It’s a bit difficult to talk about the city of Rochester, New York without mentioning photography. After all, this is where the Eastman Kodak Company — the innovative organization largely responsible for convincing the world to start taking pictures — was born. And while that brand’s global profile may be much smaller today, it still helps to make New York State’s third-largest city an interesting place to visit. Add to this an array of cultural institutions and a small but friendly gay scene, and you’ll find plenty to keep you busy.
If you read about Kodak founder George Eastman, who lived from 1854 to 1932, you might come across some speculation that this lifelong bachelor was gay. The truth may never be fully revealed, but you can do some speculation of your own at the George Eastman House, home to the International Museum of Photography and Film. The facility, billed as the world’s oldest photography museum, hosts rotating and permanent photo exhibits and is home to one of just three archival theatres equipped to exhibit nitrate films. Allow enough time to view the museum as well as the Mr Eastman’s home, a gorgeous, beautifully furnished colonial revival mansion that is a National Historic Landmark.
The Eastman House isn’t the only place in Rochester where visitors may wander the home of a legendary American historic figure. At the National Susan B Anthony House, exhibits and furnishings highlight the work of one of the most important activists in the struggle to give women the right to vote (she died in the house in 1906, and in 2002 made it into a book called The Gay 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present). Other noteworthy cultural attractions in the Rochester area include the Memorial Art Gallery, the National Museum of Play and the Genesee Country Village and Museum, which features an impressive collection of restored 19th-century homes and other buildings.
Among the more interesting hotels in Rochester is The Inn on Broadway, a 25-room luxury boutique property with traditional style, and the Strathallen, a Doubletree hotel that’s especially well located for exploring the city. Gay-friendly bed-and-breakfast accommodations in the area include the Ellwanger Estate, which is set on the grounds of a renowned horticulturalist’s former estate, and the Edward Harris House, a restored home that dates to 1896.
With something under 300,000 residents, Rochester has a gay scene that’s understandably smaller than New York City or Toronto. But a thriving university and long-established progressive tradition help to keep the rainbows flying, with a gay pride celebration and ImageOut film festival among its annual events.
Nightlife options include Bachelor Forum, which is advertised as a ‘leather and Levi bar’ but is really just a good old-fashioned neighbourhood gay bar and one of the city’s most reliably filled venues. Also small but popular is the Avenue Pub, where people of all ages gather to chat and play pool.
The best choice for dancing is Tilt Nightclub & Ultralounge, a lively club that attracts a mostly young, fun crowd of people who are gay, straight and in-between. Drag shows (including drag queens and drag kings), go-go-boys and live DJs keep the excitement going Thursdays through Saturdays. You may not see George Eastman or Susan B Anthony on the dance floor, but you just might see some young Rochesterians making their own kind of history on stage.
Rochester's Pride celebrations, known as Roc Pride, take place in July. For more information visit gayalliance.org/pride.