Mary Heaton Vorse once wrote, “Provincetown people have always resisted change. They fear the threat of the unknown lest their town become something else. Yet it has remained uniquely itself in the midst of perpetual modification…” Last night, at Sal’s, I got a taste of how right she was. I use her quote as the epigraph for The HomePort Journals, but just found a poignant new dimension to her words. Sal’s, the restaurant down the street, where, somehow, owner Lora Papetsas could always find you a table, will soon be a thing of the past. A Provincetown fixture for 52 years, Sal’s is closing its doors for good at the end of the month. My memories of Sal’s are many and laden with more emotion than I realized until last night: In the old days, the late Jack Papetsas could often be heard bellowing in the kitchen like a demented foghorn, though few customers, and none of the staff ever seemed to pay the least bit of attention. Back then, you paid closer attention to the way you sat down so your chair leg would not punch yet another hole in the rotten decking. I have fond memories of attending a wedding and multi-course banquet which Jack pulled off with great flair, then returning ten years later to witness the renewal of vows made on that very spot. I see, as if it were only yesterday, young Alexander rowing his skiff for hours with oars twice his height, and later that same day, leading us to our seat with all the dignity of a Maitre d’ at a five-star restaurant. Then came Jack’s untimely death, and Alexander and Lora’s triumphant reshaping of the restaurant into a culinary tour de force. (They fixed the deck and so much more…) I don’t know how she did it, but it always seemed when I made a reservation, Lora had our favorite table available when we got there. To Ms. Vorse’s point, my most powerful memory is watching last August’s “super moon” rising in all its glory over the harbor from “our” table by the rail. Rich, round, and full, the moon had never seemed so magnificent. Its light, shimmering across the harbor to the spot where we sat, seemed a benediction. And perhaps it was. Most certainly it was a reminder of the uniqueness and constancy of life in Provincetown.
Last night, at Sal’s, we had dinner for the last time as a gentle rain tapped on the awning above us. We were the next to the last to leave–a couple, the sixties writ large across their weathered faces, outlasted us. And that was as it should be… They probably had 50 years of memories to savor, which certainly trumped our mere 27.
No doubt Provincetown will continue to “remain uniquely itself, ” but the West End will never be the same without Sal’s. Lora is on to the joys of theater, her great love, and Alex to a restaurant career in the Big Apple. God speed folks—and thanks for all you gave of yourselves, especially the many kindnesses and the wonderful memories you helped create… We’ll always cherish them, even as our days in P’town remain “in the midst of perpetual modification.”
Photo © 2015 Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
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