The Pines No Longer Barren
BY JOSEPH EHRMAN-DUPRE | This summer, make way for the Pines. The internationally known gay mecca is about to reclaim its status as the premiere summer nightlife capital with the grand re-opening of the Pavilion, a Fire Island institution. Just in time, too — the Pavilion is turning 60 this summer.
But those who may have scanned this story in print first will have to be patient just a little longer. On May 22, one day after the story was published, the Pavilion’s developers announced that the expected Memorial Day Weekend opening has been postponed.
” The rebuilding of this iconic nightclub was a tremendous undertaking which has almost fully come to fruition,” wrote Matthew Blesso, one of the developers, in a press statement. “Our patron’s safety is our top priority, and we will not open the doors until we are certain the club is 100 percent ready to go.”
The opening “will not be far ahead,” he said, a pledge that may not be a bad way to amp up the anticipation for a Pines institution missing in action the past few seasons.
On November 14, 2011, the community lost this icon of gay nightlife and culture in a ferocious fire. The Pavilion at the Pines burned down to its foundation after more than a half century of parties, benefit galas, and frivolity. This summer, however, it’s back in what Blesso termed “a phoenix situation.”
In 2010, in the largest commercial land purchase in Fire Island history, 75 percent of the Pines’ commercial space was purchased by Blesso, Andrew Kirtzman, and Seth Weissman. Their goal was a thoroughgoing revitalization of the buildings and businesses surrounding the harbor, including restaurants, bars, a hotel, and, of course, the Pavilion.
Just in time for 60, the Pavilion shows off its facelift Memorial Day Weekend
“Blesso Properties began the time-sensitive process of dramatically repositioning the properties in preparation for the resort’s summer season,” the developers’ website says, and the pictures showcase that much was done to rejuvenate the outdated Canteen, a convenient quick food option, and the Hotel Ciel. Then, the fire struck and plans changed.
Blesso Properties commissioned the design firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, global leaders in creating projects serving culturally diverse purposes — from the High Line to performance halls at Lincoln Center. Additionally, HWKN, another New York-based firm specializing in innovative, modern, convenience-oriented living and work spaces, was brought in to draw up and construct a dramatic, dynamic redesign of the famed Pavilion. The three partners have concocted an exciting, modern-yet-nostalgic space for all Pines vacationers, with an emphasis on sustainability, something Blesso said he strives for in all his projects.
The building, which greets ferry-going Pines revelers as they enter the harbor, has been re-imagined as a 7,000 square foot space with similar elements as the previous Pavilion, but with updated amenities. A dance club, the high-tea outdoor terrace, and even a crystal chandelier will take Pines regulars back to the glory days while the newly designed Welcome Bar will invite new guests in to join the fun. A shell-like geometric structure of large wooden beams crosses over the building.
Matthias Hollwich, co-founder of HWKN, described the exterior as “carved and rutted like a piece of driftwood washed ashore by the sea.” Constantino Papadakis, the Pavilion’s general manager, emphasized, “It’s really important not to make anything too modern out there. People really like the wood aesthetic, and it is very much in line with the architecture on the island.”
The beachy exterior gives way to modern facilities inside, however, with state-of-the-art sound and light systems elevating this nightclub experience — the develops promise — beyond anything yet seen on Fire Island.
“We had a devastating fire,” Papadakis said. “It took away the nightclub, which was really the heartbeat of the community. It changed the landscape out there. And then with Hurricane Sandy, it was a one-two punch. It was kind of a lost two years. Things were a little bit forlorn, a little on hold.”
The Pavilion’s re-opening gets things back on track, its developers say.
Striking a balance between old and new is not simply a matter of architectural design. The developers also aim to pitch the programming to appeal to visitors of all ages and past Pines experience.
“Tony Fornabaio’s coming out,” said Papadakis, referring to the gay nightlife impresario who has helped revitalize the club scene in Manhattan in recent years. Fornabaio hopes to transfer his success in nightclub ventures like XL at the Out NYC Hotel on 42nd Street and with weekly parties —Rockit and special events with Logo, for example — to his efforts at the Pavilion.
“He is a 25-plus year resident” of the Pines as well, Papadakis emphasized. “He gets it.”
His aim, Fornabaio told Next Magazine earlier this year, is “to recapture the unique sound the island used to have. Musically, the island has moved away from what it used to be. It’s become reliant on pop music. While there is nothing wrong with pop, it is our intention to bring back that memorable, soulful sound that Fire Island is known for.” His influences, he said, would range from disco and house to tribal and circuit sounds.
Blesso acknowledged what he and his partners recognized when they first bought the property three years ago — that the Pines must forge a 21st century identity.
“The population absolutely dipped in the past couple years” he said. “We are under no false pretenses. This is 2013, being gay is okay and it’s cool. You can vacation wherever you want as a gay couple.”
That means that the new Pavilion has to up the ante to make the Pines’ summer season the success its developers hope for. They emphasized that a top-tier hospitality experience is what visitors will encounter as a connective thread amongst the harborfront businesses, including the Botel, the Blue Whale Restaurant, and the Canteen. The owners hope visitors will feel like pampered guests, but also that a wider range of visitors will find themselves welcome.
“A lot of our programming is going to speak to everybody,” including drag shows on the pool deck, a morning party harkening back to the 1990s, and visual and performing arts exhibitions throughout the summer, Fornabaio explained. “It’s not just for circuit boys.”
Online innovations are also planned to provide the logistics for more visitors to be on the island at any given time. Pines Booker, an Airbnb-style program, will allow summer residents or time share operators to rent their homes and condos for a weekend or lengthier period of time. That would put the cost of a Pines getaway within reach of a large number of younger visitors who otherwise might not be able to experience it.
“The Pines Booker will be a real democratizing effort this year,” said Papadakis.
That effort, he said, will be supplemented by “The Pines Survival Guide,” an online guide containing essentials about the town’s history, traditions, and social opportunities — something of a Fire Island for Dummies. “You shouldn’t have to be in the know to visit the Pines as a vacation destination,” Papadakis said.
“We hope to make the people who have been out there for years proud,” Blesso said, by way of summing up the way he hopes to position the new Pavilion, “but we also hope to get a whole new population.”
Amidst the music and dance heaven Blesso promises for opening weekend, one lucky Pines vacationer will have a chance to be part of history. Waterford Crystal is donating a chandelier for the Welcome Bar area of the new Pavilion etched with the names of 24 significant players in the Pines scene over the years — DJ’s, homeowners, and others who have made their mark — plus one more name that may not yet be quite so famous.
“We asked people to submit their favorite Pines memory and have the winner’s name etched there as well,” Fornabaio said. Choosing just one name was apparently a tough job — the entries received, he said, ranged from humorous to serious, and many carried deep emotional resonance.
“All of these efforts are coming into place to celebrate 60 years and come back bigger and better than ever,” Blesso said.
He and his partners clearly hope their effort will prove to be about more than new sounds and new faces — but stand as well as a moment to reinvigorate and redefine the gay cultural experience as a whole.
Blesso, for one, is determined.
“This year, we’re bringing it back,” he said.