Six Shocking Facts About Fire Island That Will Change The Way You See Everything

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Dear Tell-All Diary,

Did you know there is a Gay Island super close to New York City where lots of gay guys go every summer to wiggle around like Mexican Jumping Beans? It’s called Fire Island and its about 2.5 hours away from Manhattan (via a train, another train, another train, yet one more train, one final train, a bus, and a ferry). I went there this past weekend and I learned a lot of facts about this magical island. If you like facts, keep reading! If you hate them, just look at the pictures! Okay, onto to the facts!

1. All logical rental systems are banned from the island.

Finding a place to stay in Fire Island is probably the most difficult thing in the world. This is because it’s an island full of privately owned homes that landlords sublet to people all summer. Those subletters then sublet them to other subletters who in turn sublet them a few more times until you have no idea who is the owner and who is the hobo that lives underneath the hot tub. Fire Island frequenters call this system “getting a share on Fire Island.” Ridiculously wealthy people have Full Shares (the whole summer), moderately rich people have “half shares” (half the summer), and moderately impoverished people have “quarter shares.” This system of share dividing is necessary because living in New York is stupid expensive and that turns everyone who lives there into a hungry hungry psychopath.

2. The houses on the island are sororities.

As the years pass and rosé goes from cool, to passé, to cool again, to way too cool, groups of gays form and go to Fire Island together over and over and over again. Together. They become like families because they get shares in the same house repeatedly. They create house rules to keep order and thus peace is maintained. The house rules are things like “no guests, you have to do your chores, etc.” And they’re incredibly strict. In Palm Springs if you rent a house with friends and you invite a friend to drive in from LA and sleep on the sofa no one cares. If you invite a friend to sleep on the sofa in Fire Island, both you and the friend will be murdered publicly. People will look on, understanding looks on their faces saying “I can’t believe he invited a guest!”

3. They have tons of tea parties all the time but no one drinks tea ever.

At Fire Island there are about 16 tea parties every day. There’s Tea, Low Tea, High Tea, Middle Tea, Junior Tea, Senior Tea, etc. But there’s never any tea. “Tea” is just code for “circuit party at 4 PM.” (A circuit party is a party with laser lights and electronic music that normally take place at 4 AM, FYI). You go to at least two of these parties before you eat dinner and then you’re supposed to go to one or more after. This is when you realize that dancing in a club with disco balls and laser lights at 4 PM makes you feel not only 100 years old but also like a crystal meth addict. In sort of a fun way and sort of a way that makes you question your life choices.

4. The houses there are either jaw dropping or disgusting.

Fire Island is filled with homes that make you want to slowly poison the owners until they die so you can start squatting in them and never have to leave. There are some incredibly gorgeous homes there. And then there are homes that are falling down and covered with mold and still rent for hundreds of thousands of dollars a summer. It’s confusing, and exciting, because you never know what’s going to happen when you’re invited to a pool party. It could be at a shack or it could be at a mega mansion.

5. There are two sides of the island and they hate each other.

On Fire Island, there’s Fire Island Pines on one side and Cherry Grove on the other. The two sides hate each other. The Pines is supposedly the fancier side and the Grove is the more approachable side. I stayed in the Pines but actually loved Cherry Grove because my boyfriend and I went on an amazing pretend shopping spree over there where he bought pajama bottoms and I bought neon underwear. But if you tell someone from the Pines side that you’re staying in the Cherry Grove side they’ll look at you like you’re a piece of rotting meat.

6. It’s impossible not to use the word “magical” when describing Fire Island.

Yes, it will make everyone want to punch you hard in the mouth, but it’s kind of hard not call this place magical. It’s a tiny little island with nothing else around it and it’s kind of a miracle that it exists. It’s only 1 mile wide (by 14 miles long) so it literally could blow away in the next hurricane. My advice is to get there as soon as you can, ogle some merry Homosexuals, and try your hardest to understand the strange, amazing, and delightfully terrifying place that is Fire Island.

Now that I’ve listed these six things in a way that makes you question whether or not I hate Fire Island and if I’m actually the most boring person on earth because I don’t want to go to a dance party at 4 PM, let’s move onto my actual trip!

