The Big Apple. The Ultimate Melting Pot. The City That Never Sleeps. Can you judge a city by the number of nicknames bestowed upon it-or by popular songs written about it? If the answer is yes, then New York, New York has to be the global number one city for tourists and 40 million visitors each year cannot possibly be wrong. It’s the U.S. city with the highest population and recognized as one of the largest cities in the world. From the early 1500s, New York has been a landing site for worldwide travelers and today many of those tourists come from the GLBT community.
New York is a city rich in gay history and a walk on the wild side of Stonewall is a gay trip back to our future. Almost four decades have passed since the Stonewall riots and for many who have “come out” since that time on June 28th,1969 this important piece of gay history may not be well known. On that date, and for several days following, acts of police brutality against homosexuals-more specifically targeted at drag queens-sparked riots which in turn sparked the beginning of the gay rights movement and subsequent worldwide Pride celebrations.
This clash was a watershed for the worldwide gay rights movement, as gay and transgendered people had never before acted together in such large numbers to forcibly resist police harassment.
Although the original Greenwich Village landmark of the Stonewall Inn has long since vanished it’s namesake bar-closed temporarily for renovations- stands today on the same spot as the original gay bar and hotel at 53 Christopher Street. Simply walking along this street the feeling of our gay past is apparent and landmarks like the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore provide information and resources for all that New York has to offer the gay traveler. There is even an intersection with Gay Street, perhaps named for those who fought so hard for equality at a time when the GLBT community was an underground movement considered indecent, immoral and mentally ill by the vast majority in most countries.
Today just a few blocks from this historic site at the border between Chelsea and Greenwich Village is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center located at 208 West 13th Street. It is the meeting place for approximately 400 gay and lesbian organizations and is perhaps the largest facility of its kind in the world. This is a busy place where community forums, dances, performances and other events seem to occur constantly. Anyone can visit the center which is open daily from 9AM to 11PM and provides detailed information on everything that is GLBT in New York and you’re guaranteed a very gay welcome. They have a comprehensive tourism Welcome Packet containing information on resources, bars, publications, entertainment venues and much more. Every gay visit to New York should begin here because then likely it will end with a very positive gay memory of this mecca.
The island of Manhattan contains three very distinct gay neighborhoods-the East Village, Greenwich Village/Chelsea and Hells Kitchen. Each is distinctly different but all contain a variety of bars, clubs, restaurants, resources and attractions to make your visit a very gay time. Although Greenwich Village is the historical part of gay New York, today most people recognise Chelsea as the real hub of the community. Local historians are unsure when the short migration to Chelsea actually occurred but none dispute the Chelsea Gym, Colas and Food Bar were the anchors that slowly encouraged other gay businesses to move to this hamlet. Today it probably has the largest concentration of gay businesses that can be found anywhere in the city. Undisputed, strolling down the 8th Avenue promenade is to feel the pulse and heartbeat of gay and lesbian New York.
The Chelsea district also includes some of the best gay accommodations available, which also happen to be convenient for everything gay and straight which New York has to offer its visitors. When the weather permits one can walk from here to Times Square, Broadway, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Central Park and the city’s numerous other well known attractions.
One important fact about New York accommodations is the size of the rooms-small is the universal standard. Whether it’s a home, a store, a park or a hotel room, space is a very limited commodity in Manhattan and very little affords the luxury of size that you may be accustomed to on your other travels. Perhaps the only exception to this would be the beefcake found in the numerous bars and clubs! But there are different kinds of luxury and this is a part of what makes this city unique and you soon adjust to become like a New Yorker. After all there is so much to see and do you will probably find yourself only in your hotel room for minimal hours each day when exhaustion takes over and you have to sleep for a short while.
A very good accommodation choice, reasonably priced, conveniently located in Chelsea is the popular gay Colonial House Inn. This is a converted Victorian four story walk-up with recently renovated comfortable rooms, a clothing optional roof-top sun deck, a main floor lounge and breakfast room. The expanded continental breakfast is served daily and there is wireless internet plus a computer kiosk on the main floor. The staff are helpful, knowledgeable and friendly, always ready to make your visit a perfect experience and hopefully welcome you back for a return visit. No matter how long your stay might be, this is a city that demands a return visit-if not again and again-in order to enjoy everything to the fullest.
Sightseeing in New York is one of the most obvious vacation choices for every tourist and initially, in order to get a perspective on the city, seeing the sights is best from up on high. The most well known vantage point is the top of the Empire State Building where Manhattan is a vast carpet beneath you. However, after a twenty year closure to the public, the recently re-opened observation deck at the Rockefeller Center provides a view which includes the Empire State Building and is less crowded with shorter line-ups for access plus you can pre-book a time to ride the elevator to the top. No matter which you choose, the views by day and night are spectacular and definitely a photo opportunity without equal.
If you are looking for a really memorable experience then a helicopter tour of Manhattan is a must. Liberty Helicopter operates a variety of reasonably priced tours from two convenient locations and you can choose to see the city in daylight or by night. This is guaranteed to make your New York visit outstanding and you will have photos unmatched in anyone’s collection.
Or, any sailor will tell you that to view land from the water is a unique perspective and when you experience the Manhattan skyline by boat you will understand why. Affordable Harbor and Lady Liberty Cruises are offered by NY Waterway Tours with departures throughout the day and early evening. However you choose to view this city it will be different to anything else you have experienced on your previous vacations. There is a magic to the skyline towering above or beneath you and each experience is exclusive to Manhattan.
There are over 400 art galleries in New York but more than worthy of a visit is the gallery organized by the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation-a public nonprofit arts organization committed to providing a forum to further the awareness, appreciation and preservation of GLBT art. This is one of the most important galleries showcasing the talented artists from our community and the history dates back to 1969 and the time of the Stonewall riots when gay artists were very definitely a sub-culture even in this cosmopolitan city. Their archives and on-going exhibitions comprise possibly the largest collections of gay art to be found anywhere in the world today.
A New York visit would not be complete without enjoying a Broadway stage production. After all, since the 1880’s musical theater has been synonymous with Broadway and what self-respecting gay person doesn’t enjoy a good musical? Almost at any given time there is a variety of musicals to choose from and many other hit plays or off-Broadway gay themed shows. A night at the theater is a part of the legend that makes New York what it is-the cultural capital of the United States.
There is so much more to this “City That Never Sleeps” and it would take many pages to tell the whole story-hopefully this is just enough to tease and make you think about adding this vibrant, bustling city to your vacation agenda. A weekend, a few days or a full length holiday is certain to be a fulfilling experience full of gay memories.
In the words of New York journalist and author Tom Wolfe (The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities), “In New York, culture just seems to be in the air, like part of the weather.” I think that quote must have included gay culture. Once you experience the unique feeling that is New York, you will understand the significance of these words.
Spend some time, take a journey back in time, but most importantly enjoy your time in the world famous Big Apple.