A Weekend at The Belvedere Guest House, ed Cherry Grove Fire Island. June 2011
Belvedere Guest House is as close an experience to visiting Europe as one can have in a seaside New York locale. Upon your arrival through its heavy iron gates, you are greeted by fountains in Roman styled basins, statuary and a vine covered, trellised garden. A pair of large double entry doors reclaimed from a gothic house in Newport , Rhode Island which conceals the mystique of the goings on inside.
The founder of the Belvedere, John Eberhardt was an avid collector of art and antiques as well as a talented set designer a combination which led to the formation of this unusual décor masterpiece. Many of the pieces of furniture and objets d’art that adorn the property were found on his frequent trips to Europe in the 1950’s, The Belvedere even features one of Marie Antoinette’s cradles.
Our hosts, long time romantic partners Craig and Julian, warmly met us in the foyer, and gave us a tour of the grounds, including the Grand Salon, and several of their generously appointed, uniquely designed rooms. One Fierth favorite was the Bay front Oak Room comprised of reclaimed hand carved wood from an English chapel. The scent of the wood permeates the cozy space, emanating romance and fireside evenings. Some of the rooms contained personal cupolas, if one is feeling particularly grand. We were then escorted to our room, the aptly named “Painted Room”; Its painted walls served as a lovely complement to the perfection of the bayside views from the large private balcony. We spent many hours there, laughing with friends, basking in the sun, cocktails in hand .
The Belevedere’s layout is expansive and nook filled, lending itself to privacy, relaxation, and certain exploration. Recent additions include a spacious new hot tub, and the sun drenched pool area boasts a gym and new salt water pool, which glows azure at night with gentle underwater lighting.. The hotel maintains a very comfortable, relaxed clothing optional policy that we enjoyed throughout our stay, on the grounds, by the pool, or in the peaceful privacy of its several bay view sun decks.
I look forward to more adventures at this extravagant yet very comfortable ‘sand castle’ for many more seasons to come.
Visit The Belvedere Guest House Website
Gay Socialites.com June 2011
Travel Review: The Belvedere Guest House in Fire Island, New York
Posted 06 Jun 2011 by Charles Winters in Travel
Fire Island is the perfect get away for Manhattan gays who need a break from the hustle and bustle of the big City. Over the weekend, Sean and I got the chance to do just that for a stay at the Belvedere Guest House in the Cherry Grove section of Fire Island.
With impeccable ocean front views and a newly remodeled pool and hot tub area, one might find themselves on the gayest isle in the land and never leaving the resort!
The Belvedere Guest House is actually a clothing optional resort but isn’t intrusive like most getaways where clothing isn’t required. We didn’t actually see one naked body roaming the halls, and much to our relief the Belvedere isn’t an overnight bath house like one might imagine.
I’m sure if that’s what you’re looking for, then that’s what you’ll find. However, instead, we found the Belvedere to be a breath of fresh air which led to an amazing weekend of rest and relaxation!
Located on the edge of Cherry Grove, the Belvedere Guest House is convenient even if you want to trample through the infamous wooded “Meat Rack” to check out what’s going on in the Pines as well.
We would definitely recommend the flexibility that the Belvedere Guest House offers to anyone who needs a break from the New York minute. We hope to be going back again VERY soon!
Our thanks go out to the men at the Belvedere Guest House and to Daniel Nardicio for extending the invitation our way! Thanks to you guys, we’re refreshed and ready to face the week head on!
Next Magazine, NYC; Edge Magazine, Chicago & Boston
The Crazy Mixed-Up Totally True Tale of The Castle on Fire Island
Don’t you dare call it Liberace’s Bathhouse or a haunted mansion. For Cherry Grove’s magical Venetian palace, The Belvedere, is at the very core of what makes Fire Island special
July 14, 2010 By:
(Craig Eberhardt and Julian Dorcelien)
When taking the ferry from Sayville to Cherry Grove there is always that magical instant when, to the left of the boat, a bright light starts to come into focus. As you get closer, a white palace starts to solidify on the horizon. A glow in the distance, it looks like a magical realm, a place completely out of the ordinary, where unexplainable things happen. Of course this is The Belvedere, Fire Island’s storied all-male guest house. And anyone who has stayed here over its long history can tell you that magical things do indeed happen.
