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Start spreadin’ the news! There simply isn’t another city on the planet that’s been the inspiration for as many songs, the setting for as many movies and plays, the stuff of so many people’s dreams. New York City, the Big Apple, was the world’s first global melting pot, and it remains the largest, most diverse, and most famous. You can drop anyone from the industrialized world into the middle of New York City and he can look around himself and recognize virtually everything…Broadway, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty... Even the city’s five districts (called boroughs) are familiar names to almost everyone in North America: Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan. In addition to the above obligatory spots to visit, a few more must-sees are Rockefeller Center, where the city flocks during winter for ice skating and the massive Christmas tree, the Staten Island Ferry, a free boat ride past the Statue of Liberty to Staten Island and back to Manhattan’s financial district (do it at night, it’s spectacular!), and the world class museums which dot the city: the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Guggenheim (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. But wait! We forgot to mention non-Broadway entertainment, like Radio City Music Hall. Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Opera. And if your nights aren’t already full enough, there’s always off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway, where you can see real theatre…a rarity in New York these days. Have we overwhelmed you? Poor thing. Time to head to the gay district for a little R&R. But wait… Gay district? Which one? Will you head to Chelsea for a trendy crowd? Perhaps the West Village and Christopher Street, a gracious old area that was birthplace of the gay rights movement. Perhaps you’re in the mood for MePa (short for Meat Packing district) with its new set of dark, industrial-style venues. Or maybe the Bohemian song of the East Village will call you. Perhaps it’s a summer weekend and the gay districts seem empty, in which case you’ll have to make the commute out to Fire Island, the legendary summer playground of gay New York. Is your head spinning yet? Ah, but nothing about New York City is simple, baby. Especially its 100-year-old subway system. It may not be cheap, it may not be clean, and it may be amazingly complicated, but it’ll get you there faster than a cab and cheaper than a car. Life in New York is, quite simply, difficult. But New Yorkers are a hardy bunch, unlike any other people in the world. And if life is hard in this urban wilderness, they party hard when the time comes. That’s just another reason New York is one of the most popular gay destinations in the world.
Gay New York Bars, Restaurants and Clubs
Social life for gay men in New York is most definitely focused in Manhattan, in the above-mentioned districts. (Lesbians seem to favor the Brooklyn neighborhood of West Park, which supposedly has the largest concentration of lesbians on earth!) Though you’ll find a number of gay spots outside Manhattan, it’s best to look at local rags for information about them. As for the island, we start in Chelsea. (Access it on the C or E lines at 23rd or 14th, or the 1 or 9 lines at 23rd or 18th.) Most of the gay bars are spread out along 8th Ave and within a block on the cross streets in either direction. A couple of “Don’t Miss” watering holes are gLounge, an insanely popular, chic, minimalist venue, and XL, whose mission statement is to become the best gay bar in the world, and draws corresponding crowds who enjoy the color-changing walls, and the aquariums which separate the stalls in the bathroom. If the Prada-draped bodies and $20 martinis of Chelsea aren’t your style, you can mosey over to Barracuda, with its young, friendly crowd dressed in jeans and t-shirts. It’s a throwback to the NYC of the 1970s, with no attitude or pretension. Friday night seems most popular here. The leather crowd hangs out at Rawhide and The Eagle. Move on to the West Village and Christopher Street. (Access on 1 or 9 lines at Christopher St or Houston St.) Eighty Eight’s is a quintessential New York piano bar and cabaret. You’ll feel like you’ve lived in the city all your life after an evening here. The Hangar is also popular with the locals. Sheridan Square is a tiny park which might be considered Mecca to gay rights activists around the world. On the square is Stonewall Bar, the site of