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We stayed at this cute little hotel. There aren’t regular hotels there, only ones made out of houses. So it was kind of more like a bed and breakfast, but it was fun and we got to meet grizzled people who have been coming here for years and told  us all sorts of crazy tales about the island’s history, the fires that are constantly burning down houses (side note: all the homes here are made from matchsticks), and how the hurricanes changed everything for everyone.

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I found myself obsessing over these little zig zag fences everywhere. Like I want a yard made out of sand so I can do this at home.

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And look at this little newspaper. Don’t you just want to read this and only this over and over and over until your eyes bleed? I bet it has all sorts of new about local history and other stuff (I didn’t bother to read it while I was there DUH I was busy!).

More stuff I noticed…

ARCHITECTURE

There were so amazing buildings on that island. I guess when you take the population of Manhattan and squeeze them onto a tiny island they make cool buildings…

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Because all I care about is houses and design and architecture I had no idea when I started taking this picture that a naked dude was staring through his window at me taking this picture. Then my boyfriend screamed “A NAKED DUDE!” and I felt like a sex offender. Lesson: when you’re on Fire Island, just assume there’s always a naked dude peeping out his window at you.

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Hi house. I love how open and glassy you are. Touch me.

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This was the first house I got really excited about and wanted for myself.

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And then I saw this house and I was like BURN ALL THE OTHER HOUSES. It’s so gorgeous and apparently they filmed a movie there called ‘Ghost Writer’ which I’ve never seen but is now my favorite movie in the history of time.

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This is the pavilion where all the “tea parties” happen. This building is brand new because the previous tea party space burnt to the ground in an allegedly scandalous money grubbing fraud. Or something. That’s just what people told me while I was there. Sidenote: Fire Island, like most other places in New York, is the type of place where they like to be like “BACK WHEN I STARTED COMING HERE THINGS WERE DIFFERENT THINGS WERE REAL!” and then you’re like “When did you start coming here?” And they’re all “2012.” Eye roll.

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BOARDWALKS

I also found myself obsessing with the glamorous system of boardwalks that connects the entire island. The boardwalks allow you to walk around the island without getting gross and disgusting dirt all over brightly colored flip-flops you matched to your outfit.

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You can take a boardwalk and hop on a boat…

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Or you can take a boardwalk to a MYSTERY LOCATION…

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…Or to the ugly ol’ beach!

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BEACHES

Oh yeah, and there’s beaches there. Where I yelled at my boyfriend until he did tricks for me.

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Sidenote: Do you like his Orlebar Brown swimmiez as much as I do?

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I will always believe that, because of the mega pollution, LA has the best sunsets. That being said, these weren’t too shabby. I mean, look at that flamingo pink sky. I just want to eat it like cotton candy. Or a corndog. Or any fair food actually…

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See! Here I am smiling that the beach was so pretty!

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This is the last sunset I’ll ever see in Fire Island. Just kidding. I think I would go back. But only if I happened to be in New York and my friend was all “hey we got a house on Fire Island come sleep on the sofa!” Oh wait that doesn’t happen. So yeah I’m never going back. I suggest you go though, if only for the anthropological lessons you’ll learn from going there. And the fact that you get to drink “tea” all day and no one will judge you for it.

Love,
Orlando

35 Comments

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35 Responses to Six Shocking Facts About Fire Island That Will Change The Way You See Everything

  1. Marcohiro

    Your last statement pretty much sums up what a lot of “non-FIP groupies” think. Once was enough…and unless someone is going to drive me from Manhattan DIRECTLY to the ferry and offer me a bed that normally costs someone $200/night for free, then thanks but no thanks. I’ll be perfectly happy traveling to the beaches in Jersey (known to most East Coasters as “the shore”…thank God I’m from California…), having adequate transportation to and from said beach, and being able to drink “tea” all day without having to sell my first-born child to pay for it 🙂

  2. D.B.

    If eight people share a house where there are four bedrooms with two beds in each but only one sofa in the living room and each of the eight people invites a guest for the weekend, how many people have to sleep on that one fucking sofa? Now do you see why we have house rules? GO BACK TO PALM SPRINGS!

