Travel
4 min

New York

There's so much to process in the city of snap judgments

Christopher Park features George Segal's statues commemorating the Stonewall riots.

Nothing beats a New York Sherpa. Advice from locals goes a long way in a city as big and as busy as New York.

So having a gay New Yorker — or a gaggle of them — to vet your itinerary isn’t a bad idea. On a recent trip to New York, my boyfriend and I did just that.

Usually, our New York friends were spot on. But occasionally, their sense of unflappable cool stood between them and some interesting — if dorky — stops on our trip.

We won kudos for checking out the High Line, Jack Spade and the Strand Bookstore.

What did they pan? Coney Island, the Stonewall Inn and Katz’s Diner (of When Harry Met Sally fame).

The locals were blasé about the Whitney Museum. While we were there, we caught the stellar mid-career retrospective of Glenn Ligon. Ligon, a black, gay visual artist from New York, showed work spanning 25 years, including early stencil paintings, his conceptual work and his more recent forays into fluorescent light installation. For some reason, the Whitney doesn’t seem to be on the locals’ radars.

Meanwhile, a couple of handsome 20-somethings fawned over the Sperone Westwater Gallery in the Bowery. Admittedly, the building that houses the Sperone Westwater is incredible, featuring a room-sized elevator/exhibit space that slides up and down the front of the eight-storey building. But when we were there, the show was a series of underwhelming war pastiches and the elevator was not in service. We were in and out in 15 minutes.

As for food, our New York hosts endorsed Northern Spy. They bragged about the duck fat fries (although they turned out to be more an object to gawk at than to enjoy). The tiny, tasty bistro was packed elbow to elbow all night. Other New Yorkers nodded approvingly at the restaurant’s mention.

Conversely, we were able to convince few that the Museum of Modern Art’s in-house cafeteria-style restaurant was worth a taste, but our lunch (cured meat, an artisanal cheese plate, beer) was phenomenal.

Other times, I couldn’t help but agree with the prevailing attitudes. We got props for making it to a queer-ish Eastside bar called Heathers, just around the corner from Northern Spy. It’s the kind of no-sign, no-advertising dive bar that locals cherish, with reasonably priced drinks and a laid-back vibe.

Compare that to Therapy, a Hell’s Kitchen gay bar that men panned even as they sipped drinks there. It’s the kind of place where discerning judgment can descend into judgmental cattiness. (Full disclosure: I was not immune, floating the idea that some of the skinnier clientele might have had their hipbones shaved.)

The best thing about Therapy is that it’s across the street from Industry, allowing for easy migration from one gay bar to another. Industry would be a dance club in any other city, but considering the city’s dancier haunts, Industry is more of a lounge, with modern, stripped-down décor and pop songs thumping late into the night.

And, of course, there’s something to be said for striking out on your own. A trip to the Hudson River Park — and the city’s stunning Poets House library and performance space — was well worth an afternoon. The Cooper-Hewitt, the country’s national design museum, is modest in size, but it’s housed in a glorious mansion that’s worth the price of admission on its own.

The moral of the story? Get lots of advice from New Yorkers, but don’t let their strong opinions displace your own good judgment in travel planning.

Places in the sun

Fire Island, off the southeast coast of Long Island, is a car-free resort. Two of the barrier island’s hamlets, Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove, hop with gay vacationers from Memorial Day to Labour Day. Events of note include the Invasion of the Pines, a drag-queen parade held each July 4. After their promenade, gender-benders proclaim victory and head back to Cherry Grove. The abundant shrubbery between Pines and Cherry Grove is known as the Meat Rack hereabouts.

But when the weather warms up, not all the gay guys in New York City pack up their sunglasses and flip-flops and head to Fire Island.

There’s prime real estate all around the city for those in search of a little sun. Sheep Meadow in Central Park is a magnet for gays, as is Prospect Park in Brooklyn. But if you’re looking for wall-to-wall men, head to the Christopher St Pier.

Officially known as Pier 45, this popular park sits at the end of Christopher St. Opened in 2003, it was one of the first of the dozens of piers running alongside the Hudson River to be given a facelift. It now boasts several seating areas under sail-like canopies and a huge swath of lawn down the centre.

The plan to renovate the Christopher St Pier was controversial, as this and nearby piers had long been a part of the cruising scene. Many feared that after they were spruced up, the piers would no longer be “gay space.” But if anything, the pier has become gayer. On any sunny day, the pier is so full of gay men of all ages and races that you might have a tough time finding a place for your towel.

There’s plenty of entertainment, from impromptu practices for the gay cheerleading group to young guys doing double-dutch, jumping so fast you can barely see the rope spin. But mostly this is prime people-watching turf, and you couldn’t do better than finding a spot on the grass and watching the passing parade.

Getting there
Several airports serve the New York City area, but La Guardia is the quickest for getting to Manhattan. The subway’s A line takes you directly to Manhattan. From Kennedy, the A and E lines are close by, and so is the Long Island Railroad. The easiest way to get to your destination from either of these airports, however, is by taxi. Nearby in New Jersey, Newark Liberty International Airport is linked to the city via frequent trains run by New Jersey Transit. John F Kennedy (everyone calls it JFK) is the airport where most international visitors will arrive. AirTrain JFK has 24-hour connections to MTA subway lines and buses, and, for those going to Fire Island, the Long Island Rail Road.

Getting around
Like the song says, “the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.” Getting from one to the other — or anywhere else in the city, for that matter, is easiest on the subway; the MTA is quick, clean and modern. Fares are $2.25, but it’s still a good deal, as that amount will take you to the city’s farthest reaches. Buses cost the same, but the routes are harder for a newcomer. Taxis are often your best option. They all take cash, and many now accept credit cards. One great way to take it all in is on Circle Line Cruises, for views of the world’s most famous skyline. The double-decker City Lights buses tour around the city, letting you hop on and off at will.

For map locations and website links to more than 350 area places of interest see our gay New York City listings pages.