PROVINCETOWN — Long before Jimmy’s Hideaway opened in 2007, locals and visitors here knew Jimmy and Raife. Jimmy McNulty was a bartender at the Lobster Pot for 13 years — “the Top of the Pot, can’t get any higher,” he used to joke — and his husband, Raife Menold, waited tables at Gallerani’s, staged real estate, and worked as an interior designer.
When they quit their jobs and bought a restaurant space in a walk-in basement in the West End, they knew they were taking a risk.
“Jimmy had a bad night at the Lobster Pot and came home and said, ‘We’re buying our own restaurant,’ and I laughed,” Menold recounted. “ ‘Yeah, we’re rich guys,’ ” Menold remembers saying.
A realtor friend told Menold they could take money out of their North Truro house and that a Chinese restaurant had been languishing on the market. The night before they closed, they acknowledged that failure could cost them their house — but they went ahead.
Sixteen years and one very successful restaurant later, McNulty and Menold were ready to retire. Christen Barford had just sold her specialty industrial repair company in Georgia and was embarking on the great second chapter of her life as an out transgender woman. She bought Jimmy’s Hideaway — the business and the basement condo unit — for $1.6 million in April.
“I always knew who I was since I was five or six years old,” Barford said. “I just learned to act and hide. I played soccer at school, then got with the surfing crowd, then I ended up starting a business with my dad.”
Barford’s company specialized in sealing chemical leaks at large factories owned by blue-chip firms like DuPont. Becoming good at “fixing things” was a way to be sure people always came to her, Barford said, without having to talk much or be outgoing.
“One of my kids said, this restaurant is exactly what you need,” Barford said, “because you can be in the middle and people come to you. I was never that outgoing — but I think I was always afraid that Christen would come out. Chris was always up against the wall hiding — I didn’t drink a lot — because very deep down there’s Christen waiting to get out.”
She pronounces her name “Chrissen,” with a long Southern “s” and no “t.”
“It’s ‘Chrissen’ because I got to Christian myself with the name,” Barford said in a soft drawl.
March 31, 2021 was the day Barford decided she would no longer live that way — that the “me” inside her would come out, in her words. She was 58. She made appointments with therapists and doctors, and that fall she came to Fantasia Fair in Provincetown and wore a dress outside for the first time.
“Two of my daughters came with me that year — they wouldn’t let me go alone,” Barford said. “The next year, it was three of my daughters, a son-in-law, Wendy, who is the twin sister of my ex-wife, and her son. I had a posse!”
Her daughters fell in love with the town, especially helping people backstage with hair and makeup, Barford said. After her second Fantasia Fair, Barford decided to move here, but she didn’t want to retire. A real estate agent brought her to Jimmy’s, and the energy felt right, she said.
The sale of Jimmy’s Hideaway was not entirely smooth, however.
Closing papers were supposed to be signed on April 4. McNulty called Barford that morning, and her speech was slurred. McNulty realized she was on the floor, locked in her apartment, and having a stroke.
Barford was able to describe to McNulty the location and passcode of a lockbox with a spare key inside. The ambulance came “in a heartbeat,” McNulty said, and took her to Hyannis, where she was treated and then flown to Boston.
Despite the stroke, Barford took a selfie in the helicopter.
McNulty and Menold went to pick up Barford from the hospital four days later. “We didn’t know what to expect, and she gets up out of the wheelchair and starts walking, and I’m crying and crying,” McNulty said. “It was like a miracle.”
Only a few days later, at the restaurant’s “soft opening” on April 13, the photo of Barford that appears in this article was taken. The transfer was finalized a few days after that.
Barford’s recovery can be fairly described as miraculous. Two weeks ago, on a trip back home to Georgia, she used her old welder to fix a broken deck chair at her father’s house.
Back in Provincetown, Barford bought herself a pink toolkit.
“My dad is not over the moon about me at the moment,” Barford said. “He’s 84, he’s bored now, and he wishes we hadn’t sold the company. I could retire, sit on the beach, but that’s not what I wanted to do,” she added. “This is my new journey.”
It took more than a year for Jimmy’s Hideaway to sell. McNulty said they hadn’t gotten inquiries from large corporate buyers — but they wouldn’t have entertained them in any case.
“We wanted to keep our employees employed, and continue the legacy,” McNulty said. “Corporations say they’ll do that, but they never do. You’ll see: a couple years from now, this place will remain the same.”
“In corporations, you’re an employee number,” Menold said. “In a personal business, you’re an employee person. We have incredible employees, and we wanted to make sure they were in a work environment where they were appreciated as much as we appreciate them.”
Every single staff member is coming back to work for Barford. McNulty and Menold agreed to be consultants during the transition.
“We had a dinner over at Bayside Betsy’s, a big long table with everybody around it, and I said, ‘This is me, and I’d like you all to join me on the rest of my journey,’ ” Barford said. “Everybody came back, and I felt very blessed.”