When it comes to gay Cape Cod, Keith Herrick, an innkeeper in West Dennis, likes to draw the line between the casual traveler and what he calls the ''career homosexual." In other words, there are those who happen to be gay and then there are those dancing queens in Provincetown for whom there aren't enough rainbow flags and ''I'm not gay but my boyfriend is" T-shirts in the world to express their pride.
''The truth is, I'm a gay man who happens to feel uncomfortable in P-town a lot," Herrick said. Hold up. A gay man uncomfortable in P-town? Someone turn down the Britney Spears remixes: This is serious. ''I don't think the gay community on the rest of the Cape is as in your face as much. We have dinner parties, movie nights, and just enjoy each other's company. I'm not interested in doing drugs and partying all night. I want quality, not quantity."
Granted, there's more to Provincetown than booze and circuit parties, but Herrick, 37, makes a good point. For gay travelers who seek refuge instead of night life, other Cape Cod towns are becoming attractive destinations, usually at a fraction of the cost of high-rolling Provincetown. (Lodging during high season outside Provincetown can cost between $75-$150 a night.)
Part of that is because gay men and women have always been scattered across the Cape. Carmen Stief, publisher of the Cape Cod & Islands Pride Pages, said she was surprised when she first started collecting information for the guide last year.
''I didn't know there were so many of us all over the Cape," she said, adding that all sorts of gay organizations, including a new gay men's chorus in Hyannis, have sprung up. Even the Cape Cod Gay Pride Committee has moved this year's events (July 17) from Provincetown to Falmouth.
In a lot of ways, though, Cape Cod is more in step with modern, integrated travel for gay women and men. Things don't have to be exclusively gay, and often they are not. ''Gay-friendly" becomes the operative phrase.
That said, there's a gay bar in Hyannis, Mallory Dock (Club 477), though several locals say it hardly rivals Provincetown's bars, and the In or Out Cafe on Main Street in Orleans is ideal for a tasty sandwich and made-to-order daily lunch specials. Afterward, check out the booming Hot Chocolate Sparrow, also in Orleans, for a cup of Joe, a piece of fudge, and a slice of Cape Cod people-watching. There's also nothing gay or straight about lying on the cool sand under the stars at Nauset Light Beach with light skipping across the water and your boyfriend or girlfriend holding your hand beside you. It's perfect.
Gay-owned businesses, though, are hoping to ride the wave of summer tourists and happy honeymooners getting married across the state. Over in Eastham, which is 40 minutes either way to Provincetown and Hyannis, Lorraine Giovinazzo and her partner of 10 years, Mary Swearingen, offer a countryside getaway. Their Night Heron Cottage B&B is practically a postcard of summer living. As their cats, Dink and Rosa, slink about the traditional Cape Cod-style house, the couple engages in a friendly, salon-type visit. They offer maps of the area, tips on good restaurants, and, if need be, a bottle of aloe vera for a nasty sunburn. The two guest rooms are spacious and clean with hard-wood floors and comfy beds, but you won't want to stay inside too long with trails and beaches just 10 minutes away. For more information, visit www.nightheroncottage.com.
Back in Dennis, Herrick wants his Crow's Nest Inn, a delightful 1860 Victorian-Greek Revival home, to be ''the most romantic spot on all of Cape Cod." It's a lofty goal, he acknowledges, but he's on the right track with impeccable service, a restaurant serving upscale cuisine, and eclectic Victorian decor that looks lifted from a Merchant-Ivory film. There are plans for an outdoor cigar bar, movie nights projected on the side of the house, and maybe even a Bette Davis Night with an impersonator (now that's definitely gay, not gay-friendly).
For such a small inn (there are three posh guest rooms), Herrick has a sizable staff, including a sous chef and a pastry chef. If it sounds excessive, you'll change your mind when you come down for breakfast and see the plate of fresh fruit and warm strawberry scones and hear Ella Fitzgerald scatting on the stereo.
''For people who only know the Cape through Provincetown, I would tell them that they don't need to set their GPS system just to Provincetown because it's not the only gay-friendly place on the Cape," Herrick says.
''There are several other exits before you get to P-town," he says, ''and we'd be more than happy to see you and have your business here." For more information, visit thecrowsnestinn.com.
James Reed can be reached at email@example.com.