PROVINCETOWN — Donald R. Edwards bent low as he made his way through a child-size opening between the kitchen and the bar at the Governor Bradford Restaurant. When asked why he has forced bartenders to crouch through a waist-high portal to bring food to customers, Edwards explained, “I didn’t want to cut the painting.”
A close look at the rear wall of the dining room reveals a mural by James Wingate Parr. The very same piece of driftwood featured in it hangs from the ceiling next to the painting, Edwards pointed out. His father, Donald V. Edwards, had the mural made when he opened the place in 1959 as the Chef’s Restaurant. Like many others of his dad’s favored adornments — the tin ceiling, antique knee walls that may or may not have come from a ship, nautical portals, farming tools — the mural, said Edwards, 74, could not be altered. He said his father, and before that his grandfather, John “Chef” Edwards, an Azorean living in Provincetown by way of Fall River, had done business on that corner of Standish and Commercial streets beginning in the 1940s.
A few changes have taken place since Edwards took over the Bradford from his father in 1973. A big one just happened on April 15.
Edwards sold the Bradford and four surrounding residential and commercial buildings in Provincetown’s center to the Lexvest Group, a real estate development and management company with properties throughout the state, including hotels and rental homes in Provincetown and Truro. The total sale price: $6.95 million.
Lexvest President Eric Shapiro said he does not plan major changes this year. But change is afoot for the maintenance-deprived buildings. On April 14, a contractor knocked down the staircase leading to the rickety balcony over the Bradford.
“Don and his family have been great contributors to the community,” Shapiro said. But the property “is tired and needs work, capital, and a vision — and that is what we do.”
26 Rooms for Workers
Edwards learned early on how to keep neighbors from complaining about a loud bar: buy the surrounding properties.
“No one complains if your neighbors are your own people,” Edwards said.
The sale included three mixed-use commercial buildings at 312-314 Commercial St., 322 Commercial St., and 3 Standish St. Together, they have 21 bedrooms, according to assessor’s records. Business tenants include the Bradford, Mooncusser Tattoo & Piercing Studio, Mom’s Print Shop, How Bazaar, and Dorian Studios. There are also two houses in the deal, at 10 Freeman St. and 318 Commercial St.
Edwards said his 99-year-old father lives at 318 Commercial and will remain via a lease. But the other building is worker housing with five bedrooms and four baths.
All but two of these apartments house the cooks, bartenders, and other staff of the Bradford, Edwards said. They are all currently being offered month-to-month leases by Lexvest with slight rent increases, said Dana Danzel, who has been hosting the Bradford’s Drag Karaoke sessions five days a week in summer and weekends all year for the past two decades.
“I live above the restaurant,” Danzel said. “A lot of people depend on housing. If we all lose our housing, they will have no one to work for them, because there is no place to live.”
Shapiro said the tenants can remain with no changes for this year, but the future is unknown. “At some point we will put a business plan together,” Shapiro said. “We have not done that yet.”
Drag Karaoke Stays
Bartender Elizabeth Cabral grew up in the apartment above the Bradford. After a time away, she returned to Provincetown in 1996 and for three weeks rented a closet for $200 in the same apartment her family once lived in, Cabral said. “It had a kid’s mattress in it, and my feet stuck out the door.”
Now she doesn’t live in employee housing. But the Bradford “has been like a living room to me and to most of us,” she said. “We’re sort of like family. It feels like the end of an era.”
The bar, once known as “straight,” for fishermen and carpenters, has been “mixed for a long time,” said Sami, who would not divulge his last name. He is also known by locals as Hollywood and has been a regular since 2003.
The former Newbury Street stylist used to call this block “my Portuguese run” — he would pass through it as fast as possible in platform heels. But then he said he got “disrespected” in the gay bars and found himself a comfortable spot at the Bradford.
“It is rustic, rugged, and it has evolved, like Provincetown,” Sami said.
The new bar owners, who will lease the Bradford from Lexvest, are two couples: Jamie Lewis and Collin Kolisko, who worked as general manager and head sushi chef at Mac’s Seafood restaurants, and David Ciccolo and Jackie Ross, owners of the Publick House in Brookline.
The Bradford closed on April 13. Before opening this summer, the owners plan to renovate the 150-seat restaurant interior and create a beer garden on the 70-seat patio, Ciccolo said. The plans include more renovations next winter; they would like to keep it open year-round, “if it is sustainable,” he said.
“We cannot elevate the food program with an interior that looks like that,” Ciccolo said. “We are tearing out the bar and adding all new light fixtures. In the off season, all the bathrooms will be brought up to ADA code.”
The name will stay the same. “You cannot change the name of an icon like that,” Ciccolo said. “The two questions we get the most: Are you keeping the mural, and will you still do Drag Karaoke?” The answer to both is yes. “We would be outcasts if we got rid of Drag Karaoke,” said Ciccolo.
The singing will, however, start a little later, after dinner service ends at 10 p.m., “so that people won’t be eating Collin’s beautiful food and wondering why someone is singing Journey,” Ciccolo said.
Edwards credits Danzel for keeping Drag Karaoke a popular institution for over 20 years, though it was writer and performer Ryan Landry who originally conceived the idea. Edwards asked Landry and his husband, Scott Martino, if they would host a karaoke show. Landry said only if they could do it in drag.
“That made it even more fun,” Edwards said.
Danzel, Edwards added, “makes people feel comfortable. I’ve had people who sing better than Titus [Danzel’s other name] but none who do a better show.”
The stage is “like my pulpit — I can preach love and acceptance,” Danzel said.
The best night ever at the Bradford, for Danzel anyway, was when there were dueling bachelorette parties that ended in a little bar brawl.