Gay NYC

Itineraries

by David Sokol, 06/18/2014

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A generation ago, LGBT visitors to New York City would have had to remain largely confined to the West Village to interact with their local community. But as social acceptance has gained and spread, so have the storefronts, restaurants and other businesses that are owned, operated and frequented by gays and lesbians. One great way to start your Pride Month visit is with a pilgrimage to the famous crossroads of the West Village and Chelsea to soak in the history and local flavor of NYC's LGBT culture. From there you can expand to Hell's Kitchen and the newer, yet deeply rooted communities in northern Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queens. Here, we suggest a three-day route for eliciting the most meaning (and fun) from this mileage during Pride and all year round.  

Day One: West Village and Chelsea
Today's itinerary weaves through the sidewalks of both the West Village and Chelsea, so warm up for the healthy walk at David Barton Gym. The boutique exercise chain has a fiercely loyal following, and experiencing this duplex space's William Sofield–designed interior and pumping, DJ-manned sound system will explain the devotion. The branch is located in the Archive Building directly on famous Christopher Street, so jumping from workout to gayborhood tour is no sweat.  

From the Archive Building, a few short steps to the west leads to Hudson River Park, a scenic and family-friendly replacement of the Christopher Street piers that are synonymous with 1970s-era New York City gay life. After following in the footsteps of our predecessors, let your nose lead you back inland to Buvette Gastrothèque, on Grove Street. Breakfast at the cozy Jody Williams venture includes rustic bistro décor and a small, mouthwatering selection of crepes and tartines. 

Continue heading east along Grove Street or the vibrant blocks of Christopher Street (the two merge) and you will end up at an intersection that includes Greenwich and Sixth Avenues: sight of the Jefferson Market Library and its adjacent garden mark your arrival. This is a great triangle for morning shopping. Cross Sixth Avenue to C.O. Bigelow to view the old-time apothecary interior and stock up on necessities, or head west up Greenwich Avenue for Jonathan Adler's house of ceramics and other whimsical products. Continue along Greenwich Avenue to outfit yourself in high-end women's clothes at Otte, athletic gear at Equinox and luggage of all sorts at Flight 001.

From the northern half of Greenwich Avenue, cross into Chelsea via Seventh Avenue, in order to glimpse the site of the forthcoming New York City AIDS Memorial. This route also will take you past existing landmarks in gay history, including the 1964 O'Toole Building—originally designed by Albert Ledner for the National Maritime Union and which, later as part of St. Vincent's Hospital, was an early battleground in the AIDS crisis—as well as The Center

After refueling at the Space Odyssey–like Cafeteria or at the communal table of Pounds & Ounces, do the best kind of damage to your budget at the Chelsea location of Housing Works Thrift Shop. For its stylish merchandise and visual display, this is the secondhand store par excellence. More important, sales help fund the services that Housing Works provides to homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. 

Consider returning to the West Village via The High Line. The elevated railway turned public park, designed by landscape architecture and urban design firm James Corner Field Operations with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, innovatively blends native plants and contemporary architecture with glimpses of the industrial-era infrastructure. The green artery will not transport you back to the West Village entirely, but the detour is worth it. 

Back in the West Village, dedicate your evening to another good cause: culture. The Lucille Lortel Theatre, named for the woman who "put Off Broadway on the map," has been staging innovative theater since 1955. Another legendary, albeit more casual, venue is The Duplex. Whether you catch a cabaret show, queue up for open mic at the piano bar or just start a conversation with the servers, you'll meet both established performers and young guns rising up the ranks. Afterward, check out a few more vaunted haunts, namely Julius and gay-rights cairn The Stonewall Inn for nightcaps; the blissfully decorated Cubbyhole and the subtler Henrietta Hudson serve a mixed but predominantly lesbian crowd. 

Day Two: Hell's Kitchen and the Theatre District
While the West Village and Chelsea represent the historic LGBT landscape, the gay community is writing its next chapter in Hell's Kitchen. Checking out this new center of activity demands a whole day's attention, but it also wouldn't be complete without taking in the Theatre District, which overlaps with HK and injects unique energy into the scene. Step one, then, is to buy tickets for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Kinky Boots or any number of nearby shows that explore identity and self-expression, LGBT-related or otherwise. Plan ahead here, or check theater box offices or the TKTS discount booth on the day of performance.

If you snapped up tickets for a matinee, take a quick walk to Vynl for lunch beforehand. The comfort food diner—which also features Asian fusion cuisine—is a longtime Hell's Kitchen fixture, now occupying the storefront immediately adjacent to its original location. With the move came a slight dialing back of the B-52s-ish decor, but it's still the most jubilant eatery in the neighborhood. Take a bow for ordering the watermelon lemonade. 

