by David Sokol, 04/14/2010
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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. As social acceptance has spread across New York, so have the storefronts, restaurants and other businesses that are owned, operated and frequented by gays and lesbians. While significant pockets of gay-friendly destinations exist in the East Village, Park Slope, Williamsburg and elsewhere, a short trip to the City is best spent in the swath of western Manhattan that stretches from historic Christopher Street in the West Village up through the Theatre District and Hell's Kitchen. Here are suggestions for taking best advantage of the virtual lambda belt.
New York's first gay hotel, The Out NYC, is open now. The 70,000 square-foot boutique hotel and entertainment complex features the latest edition of NYC party maven John Blair's XL Night Club, a wellness center (with hamam and steam room) and, of course, sleekly appointed rooms and suites. The hotel is an anchor in Midtown West, located close to Times Square and Hell's Kitchen.
For your first breakfast, head downtown to Pastis. This 12-year-old restaurant, from the owner of Balthazar and Minetta Tavern, is a nucleus of the Meatpacking District. The menu and furnishings are genuinely Parisian, although the ever-present crowds—the place is less packed in the mornings—are pure New York. Jeffrey is another neighborhood must-see. The boutique department store serves both men and women, mixing well-known clothing brands with emerging designers. For guidance, look to the sales staffers: they're superfriendly, not to mention fashion plates.
From the Meatpacking District, it's a short walk to West Chelsea. The flourishing gallery district includes many of the art world's biggest names, such as Mary Boone, Barbara Gladstone and Gagosian, as well as up-and-coming ventures like Friedman Benda. For lunch, grab a garden table at the charming Italian restaurant Bottino and enjoy the wait by surveying the art professionals, media types and fashionistas flowing in from the nearby Starrett-Lehigh Building.
From West Chelsea, stroll back south 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 and evocations of the industrial-era infrastructure. End your walk in relaxation: the Hotel Gansevoort branch of Exhale supplies an array of spa services, as well as yoga and other mind-body classes. Men who feel a bit shy in the oasis environment should head to Nickel, New York's first guys-only spa. Located inside a converted bank building, Nickel's technicians will massage, laser and exfoliate you into a higher state of handsome. Another neighborhood hotel, the Maritime, holds the key to your dinner plans with authentic Japanese fare at Matsuri. But hold the sake, saving yourself for nightcaps served by minimally clad muscle boys at Splash, or by the smiling bartenders at the blissfully decorated Cubbyhole, which serves a mixed but predominantly lesbian crowd.
If your first day felt too pampering, break a sweat this morning at David Barton Gym. The intense classes, plus decor that's as attractive as the club's members, are worth the pricey day pass. Refuel at the 24/7 restaurant Cafeteria, which serves up belt-bursting omelets to stylish customers. After breakfast, sate your cultural appetite at the Rubin Museum of Art. This small institution specializes in Himalayan art that can be appreciated by any museumgoer. Visitors less schooled in the principles of Hinduism and Buddhism should spend time with the multimedia presentations that punctuate the exhibitions.
Head southward another few blocks, where Greenwich Avenue cuts across Seventh Avenue diagonally. Turn right for high-end women's clothes at Otte, athletic gear at Equinox, messenger bags and luggage of all sorts at Flight 001 and home gifts at MXYPLYZYK. Nesters should veer left, making a beeline for Jonathan Adler's house of ceramics, filled with gorgeous, whimsical products.
At the foot of Greenwich Avenue, the commercial thoroughfare intersects with historically gay Christopher Street. Cut across Christopher to Hudson Street, taking in the bustling atmosphere as you go, and then continue south down Hudson to Out of the Kitchen. Although overshadowed by Magnolia's famous cupcakes, the frosting-laden confections here are equally to-die-for. If you want more than a sweet snack, check out the café's selection of salads, sandwiches and dinner entrées. Or, pack up your meal and enjoy it alfresco in the enchanting garden of Episcopal church Saint Luke in the Fields.
The immediate vicinity also hosts cultural and nighttime attractions, such as innovative Off-Broadway plays at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. For less literary pursuits, scan the menu of comfort food at Julius, the City's oldest gay bar, which is enjoying a resurgence in popularity with a younger crowd.
Secure lasting impressions of your trip by taking in several postcard experiences. The day begins at Tartine, a quintessential West Village bistro that serves French fare in a charmingly tiny interior. If the weather is warm, try to snag one of the outdoor tables ringing the corner location, for a meal that is as picturesque as it is delicious. Then, wander the labyrinthine, cobblestone streets of the West Village, darting from one historic place to the next. Among the myriad notable sites are the bohemian hangout White Horse Tavern, the gay-rights namesake The Stonewall Inn, New York's narrowest row house at 75½ Barrow St. (measuring 9½ feet wide), urban activist Jane Jacobs' home at 555 Hudson St. and the Jefferson Market Library.
Afterward, hop an uptown subway bound for Times Square. There, you can purchase discount theater tickets at the TKTS Discount Booth. You can also rest on the TKTS roof—the cherry-red grandstand featured so prominently in Alicia Keys and Jay-Z's music video "Empire State of Mind." After saving big on your tickets, splurge on a pretheater dinner at Barbetta. This Restaurant Row institution is more than 100 years old, and eating here feels like trespassing a chateau's drawing room. The wine list is as impressive as the atmosphere, and while the food is delightful, the courtyard dining area is even more so. After an evening of drama, create your own snappy dialogue at Therapy. Inside this après-ski-style Hell's Kitchen gay bar, there's more talking than dancing among the crowd, which includes a sprinkling of women and professional men of all stripes.