the famous Stonewall Riots of 1969 when gays began to publicly stand up for their rights. Monday night bingo is the bar’s most popular night. The East Village was historically a grungy, bohemian district. But when the Broadway musical Rent made poverty chic, the district was overrun by preppies. Today it is a bizarre mix of both, and still is home to many gay establishments. (Access on 6 line at Astor Place or Bleecker St, or F line at 2nd Ave.) You can always count on Wonder Bar to deliver an eclectic mix of grunge boys, gin-and-tonic gentrified gentlemen, and cosmo-sipping guppies. The lesbian scene is thumping at Meow Mix, a bar and dancery that also attracts boys. Starlight Bar and Lounge always packs in the no-attitude crowds, and has a popular lesbian night on Sunday. The Boiler Room is an East Village landmark, and is always packed with punky peeps. Urge will open your eyes as it breaks the stereotypes, with dancers gyrating behind black gauze curtains. For a taste of the classic days of New York hedonism, check out The Cock, an NYC institution for decades. It’s packed every night. The MePa district, between Chelsea and the West Village, used to be under close scrutiny by NYPD because of drugs and prostitution. But those days have passed, and the former meat-packing district is now trendy. Perhaps most popular is Hell, a ghoulish haunt, which looks like the set from a Vampire B-movie. But the guys flock here in droves. Less mainstream is L.U.R.E., which could be called a leather bar, but is more like a haven for every urban fetish in existence. Beyond these popular districts, you might try Chase or Posh in Midtown, The Works on the Upper West Side, and The Tool Box, Oscar Wilde, or Regents on the Upper East Side.
Acapulco may have invented the dance club, but New York City perfected it. Club life in New York tends to migrate from venue to venue, depending on which dance parties are being held where. A local gay mag like NY Blade or HX will give you the current scoop. But there are a few legendary danceries which can always be counted on. Splash Bar, or SBNY, might just be the hottest venue at the moment. This Chelsea club has showers on top of the bars for their dancers, and an aquatic theme prevails throughout. Legendary club Limelight is housed in a renovated church, and normally hosts gay parties on Sundays. In the East Village, Pyramid has been around for decades and attracts an eccentric mix of punks, Goths, Bohemians, artists, and Preppies, the likes of which only a New York club could bring together. On Friday nights it hosts 1984, a popular all-80’s trash dance party. Down in MePa, The Roxy is the last of the cavernous NY gay discos, regularly hosting international DJ superstars.
Most people think FOOD when they think of New York, and that makes perfect sense. As most of the apartments in Manhattan are too small to have a practical kitchen, New Yorkers dine out virtually every meal of the day. This means that gay people eat at lots of places, but very few of them are exclusively gay. A few that remain popular with the gay crowd are Tiffany’s Diner (eclectic) and Restivo (Italian) in Chelsea, Lips (American with drag shows), Caffe Torino (Italian), and Universal Grill in the West Village, and Arriba Arriba (Mexican) in Midtown.
Out on Fire Island, the summer beachside destination for many New Yorkers, the crowds gather to drink and socialize at Cherry’s and at the Grove Hotel , and at the afternoon tea dance at the Pines Pavillon. Everyone dines at Top of the Bay.
Gay Friendly and Gay New York City Hotels
Gay visitors to New York seem to be drawn to chic boutique hotels like The Royalton, Morgans, The Paramount, Library Hotel, Chambers, The Muse, or The Mercer. But if you want something more specifically gay, or something more central, try the Chelsea Pines Inn, a modest budget hostelry. Some of their rooms have shared bath (which you might actually want!) so make sure you ask when you reserve. The Colonial House Inn offers a similar experience, but some of their rooms have their own fireplaces! The Chelsea Mews Guesthouse offers quaint, European-style B&B accommodations to gay men. Up in the West Village, the Incentra Village House hides away in a historic home, offering budget lodging for gays and lesbians.
Out on Fire Island, the Grove Hotel is the legendary Fire Island hostelry, though the Belvedere Guest House with its spectacular architecture and clothing-optional pool can be just as popular. Pines Place offers a smaller and more intimate environment.