On a summer’s night, the Crown & Anchor can’t be missed. In fact, it can’t be ignored. Not only is it one of P-town’s most prominent facades, with its grand columned portico and tower, but performers from the Cabaret — usually in drag — boisterously regale passers-by. The hotel business is a sideline; this is the town’s “largest entertainment complex,” true to its roots in the mid-19th century, when Timothy P. Johnson built the Central House (its first name) as a public hall for shows and entertainment, a bowling alley and — quite as important — a saloon.
Allen Reed purchased the Central from Johnson’s heirs in 1868, enlarged it, added sleeping rooms and attached a bowling alley, so that the Central was the largest hotel in town, extending over the water on pilings. Reed was succeeded in 1881 by his son, James A. Reed, the town customs officer, who conducted business “from a room fitted in the building for that purpose.”
The Central’s charms were described as follows in the late 19th century:
This house has accommodations for about 75 guests, has a fine billiard and pool-room attached, ladies’ parlor and sitting-room, gents’ reading and smoking-room, fronts the principal street of the town, while from the veranda at the rear a fine view of the harbor and its shipping can be obtained; the facilities for bathing are also good.
It was the Sea Horse Inn in the ’50s. Staniford Sorrentino reopened it as the Crown & Anchor Motor Inn in 1962, when Bobby Short played a two-week gig.
Much of the building was lost in February 1998 to one of the worst fires in town history, which began next door at the old Whaler’s Wharf. Fortunately, no lives were lost that night. The Crown was rebuilt in 1999.
The elements of the complex in 2008 were: the Crown & Anchor Inn, with 18 guest rooms; the Central House restaurant; the Crown Cabaret; the Paramount Nightclub; the Vault, a leather bar; and Wave, “P’town’s first video bar.”