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Michael K Lavers
NOTE: This is an archive article. For an updated and expanded Fire Island article click DailyXtraTravel
After the summer crowds leave its
sand shores, Fire Island is at its
Fire Island is known for many things
-- oceanfront circuit
parties that draw thousands of muscle-
bound boys, kitschy drag queens
of varying degrees of talent and good
taste, and sexual liaisons on the
stretch of seashore between Cherry Grove
and the Fire Island Pines
dubbed the Meatrack.ï¿½
There are many attractions for
summer visitors to Fire Island.
But this 34-mile-long barrier island
that parallels the South Shore of
Long Island, roughly 60 miles east of
Manhattan, truly delights once
the hordes of day-trippers and
shareholders return home after Labor
Some Fire Islanders affectionately
dub the day after Labor Day,
which this year falls on September 8,
'Tumbleweed Tuesday' because the
hoards of people that traditionally
descend upon the beach on any given
summer weekend miraculously disappear.
"It's the most incredible time of
the year," says Julian
Dorcelien of the Belvedere Guest
House, a men-only accommodation
located on Great South Bay in Cherry
Grove. "It's a hidden gem. The
madness of the crowd is gone and the
people who enjoy the island come.
The people who want to relax and not
The Grove and the Pines are two of
the 18 hamlets scattered
throughout Fire Island. Approximately
500 people live year-round on
Fire Island, but the population can
swell to as many as 30,000 people
on one of the summer's busiest weekends,
such as Independence Day or
A common misconception among many
first-time visitors is the
island is completely gay -- far from it.
Ocean Beach, the island's
largest community, is one of several
that is popular with families.
Other communities, such as Corneille
Estates and Kismet, have a
straight singles scene.
Largely empty beaches, warm surf
and an abundance of nature,
however, are among the many things that
greet post-Labor Day travelers.
Wendy Lewis has come to Fire
Island since the 1970s. Lewis cites
the weather, which often features balmy
days and crisp nights through
mid-October, as one of the reasons she
is fond of the off-season. She
also cites the still-warm ocean and the
autumn leaves as among the
reasons she prefers Fire Island post-
"The people who come in the fall
are the real Fire Island
lovers," Lewis says.
The centuries-old Sunken Forest,
roughly half a mile west of
Cherry Grove, is among the best places
within the Fire Island National
Seashore to see the brilliant fall
foliage. The wooded area appears as
though it is below sea level because of
an optical illusion created by
the dunes. The Sunken Forest contains a
number of trails on which
visitors can explore Fire Island's
unique flora and fauna. Deer, fox,
turtles and an abundance of birds are
among the animals that can be
spotted within this protected area.
The off-season isn't for everyone.
Those who like the easy
socializing of the summer months may be
put off by the mostly deserted
boardwalks in the fall. Many of the
businesses in the Pines and Cherry
Grove close, meaning there are fewer
options for meals or nights on the
In Cherry Grove, a mostly straight
crowd competes in the Miss
Fire Island contest at the Grove Hotel
on the second week of September.
The Belvedere hosts the popular Bana
party, an aquatic-inspired
gathering of hundreds of men on
September 12. The Arts Project of
Cherry Grove stages theater productions
through the end of September.
And Cherry's On the
Bay and the Island Breeze are
among the local restaurants that
stay open on weekends through Columbus
Day (if the weather cooperates,
In the Pines, DJs spin at the Pavilion/ Glo
Lounge through September 12. The
uniquely Pines experience known as tea
also runs through the second
weekend in September. And a large number
of Pines residents commemorate
the Jewish High Holidays on the beach.
Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown
on September 18 and Yom Kippur begins at
sundown on September 27.
"People think summer is over as
soon as Labor Day hits," says
Adam Weaver, marketing director of Fire
Island Pines Operations.
"Really, Fire Island has some of its
most beautiful beach days in
September. I know because I finally get
to go because I'm not as busy."
Even though September and early
October often features beautiful
weather, hurricanes and nor'easters
periodically wreak havoc. A
hurricane dubbed the Long Island Express
decimated Cherry Grove and
other Fire Island communities in
September 1938. Hurricane Gloria
caused widespread damage across the
beach when it made landfall on Long
Island in September 1985. And the
Halloween nor'easter of 1991
destroyed more than 40 homes on Fire
"There were hot tubs floating in
the ocean," Lewis recalls.
Ferries to and from Fire Island
become less frequent after
Columbus Day. There are only a handful
each day by the end of November.
In spite of this, an increasing number
of Fire Islanders have begun to
celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and
even New Year's Eve on the beach.
Nicole Pressly-Wolf has lived
year-round in Lonelyville, Ocean
Beach, the island's main village, and
Saltaire. She feels the beach's
true essence emerges after the summer
crowds return home. And the less
hectic pace draws a particular type of
"These people who come to Fire
Island after Labor Day really have
a connection to Fire Island," Pressly-
Wolf says. "It changes the mood."
For most visitors, getting to Fire
Island requires taking a train, then
a van, then a ferry. Long Island
Railroad provides train service
from Penn Station in Manhattan or
Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn Sayville
($21.50 off-peak roundtrip.) Islip Limo
(631-567-8888) and Colonial
Transportation (631-589-3500) are among
the companies that offer $5
jitney rides between the train station
and the ferry terminal. Sayville Ferry
Service (631-589-0810) takes
passengers between the mainland and the
Grove and the Pines ($14 roundtrip.) The
ride across Great South Bay
takes between 15 and 20 minutes, but
departures become increasingly
sporadic after Columbus Day.
Macarthur Airport is roughly 10
miles from the Sayville Ferry
terminal in Sayville. Both New York City
airports are within two hours of