July 9, 2023
Out With Dr. Bill: July 4th at the Pines Comes Alive with Joy and Survival
Dr. William Kapfer READ TIME: 8 MIN.
The night before the July 4th "Invasion" our entire house met at the Blue Whale for afternoon tea and an early dinner at the Blue Whale Marina Bar & Grill.
Every day around 6:00, the Blue Whale kicks off a fun, feel-good party referred to as Low Tea. The "Tea Dance" as it was originally called (and there's not much dancing happening these days, as it's beyond crowded) was created in the Pines by then owner John Whyte at the Blue Whale bar in 1966.
The Blue Whale holds a rich history intertwined with the annual "Invasion," becoming a central gathering place during the event, so we felt it appropriate to start out the July 4th festivities with a nosh at the Pines' favorite harbor-side bar and eatery.
Although the Invasion has evolved to be a fun and campy tradition, the history of the annual event was actually rooted in a serious protest.
History of the Invasion
As the story goes, one night in the late spring of 1976, a Cherry Grove resident named Teri Warren went over to the Blue Whale, a restaurant in the Pines – an upscale, conservative community with a mixed gay and straight population – and was refused service because Teri was dressed in drag. Word spread of the offensive treatment Teri received and led to a growing anger on the part of some Grove residents.
When the Fourth of July rolled around, 9 locals decided to strike back (somewhat playfully) with a drag invasion led by Panzi (a.k.a. Thom Hansen), a local celebrity who'd been named Homecoming Queen of Cherry Grove that summer. When their water taxi entered the Pines' harbor, the captain sounded his horn and the gathering crowd roared.
After some initial confusion, the Grove queens disembarked and accepted some complementary libations while Panzi "blessed the harbor" from the balcony of the Botel – a hotel located adjacent to the Blue Whale – before they headed back to the Grove.
And thus, a new annual tradition now drawing hundreds of drag performers each 4th of July was born.
Through its longstanding presence and active participation in the invasion, the Blue Whale has contributed to the sense of community and acceptance that defines the Fire Island Pines. It has become a cherished establishment where boys gather to enjoy refreshing drinks, savor the company of friends and strangers alike, and honor the history and traditions that make Fire Island Pines a special, safe place for our community.
Time for Tea
Tea was spectacularly crowded with pre-4th of July energy. All of the venues buzzed with anticipation, transforming into festive havens adorned with an array of 4th of July and gay pride memorabilia. Every nook and cranny was meticulously decorated, exclaiming pride! and patriotism! and a vibrant spirit.
Even the plastic cups being used to serve drinks from the bar were festive; each was branded with logos and funny plays on Broadway productions. One cup, for example, was branded with a logo from the new Broadway musical "Kimberly Akimbo," and another from "Wicked," displaying the phrase: "Witch, please."
I ran into one of the Broadway producers from "Kimberly Akimbo" who told me that they worked closely with their marketing teams to create the imagery for the cups. He confirmed that they will distribute 250,000 cups for the Pines' summer season.
As a lifetime marketer, I appreciated the clever marketing and the branded cups featuring Broadway shows. These cups are bound to evoke fond memories of attending these performances, as well as become a topic of conversations and connections among patrons who share a love for both theater and the LGBTQIA+ community.
As for the post-Tea dinner at the Blue Whale, it was scrumptious. The meal consisted of a variety of shareable plates that featured fresh, local market produce, regional fish and seafood, as well as meat and poultry for those who enjoy meat. The menu wasn't particularly complicated, so we simply said, "We'll take two of everything."
A few of my favorite dishes that night included the grilled pork ribs glazed in pineapple BBQ sauce, the sticky chicken bao buns filled with crispy fried chicken breast, and the Nola shrimp and chorizo (cajun spiced shrimp, new potatoes, sweet corn, and remoulade).
I felt the food at the Whale was particularly tasty this year – I attribute that to the eatery's new chef Jani who's brought her own fresh, culinary flair to the kitchen.
4th of July
I always enjoy our time on Fire Island over the 4th of July holiday. To me, the Fourth is not only a celebration of American independence, but also a powerful testament to the enduring spirit of the LGBTQ+ community.
The paralleling spark of independence in the air for a new freedom–for our country and our community – cannot be missed at The Pines during this time!