  3. joe

    Wow. I’m a NY’er who’s been reading your blog about L.A. for years and think you just lost me as a reader. Soooo many inaccuracies here. 4pm tea? tea is like a circuit party? illogical rentals? 5 transfers to arrive? animosity between the pines and the grove? no guests on couches? mega mansion homes? NONE of this is true…its almost like the complete opposite of true.

    Why do you feel the need to resort to hyperbole to write an article? Can you just paint something as a positive experience full stop?

  4. Orlando, these photos are incredibly swoon-worthy. I might not ever make it to Fire Island, so I thank you for sharing!

  5. Dear Orlando, I already knew this, but this blog post underscores my assessment that you are the Best Blogger Ever. Thank you. More, please.

  6. Fire Island Girl

    So sorry to have to fact check you but the statement “On Fire Island, there’s Fire Island Pines on one side and Cherry Grove on the other” in incorrect. What about Saltaire, Fair Harbor, Atlantique etc …Fire Island has 17 communities as diverse as the people who enjoy the island. Families, singles, straights, and gays, everyone is welcome!

  7. Haha! I’m dying. I’ve never even heard of Fire Island but now I want to go to there.

  8. Callie

    Love this post! Love all your posts, but especially this one. Thanks!

  9. Hey Orlando; If you want one for yourself, i can build another anywhere.

    https://www.facebook.com/peter.asher.90

  10. T Dinkel

    Sounds mildly like The Vineyard. As in Martha’s. But smaller. And we have an airport. Come over

  11. d. yeknoccm

    The two neighboring gay areas do not hate each other. It is only the visitors who promote this stupidity. They are only actually about one city block away. The big difference is that one is older than the other with houses that were floated over after the Hurricane of ’38 while the newer has new bigger houses many of which were designed as rental/share houses.

  12. Pretty misinformed Queen for such strong opinions.

  13. Robert Slagle

    Hi Orlando. Interesting post and perspective. Nice photos.
    Honestly, it hadn’t even occurred to me that there are people, particularly gay men, that don’t know about Fire Island.

    I’ve vacationed in Cherry Grove over the past decades. And, yes, it was always MAGICAL! Like.. MAGICAL. But I never stayed in a private house, only at the Belvedere Guest House. Last year however, my husband and I stayed at the same little hotel you stayed. It was my first time staying in the Pines. I wasn’t impressed. And I have to say, I prefer an ALL male guest house. Not that I am sexist, but it makes for an entirely different stay. Please keep in mind, I think I am the only gay man who has gone to Fire Island and not had sex. Even with my husband. It’s odd, I know. But there’s my life. And it’s not like I haven’t had the opportunity over the years. I guess it’s just fate. Anyway, I digress. I wasn’t impressed with the Pines. The entire time I was there I kept saying to my husband, “Everything and everyone just seems…battered.” We did stumble upon a late night “tea” party and that was fun. I danced. My husband did not partake.

    If I go back, or should I say WHEN I go back, I will most definitely stay in Cherry Grove. My husband doesn’t like the Belvedere but we stayed at place called the Dunes, which wasn’t luxurious but it was convenient and charming. In any case, to each his own. If you are interested in a great book on Fire Island Pines check this out: http://www.amazon.com/Tom-Bianchi-Island-Polaroids-1975-1983/dp/8862082703

    Ciao.

  14. Hey man, I love the way you write! Serious love with sugar on top.

    Fire Island is not only unique, it’s almost unreal – in a transcendent sense. The way that you experience it when you go there for the first time is something you’ll come to consider one of life’s highlights if you can hold on to it. I enjoyed the way you so expertly captured and conveyed how it feels to be in that experience. I hope you go back, because there are aspects about the place that you can only grasp once you’re familiar with it, and I’d love to hear how your thoughts might evolve along that process.

