by Steve Desroches
Ron Robin loves to put on a show.
As a self described “ham,” he sees every night at the Mews Restaurant and Café, the Provincetown institution he’s owned for the past 31 years, as a chance to put on a performance, to provide diners with an experience they’ll remember as full of surprises, from the plate to the cocktails to the small stage that has held some big acts. Celebrating its 50th year in Provincetown, the Mews is already in the process of an anniversary to remember.
“There has to be that spark,” says Robin, sitting in the upstairs dining room glancing out over the view of Provincetown Harbor.
Robin bought the Mews, which was founded in 1964 by Ray and Nicky Wells, with a business partner in 1983 and then outright in 1987, moving to the current location in 1993. Over that time the Mews has become a dining hot spot beloved for its creative menu under the direction of executive chef Laurence deFreitas and sous chef Luca Michelini, the generous pour and demeanor of bar manager Pingle Bowden, the friendly staff managed by Karl Dietz and Caroline Putnam, and of course, that certain spark that Robin sprinkles throughout the harborside restaurant famous for its more than 300 vodkas and effervescent charm. If ever there was an example of the owner setting the tone and culture of a business it’s at the Mews.
“I think to myself, ‘as a customer what would I want,’” says Robin.
“I can make pasta at home. So when I get it here I want it to surprise me. Coming to the restaurant should be an experience and an adventure. It has to be the whole experience. You have to stay fresh. You can’t rest on your laurels.”
With an ever evolving menu that includes items like lobster vindaloo, Mediterranean spiced lamb chops, and chimmi churi marinated filet with tempura shrimp, the Mews is a favorite of discerning diners. But one of Robin’s favorite parts of running the East End restaurant is coming up with promotions, particularly those that tap into the boundless creativity present in Provincetown, with plans for events all year. For instance, this Sunday, June 1, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, the beach outside the Mews will be filled with artists painting en plein air as diners enjoy brunch. At 2:30 p.m. the work will be on display for a “wet” show where the paintings may be purchased. And then on Thursday, June 26, drag performer Musty Chiffon, along with Michael Holland, will bring back the classic Martinis with Musty in a special presentation titled Pushing ‘60’s.
“That character was created here,” says Robin of the drag persona of Dini Lamont, the former frontman for the band Human Sexual Response. “It all started here.”
The Mews hosts a number of popular events like the Coffeehouse hosted by Peter Donnelly, Oscar night parties, haunted Halloween dinners, and other events like Towniewood Squares, a local spin on Hollywood Squares. These kind of quirky nights create “only in Provincetown” moments, like when comedian Bruce Vilanch showed up and sat in the center square, a position he held for many years on the actual television show. The Mews is indeed full of surprises.
“One really busy summer night I looked up and was about to tell the party that walked in we were full and then noticed it was Barry Manilow,” says Robin. “We found some room.”
Over the past 50 years many famous people have dined at the Mews: Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tilda Swinton, Bea Arthur, Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas, Grace Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Billie Jean King, Eartha Kitt, iconic gay porn star Jeff Stryker, and Harvery Fierstein, to name just a few. Robin likes to offer a polite welcome to allow celebrities a chance to dine in peace and quiet. But usually the celebrated visitors offer up some conversation or a funny anecdote.
“One night Jason Robards came in,” says Robin. “I stopped by the table and instead of saying hello all he said was ‘The tuna is great.’”
The Mews Restaurant and Café is located at 429 Commercial St. For more information call 508.487.1500 or visit mews.com.