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Summer Fun:
Suddenly, This Summer

What do you get when you cross the city that never sleeps with the love that dares not speak its name? An entire summer of good queer fun.

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It's just simple algebra: when half the gay community deserts Manhattan for the summer, that leaves you twice as much room to have fun in it. Every June, after the Lycra-clad legions decamp for Fire Island bungalows and Hamptons cottages, you've got the gay mecca almost to yourself. Too busy paying off your AmEx to afford a share with 23 junior analysts at the Pines? Don't panic. Now you can taste that raspberry iced mocha at the The Big Cup (228 Eighth Avenue, at 21st Street; 206-0059) without suffering the line that's been wrapped around Chelsea since Thanksgiving. The maître d' who snapped and growled when you asked about reservations two months ago would agree to wear Members Only for the remainder of the summer if only you'd come in for a bite of five-spice sea bass with tamarind-citrus beurre blanc. But you can't be bothered; there is too much to do. You do not want that five-spice sea bass anymore.

The fact is, whether you're a fresh-faced cherub from Nebraska who thinks Houston Street is named after the artist behind "How Will I Know If He Really Loves Me?" or a Wall Street trader too busy playing with his portfolio to actually, actively be gay, there's no better time to plot out exactly how and where you'll take Manhattan . . . or where you'll let Manhattan take you. Let us brainstorm.

You need coffee in the morning, but after you've snickered over the Starbucks menu ("rich and fruity, as befits the season"), what else does the place really have to offer? Looking for a place to luxuriate upon a Jacobean chaise longue, iced latté in one hand, chocolate-covered deliciousness in the other? Start your day at Cranberry Hole Road (352 Lafayette Street; 334-0034), the gay-owned downtown antiques shop-cum-café christened after a road in Amagansett. The Cranberry not only offers arguably the best coffee in Manhattan but has fast become the stomping ground for arty types, leggings-clad supermodels, and androgynous SoHo something-or-others on their innumerable days off.

For a post-brunch fix of post-gay culture, take a long, hard stare at the paintings of German pop artist Rinaldo Hopf at Wessel + O'Connor Gallery (242 West 26th Street; 242-8811). Hopf's American premiere, "Golden Queers," consists of 100 identical silk screens meticulously etched over in gold-leaf renderings of celebrated gay icons. Plato, Michelangelo, Quentin Crisp, Rock Hudson -- they're all here. Ellen DeGeneres is rendered as well -- but don't worry about her portrait's being yanked off the wall. Nothing is too gay to be displayed in this gallery. Hopf's show runs from June 27 to August 14. B-film fans might prefer a peek at John Waters's Pecker; a collection of stills from his new movie about a sandwich-maker turned art star will be on display at Gavin Brown's enterprise (436 West 15th Street; 627-5258) until July 31.

Sure, summer fashion is an oxymoron, but you don't want to spend the season in an i'm not gay but my boyfriend is T-shirt unless you're a straight woman trying to pick a fight with your current lover. The best place to get dressed for the season is Parke and Ronen (176 Ninth Avenue, at 20th Street; 989-4245). Men's summer duds are here in the form of drawstring linen shorts in solids and plaids, oxford shirts, and printed tank tops that you won't mind leaving the house in. For women, an assortment of flat-front linen pants, matte-jersey dresses, and light-blue or beige tank tops should do the trick. Best of all, Parke and Ronen (longtime partners in every sense of the word) design everything themselves, and one of them is always on the premises.

Loud hosannas issued down Eighth Avenue upon the inception of Bang Bang Men of Chelsea (147 Eighth Avenue, at 17th Street; 807-8457), where you can buy the best in tearaway pants, mesh muscle tank tops, and Sauvage swimwear -- while avoiding all the flash-seeking Weehawkeners who've overtaken its 8th Street outpost. Across the street and on the same side of the fence is The Starting Line (180 Eighth Avenue, between 19th and 20th Streets; 691-4729), a boutique in which men can stock up on clam-digger shorts, sandals, and the ubiquitous square-cut bathing suits. D&G (434 West Broadway; 965-8000) is a two-floor concrete box offering an array of fashions and summer themes: T-shirts branded with nurse's crosses; faux-mechanic couture; and those essential zipper pants that unzip into a tony pair of shorts. And while Barneys has long displaced Bloomies as the official queer department store, Saks Fifth Avenue deserves an A for effort this year. The New York store -- along with 30 around the country -- is displaying panels of the names Project aids Memorial Quilt in its window until June 24 to coincide with the sixth annual aids Day of Compassion on June 19.

