fire island

Meet the Gay Architect Pitching ‘New Fire Island’ (Location TBD)

A pool party last summer on “Old Fire Island.” Photo: Matías Alvial

It may be the middle of winter, meaning many of the Equinox-locker-room-Grindr-selfie-taking gay guys I know have been off on slutty ski trips in Aspen, but they’re still talking about the Fire Island Pines, the beach town (currently washing away thanks to winter storms) where they cavort in their Speedos in the summertime.

This is all started last week when an X account popped up promoting New Fire Island: “a community of gays building a new paradise, inspired by the original Fire Island Pines,” which, like most things 50 years ago, was much more affordable then than it has become, especially in the wake of the pandemic. It’s also a place that, among other things, was known for being not always terribly friendly to gay guys not of a certain masc, white, and affluent type. But then, and now, if you fit in, you can have a great time there (I certainly did two summers ago). As one of New Fire Island’s self-declared founders, Nigel Smith, an architect from Melbourne, Australia, says in a video introducing the plan, more or less summing it all up with a dollop of cringe: “There’s something magical about Fire Island Pines, but even magic fades with age.”

According to New Fire Island’s website, Smith and the other two co- founders — Brett Fraser, a “real estate entrepreneur,” and Aron D’Souza, a “venture capitalist” (whose LinkedIn reveals he helped mastermind Peter Thiel’s takedown of Gawker) — are friends who feel like they have been priced out of the Pines. Their solution: conjuring “New Fire Island” in the “sunny Mediterranean.” Location (okay, this seems crucial) TBD. The website also features a list of requirements for their new holiday destination, including “south facing beach,” “favorable tax environment,” and “maximum half-day travel door-to-door from London.” But the real pitch is that it’s good to invest in a six-pack-rich environment. “From the West Village to West Hollywood, everyone knows that when gays get together to build a village, magic happens and prices skyrocket,” the website declares, a bit cannibalistically. “Now, it is our turn to benefit from gentrification, not suffer through it.” In other words, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something that could make you rich and get you laid.

As you might expect, New Fire Island quickly became the subject of a bunch of dunks and memes on the internet. As one person posted on X, “These hedge fund gays… baby I am not trying to fly internationally to do c*ke in someone’s bedroom during a ‘Barbie’ themed pool party. I can literally just take the Long Island Railroad.” Someone else joked that they should just “gentrify” Staten Island.

In reality, this thing is far from happening. The founders’ plan right now is to drum up interest on social media — check! — and eventually get enough men (emphasis on men) on their wait list (it currently has about 1,500, although it’s impossible to know their seriousness) to pool their money together and … buy an island. For now, attempting to make this seem less of a pure fantasy, they’re sharing polls on X, like one asking what kind of beaches people would prefer: “white sand baby!”; “pebbles and rocks are ok”; or “black sand for great pics.” Like, I presume, most of the people interested in investing in New Fire Island, white won out.

Over the weekend, I called up Smith, who is referring to himself as the “Partner and Chief Product Officer” of New Fire Island. It was Pride month in Australia (they call it “Midsumma,” apparently) and Smith, a total silver fox, told me he was looking forward to all the week’s pool parties. As for those on the internet making fun of his big dream: “This idea that we’re disrespecting the Pines is so not true. We’re actually honoring it by saying there are some beautiful things here. It just cannot be developed anymore,” he told me. “Ask people in York, in England, how they feel about New York. Are they proud New York is named after them? Do they see that as a good thing? I think they probably do.”

How long have you been going to “Old Fire Island,” as I guess I’ll call it now? 

Twenty years. I came out when I was 27, in 2004, and was fortunate enough to meet a Fire Island owner in Perth, believe it or not. He said, “You need to come to the Pines.” So I did and I’ve been going every year since then — sometimes twice a year. I love hospitality and that dynamic of welcoming people into your home to make lunch or have a cocktail or swim or talk politics or whatever. That’s really special. It’s not a contrived resort or a Four Seasons.

Have you met many fellow Australians there?

Yeah. It’s kind of crazy, isn’t it? We just don’t have anything like it. It’s a very special place — the fact that it’s such a dominant rainbow culture. It’s not like Mykonos, which is like 20 percent rainbow, or Palm Springs, which is, I don’t know, 15 percent rainbow. We spend our whole lives in a straight world. To go escape on a vacation and be surrounded by family is just so liberating.

What do you remember about your first trip to the Pines? 

Nigel Smith dressed as G.I. Joe for the annual Pines Party in 2014. The theme was “South Pacific.” Photo: Nigel Smith

Wearing Speedos. And not taking them off for two days because you go to the Pantry and you go to Tea in the Speedos. I found that so cool.

How do you usually find a place to stay? 

I’ve stayed with my friend and his husband quite a few times. They’ve been very generous to me. I’ve also gotten a house with only Aussies. That led to me wanting to invest and buy for the last five years. That’s where New Fire Island came from. My friends and I were sitting around and we just went, “Well if we can’t buy there, and we know what makes it great, let’s just make a new one.” Then we were like, “Oh my gosh, it should be in Europe because they don’t have one.” It kind of went from there.

The prices jumped up during the pandemic. I was looking at a block in 2019, and it was $175,000. I was like, Ugh, I can do this, it’s not easy, but I can do this. Then it sold for $440,000. It’s a supply-and-demand problem. It’s as simple as that. I can’t compete with a million gays in Manhattan who wanna buy one of five houses on the market. I got a bay-front house last year, which was $13,000 for a week. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms. That was considered a good deal. That’s why we’re trying to keep the price point low with New Fire Island. If you and three friends can put down $125,000, you can do it.

