Most gay people, men especially, eventually end up in New York City, and with good reason. As the preeminent global centre of art, culture and commerce, The Big Apple has also emerged as perhaps the world capital of gay. Between the dazzle of Broadway, the old-school Hollywood romance of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Manhattan’s star turn as the fifth lady of Sex and the City, New York City is virtually welded into every gay man’s DNA, no matter where he’s from.
In this rapidly changing city of eight million people, the gay visitor can be simply overwhelmed for choice, but here are a few must-dos.
If you’re looking for an upscale and unique stay, get a room at The Out NYC (510 W 42nd St), New York’s swanky “gay urban resort” in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The Out is designed for the gay or lesbian traveller who wants a sexy and luxurious stay in New York with other queer travellers.
My deluxe suite at The Out came equipped with a lush king-sized bed with floor-to-ceiling mirrored headboard, modern illuminated bedside cubes, big-screen television and a spacious work station. The designer bathroom is similarly swish, with plush towels, fully mirrored shower and a variety of The Out’s own brand of luxury bath products on hand.
For those travelling in groups, The Out’s unique quad bunk rooms offer the luxury at a fraction of the price. The beds are full-sized and separated with plush privacy curtains, and each has its own personal television set.
The Out also houses a full gym and spa, including hot tub, steam room and cedar sauna, with a team of trainers, masseurs and beauticians on hand for special sessions at reasonable prices. During my stay I was invited to a complimentary and invigorating facial and manicure in the hotel’s spa atrium, a warm and friendly space with cabanas and a soothing waterfall wall.
When you’re ready to explore, take a short walk to Times Square — a mandatory stop on any New York visit. The hustle and bustle of the square — and its incredible array of billboards — is a sight to behold, and the city’s decision to close several streets through the square to make more room for performers and seating has really enhanced the experience.
Times Square is the best place to get a sense of what’s going on in the Broadway theatre scene. Not only are half the major theatres along the square itself, but the giant TKTS booth offers discount day-of tickets to many of the biggest shows. For even better deals, it’s worth going to the theatres directly — many offer rush tickets at steeply discounted prices.
For those with ravenous appetites for the performing arts, get off the main Broadway strip and dig into New York’s more adventurous smaller theatres, where artists frequently tackle more daring subjects and styles. Some of my favourite venues in the city include the multidisciplinary Brooklyn Academy of Music complex (30 Lafayette Ave), Theatre Row (410 W 42nd St) and the Pershing Square Signature Centre (480 W 42nd St).
While New York is synonymous with theatre, the city is home to world-class arts of all kinds — from the stars of standup comedy, to live music and opera. Ticket hawkers will attempt to sell you on various comedy clubs as you pass them in Times Square. The discount tickets they offer aren’t typically much better than buying at the door, but they’re often emerging comedians who are working for the right to perform at the clubs they’re promoting — be a sport and help one out. Be warned though: in addition to your ticket price, comedy clubs often have a two-drink minimum.
If you’ve had enough of the uptown scene, swing down to Greenwich Village for the classic gay experience. A visit to the Stonewall Inn (51 Christopher St) is mandatory for the first-time visitor to New York. It was here that the modern gay rights movement was born on June 28, 1969, when a large group of gays, drag queens, trans people and hustlers spontaneously rioted to protest a police raid on the bar. The Stonewall still remains as a low-key joint with cheap drinks, drag queens and a charming community feel.
Up the street, the similarly long-lived Duplex (61 Christopher St) is a piano bar and cabaret with a bit more of a rollicking feel. Its cabaret performers are among the city’s best and in the past have included such stars as Barbra Streisand and Woody Allen.
From here, you can’t help but be tempted to stop in to Big Gay Ice Cream (61 Grove St). This kooky little shop started out as the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck before expanding to two brick-and-mortar locations (the other is in the East Village at 125 E 7th St). BGIC specializes in scrumptious soft-serve with wicked toppings and flavours, like ginger curry, curried coconut, cayenne chocolate or apple butter with bourbon butterscotch.
While you’re indulging in naughty desserts, pay a visit to Big Booty Bread Co (261 W 23rd St) in Chelsea. The little bakery with the cheeky logo blends American standards with Latin American treats — the chocolate chip cookies are to die for, but try their specialty guava turnovers.
When it comes time to dance those extra calories away, you’ve no shortage of choices, with whole neighbourhoods like the West Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen virtually synonymous with gay partying. But with a few exceptions — The Monster (80 Grove St), Splash (50 W 17th St), XL (512 W 42nd St), Boxers (742 9th Ave) — Manhattan’s bars are more of the stand, drink and cruise variety. Luckily, gay bars and clubs are springing up in the other boroughs. There’s Sugarland (221 North 9th St) in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, while Roosevelt Avenue in Queens’ Jackson Heights has a string of gay clubs, including True Colors (7915 Roosevelt Ave), Club Evolution (7619 Roosevelt Ave) and the Music Box (40-08 74th St).
Looking for a more low-key night? Chelsea’s Gym Sportsbar (167 8th Ave) attracts a blue-collar crowd of true sports fans, while G Lounge (225 W 19th St) and Barracuda (275 W 22nd St) have a friendly, low-key vibe, even when G-Lounge is packed with hot muscular go-go boys grinding to pop and house beats.
The hip kids party in the East Village at Eastern Bloc (505 E 6th St) or The Boiler Room (86 E 4th St), but I found the alpha hipsters at Metropolitan (559 Lorimer St) in Williamsburg, a cozy little bar with live music and lots of tattooed, bearded and flannelled boys. But the coolest gay parties in New York will usually be the irregular ones thrown in mixed venues scattered around the city. If you’re feeling adventurous, consult the local listings and get your butt out to that drag performance party at a dive in Bushwick or the pop-up underwear party on Staten Island.
We’ve only scratched the surface of this incredible city — but that’s another one of its joys. It’s impossible to distill all of the great New York experiences into a single visit, so plan on coming back again and again.
For more insight into the city and helpful travel advice, see our gay New York city guide.
For map locations and website links to more than 300 places of interest in New York, visit our gay New York listings pages.