Mr. Belvedere :: Why this FI guesthouse is one of a kind
Many a gay man's maiden voyage to Fire Island has included the first impression of seeing the glowing towers of the Belvedere guesthouse at night while riding toward the summer enclave on the ferry. It's as if the gay Oz of Cherry Grove has its very own Emerald City looming over the community.
And while munchkins won't greet you at the door, the thousands of gay visitors who have stayed at the all-male guesthouse during its 50 years in operation can tell you that it's nevertheless a splendid and unique architectural creation full of friends of Dorothy.
"We want to keep the feeling of being in a European castle by the ocean," says Craig Eberhardt, the general manager of the hotel who has been working there since 1980. Eberhardt is the former lover and adopted son of John Eberhardt, the scenic painter who designed and built the Belvedere and did much of the tromp l'?il art and murals in the rooms and hallways.
John Eberhardt retired in 2004 and now lives in Florida full time, but Craig is keeping the business in the family. The establishment has undergone many changes over the years, adding on wings and rooms, rebuilding sections that've been decimated by storms and tornados as well as routine maintenance and decorative updates.
"Mainly it's redoing everything and updating everything," Eberhardt says about the maintenance. "Last year we added all-new gym equipment and put an awning over the gym. We redid all the hallways and carpet and added some stairways. This year we redid all the bathrooms and declared war on plastic deck furniture, so we replaced all of that with wooden furniture."
Each of the forty rooms has a different interior design, which always makes return trips exciting, but Eberhardt says it makes for challenges when updating and renovating while maintaining each room's individual character.
"We try to keep the same feeling, but have an 18th century paneled room with modern linens and a flat screen TV," he says. "It [has] modern conveniences but it feels like an antique room."
Along with redoing parts of the building, the Belvedere is also getting a makeover in its demographic.
"We're getting a big clientele of people in their 20s and 30s. They come out here for the first time and we see them back again three weeks later," Eberhardt laughs.
That trend goes for all of Cherry Grove, apparently. "The vibe in the Grove is getting cooler and it's getting younger clientele in the last few years, and more men, too," he says.
But no matter what happens to the building or to the Grove, one thing that hasn't changed is the fun and slightly naughty vibe that makes it feel like anything might happen at the Belvedere.
"There's a sense of freedom here," Eberhardt explains. "Being a clothing-optional hotel, around the pool people lose their bathing suits and they lose their attitude. It's the great equalizer. It's very laid back, and that's one of my favorite things about it."
For those of you who have only seen this great palace shining on the horizon-or haven't seen it at all-it's time to take a peek inside.
Visit BelvedereFireIsland.com for more info.