I guess I’m lucky that on my couple of trips to Fire Island I’ve had older, generous friends to house me.

Me too. I’ve probably stayed at my friends’ ten times in the last 20 years, and I’ve never had to pay. They’re ocean front, too. They’re sweet as pie. It’ll be interesting to see as, tragically, people pass on, do they leave their house to their straight nephew? Or their straight sister from Texas? What happens then?

Are there any other ways you think Fire Island has changed for the worse in your 20 years?

Not really. I don’t have to focus group New Fire Island because whenever I talk to any of my gay friends, they love to complain about the problems with Palm Springs and the Pines and P-Town and even Sydney. We love to complain about things, because we’ve invested in these vacation destinations. When I saw people starting to order stuff online from the main island, from Long Island, I was like, “You are nuts.” These people ordering food … you’d be better off going down to the Pantry. You Americans are obsessed with paper towels. You see those guys coming onto the Long Island Rail Road with like eight maxi rolls of paper towels. It’s called a kitchen cloth. You rinse it out and use it again. And again. And again. There will be no paper towels at New Fire Island.

On your website you said you think that gay destinations are getting less gay. Do you feel that way about Fire Island?

I think there’s been a little bit of a trend. I remember when the Real Housewives of New Jersey did an episode there. I was like, This is not good. What does it mean to be queer today? In New Fire Island we want to make sure the vast majority of people are LGBT. The point is that it energizes us for the project of liberation the other 360 days a year.

Why call it New Fire Island? 

It’s evocative. We knew it would resonate with people. The community might decide to change the name. That’s okay. If the people want to change the name to Patroklos or New Ibiza, then we’ll do that. If the only critique people have is that they don’t like the name, then we’ll have to get more than that.

Why don’t people like the name? 

It feels like appropriation, I guess. It’s really not. We’re not setting it up in Rehoboth.

You’ve called it an “intentional community.” Is there a leadership structure? 

Not yet. I think we would have a management company looking after the town center. We’re committed to people buying their own land and building their own home on that land. There would be a homeowners’ association. It depends on the structure of what country we end up in. We’ve obviously had a lot of interest. The response has been overwhelming. That includes people who want to fund and invest, in a venture-capital sense. I’m sure they’ll have ideas, too, about how to structure it.

I mean, it’s definitely a lofty goal. You told Queerty you’ve been looking at islands for sale. Talk to me about island shopping. 

There actually is one called Patroklos, off the south coast of Athens. It’s 20 million euros. I think that’s probably too much. I don’t think it’s really worth that. There are plenty of others. There’s 48,000 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline. We’ve narrowed that down to 10,000 kilometers based on ocean temperature, prevailing winds, the cost of permanent residency, distance from international airports, topography, all those kinds of things. Look, I agree it’s unusual to start a real-estate project without a site. But that’s the way to do it.

Has any of the social media response to New Fire Island surprised you? There’s a lot of “Rich White Gay” talk. Does that bother you? 

Not a bit. Ironically, it all feeds traffic back to the website.

There’s been some issue taken with the way you describe “gentrification.”

Oh, I reckon that surprised me. Gentrification definitely means something else in Australia. If you stick your head up above the trenches, you’ve gotta expect to get shot at. Gentrification can be a positive force. It can be a good force. And we’re not displacing anyone. I understand that that’s a really horrendous thing. I can see why in a New York context it’s a very different situation. We’re going to be displacing goats.

You’re not trying to move into someone’s neighborhood.  

Uninhabited land, yeah.

What else do you want to see in New Fire Island? Any must-have amenities?

A co-working space. A gay gym for gay people. Look at the Pavilion gym. It’s tiny. I think a really sexy gym would be amazing at New Fire Island. I think there’s some safety issues — in a basic design sense. If guys are partying and carrying on, and we can purpose-build this place for the gay community, we can make sure the risk of accident is reduced in how we design it. I think there’s a lot of things we can do as “the world’s first purpose-built gay escape.” I mean, you could argue an Atlantis Cruise is a purpose-built gay escape. But those cruise ships are also built for straight people. No one’s built a gay cruise ship. That’s a good idea.

Did you watch the Fire Island movie

Yeah. I loved it … It was a great film. It was very cute. The sunset thing is important. We want to make sure we have great sunsets on New Fire Island. The beach orientation is actually important. Joel’s a sweet guy.

Speaking of: Any memorable celebrity encounters in the Pines? 

Sarah Jessica Parker. That was pretty fucking amazing. I ran into her near the post office — in big sunglasses, of course.

One last question: Is there a Meat Rack in New Fire Island? 

I reckon we’ll talk about that. I think it’s probably inevitable that there will be something like that, whether it’s sanctioned or not is not for me to decide.

It will happen organically.

It’s all about people’s private homes. That ebb and flow to the town and back is a big part of what makes the Pines and Cherry Grove special, and not having cars, being walkable. It’s healthier; it’s better for the environment; it’s more sociable. It’s better for community and meeting people. I had a friend who was walking on Bay Walk and another guy was coming down Shady Walk and they were in their Speedos. They started making out. It can happen anywhere. One of them goes to the other, “Hey, you got any lube?” The other guy says, “No, but I’ve got a chapstick.”

Are you trying to tell me there will be lube fountains in New Fire Island? 

No, no, no. People will provide their own.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Do We Really Need a New Fire Island?