It is something of a wonder that Napi’s is “only” approaching its 40th anniversary, in 2015, since it’s one of those institutions so interwoven with town life that it would be hard to imagine Provincetown without it. And like the best such institutions, Napi’s is sui generis — it would be hard to imagine this restaurant anywhere else; not with its wildly sculptural brick wall by Conrad Malicoat and its cold-air duct embellished with an Arctic scene by Jackson Lambert. Napi’s is the product of a personal vision that’s imaginative, free-flowing, aesthetic, resourceful, somewhat ornery, more than a little bit eccentric and deeply rooted in the town. The impresario in this case is the peppery, garrulous Anton “Napi” Van Dereck Haunstrup (b 1932), pictured here, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Helen (Schmidt) Van Dereck Haunstrup (b 1940).
Napi’s family connection to Provincetown goes back to the early 1920s, when his father, Anton Van Dereck Haunstrup (±1902-1943), a metalsmith, jeweler, painter and pianist, first started coming to town from Chicago, where he had been born. In the late ’20s, he happened to catch sight of
Patricia Murphy (d 1997) Catherine “Pat” Murphy (1911-1993) in Provincetown as she alighted from the Boston train. He offered to carry her bags from the depot. They were married in 1932, one of the deepest troughs of the Great Depression. Patricia moved to Chicago. Her father-in-law, Holger Haunstrup, had lost his house-building business but he looked upon the imminent arrival of a grandson as a hopeful sign. “Maybe this baby will save us,” he said. “We need a Napoleon to put things in order.” From then on, he would inquire about the progress of her pregnancy by asking, “When is Napi coming?” Anton was born 12 March 1932 at Cook County Hospital, but “Anton” scarcely stood a chance. He was Napi from the start.
The Van Derecks spent summers in Provincetown until 1943, when Napi’s father died, having turned his metal craftsmanship to the war effort by designing a pump nozzle for extinguishing incendiary bombs. About four years later, Napi’s mother married Jay Saffron, a cameraman for MGM News of the Day newsreels. They lived for a time in Palestine and Egypt. (Ah — Egypt! — as experienced by a teenaged boy. Now the provenance of the restaurant’s ubiquitous eye-of-Horus emblem comes clear.) Saffron moved on to the young CBS television network, serving as a cameraman in its studio at Grand Central Terminal in New York, working with Walter Cronkite, among others.
Napi began coming back to Provincetown in the late 1940s, working on the Hindu crew under Al Avellar. He served in the Coast Guard from 1951 to 1954 and was graduated from the City College of New York. Around 1961 (do husbands ever remember these things?), he married Helen Schmidt. The couple lived in Lower Manhattan, in a fourth-floor loft at Broad and Water Streets, while he worked for an anti-poverty program. But in the course of a sailing cruise in the early summer of 1970, they hit Provincetown. “It was a gas,” he recalled in our 2009 interview, “and we just decided to stay. This was home to me.”
In 1973, Helen and Napi bought the property at 7 Freeman Street from Mary Santos. The house, constructed in 1875, had once been home to Provincetown’s sheriff, and Napi found old writs of arrest as he poked around the structure. There were a series of garages at the rear of the property that the couple first used to house an antiques business. After two years, they decided to create a Middle Eastern restaurant, using the garages as the nucleus of a new building. In the midst of a recession, this idea went about nowhere with bankers. Unable to obtain conventional financing for conventional construction, Napi was forced to improvise. “The best thing that ever happened to me was when the banks said, ‘No,'” he told me in a 2011 conversation.
Carpenters, craftsmen, artisans and artists were all enlisted in the project of creating the restaurant. Bob Baker and Mike Bagley were among the most involved, as was Jackson Lambert, who had a fine eye for discarded but perfectly usable — even beautiful — building materials; very true to the Provincetown tradition of not letting a scrap of lumber go to waste. “This is a green building, if you want to get into it,” Napi said in 2011. Simply said, the side walls of the garages were removed to enlarge the interior space. A salvage yard in Quincy supplied dense yellow pine salvaged from old Boston factories. What is now the east half of the restaurant was a patio.
Lambert designed the original eye-of-Horus emblem and turned a cold-air duct into a witty polar scene, complete with a pile of ice over the diffuser. A marvelously Cubist bust, a self-portrait by Lambert, sits in a prominent window bay. Frank Milby was responsible for the layered codfish over the restaurant entrance. Conrad Malicoat, whose sculptural chimneys are among Provincetown’s greatest ornaments, “came along and caught into this insanity,” Napi said. “He named it Brick Breakthrough.” Because the wall frames the entrance to the restrooms — helpfully labeled “Either” and “Or” — Napi has given it a slightly earthier name that also begins with “brick.”
Work began in January 1975. Napi’s opened 27 June 1975 and is still going strong, patronized both by fresh-off-the-bus day-trippers and plenty of longtime residents who appreciate having a dependably pleasant rendezvous — year-round, at that. This is not to suggest that all has been smooth sailing. You can’t survive 40 years in this town without ruffling a few feathers or getting some of your own trimmed. Napi overstepped himself when he acquired the Flagship in the early ’90s. His attempt to run two idiosyncratic restaurants simultaneously did not work out.
Another side business he and Helen discontinued was a gallery and frame shop called Eye of Horus, which originally occupied the second floor. Now an event space [?], the second floor is the setting for an annual fundraising lunch for the Portuguese Festival featuring a program of fado music, whose overtones of longing for something irretrievably lost — “saudade” — often seem like a valedictory to old Provincetown.
Though carousel horses and stained-glass windows will certainly attract the attention of first-time visitors, a deliberate walk around the restaurant will also reveal some of the very fine Provincetown paintings on display; the merest tip of Helen and Napi’s extraordinary collection. Some of those already used to illustrate Building Provincetown entries are by:
Your host may catch you perusing the artwork and come over and tell you a story about the painting you’re looking at: the history of the building, the tales of those who lived and worked there, and how that all fits into the greater Provincetown panorama.
And there is always a story. One of the most touching concerns a large model of the fishing vessel Panther, suspended from the ceiling near the bar. It was made in the 1970s by a fisherman named Richard “Dick” Oldenquist. Napi recalls Oldenquist worrying about alterations that had recently been made to the Patricia Marie, on which he worked. “The decks don’t drain when it’s full of scallops,” he quoted the fisherman as saying. “If we take a wave, she’ll go down.” On 24 October 1976, coming home from Pollock Rip in 10-foot seas and laden with scallops, the Patricia Marie took that wave.