A New Chapter at the Post Office Cabaret
by Steve Desroches
Top Image: Paul Melanson standing in the Post Office Café while it undergoes renovations.
When the news broke last fall that the Post Office Café and Cabaret was for sale, there was a palpable collective inhale as the town held its breath in anticipation as to what would become of the now 47-year-old beloved staple of Commercial Street. The Post Office has hosted an impressive line up of entertainment featuring everyone from Quentin Crisp to legendary female impersonator Arthur Blake to a then unknown Cassandra Peterson, who would go on to fame as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. It’s also a favorite breakfast spot and a place to grab a drink late at night. So there was an exhale of relief when the storied venue sold to Jack Kelly and Paul Melanson, owners of the popular restaurant, bar, and live music venue Tin Pan Alley, who plan to maintain and improve upon the legacy of the Post Office.
At the moment the Post Office is a whirlwind of sawdust and paint as improvements and updates to the building are made while the menu is being reviewed and the entertainment roster booked for the upcoming season. While there is an air of optimism, uncertainty still reigns supreme. First and foremost in the new owners’ minds is abiding by health and safety protocols, so any announcements of plans are for when state and local regulations allow. They’re just sharing the news to keep longtime customers and the community informed of what they want to eventually do. Which does beg the question, why would anyone buy an entertainment venue and restaurant/bar during an ongoing pandemic with indoor performances still not allowed in Provincetown?
“Because we’re insane,” says Melanson as he and Kelly erupt into laughter.
“Last year, in March, if you had told us that we’d be buying the Post Office a year later, we would have thought you were crazy,” says Kelly. “At that time last year we were worried we might have to close Tin Pan Alley for good. Everything was so uncertain.”
It was really the important role the Post Office has in town that prompted Kelly and Melanson to buy it. Purchasing the Post Office with give them the opportunity to expand on their love of live entertainment, something they did when they turned Tin Pan Alley into a beloved hot spot for live music. Thus far their tentative plans are to have more diverse programming, roughly split into thirds: one part drag, one part music, and one part standup comedy, with 2021 performers including singers Debby Holiday, Daniel LeClaire, Seth Sikes, and Mary Callanan, comedians Karen Rontowski and Suzanne Westenhoefer, and drag performers Anita Cocktail and Mama Tits (Per the requirements of the Small Business Administration loan used to finance the purchase, nudity is not allowed, though, ending a popular aspect of the venue).
If indoor entertainment is not approved, some of those bookings will be canceled, but others will shift over to the outdoor space at the Pilgrim House, as the two venues have developed a Miracle on 34th Street partnership, deciding in a town this small it’s much better to support each other than to compete, especially in times of crisis.
That attitude also includes their restaurant. As the housing crisis on Cape Cod reaches a critical level making a persistent labor shortage in the region even worse, Tin Pan Alley and the Pilgrim House, and eventually the Post Office Café, share kitchen and service staff, not only to help themselves, but also to keep staff gainfully employed. It’s the spirit of Provincetown that is at the core of the business. And it shows in the team assembled. Originally from Jamaica, Evon Campbell will be the new chef. As Campbell works on the new menu, Kelly and Melanson state everything will be made fresh and from scratch. And while there’ll be hints of Jamaican cuisine offered in their three meals a day plan, the Post Office will still keep their popular breakfast menu, keeping it simple and not too froufrou.
Adding to its Provincetown story and reflecting the town’s diverse population, the Post Office Cabaret and Café reaches further into the town’s immigrant community as there is an additional owner. Originally from Bulgaria, Kristiyan Aleksiev started working for Kelly and Melanson as a busboy. Aleksiev’s family owns several restaurants in Bulgaria and it’s been his goal to have his own here in the United States. Having worked his way up, he is now a co-owner, and there are plans to one day hand the Post Office to the 28-year-old when Kelly and Melanson retire.
“He’s just been the best,” says Kelly. “It’s an American Dream story.”
Speaking of dreams, this marks a rather special return for Anita Cocktail, the drag creation of Michael Steers, who will be the manager of the cabaret room. While he didn’t retire entirely, he had stepped away from drag when he accepted a job at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater as technical director, a role that was fulfilling, but all -consuming, says Steers. Life changed dramatically when on January 12, 2019 fire destroyed the Wellfleet home he shared with his husband Neil Fitzgerald and their three pugs. They lost nearly everything, including all of the elements that went into Anita Cocktail: all the expensive wigs, gowns, jewelry…everything except the crown from when she won the 2012 Miss Gay Massachusetts USofA Pageant. Rebuilding their lives also included refashioning Anita.
“While she never completely went away, this is a bit of a comeback,” says Steers. “Once we can this room is going to be amazing. I’m not just looking forward to me getting back on stage, but for all the entertainment that will fill this room. It’s an exciting time.”
The Post Office Cabaret and Café is located at 303 Commercial St., Provincetown.