The Hudson River is always a sight to behold, and there's no better place to enjoy it than the Christopher Street Piers, where all summer long, a shirtless gale of Rollerbladers blasts past rows of gawkers. For better or worse (or both), Mayor Giuliani went hog-wild with the chain-link this year, barring legions of nude sunbathers from the pier's edge. So you're unlikely to witness anything more dubious than a gay-and-lesbian marching band butchering "When the Saints Come Marching In." Looking for free entertainment? Keep an eye peeled for the voguing ninjas who occasionally break out their boom boxes and strike a pose with awe-inspiring results.

And while you're in the area, why not commandeer an appetizing patch of concrete for a Gotham picnic? You'll find all the makings at Chelsea Market (75 Ninth Avenue, at 16th Street), which, in addition to holding an indispensable selection of food marts, is home to the Taj Mahal of air-conditioning systems. After a quick regroup beside its cascading waterfall, grab a picnic basket from Chelsea Market Baskets and ransack Amy's Bread for fresh focaccia and Night Bagel for bagels bursting with jalapeño, spinach, or cinnamon-raisin goodness. Pay homage to the sun worshipers on Fire Island by stopping at The Lobster Place for delectable lobster rolls, then breeze into the Juice Factory to try the "Healthy Detoxifier" (apples and beets), the "Body Cleanser" (carrots, cucumbers, and beets), or the "Orange Juice," fast becoming a classic of the genre.

But the truth is, the most relaxing way to spend a day in Manhattan is to spend it in Park Slope. If Fire Island is Chelsea with sand, Park Slope is Chelsea without men. Stop first at Rising Cafe (186 Fifth Avenue; 718-789-6340), the acoustic protest song of coffee shops. If you notice a girl glaring at you and scribbling in her notebook, retreat to the lovely back patio to finish off your veggie sandwich. You'll still be able to hear the Ani DiFranco single gently playing inside.

While A Different Light (151 West 19th Street; 989-4850) is the only place in the city that offers 21,000 separate books on all topics queer, Beyond Words Bookstore (186 Fifth Avenue; 718-857-0010) actually does sell merchandise that is beyond words -- things like huge candles, tarot decks, and provocative windup toys. Buy one of each, along with the complete works of Sappho, and carry your haul over to the 526-acre oasis Prospect Park. Amid scores of Nerf-tossing Yale grads, you'll find a healthy dollop of lesbians training Labradors with tough love (as well as a smattering of men admiring the shrubbery deep in the woods).

If you're in a more serious state of mind, pay a visit to The Lesbian HerStory Archives (call 718-768-3953 for appointment and location), the most comprehensive collection of lesbian memorabilia, books, and photographs in the world. Wash down what you have seen with a drink at Carrie Nation (363 Fifth Avenue), a friendly women-oriented neighborhood bar named after the Prohibitionist who raided saloons at the turn of the century, smashing up liquor bottles with a hatchet. Take a deep breath and consider moving out to this peaceful borough. Then get panicky and rush toward the nearest subway station.

Hungry? It's May to December all summer long at The Townhouse (206 East 58th Street; 826-6241), the only midtown dining club where you can enjoy sautéed lobster-and-crab cakes while overhearing a retired CPA offer to buy his sprat of a date Prada's entire summer line. But Lolita-esque shenanigans don't dissuade gays and lesbians from flocking here: The Townhouse's gourmet dishes are vastly superior to the pedestrian fare served up by most other gay eateries, and its dapper Ralph Lauren-meets-The Monster ambience has a certain outré charm. Musical selections are kept to a low roar, making it easy to eavesdrop on barflies plagiarizing Noël Coward between snifters of brandy. For an after-dinner drink, walk a few blocks to the swank piano bar Regents (317 East 53rd Street; 593-3091), but don't be surprised to find a dozen men slathered over the piano, slurring all 100 verses of "You're the Top." Buy someone a martini and prove him right.


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