June 28, 2013

Fabulous Fire Island -- The Recap

We had a wonderfully romantic getaway to the famous gay resort community of Fire Island Pines and neighbouring Cherry Grove.  We were saddened, however, to learn that we had just missed Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, and Jim Parsons, who had been filming in the Pines for their new movie "The Normal Heart". Alas!

It was a special highlight for us to be in the Pines during its 60th anniversary and it was made even more special when it was announced on Wednesday that section 3 of DOMA had been judged unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. The historic announcement came rather fittingly from the drag queen hosting a delightful show tune sing-along, the hilarious Marti G Cummings. The room went wild and we were so very happy for our American friends as they continue to fight for marriage equality.

We stayed at the Madison Fire Island Pines, which you could classify as a B&B but it felt more like an upscale guest house. The hosts were lovely and the place was perfectly located for all of our wanderings to the beach, and to get food.  The complex features 9 rooms, a pool, a hot tub, and a rooftop patio. Everything is tied together by a stunning main room that is used as a central living and dining room. For a small charge you can have all-you-can-drink access to the Madison's well-stocked bar, and you are also welcome to hit up the nearby Pines Pantry to get groceries and cook in the Madison's kitchen. We highly recommend the Madison for your getaway! For the record, all are welcome in the Pines. Although primarily a GLBT destination, we had gay, lesbian, and straight couples all staying at the Madison. As one of the local owners said "This place is gay. Straights are welcome".

The oft-repeated quip is that Fire Island Pines (The Pines) is like Chelsea whereas neighbouring Cherry Grove (The Grove) is like Greenwich Village. We can now understand the comparisons having spent the better part of 4 days in both communities. For our taste The Grove is by far a friendlier, more down-to-earth place full of a wider array of people from within the LGBT community and straight couples alike.

There are no roads in The Grove or The Pines (save for a dirt path for service vehicles in the Pines) and the only way to get between the communities is to (1) walk either on the beach or through the inland sand dunes/forest of shrubs more infamously and crassly known as the "Meat Rack" or (2) hop on the water taxi. We braved the inland route on more than one occasion, taking the 20-minute trek through the mosquitos and other things that might like to nibble on you. Why they have not just built a boardwalk to connect the two towns is beyond me.

Mosquitos aside, we just loved The Grove and trekked there everyday after Low Tea at historic Blue Whale and enjoyed dinner and entertainment at Cherry Lane Cafe. We loved the food and friendly environment so much that we went back the next night. We also got to meet owners Jacque Piazza and Donna Bianco (we sat in the table behind them in the interview) since Wednesday night featured homemade pasta made by these proud Italian-Americans, and they came over to say "Hi" and chat. A special thanks as well to their amazing and welcoming staff, especially barmaid Keith (aka Lauren Order) and piano player extraordinaire Michael Roy. 

On our last night on Fire Island we trekked back to The Grove to take in an evening at Top of the Bay, which dates back about 40 years. We enjoyed drinks as the bar for their 2-for-1 happy hour, where we met two lovely and sweet lesbian couples (one from London, UK and the other from Brooklyn, NY). We then stayed for an outstanding dinner in the main dining room overlooking the bay between Fire Island and Long Island. We ended our day by walking back to The Pines along the beach as the light was just about to fade from the sky.

Memorable indeed.    [See photos from our trip in the entry below]

Fabulous Fire Island -- Photo Essay

The cute welcome sign when you get off the ferry
Yours truly, posing on the steps of the reborn Pavilion
Well, hello there!
The entrance to the main section of our guest house, Madison Fire Island Pines
View from second floor at the Madison
Mark grabbing some breakfast in the gorgeous main room
Mark relaxing by our guest house's pool
Escape to the beach -- just 4 minutes from our room.
In the heart of Cherry Grove
View from our guest house's rooftop patio
Look Ma -- no streets!!
This is how you get around -- a network of charming boardwalks
We spent a great deal of time staring at the ocean
The sand was perfect and the beach seemed never to end

The stunning beach and gorgeous beach houses
The Fire island Pines harbor
This is how you get your supplies around -- wagons! This is a wagon post.
The legendary Pavilion, rebuilt this spring, had just opened when we arrived

June 13, 2013

A 30th Anniversary Cover

U2 provide a gorgeous and moving cover of their 1983 classic "Sunday Bloody Sunday" for One, the advocacy and campaigning organization looking to solve extreme poverty. This video is part of One's agit8 campaign to raise awareness in advance of the next G8 summit.

June 11, 2013

Pining for the Pines

Aerial shot of Fire Island, New York. Image credit: eMixPix.com.

We are excited to announce that we've booked a getaway to the community of Fire Island Pines on Fire Island, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month as the summer mecca for queer folk. Fire Island Pines ("the Pines") is about 50 miles north of New York City on a barrier island off Long Island.

In an interview about the Pines in the New York Times, Andrew Kirtzman, a longtime Pines resident and real estate developer, said “My line to people is that the Pines is to gay people what Israel is to Jews,” He continued by explaining, “It’s the spiritual homeland. There’s just a sense of history in the air, almost tangible but not quite. You just feel like you’re part of some kind of grand creation meant solely for gays.”

