’s attractions.
There are three beaches popular with visitors to Gay Fire Island, one on the Pines, one on Cherry Grove and the other at Kismet.
The beach scene is very relaxed on Fire Island with most guys happy to laze away during the day, saving their energy for the tea parties later on in the evenings.
There are no bars on the beach so plan ahead and bring your drinks and snacks.
- The Pines Beach – located steps from the bars and restaurants of the pines, the Pines beach is a wide, sandy white beach. Nudity is allowed. The water can be rough at times. The Pines is perfect for watching the eye-candy parade up and down the beach. The beach is wider than Cherry Grove giving it a less-cramped feeling.
- Cherry Grove Beach – A nudist haven, the beach is about 50/50 clothes off! Head left at the sand and walk east to the area between the Pines and Cherry Grove and you will find your tribe. This section is also famous for cruising amidst the iconic Fire Island dunes, especially as the evening arrives. Midnight skinny dipping is quite common.
- Kismet Beach – An officially recognized nude beach, turn right as you hit the sand and continue on a 5 minute walk towards the lighthouse, and you have arrived! The atmosphere is relaxed and uninhibited.
- The Canteen – a great spot for meals, drinks, coffee & people watching. Perched, a few steps from Harbor Walk, serving mouth-watering sandwiches & salads, hot & cold beverages, plus a variety of options for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner.
- Pines Bistro & Martini Bar – At the Community’s Heart, …the Bistro & Martini Bar is a Continental restaurant, offering traditional favorite dishes, plus daily/seasonal specials. It is the only establishment in the Pines that offers all-season, sit-down dinner, with sophisticated cocktail lounge ambience. For healthy snacks try the nearby Juice bar.
- Pines Pizza is in the heart of the Fires Island Pines community, with a deck overlooking Fire Island Boulevard. offer salads, Grab-n-Go meals, plus all-day coffee & delicious Ice Creams, from early April to late September.
- The Sandcastle at The Ocean – with spectacular view with your seafood dinner, check out local favorite, an oceanfront restaurant serving lunch and dinner, with a raw bar, wines by the glass, and a Sunday signature breakfast.
- Hideaway Restaurant – offering eclectic seafood & waterside dining with celebrated sunset views. Dine by the bay, where you can have a plate of lobster risotto and glass of rum punch.
- Top of the Bay Bistro – Sophisticated and airy New American spot offering Southern-influenced dishes, sunset views & a retro New Orleans feel.
- Floyd’s – stalwart Cherry Grove casual establishment, a must for breakfast. Be sure to try their famous egg sandwiches, but don’t forget fresh muffins and coffee. Serving breakfast daily from 8am to 12pm
- Island Breeze – Located in Cherry Grove this relaxed restaurant is close to the dock serving American food, reasonable prices and Great South Bay views. Nice for afternoon and early evening drinks, and open in September.
- Island Mermaid feels just as it sounds—a get-away-from-it-all hangout where you can enjoy fresh seafood like scallops or calamari with views of the bay.
- Have room for dessert, but sick of all that ice cream from Scoops? Rachel’s Bakery is a go-to for decadent brownies, crumb cakes, and chocolate-filled croissants.
At night, the biggest choice you have in Kismet to make is whether to pop into “the Inn” (Kismet Inn) or “the Out” (Surf’s Out)—the hamlet’s two restaurants, both of which host live music, themed nights like trivia and lobster, and the Fire-Island-famous annual clam shucking contest.
Many of the places you will visit during your stay are located in the Fire Island Pavilion. It is the Pines community central hub for culture and nightlife. The building, located at the intersection of all traffic to and from the island and is unmissable as you arrive via ferry.
- Pavilion – One of the most popular late night partying venues on the Island. NYC comes to the Pines with drag shows and performance events. Comes complete with the High T Deck area, just outside the Pavilion, for cocktails and outdoor conversation space. Cover fees are usually cash only for the weekend parties.
- The Pool Deck – massive pool deck behind The Hotel, with cabanas, designer pool furniture, with lunch and drinks service poolside and outdoor gym; pool parties, performances, contests, movies, afternoon and evening dance parties.
- Sip n’ Twirl – Gay nightclub with a full bar, lounge, deck and dance floor with guest DJs, plus events including movie & drag nights. Friday through Tuesday 7-10 pm tea dances.
- Blue Whale – Buzzing waterfront gay bar & eatery with drag brunches (Wednesdays, weekend & holiday), dance parties, seafood & cocktails. Nightly Low Tea, weekend Piano Bar. This historic bar/restaurant that witnessed the birth of the tea dance, back in 1966, and the Invasion in 1976.
Beyond the Pavilion
- Cherry’s on the Bay – Relaxed waterfront venue with a view for full-service dining, cocktails, Sunday brunch & drag shows. Restaurant open 10am-4am daily and great sunset vistas.
- The Ice Palace Nightclub – a Fire Island staple since the mid-50’s. They come here to dance, to people watch, to play pool, or hang out on the outdoor deck (it’s the pool deck of the Grove Hotel). The largest dance floor on Fire Island that fills up most weekends and weekdays nights you’ll find a great mix of gay men and lesbians here too. Famous Friday Underwear parties and Sunday T Dance. The underwear party
- The parks on Fire Island are collectively known as Fire Island National Seashore and are home to some of the best natural wonders on the Island
- Visit the Sunken Forest, a natural wonder on the bay at Sailors Haven. This rare evergreen grove grows out of shallow seawater and is also home to unique wildlife species.
- Explore Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, a federally designated wilderness area.
- Relax at the beaches at Sailors Haven and Watch Hill, the latter of which also has campgrounds.
- At the western end of the island is Fire Island Lighthouse, built in 1858. Its flashing light can be seen for 24 miles and is available to view up-close for a small fee. The facilities are open to the public daily and are located inside Robert Moses State Park.
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