In fact, the Fire Island Pines community has long been recognized as a safe haven for gay individuals, and this reputation is especially evident during the festive atmosphere of Independence Day.
Indeed, the 4th of July on Fire Island is a time of joy, unity, and a reaffirmation of the community's values of inclusivity, acceptance and freedom.
During the 4th of July weekend the Pines comes alive with vibrant energy as my LGBTQIA+ friends and family gather to commemorate the holiday.
The community is renowned for its vibrant and lively parties during the summer season, but on the 4th of July weekend the Pines distinctly comes to life with unforgettable gatherings at people's homes.
From small get togethers to extravagant soirees, the houses serve as the perfect venues for eating, drinking, socializing, and enjoying the company of friends old and new. The energy and sense of community that permeate these gatherings make them an integral part of the Pines culture.
One of these infamous parties is Andy Tobias' 4th of July Lobster party. The annual party at his lovely beach-front home has become a much-anticipated event that friends and neighbors of all ages eagerly look forward to each year.
I believe Tobias' formula for success for his yearly gathering (which has been our go-to party recipe for over 30 years) is to include a vibrant mix of both younger and older people.
Bringing together an intergenerational mix of LGBTQIA+ guests and allies creates a unique opportunity for intergenerational connections and a sense of unity. The presence of older gay icons, and I'd consider Tobias an icon himself, not only pays homage to the community's history and accomplishments, but also fosters mentorship and inspiration for the younger individuals.
Tobias is indeed an icon in the LGBTQIA+ community in his own right. One of his many notable achievements is the book "The Best Little Boy in the World," which he authored in 1973. This memoir, published under the pseudonym John Reid, candidly explores his personal journey of self-discovery and acceptance as a gay man.
In the book, Tobias courageously shares his own, personal story, shedding light on the complexities of sexuality, identity, and societal acceptance. As a young gay man growing up in Southern Arizona, the book served as an inspirational source for me as I navigated my own path to self-acceptance.
Other notables from across the generational spectrum in attendance included Jim Pepper – a leading figure in the equality movement for over 40 years!
During the 1980s, Pepper's voice was heard many times as he created awareness of the significant impact of HIV/AIDS. He began with Lambda Legal and was part of the Board of Directors at New York's Gay Men's Health Crisis and co-founded Stonewall Community Foundation in NYC.
My good friend, and former Fire Island housemate, Todd Sears was also in attendance. Sears is the founder and principal of Out Leadership, a global LGBTQIA+ business advisory organization that helps companies understand that including LGBTQIA+ people at all levels will benefit their bottom line.
And Seth Sikes and Nicolas King were there, two of New York's most popular young nightclub entertainers – and the party's cutest boyfriends.
Sikes has been selling out venues since his 2014 debut "Seth Sikes Sings Judy Garland," and Kiing has been performing since he was 4, including appearing on Broadway in "Beauty & The Beast," "A Thousand Clowns" and "Hollywood Arms" – all before age 12.
No matter how old you are, the July 4th weekend in the Pines showcases the power of unity and serves as a reminder of the strength and resilience of the LGBTQIA+ community, not only in the face of adversity, but also in the pursuit of joy, freedom, and love.
Frocked and Docked
This year marked the 47th anniversary of the "Invasion." Once again, spectators witnessed a captivating collection of drag costumes and designs. The queens with their impeccable makeup and breathtaking costumes radiated confidence and an irresistible aura of empowerment. Each was dressed to the nines in their glamorous ensembles, showcasing their unmatched talent and charisma, and turning our beachside community into a runway of sheer fabulousness. Their presence on the iconic 4th of July holiday continues to represent a bold assertion of identity and a reminder of the resilience and progress achieved by the LGBTQIA+ community.
What one can see at The Pines is an underscoring that we are existing in an exciting new epoch, in which a new generation, one that ostensibly will survive without the specter of AIDS, and acute discrimination, will impress upon the world all of its brilliance – the brilliance we lost with the extinction of so many lives in the 1980s and 1990s.
Indeed, The Pines events serve as a poignant celebration of survival – and the love, acceptance, and unwavering quest for equality in a world that continues to be transformed by their indomitable spirits.