Not only is it the Pines' 60th anniversary but this special occasion is being marked by the re-opening of the stunning Pavilion, the community's longstanding social hub, which was destroyed by a fire in 2011. The new, two-story showplace will be a stark improvement from the previous building, both aesthetically and functionally. The Pavilion Nightclub and High Tea Deck terrace will occupy the second floor, presenting party-goers with dazzling views of the harbor, while the gym, retail spaces, and the new Welcome Bar, will be on the first floor. The Pavilion marks the nexus of the harbour (which you can see in the top left of the accompanying photo) and is the welcome point for everyone as they disembark from the ferry.

The Pines is car-free. The entire community is connected by a series of boardwalks, and it's common to see folks pulling along red wagons full of groceries and other supplies. Just down the beach, or through the paths of the Sunken Forest (aka "The Judy Garland Memorial Forest"), is the other uber-LGBT community of Cherry Grove.

We'll be staying at The Madison, which looks to be a mighty fine place to relax and turn off our brains for a few days. Can't wait!!

June 9, 2013

Sights along the Waterfront Trail

View of the WestJet Stage

Harbour with Toronto Islands in the distance

View of CN Tower from the Harbourfront

The Simcoe wave deck just off Queens Quay

Looking at the bridge spanning the harbour

The Alexandra Yacht Club

Friezes on the Tip Top Tailors Building (1929)

Mark at the fountain at the Top Top Tailors Building

The cityscape from Lakeshore Boulevard

The cool bridge connecting two condos in CityPlace

Walking through Canoe Landing Park inside our 'hood CityPlace.

From cabbages to tagines

The welcome sign as you arrive at Cabbagetown, Carlton & Parliament streets
We finally got ourselves over to Cabbagetown this past Saturday. The local BIA claims Cabbagetown is home to one of the largest continuous Victorian housing areas in North America. We didn't wander too far off Parliament so we'll have to go back when there is a festival. You could see that the side streets are covered in lovely tree canopies and dotted with grand old homes. It all reminded us both of Kingston's lovely and historic Sydenham Ward.

We had actually hoped to go for a meal at celebrated Butter Chicken Factory but, alas,  it does not open until 5 pm on Saturdays and it was only 3:30, so we decided to head back into downtown to see what we could find.

Arriving in the St. Lawrence Market district, we ended up walking through Woofstock, which claims it is North America's largest festival for dogs. I have never seen so many dogs nor so many designer doggie clothing, food, services, consultants, etc. It was quite the spectacle. Apparently something like 300,000 people will wander through the festival, most along with their best furry friends. Wow!

We decided to treat ourselves to an early dinner at Cafe Moroc, which is the front part of the Sultan's Tent. The design of the cafe is absolutely gorgeous and based on Rick's Cafe in the film Casablanca (1942), whereas the back portion is a luxurious series of Berber tents harkening back to another era, featuring belly dancers. For appetizers we shared Seafood Briouats (seafood wrapped in phyllo pastry and baked) and B'stilla (amazing chicken pie with almonds) and for mains we had the Chicken Marakesh and Braised Lamb Feast. Never being able to resist dessert, Mark had Brule Royale, a creme brulee topped with pistachios.

We loved our meal at Cafe Morac and can't wait to go back and enjoy the dinner and show at the Sultan's Tent with some friends. I frequently cook Moroccan cuisine, usually once a week, and Mark is especially fond of a lamb dish I make with dried apricots and prunes that takes a few hours to properly cook.  The whole experience made me want to book a trip to Morocco. Perhaps we'll one day join the Moroccan Sketchbook experience just outside Marakesh, run by an OCAD grad named Elizabeth Hutchinson. Just maybe...

June 4, 2013

On the hunt

Sunday Antique Market, St. Lawrence Market
Over the past two weekends we took in screenings at Inside Out, Toronto's LGBT film festival, with some friends. We really love shorts so we got tickets for two excellent shorts programs; the first collection of 8 films was themed as "We Found Love" and the second collection of 6 films was curated under the banner of "Art Therapy".

We were all impressed with the lineups of both evenings. The films were poignant, thought-provoking, hilarious, tender, moving, and very memorable.

Hoping to find a wooden step stool for the kitchen we headed to the weekly Sunday Antique Market that takes place in the northern building of the St. Lawrence Market.  Alas, I did not find a stool although I did stumble across a copy of The Aylmer Road: An Illustrated History (1994) by Diane Aldred. Aylmer (Quebec) is my former home town, so it was lovely to come across a link to my family's history.

In terms of checking out restaurants and bars, I went for after-work drinks as part of a Queen's alumni social at the new Jazz Bistro last week.  We had the upper bar to ourselves and around 8pm a quartet started playing, giving the place a fantastic atmosphere and groove. On Sunday evening a few of us went for Indian at Aroma on King Street West. The food was very good and we all enjoyed our meals. From what I could gather Aroma tends to keep their recipes on the milder/sweeter side. None of us were complaining, mind you, but those seeking more "kick" might be happier somewhere else.