It’s not difficult to imagine that after the chain flew off the US economy in 2008 untold thousands of young gay people in their 20s and 30s, working early in their careers in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago, lost their jobs or were otherwise marginalized in their work. Full of creative energy and set back but not defeated, many left their chosen metropolises for smaller US cities where the living is less expensive and the pace a bit more relaxed. Places where they could see more social and economic potential.
If you look out as you fly into Columbus, Ohio, the city seems like an island jutting from a checkerboard sea of agri-cultural land. America’s breadbasket, as it’s called, stretches past the horizon in all directions, leaving the city appearing, from that vantage point at least, a bit isolated. But once on the ground, the city feels full of youthful vigour.
Have you always wanted to open your own art gallery, antique shop or craft brewery? Retail spaces in Columbus were, at least until recently, large and relatively inexpensive. With its proximity to the breadbasket, raw materials for artisanal pursuits are plentiful and fresh. It all makes for dining and shopping experiences that gay travellers simply won’t get in larger cities.
And Columbus is very gay, too. It’s home to enough gay people to earn it a score among the top 20 US cities on the Gay Index, as developed by demographer Gary Gates and made famous by urban theorist Richard Florida. There are more than 20 gay bars, clubs and restaurants in this city of almost 800,000. Gay people are important enough here that Mayor Michael Coleman spent an evening at a special cocktail party held for the rag-tag group of gay journalists invited to visit Columbus.
The Short North neighbourhood, home to many of the city’s gay and gay-friendly businesses and its mid-June Pride parade, may be the coolest part of town. Earning its name from its past reputation as the other side of the tracks, Short North has emerged in recent years as the place to be and be seen in Columbus. Much more relaxed than major metropolitan hot spots, it stretches along North High St, almost 15 blocks from Nationwide Blvd past West Fifth St just a few blocks south of Ohio State University. The people are Midwest-friendly. There is a great mix of ages among them, from students to old-timers, and they seem not only to fit together nicely, but there is something for everyone.
On the first Saturday evening of every summer month, thousands converge on the neighbourhood for the monthly Gallery Hop. More than 40 businesses, including almost 20 art galleries, showcase some of Ohio’s best artists and craftspeople. Street performers abound, and each event attracts thousands of visitors. It is not to be missed, so plan ahead.
There are at least nine hotels and B&Bs in the area, but I stayed comfortably at the Hampton Inn. It’s conveniently located at the south end of Short North and an easy walk to the action. Visit North Market, right next to the hotel, to sample delicious pastries, meats and other tasty treats. If you’re feeling adventurous, tour the city centre the fun way, via Segway. Antique and secondhand bric-a-brac stores here, like Flower Child, are stuffed with you-just-can’t-get-these-anymore treasures at reasonable prices. Eat dinner at Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse. The place is huge and the food and cocktails are delicious. Stop for drinks at the swanky Level Dining Lounge, then head over to Axis Nightclub for dancing, drag and, on some nights, more than 1,000 gay men.
There is also much of interest to gay travellers off Short North. For nightlife, check out Wall Street Nightclub and Club Diversity. Eat at Milestone 229. Take a walk around German Village. Have a decadent brownie or blondie at Sugar Daddy’s. Bibliophiles could lose themselves for days at Book Loft. The craft-beer and -spirit makers in Columbus are amazing. Middle West Spirits is a distiller of vodka and whiskey in very small batches. Proprietors Brady and Ryan offer tours and tastings on Friday evenings and Gallery Hop nights. Be sure to stop by Brothers Drake Meadery to finally taste mead — a boozy honey-fermented drink. You’ll love it.
On the web
Experience Columbus ›experiencecolumbus.com
Outlook Columbus Magazine ›outlookmedia.com
North Market ›northmarket.com
Flower Child ›flowerchildvintage.com
Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse ›hydeparkrestaurants.com
Level Dining Lounge ›levelcolumbus.com
Axis Nightclub ›columbusnightlife.com
Milestone 229 ›milestone229.com
German Village ›germanvillage.com
Sugar Daddy’s ›sugardaddys.com
Book Loft ›bookloft.com
Middle West Spirits ›middlewestspirits.com
Brothers Drake Meadery ›brothersdrake.com