Like Provincetown, Rehoboth Beach, Palm Springs, and Asbury Park, the LGBT citizens and visitors of Fire Island are one of the strongest threads in the fabric of this historic community. Every summer, the ferry rides get more colorful, the bars and restaurants more packed, and the tea dances more epic. Finally-the Fire Island season has arrived!
The Ice Palace complex has been a Fire Island institution since it’s opening in 1970. While the look and the patrons may have evolved, the true heart of the establishment and what it means to the community of Fire island has never been more clear. From the charitable events The Ice Palace holds annually to the glittering celebrities that make their appearances season after season, there is no doubt that The Ice Palace is the premier destination in Cherry Grove.
I sat down with Robert Lassegue-Reyes, General Manager of The Grove Hotel & Ice Palace and we reflected on not just what makes Fire Island such a magical destination, but what keeps bringing people there year after year. He reviewed some of the rich history of the establishment, and gave me a peek into what they have coming up for the 2019 season. Don’t believe the hype; The Ice Palace has at least another fifty years ahead of them.
Michael Cook: Many of us have fallen in love with Fire Island at one time or another; when did Fire Island truly captivate you?
Robert Lassegue-Reyes: I fell in love with Fire Island back in 1995 when I first visited The Pines, and then later Cherry Grove. Just meeting so many like minded people! I came to Fire Island when I first came out and really had no idea what to expect. I made so many friends when I was out there and still stay in contact with a lot of them. I think for me, the connections that I made with people are the thing that I love most about Fire Island.
MC: What do you think it is about Fire Island itself that is so magical?
RLR: I think that the reason that Fire Island is so magical is really the people who meet from all walks of life. I enjoy meeting new people and make friends. Also, the beach is steps away from anywhere you reside on the Island. The spectacular events and people like The Pines Party, Miss Fire Island, Fire Island Bear Weekend, Leather Weather and the talented drag queens and the employees who are out there all season long.
MC: The Ice Palace is a true destination for people on the Island, as well as the thousands of visitors every weekend; what do you think it is that keeps everyone coming back year after year?
RLR: The Ice Palace is an iconic destination. The history of the Ice Palace and all the that encompasses the experience; the bars, clubs, restaurants, shops, the beach and of course, the people. It has the potential to be like Provincetown, Key West and other destinations.
MC: The queens and celebrity performances and their shows are an absolute crucial part of the Ice Palace poolside experience. What are some of your absolute best memories of some queens and performers who have really tuned the party during the legendary poolside shows?
RLR: The drag queens are an essential part of the Fire Island and we have a number of famous performers who have performed at the Ice Palace. The Ice Palace is truly legendary and iconic! Some of my memories are seeing Chita Rivera, Carol Channing, Alan Cummings, Lynda Carter, Margaret Cho and many more. These great celebrities brought to us by Daniel Nardicio. The Pool Shows with Miss Fire Island and the Underwear Party are truly epic events on Fire Island. We’ve also brought a BeerFest with live music in conjunction with Pizza Frank from the Cherry Grove Pizza, who came up with the actual concept of the BeerFest. Now with Jimmy Buff, aka Electra, having returned to the Ice Palace as our Entertainment Director, we are heading in an all new direction which is much needed at the Ice Palace and Fire Island.
MC: The reopening of the Ice Palace this season has been embroiled in a bit of drama and a ton of stories, mostly unsubstantiated. What is the official story on this season’s reopening?
RLR: The reopening of the Ice Palace was not dramatic, that was caused by some folks who didn’t know our entire story. Some may have been former guests who did not have a good experience with the Hotel last season when we opened then. In my opinion, we weren’t one hundred percent ready and I sincerely apologize for that poor experience. Most of the stories were untrue, the only issue we had was with the sprinkler system. We were directed by the Town of Brookhaven Fire Prevention to turn the Ice Palace to a dry system. We had not meet our agreement with the town, hence why they condemned the Ice Palace at that time.
MC: Michael Fesco is credited with making The Ice Palace into the magical space that It is. While we sadly lost him recently, how are you going to ensure that his legacy stays intact? What are some of your best memories about Michael?
RLR: I unfortunately never had the pleasure of meeting Michael, but I heard a lot about him and his impact in the LGBTQ community. I love that he obtained the name “Ice Palace” from an F. Scott Fitzgerald book. His ability to foresee what the needs were was incredible. It was actually Michael who started the idea of Black Parties and White Parties. He is a huge loss for our community he contribute so much to our LGBTQ nightlife.
MC: How do you keep the Ice Palace fresh and constantly change it up every year? What do you think the secrets are to keeping the business thriving?
RLR: This year, with the assistance and input of Robbie Ranger, the Bar Manager and Jimmy “Electra” Buff our new Entertainment Director, we are making changes to the interior of the Ice Palace to make it more aesthetically pleasing. In order to make it in the business, you need to constantly be changing and keeping up with trends. What may have worked twenty years ago may not work nowadays. We need to promote to the world that the Ice Palace is the place to visit. This iconic and historic building has so much history; we have the largest dance floor on Fire Island!
MC: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges to people running businesses in nightlife that are geared to the LGBT community today?
RLR: The biggest challenge is trying to appease everyone, we all have opinions and it’s difficult to make everyone happy. We definitely work with other business and the community. Trying to keep the Ice Palace is a huge undertaking, working with LGBTQ travel outlets, magazines, travel websites and now reaching out overseas to increase the people who come to visit Fire Island in particular Cherry Grove and our sister hamlet, The Pines. This is year the the 150th anniversary of Cherry Grove and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. As someone who has worked on Marriage Equality in both New York and the United States as a whole, we sometimes forget our history, and how things actually started.
What gives you Pride?
What gives me Pride…the feeling of being good and worthy. Focusing on the quality of my work, even if no one will ever see it. To me it’s not about getting noticed doing the job, it’s just doing the job well. Also, I need to remember some things are out of your control and you can only do the best you can. Working with an incredible team-that gives me Pride. Doing what I can for the Community, that gives me Pride.
Art Courtesy of Ice Palace/Grove Hotel Facebook
Picture of Holly Day courtesy of Jeff Eason/Wilson Models
Roy Thode Memorial Day 1977 set courtesy of Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society Website : http://www.pineshistory.org