  15. I loved all of this. You speak with words of funny truth.

  16. Sylvain B

    If you take the 5:09 train, there is no stop, direct to Sayville. you’ll save time to catch Tea…

  17. Looooved this post. My only prior experience with Fire Island was a ’70s teen paperback that I read over & over about a girl with a crush on two guys, spending the summer on the island. (No gays.) You crack me up.

  18. I’ve never had the desire to go there. Or any beach on the east coast for that matter.

  19. Derek

    I think you missed the point of being in the Pines. No sense of connectedness or the history of tea dance – which began as a secret meet up for gay men to meet and be social when everyone was in the closet. Sure, it transformed into something else but there were external social forces at work. This place paved the way for gay rights activism and offered sanctuary when there was none. You should have more respect. You say its magical, then call out its quirks like exorbitant rent for dingy quarters. Isn’t that found in many cities, including LA? The condescension and pithy “them against me” says more about your perspective in life than the Pines or Cheery Grove. Another person pointed out that there are several communities on Fire Island. Do more research. A place is made by the people, not the pretty homes.

  20. Anthony Michael

    “allegedly scandalous money grubbing fraud” LIBEL
    The fire that devestated our community, did not benefit Anyone..
    You may think your little piece of fiction was funny, but as a community we are insulted.

  21. Clarification: The film “Ghost Writer” was not filmed in the house mentioned, or anywhere on Fire Island. #factcheck

  22. Felix Rivera-Perez

    I find this “piece” very inaccurate. I think you would do well to check out the history of The Pines, Cherry Grove, and the other communities that are all part of Fire Island. I would especially check out the history of Invasion, which takes place on, or around, July 4th of every year. Invasion a terrific example of how close knit Cherry Grove (“The Grove”) and The Pines are with each other.

  23. Kitty

    For what it costs to go to spend a few summer weekends out on Fire Island, I went to St Maarten four times this past summer.

    Dutch + French = I had a much better time.

    • Miss Peru

      Good for you …..but to make it clear fire island is unique that’s the reason it is far away ….but most important to keep it away from straight people and especially girls .thats what it make it unique
      Xoxoxxoxoxoxoxox

  24. John

    The photos are great . The article is toxic . Please all of you that have not been here for years stop,with your “if someone could drive me to the ferry and I could stay for free..” Since you will surely break your glass slippers on the boardwalk. It’s one of the most magical places in the world. Without mommy looking over you. And that, kids, is part of the real beauty. J&B

  25. Martin

    What’s really shocking is all this bs in this article! I lived in NYC for 25 years and have been to fire island countless times. FI used to be a hardcore party place but that has changed over the years. It a nice getaway for a long weekend. Just don’t think about going in the freezing water. Dogs and kids are welcome in FI.Your article is way over the top dramatic.

  26. Don T.

    wow…..I’m frightened at how seemingly ignorant and/or humorless many of your readers seem to be. Everything you noted was exaggerated and over the top but each had a kernel of truth. The commute does seem endless and exhausting, the Pines is a bit snooty A-list Gay…where as the Grove is a bit.. well East Village/Lesbian., and one could easilly buy a private island in the Caribbean for what a few summer’s in the Pines will set you back. One thing that is not exaggerated, it is Magical!

  27. Holly

    Dear Orlando, I don’t care if what you write is real or fake. Its awesome, u r awesome and i wish i was a gay guy who could date you forevermore. But I’m a gal, with kids who is totally obsessed with interiors and architecture too, so that will have to be enough. Keep it coming

  28. There was nothing in this article that was shocking or changed my worldview; thanks for your shallow thoughts on the pines. Do some digging into the history of the botel, why cherry grove and the pines developed the way they did (socially and architecturally), why the invasion happens annually, and the recent monopoly by two most recent owners of the main drag.

    It may help shape an article or change the way you see the seaside town.

  29. andy

    OrLando, why are u so basic?

  30. Victoria

    Orlando I took this as rather tongue in cheek and you had me smiling all the way through my afternoon tea break. Thanks for the mini mind trip and continue making spaces come alive its owner!

  31. Gary Desi

    Did you even go to Fire Island? The sun sets over the bay not the ocean

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