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“The way it used to was”

Restaurateur and art collector Anton ‘Napi’ Van Dereck told the story of Provincetown through art and food

This summer in Provincetown is bittersweet. Beloved legend Anton ‘Napi’ Van Dereck passed away on Christmas day, 2019 at 87. He leaves behind a legacy as a restaurateur, community supporter, and art collector with close to 300 world-class pieces. Dereck was better known by his nickname, Napi, given to him by his grandfather who, while his mother was pregnant, would say that what the world needed was another Napoleon. “He would pontificate about anything. He was very opinionated, but it was not offensive; it was nostalgic. His love for Provincetown came through in what he told you, but also in this collection he built over decades,” says Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) Director Christine McCarthy. 

Napi spent most of his life in Provincetown around artists and creatives with his mother and his father, an early modernist artist and professor of art. A favorite photograph hanging in Napi’s office is of himself as a young child, naked, watching his father paint, with rapt attention. His love of looking at paintings continued throughout his life as a restaurant owner and an art collector.

The story of Napi’s Restaurant is just as iconic as Napi himself. Owned with his wife, Helen, Napi’s Restaurant is a unique dining experience and the restaurant itself is a piece of art. Napi and Helen, with the help of master craftsman Bob Baker and friends, transformed a string of tin auto garages into a restaurant using reclaimed and salvaged materials. The interior is furnished with antiques from the couples’ former antique shop, and locally sourced works of art. One block off of Commercial Street, Napi’s Restaurant serves up Cape Cod fare with an international twist year-round. This art-filled setting is a place that represents the town and its creative history for everyone to enjoy. 

The concept for the restaurant dubbed “the most unusual restaurant in Provincetown,” grew out of a Wednesday night dinner series Napi and Helen hosted at their cottage. At this weekly dinner, musicians, artists and creatives would gather for a communal meal, jam session, and party. The mandolin was his instrument of choice. Through the restaurant, Napi continued this tradition of creating a community around food, music, and art. Music played by professional musicians and friends fills the air most nights. The inclusion of culinary influences from around the world is due to Helen, the original chef at Napi’s Restaurant. Napi, who loved to expound on any subject, was an ever-present character at the restaurant, ready to tell visitors a story about the area. “You could set your watch by Napi, because between 5 to 5:15 p.m. every day of the year, he would be at his seat at the bar…having his martini at the end of the day, a metronome you could count on,” longtime friend, colleague, and artist Bill Evaul remarks.

What sets the restaurant apart is the architecture, decor, and fine art hanging on the walls. Stained glass windows, tribal masks, and carousel horses fill the space in a unique way. The dining experience is designed to make everyone feel like family. Longtime staff have worked at Napi’s for over 20 years, furthering the familial experience of a meal at the restaurant.  

“Without the restaurant, there would be no [art] collection,” Evaul points out. Napi filled the restaurant with art by local artists depicting Provincetown. One night, a customer inquired about purchasing a piece by artist Frank Milby of a wharf and fishing boats hanging over the bar. Napi replied that the seascape was not for sale. Dottie Griffin, the bartender at the time, reminded Napi that he actually did not own the work since he had not purchased it. Not wanting the artwork to leave the restaurant, he bought it, marking his start as an art collector. 

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