Pop quiz: Which New York City neighbourhood is the gayest, outside of Manhattan? If you picked some trendy part of Brooklyn, you’re wrong. A bustling neighbourhood in Queens called Jackson Heights just happens to have the most gay nightlife, the biggest Pride parade and the largest LGBT population in New York, next to Manhattan, according to The New York Times. This just might be New York City’s liveliest, most international — yet largely unexplored — gay-day-trip destination for globetrotters staying in Manhattan.
Gritty and noisy in some spots, Jackson Heights is quiet and lovely in others. The 36-block historic district is lined with English garden–style apartment buildings (a favourite with gay couples), while the busy commercial streets are dotted with five gay bars and restaurants that represent the neighbourhood’s large populations from Latin America, South Asia and East Asia. Whether you visit Jackson Heights to take photos, dine or dance, there is plenty to do.
You’ll still hear the clanging of the Number 7 subway train overhead as you exit the station at Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights’ busiest (and noisiest) thoroughfare. A variety of languages — English, Spanish, Hindi, Urdu, Thai and Chinese — fill the air. To fully appreciate the neighbourhood’s diversity (something like two-thirds of the population was born outside the United States, but no one nation dominates), arrive in the afternoon. Start with a walk around the quieter historic district, which starts at 37th Avenue, and stop for a fun photo opportunity at the corner of 35th Avenue and 81st Street, where the game called Scrabble was invented in a lovely church (and a street sign indicates the Scrabble-approved value of each letter on the street names).
Time to refuel
Jackson Heights offers an incredible variety of dining options. For dinner, top choices include Pio Pio, a large Peruvian restaurant, Spicy Shallot, a stylish Thai eatery that’s one neighbourhood away, and La Pequeña Colombia, which serves tasty Colombian dishes. If you happen to visit toward the end of any month, consider attending the monthly Out Jackson Heights dining event (search for “Out Jackson Heights” on Facebook), organized by Chicago transplant Alfonso Quiroz; he picks a different restaurant in the neighbourhood every month for a casual, social get-together.
The first Sunday of June — when the Queens Pride parade takes to the streets — is the most festive time to enjoy gay life in Jackson Heights. But every week provides fresh entertainment options, year-round. The ambiance is a bit different here compared to most gay bars in Manhattan; the venues are generally smaller, the majority of patrons are from Latin America, and the DJs often alternate sets of music in English and Spanish. But that doesn’t mean anyone will feel left out; unlike Manhattan, bartenders and waiters here are likely to smile and shake your hand when you arrive.
Among the most reliably popular venues any night of the week is Music Box/Caja Musical (40-08 74th Street), which is technically in a neighbourhood called Elmhurst but is the closest to the Jackson Heights subway station. Go-go boys grind atop the bar here nearly every night, and drag shows and a pool table are additional draws. The largest gay dance club in the neighbourhood, Evolution, is the only one to charge a cover. A couple blocks down Roosevelt Avenue is Friend’s Tavern, which has a small dancefloor and DJs who spin music in English and Spanish; during warmer months, the backyard is a popular hangout, especially on Sundays, when they fire up a grill and serve hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and even steak.
Still further down Roosevelt Avenue is True Colors (search “True Colors Bar” on Facebook), which has one of the neighbourhood’s largest dancefloors and hosts karaoke and underwear nights, during which the cute staff members serve drinks in their skivvies. Among the most popular gay nightspots in the area is Hombres Lounge, which also happens to be the newest and most attractive venue in Jackson Heights.
If live music is your thing, consider a visit to Terraza 7, a tiny yet very hip venue that hosts eclectic live bands, usually with a Latin influence. The venue isn’t gay, but it’s so cool and bohemian that it attracts a diverse group of people — much like Jackson Heights itself.