Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Provincetown History - Cookie's Tap

Cookie's Bar, 18" X 24" oil on panel, 1948, by Provincetown artist Charles Kaeselau.
I was having lunch at Provincetown's marvelous Soup Kitchen one blustery day last winter, enjoying a great meal and the splendid company of artists, historians, writers, actors, and other assorted Townies at my table. Each of us had been in Provincetown at least 25 years, many of us much longer, and stories of all sorts would pour out as various topics came up. One of those topics on that particular day was Cookie's Tap, a venerable Provincetown institution that got its start in 1927 as a neighborhood bar for Fishermen in the West End, at 133 Commercial Street.
In 1941 owner Frank "Friday" Cook tore down the aging structure and had Joseph Morris construct a new building with upscale touches like maple floors, leading local newspaper The Advocate to publish an article about this swanky new bar in their March 13th issue of that year. In the 1990s this neighborhood landmark housed David Gallerani's much-loved Italian restaurant. Most recently, Lorraine's restaurant had served a very popular menu of upscale Mexican recipes in this spot, and had held a weekly Trivia Night during the winter months, hearkening back to the days when this little joint was a real gathering place. We're hoping Lorraine Najar will cook for us again one day, somewhere in town, having sold the property last summer. We're eager, too, to see what the new owners will come up with for the next incarnation of this building.
As Cookie's Tap evolved into Cookie's Restaurant over the years, they became known for their Portuguese specialties, of course. A favorite meal there was the Vovo Cabral, made with cheese layered over flounder baked in tomatoes and wine. Friday's wife, Clara Cabral Cook, became known for her wonderful kale soup, as well, and worked in the place she loved into the 1980s, well into her own 80s, according to David W. Dunlap on his terrific website/blog/history archive Building Provincetown. Visit his site and read more about 133 Commercial Street and its occupants over the years, and enjoy photographs and other historic tidbits there as well.
Friday and Clara's sons began working at Cookie's in the middle 1940s, with Wilbur joining his folks in 1944, followed by Joe in 1946, after Friday had passed away. Various children of the two brothers also worked at Cookie's over the years, including Tina Cook Wheeler, who assembled a book of Cookie's recipes a couple of years ago. A nephew, Ralph Cook, Jr., recalls earning the tidy sum of $5 washing dishes there as a boy, when he was twelve years old.
This ad appeared in The Advocate in 1948,
the same year the painting above was done.
That afternoon at the Soup Kitchen the topic of hurricanes, nor'easters and other brutal storms that roll through Provincetown came up, and my tablemates talked about all the fishermen and others who gathered at Cookie's Tap to ride out these storms together, since no one would be going to work that day. No one, except, of course, the Cooks, who would always open up the bar when there was a big storm brewing, and put a pot of something or other on the stove to feed the souls who would inevitably turn up over the course of the day. Folks passed the time playing cards or checkers, telling stories, eating a little something, and, of course, having a few drinks, along with a few laughs, as the storms raged outside. Many a terrible gale was softened a bit by the pleasant camaraderie of friends who gathered to bolster their spirits and pass the time, waiting out the treacheries of Mother Nature together.
Provincetown native Mary-Jo Avellar worked at Cookie's Tap, and in her Provincetown Portuguese Cookbook, she tells of rabbits or other game the Cook brothers would bring in after an occasional early morning hunt, and a big pot of stew or a fricassee would be made for customers to enjoy "on the house" while having a drink or two.
The painting at the top of this page seems to have captured the natures of some of the "characters" who were frequent customers of this storied Provincetown hangout. It was painted in 1948 by Kare (Charles) Anton Kaeselau (say Kay-slo,) born in 1889, in Stockholm, Sweden. Kaeselau was a painter, lithographer and teacher who had studied in Chicago, Paris, London, and with Charles W. Hawthorne in Provincetown.
He worked here a good bit in the 20s and 30s, and apparently later on as well. He was a member of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and an exhibitor there, working in oils, watercolors and wood block prints, and is among the artists whose work is found in PAAM's permanent collection, though even his family doesn't know much about him or his work. But it's evident that he spent some time himself enjoying the hospitality at Cookie's.

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