But the history of this building on the bay, built and expanded to look like a Venetian castle, isn’t a simple fairy tale full of happy-ever-afters. Destruction, disrepair, and lots and lots of parties are also woven into the story.
Once upon a time in the 1950s, John Eberhardt built the Belvedere as a private residence. He was a gay scenic artist who painted sets for TV and theatrical productions in New York. Like many gay men in his social circle, most of them professionals and many active in the city’s theater scene, he started going to Fire Island and camping on the beach before there was much there but woods and deer. Also involved in real estate projects in New York and New Jersey, Eberhardt decided to build a place for himself on the island and chose to do it in an ornate Venetian style. “It’s just my style I guess, and it seemed right,” says Eberhardt, now 88, from his home in Florida, where he currently spends most of his time.
His house, though spectacular, wasn’t as large as the current incarnation and included just the main house where visitors now enter, with its large living room, residential quarters and rooms on both floors.
In the Spring of 1956, right after the completion of Eberhardt’s house, the only hotel in town, Duffy’s, burned to the ground. Eberhardt decided to open up his home to guests, renting out the empty bedrooms to strangers. This was a very informal arrangement, with visitors checking in at his kitchen table.
“It was more of a house party sort of thing,” Eberhardt says about the early days, when he was also building a score of rental houses in the neighborhood. “The people who stayed all became friends of course, and many of them live in Florida. I see them now and they talk about the old days and what fun they had.”
Duffy’s was rebuilt as the Ice Palace, which was, according to some, the first disco in America. But even then, Eberhardt says it was a more innocent place. “It seemed more conservative in the old days,” he says of the gay enclave’s nightlife scene. “There were so many rowdy people in the disco business and all the boys used to dance together, but the management would insist on having a girl nearby. Now it’s much merrier.”
Outside of the disco antics, most of the shenanigans happened at house parties, and each of the houses had a different theme for their party. In keeping with his décor, Eberhardt’s parties were usually Renaissance or Roman. Lanterns and candles lighted most of these soirées, because the island still didn’t have electricity.
“The boardwalks were quite dark,” Eberhardt recalls. “We had a generator in the house for lights in the hallways. It was important to have [so people could] find their way around the corridors. But the generators went off at 12 or so. If you came in later, you had to stumble around in the dark to find your way back to your room—or any room, for that matter.”
Things stayed pretty quiet at Belvedere through the ’70s, when the scene—and the gay scene in particular—on Fire Island started to heat up. Craig Eberhardt, John’s long-time partner and adopted son (adoption was something gay couples often did in the days before civil unions, because it was the only relationship they could enter that was legally binding and recognized by the government), first saw the Belvedere in 1980. He was staying in The Pines and walked by the place and asked a friend what it was. “Some old man lives there, and he’s been hauling junk out there his whole life,” the friend said.
“I first met John at a bar in New York and went home with him,” Craig says. “He invited me out to stay with him on the island, and when I got there, lo and behold, it was The Belvedere.” After staying there the first time, Craig didn’t leave for 13 years.
A master carpenter, Craig helped John usher in the establishment’s second life. Together they added a pool and Jacuzzi area and started to add on to the house, annexing the buildings next door (which John also owned) to make additional wings to the right of the main house. Craig also built all the balconies, decks and private baths that guests enjoy today.
While Craig was building, John was decorating. He painted all the gorgeous trompe l’oeil murals that are still in the house today and rounded up all the antiques—many of them from Europe—that give the house its infamous interior design. Each of the rooms was decorated in a particular theme, and while some of the hardware, fabric and linens have been updated, they’re still in the style that John intended.
