Nestled at the center of Masonic Place, locals and tourists alike regularly flock to “A-House,” which competes as a contender for the oldest gay bar in the United States (if you count the time it was in the closet). In true gay fashion, the venue started out as a straight tavern. Ptown’s first Postmaster, Daniel Pease, built and operated it in 1834 under an unknown name.
A-House cemented itself as a safe space for creatives over the years. During the 1920s, it served as a hangout for notable writers, including Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams. We think the nude photo of Williams strolling on Provincetown beaches hanging in the bar must have pioneered the venue’s colorful future.
But it wasn’t until 1949, when A-House manager Reggie Cabral purchased the long-time discreetly gay-friendly establishment, that the bar truly branded itself. He decorated the venue with signed works by Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. The bar remains in Cabral’s family ownership.
A nightlife landmark, A-House has been graced with some of the most beloved gay icons in history. In 1955, Billie Holiday, Eartha Kitt, and Ella Fitzgerald all headlined within a month of one another.
A-House became the first of the current ten gay bars operating in the seaside town of nearly 3,000 people. Provincetown rose as a city infrastructure catering to creatives and queer culture despite its small size. Unlike most small towns, the people in Ptown tend to think more progressively than in many metropolitan cities. A-House remains the town’s most recognizable queer establishment and the only year-round gay dance club.
Pat Kearns, a current bartender, says that he only works there for the townies. To him, more rewarding than the travel tips is being present in a space that so accurately reflects what Provicentown’s queer community is up to. He loves watching locals get “really brave on the dance floor, someone named Star 69 is tonguing an old man next to my register, a friend is heckling me, a man is crying near the fireplace,” among other common occurrences reflecting the venue’s impressive social versatility.
Today, walking inside the complex, you will find three distinct venues: Little Bar, the space where it all began, and it remains a local’s favorite place to meet up for drinks before or after dinner. The aptly named Dance Club is the best-rated gay club in town. It combines the nautical vibes of the area with state-of-the-art sound and lighting. Macho Bar offers the only leather bar with dark, sensual rooms (complete with a cage) and a cruisier alternative to hanging out with friends.
Provincetown transforms from a town of 3,000 to almost 20,000 during peak season in the summer. Aside from their hospitality, local Brett Buryj says A-House has managed to remain on top of nightlife because of its uncanny ability to pivot with the times.
“Management definitely knows their audience and crowd, especially when it comes to theme weeks and the types of events they do. The DJs are always playing the best music too. It’s a bar that really knows how to cater to its crowd.”
Bartender Kearns adds locals remain loyal to A-house because it’s a hub without inhibition. “A-House turns into a circuit party. The whole town tends to shift that way.” But he reminds critics that, historically, the bar has always been a place where gay men could meet each other, dance, and smooch off the record and out of sight. “There are some unspoken rules here. You’re not really supposed to be taking photos in here or using your phone.”
Finance consultant Rikard Grafstroem, who often visits Ptown from New York City, names A-House as the first bar he hits. “It is where the best parties always occur, and it’s a friendly and welcoming atmosphere (sometimes too welcoming, as you will see). People from all over the country and the world visit, so you are sure to make some new friends.”
The last time he was there was on October 2021; Grafstroem says the pandemic restrictions were still in place, and his group was seated outdoors on their lovely patio.
Luckily, the venue has returned to its former gay glory with restrictions lifted. However, Kearns admits there’s often a long line, and they’re understaffed – echoing hospitality woes across the country.
“But don’t be afraid of A-house,” Kearns emphasizes. “If you’re queer, come to my bar. Some people come alone, some with a crew. The whole alley is cash-only. So have your ID out and your cash [entrance fee] ready for Wendy when she’s at the register, or you’ll drive her nuts.”
You might never know what to expect when entering A-House, but you’re always guaranteed to have fun if you’re willing.