Pre- or post-curtain, spend some quiet time at the Museum of Arts and Design, whose exhibitions of high-concept and meticulously crafted jewelry, furniture, fashion and objects celebrate the creative talent that often does not appear on stage or screen. MAD is located at the just over the northeast corner of Hell's Kitchen, at 2 Columbus Circle; architecture aficionados will appreciate that the building was designed by Ledner's peer Edward Durrell Stone in the 1960s and, not without controversy, reconceived by Allied Works Architecture in 2008. 

Alternatively, head to New York City's first gay hotel, The Out NYC. Even if you haven't booked a room there, you should check out the amenities it offers both to guests and the wider LGBT community. Highlights include The Spa at The Out, featuring several massage and Turkish hammam treatments, or the in-house entertainment complex where there's no need to book ahead. The Out anchors the southern end of Hell's Kitchen, parallel to Times Square. 

It's back to Broadway (the world of it, not the actual street) for dinner. Barbetta is a Restaurant Row institution that has logged more than a century of service, and eating here feels like trespassing a chateau’s drawing room. The wine list is as impressive as the atmosphere, and the food is delightful—though the courtyard dining area is even more so. While the stars shine brightly on Barbetta's garden, for good food with a side dish of celebrity spotting, break bread instead at the almost-adjacent artist haven Joe Allen

Finally, recap theater or menu highlights over drinks at Therapy. Inside this après-ski-style gay bar, there's more talking than dancing among the crowd, which includes a sprinkling of women and professional men of all stripes. At rival Industry Bar next door, dancing is a more frequent occurrence; note the cash-only policy for drinks. Catch the drag show at either watering hole, or play the insider scouting the immense talents—drag queens among them—at a 54 Below late show. 

Day Three: Northern Manhattan, Williamsburg and Jackson Heights
Go out of bounds today, exploring the farther-flung places where gay life is staking a claim. Just remember that these emerging gayborhoods are primarily residential. Fewer LGBT visitors from elsewhere means fewer destinations that cater exclusively to the community, so mix up your itinerary with spots that appeal to the whole populace. 

In northern Manhattan, where the LGBT population is highly visible in Hudson Heights and Inwood, that means spending the morning at The Cloisters. The museum, an assemblage of medieval-era buildings, houses approximately 2,000 works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of medieval European art and architecture. The facility crowns a precipice of Fort Tryon Park, where you will also find an idyllic lunch destination in New Leaf. Besides alchemical cooking and an Ivy League setting, New Leaf boasts gay icon bona fides: the restaurant is operated by Bette Midler's New York Restoration Project, and proceeds bolster NYRP's support of Fort Tryon Park and many other green open spaces in New York. 

Come early evening, act local, heading from your park perch to Castro—the Inwood newcomer serves a Cuban-Chinese menu by day and a similarly multicultural discotheque vibe at night. Or think globally, by making the trek to Jackson Heights. The Queens district is home to a large, mostly South American gay community, as well as a tremendous Indian population. In mainstay gay bar The Music Box, the melting pot just feels like a party. 

Brooklyn's Williamsburg presents another option for your evening, though it probably deserves its own day of activity. Should you choose the longer time commitment, make a pilgrimage to Pierogi Gallery, the 20-year-old contemporary art mecca that helped establish the neighborhood as a center of cultural production. Then delight in the art of sustainable confection at Mast Brothers Chocolate, or remake yourself in the bearded image of the Mast Brothers themselves at Fellow Barber. For heartier nourishment, seek out the beloved Diner, later washing down the meal with brews from the very hip, slightly ironic gay bar Metropolitan. Want to make the day last even longer? Extend your stay at the boutique property Wythe Hotel. Designed to the last detail and run to anticipate your every need, the upscale crash pad will have hotel guests thinking they landed in a very cosmopolitan Oz.

For more ways to experience NYC during Pride, be sure to download this free tablet app and guide for gay visitors to NYC, courtesy of ManAboutWorld.

related venues/(8)

  1. 1
    Hudson River Park
    West Side Highway, bet. Battery Place and W. 59th St.
    Manhattan – multiple locations
    NY 10014
  2. 2
    C.O. Bigelow Chemist
    414 Sixth Ave
    Manhattan – Greenwich Village
    NY 10011
  3. 3
    The Stonewall Inn
    53 Christopher St
    Manhattan – West Village
    NY 10014
  1. 4
    Housing Works Thrift Shop - Chelsea
    143 W. 17th St.
    Manhattan – Chelsea
    NY 10011
  2. 5
    Vynl
    754 Ninth Ave.
    Manhattan – Hell's Kitchen
    NY 10019
  3. 6
    The Out NYC
    510 W. 42nd St.
    Manhattan – Hell's Kitchen
    NY 10036
  1. 7
    New Leaf Restaurant & Bar
    1 Margaret Corbin Dr
    Multiple Locations
    NY 10040
  2. 8
    The Music Box
    40-08 74th St
    Queens – Jackson Heights
    NY 11373

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