On a midsummer Saturday, under a sapphire sky, a ferry shuttled festive weekenders from Sayville on the South Shore of Long Island to Fire Island Pines, much as motorcars once brought eager revelers out of the city to the Long Island of Jay Gatsby’s blue gardens.
Those arriving in the Pines, most of them gay men, come with the same “purity of heart” as Gatsby’s disparate guests. Those bound for the Pines add in enthusiasm what they lack in clothing. Speedos are ubiquitous; shirts are not. Regardless of attire, a sense of community and joy seem as mandatory on the island as a visit to the bustling Pines Liquor Shop.
Beyond the recently rebuilt Pavilion, in a 600-square-foot shop 100 yards from the ferry landing, flanked by beach scrub and bamboo, the front door to the Pines Liquor Shop was wide open, emitting strains of reggae and welcoming a steady stream of customers. Always present are the owners of the place, two brothers with the sand of Fire Island in their veins.
Stephen and Chris Nicosia grew up directly across from Fire Island on the mainland. As members of the Sayville Yacht Club, they sailed the bays as children, and they worked summers in the Pines as young men.
Various temporary vocations led them to Jack Lichtenstein’s liquor shop in 1991. Then, for the next 20 years, the brothers worked the shop from April to October, for nearly every hour the state permitted operation. In the off-season, they would travel, Stephen spinning records as a reggae D.J., Chris chasing waves as an avid surfer.
Eventually, after a long negotiation, the store was officially ceded to the brothers — or the “Pines Liquor boys” as they are also known. There, they have continued to practice the kind of professional intimacy that one would expect from a reggae D.J. and a surfer dude in the beach community of their back pages. To all who enter the store, Stephen, 43, and Chris, 41, offer hugs and kisses, personal rapport, an open can of salted nuts and maybe a sip of rosé.
Ed Schulhafer, 62, long a prominent figure in the Pines, has known the “boys” since 1991. “Pines Liquors is the only liquor store in America where you can ask the proprietors what anyone in the community drinks,” Mr. Schulhafer attested from outside the shop’s doorway, “and they will not only make a recommendation but will deliver the gift that day.”
What does the community drink? Mostly rosé, vodka and various forms of bubbly. Many purchases, regardless of selection, require delivery by the caseload.
Cars are prohibited on Fire Island, so the motorized carts of Pines Liquors are in constant motion, delivering not only liquor but also often the luggage of their customers, expedited from the harbor landing to residences throughout the area.
Stephen, harried and effusive in the midst of a steady throb of interaction, said: “We have the freedom to give the customer service that our dynamic community deserves. We have to do it.”
As the sun settled into the horizon and darkness sifted down over Fire Island, Pines Liquor Shop continued to hum with conviviality. There were hugs and kisses and last-minute sales until the final customers wandered out into a darkening Pines revelry, reminiscent of a Gatsby affair, that will continue throughout the night and into a new day when the Pines Liquor boys open their shop at noon.
Published on The New York Times: Sand and Surf, Speedos and Spirits