by Steve Desroches
It’s February and Provincetown is quiet, that kind of quiet that spooks those who can’t image living here year-round. For those that do live in Provincetown that tranquility is a necessity to both prepare for and recover from the intensity of a summer season. However, even the most winter-ready townie will tell you that they, too, need a night out, at times, to combat the isolation of the Outer Cape. Walking along Commercial Street one winter evening, passing Shop Therapy and the Penny Patch approaching Town Hall, there’s a warmth and a hum to the right. Getting closer the distinct sound of laughter and music mixed with clinking glasses can be heard. It’s Tin Pan Alley, which at 10 years old is not only a beloved year-round hotspot, but an important business for the off-season economy, culture, and community.
When owners and husbands Paul Melanson and Jack Kelly decided to open Tin Pan Alley a decade ago they not only wanted to operate a top notch restaurant and bar, but also a performance venue offering music year-round. That’s no easy feat in a seasonal tourist economy like Provincetown’s where the population and tourist flow shrinks by the tens of thousands from July to January. But anyone living in Provincetown knows how special the town is all year, and while many new businesses promise to be open year-round, the reality is not many can pull it off. It’s really, really hard says Melanson and Kelly, but worth the struggle in the beginning. It truly is a build-it-and-they-will-come scenario. It can be scary at times, with only a handful of customers on a Tuesday in February. But once you have the reputation of being open consistently, things begin to shift.
“You really have to believe in it and invest in it,” says Melanson. “And then people start coming in the door.”
A huge part of Tin Pan Alley’s success is live music. Near and dear to their hearts, Melanson and Kelly have paid as much attention to programming music in their piano lounge as they do to their menu and bar offerings. Kelly notes that offering live music is key to about fifty percent of their business or more. Just past Halloween business starts to shift toward townies a trend that continues until the town shifts come Memorial Day weekend. It’s indeed a place where everyone knows your name. And for those tourists that do visit in the winter they’re delighted to be welcomed into such a congenial atmosphere they often return multiple nights during their stay. It’s more than just being open, say both Melanson and Kelly. A friendly staff and the music are key.
“It carries over into those cold winter nights,” says Melanson. “It warms everyone up. It’s what makes this place so warm and cozy.”
“Winter can be tough at times,” says Kelly. “The camaraderie people find here is exactly what we had always hoped to create.”
Melanson and Kelly credit their bringing Mike Flanagan on board as a musical maestro as a significant part of Tin Pan Alley becoming a must stop spot for any lover of music. While Flanagan has been a part of Provincetown’s musical scene for over a decade its only recently that he was able to secure stable yearround housing here, allowing him to present his talents and hard work more fully. An accomplished musician Flanagan invites friends and colleagues from near and far to perform throughout the year at Tin Pan Alley, wowing and at times surprising patrons that at any given time they may be listening to a Broadway performer or the best of the best in the world of jazz as well as pulling from the deep local talent pool. There’s clearly a desire for a non-ticketed music experience in Provincetown where you can spend ten minutes or two hours hanging out with friends or making new ones.
Strangely enough, the pandemic, and the corresponding changes in behavior that followed, actually helped Tin Pan Alley business wise. Once they were allowed to present entertainment again they noticed people were hungry for communal, live experiences tired of the lack of authenticity of the digital and virtual world. People sought out community and Tin Pan Alley was positioned to provide them with that. Nimbleness and adaptability are particularly vital skills to have living in Provincetown, and even more so when operating a business. And that dexterity comes in handy every spring when they must shift toward summer mode as the habits of the yearround community are very different then the tourist crowds of the season. Townies often begin to avoid downtown altogether when summer arrives. It can feel like running two completely different businesses come the change of seasons in town. Everything has to change, from the menu and cocktails to an increase in staffing and the general choreography of managing the crowds. It’s part of life in Provincetown. But one thing remains the same, say Melanson and Kelly, and that’s everyone, townie and tourist alike, can expect to find not only great food, good drinks, and fabulous music, but also kindness and creativity.
“The past 10 years went by so quickly,” says Kelly. “We can’t believe it. But we love what we do and we love everyone that’s made Tin Pan Alley what it is.”
Tin Pan Alley is located at 269 Commercial St, Provincetown. For reservations or more information call 508.487.1648 or visit tinpanalleyptown.com.