Model Model Mickey DiPietro stands in the lobby of Crew's Quarters Boarding House. Source: Sam Waxman

Crew's Quarters Boarding House: Affordable Ptown Lodgings with a 'Bad Boy Sailor's' Vibe

Robert Nesti READ TIME: 9 MIN.

When Stuart Jackson bought the property on 198 Commercial Street four years ago, he knew exactly the two things he'd do first: change its name to Crew's Quarters Boarding House, then paint it black. "I just wanted to be bold, and I thought the house would look amazing painted black," he explained a recent morning while sitting at the bar in the lobby of a rechristened guest house. "And it does."

But that was just the beginning. Walking into the space, as I did on a warm summer's day, I was immediately transported to a different time and place. First, the elegant bar in dark wood that doubles as the front desk brings to mind a gorgeous remnant from early in the last century; and the adjacent sitting room looks as if nothing had changed in the place since 1963. The effect is deeply masculine and sensual that suggests gay culture in the pre-Stonewall period, one both hyper-masculine and camp at the same time. With a sensual painting above the fireplace and Body Culture magazines on the coffee tables, you half expect Tom of Finland to step up and check you in. Or Brad Davis from the cult film "Querelle," looking every inch a bad boy sailor.

Follow this link to visit Crew's Quarters Boarding House's website.

Model Mickey DiPietro in a room at Crew's Quarters Boarding House.
Source: Sam Waxman

But the charismatic, handsome Jackson makes for a fine substitute. The British expat (he is an American citizen) recalls being intrigued with the Commercial Street property when he was in Provincetown working remotely during the pandemic, and he became transfixed when he visited it for the first time upon hearing it was for sale. That was in the summer of 2020. Fast forward to this summer and his "pandemic project" (as he calls it) functions both as a top guest house and something close to an art installation intended to evoke queer male culture from a time when Provincetown was one of few havens where gay men could feel safe while on holiday.

Jackson's intent was to create the "bad boy sailor tavern at the end of the jetty" (as he calls it), and he has happily succeeded. The antique-filled rooms run from simple, single-bunk spaces to larger ones with queen size beds. The public spaces – the showers and bathrooms – are handsomely appointed. The rooms are filled with period antiques, some cheeky (such as the small, framed photos of sailors); some beautifully homoerotic (such as a painting of a shirtless blonde man in one of the larger rooms). With rooms on three floors (along with a private space in the basement), Crew's Quarters Boarding House offers a playfully decadent Provincetown experience. If you have that randy sailor vibe, CQBH is for you.

The structure, which sits just steps away from Spiritus Pizza, dates from 1882 and has been a doctor's office, an art gallery, and an antique store before Al Stillson bought it and opened it as The Ranch in 1959. Stillson's had a concept that today looks ahead of its time. In a town where guest houses ooze generic, Cape Cod charm, he opened a theme-based guest house that would capitalize on a popular cultural theme of its time: cowboys. "I really respect what Al Stillson did," says Jackson. "He positioned The Ranch to the town as a place for guests to live out their cowboy passions. He had tuned into that social phenomenon of the late '50s and early '60s – the popularity of the Western on TV and the movies, and the image of the Marlboro Man. He embraced the machismo, And he did a beautiful job. The place looked like the Wild West Saloon in here – all the rooms had names on them. He did a really great job. And so it started, I think, with a real bang." Jackson honors Stillson's memory by displaying many Ranch artifacts in his basement, including the names of the rooms, which he placed on each step of the basement stairs.

Model Mickey DiPietro in a room at Crew's Quarters Boarding House.
Source: Sam Waxman

But over the years and changes of ownership, The Ranch lost its edge, becoming what Out Traveler called "an almost corny bunkhouse geared toward the leather/Levi crowd but welcoming all men who will appreciate its down-home, rustic flavor." Others saw it closer to a bathhouse. New owners changed its name to Crew's Quarters, but it was pretty much held in lower esteem in a town filled with judgment.

"Recently the place had a reputation for being a sauna," Jackson recalls. "True. But that did not concern me whatsoever. In fact, I saw the place as a part of queer history and a gift, really, that needs to be nurtured, looked after, protected, and evolve. There were no liabilities, no concerns. I just saw a beautiful building and a great potential."

Nurturing that gift brought him to curate the interiors as they may have been in pre-Stonewall days. To do so he scoured antique stores, junk shops, street fairs and attics and basements in his search for artifacts to fill the rooms. The painting mentioned earlier is a fine example. Jackson says he found it being sold on the street in the East Village. Recently painted, he gave it an antique sheen and placed it in an old frame to give it an authenticity that feels real. It is that spirit that fills the rooms of Crew's Quarters Boarding House.

"I have always been collecting antiques or imagery, especially old male portraiture, or art. It was a personal passion, and this became the opportunity to bring all of that together. I decided to bring them into this and to create a place that I would want to go and hang out when I was in Provincetown."

The result has been transformative, all but erasing the space's down low reputation while keeping its spirit. "Somebody in town said recently to me something I thought charming and flattering. They said, 'I had taken sleazy and made it sexy.'"

And Jackson remembered Stillson again. "I have done what Al Stillson did, but I've chosen a different era," he says. And while it evokes a time of some hardship for the gay community – the 1950s saw The Lavender Scare in which gays were drummed out of the federal government thanks to an executive order by President Dwight Eisenhower – Crew's Quarters Boarding House celebrates when Provincetown was a mecca for gay men who found a safe space amongst its beaches, dunes, bars and clubs.

by Robert Nesti , EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].

Read These Next