Also in the ’80s, the hotel went from coed to being a men’s-only, clothing-optional resort. Since then the hotel has had a rather frisky vibe, one that the staff neither actively encourages nor frowns upon. Craig Eberhardt says they’ll never slap anyone’s hands as long as they’re being respectful.
The structure was completed by the early ’90s, but that doesn’t mean the building hasn’t been touched since. The bell tower, one of the most noticeable features of the estate, blew off during Hurricane Gloria in 1985—destroying part of the house on its way down—and had to be rebuilt. In 2005, the top half of one of the other towers blew off in a tornado and had to be replaced. Eberhardt is happy to report that none of the building should be toppling over anytime soon.
When Craig and John’s relationship ended in 1994, Craig moved to Florida and started a real estate career. John continued to run The Belvedere, but due to his advancing age, he couldn’t tend the property like he could in his younger years and it fell into a state of disrepair. In 2003, John asked Craig to take over the property and he moved to Florida full time.
In 2005 Craig brought his new boyfriend, Julian Dorcelien, up from Florida—where he was working for CNN—to Fire Island to help him get the guest house back in shape.
“When I got here, it was raining and gray and you know how it is in Fire Island in the middle of April,” Julian says about his first trip to the property. “Everything was shuttered. It looked like, I don’t want to say Grey Gardens, but that’s the best way to describe it. It was this beautiful place that’d gotten out of hand.”
Dorcelien and Craig got to work fixing up all the rooms, renovating the bathrooms, recarpeting the entire place, having artists restore the murals, and bringing everything up to code.
Part of the rejuvenation was combating the negative reputation the hotel had gotten during its off years.
“There is a misperception of the Belvedere,” Dorcelien says. “I used to hear people walking by on the boardwalk say that it was ‘Liberace’s bathhouse.’ These were people who never came in. I would stop them and say, ‘Have you been in here? Did you even know that this was one of the first gay guesthouses in America?’”
His campaign seems to be working, and the hotel is enjoying a clientele that is a mixture of returning guests who have been coming for decades, and younger men who are discovering it—and the joys of laying around the pool naked—for the first time.
Part of the attraction is the convivial atmosphere that guests enjoy, and the long history of parties at Belvedere. After Hurricane Gloria, the island lost power and Belvedere opened its doors so that people could eat all the food (and drink their booze) before it spoiled. This being the Belvedere, costumes were mandatory. In 1993 they threw an infamous Toga Tea Party (the flier is framed and on the wall in one of the hallways) that was a fundraiser for God’s Love We Deliver.
“It was a spectacle,” Craig chuckles when thinking about it. “The Imperial Court brought in the empress dressed as Cleopatra carried in by six body builders in gold lamé bikinis. We had a huge lighting bridge on the roof and good-looking men laid out on tables surrounded by grapes. Everyone came in togas and we had a six-foot mirror ball in the tower with lasers shooting at it.”
Recently, Craig and Dorcelien teamed up with Dave Hickey and P.J. Jones, the pair who throw the popular Baña parties in Manhattan, to bring in a whole new crowd.
“After I first stayed there [in the ’90s] and fell in love [with it] I always tried to get out there,” Hickey explains. “When we started doing [ Baña], I thought it would be the perfect place to do a party in this palace that was built for pleasure and enjoying the beach and each other and being nude.”
In 2009 the pair threw Baña Belvedere: The Last Days of Pompeii, their first Roman bacchanal at guesthouse. This year they came back for a whole weekend of events that followed in the same vein.
The new party isn’t the only improvement. Craig says that after this summer season, they’re going to redo the communal area adding a new pool, hot tub and a new single-level deck surrounding it. Of course, everything will be done in a style to fit in with the rest of the house. “You can buy new things, but you can make it into a sterile place where it’s like a hospital. That’s not what The Belvedere is,” he says.
No, The Belvedere is a place where anything can happen—including magic.
Visit BelvedereFireIsland.com for more info.