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.
Starting to feel that the closest you’ll ever get to the sporting life is when Joe Torre orders you to buckle your seat belt? The Big Apple Softball League sponsors gay and lesbian teams throughout the metropolitan area (call 726-1518). The Metro Gay Wrestling Alliance offers classes for both novices and more seasoned mat warmers (563-7066). Or else dry out and dry off with Team New York Aquatics (691-3440), which sponsors swim meets for athletes of all abilities.
But those interested in water sports may well prefer Basil Twist’s Symphonie Fantastique. The queer puppeteer’s mind-boggling underwater show will be at HERE Arts Center (145 Sixth Avenue, at Dominick Street; 647-0202) until July 31. Sad about being single? Invest in a dog or take your mother to Hot Air (Samuel Beckett Theater, 410 West 42nd Street; 229-7500), four one-acts by Richard Willett about neurotic urban love that will make you swear off another relationship forever. On a slightly happier note, Chuppah(INTAR Theatre, 420 West 42nd Street; 229-8276) explores the mishegoss that unfolds when a nice Jewish boy wants to move back to the heartland with his gentile boyfriend., while Jayson (45th Street Theater, 354 West 45th Street; 279-4200) is a musical comedy that explores the mishegoss that unfolds when a nice gentile boy moves alone to the Big Apple. Going through changes? Menopausal Gentlemen (Ohio Theater, 66 Wooster Street; 966-4844), a lesbian Passages from the bluesy butch perspective of Peggy Shaw, runs through June 28. And Leprechauns, a heartfelt tale of three young Irish con artists who befriend a 51-year-old gay guy (Wings Theatre, 154 Christopher Street; 627-2961) is that rare phenomenon: an all-gay comedy where everyone keeps his clothes on.
Lounge chic still dominates gay nightlife this season, despite the fact that nobody really knows what “lounge chic” is (something to do with gulping down colored cocktails). During summer nights at Wonder Bar (505 East 6th Street; 777-9105), the amount of smoke in the air shrinks from the usual eight cartons to a refreshing three, making it easier to tune in to the stellar lineup of funk-spinning D.J.’s (and tune out the smitten Aramis “fragrance model” telling you how much he hates your shoes). Your next destination should be the vinyl couches and wood paneling that are g (223 West 19th Street; 929-1085), where Chelsea guppies flock for frozen Cosmos after a hard day’s work. Merrill Lynch position in pocket? Sally forth to Splash (50 West 17th Street; 691-0073), the preferred destination for white-collar sorts, camera-toting tourists, and living, breathing Billy dolls. Barracuda (275 West 22nd Street; 645-8613) is a little slice of the East Village in Chelsea. The Works (428 Columbus Avenue, at 81st Street; 799-7365) – one of the few gay options on the Upper West Side – draws professional types, Columbia undergrads, and beautiful, slightly befuddled bartenders. On weekends, the diverse, high-spirited lesbians at Crazy Nanny’s(21 Seventh Avenue South, at Leroy Street; 366-6312) give the boys at the Roxy a run for their money. Hell (59 Gansevoort Street; 727-1666) is a muscle-packed favorite for those who still prefer form over content.
Remember that bygone age when a night on the town meant sheathing yourself in a snarl of industrial tubing, throwing on a dash of Kabuki makeup, and tramping to a dank nightclub teeming with gender hackers, leashed androgynes, and Deborah Harry? Every night, the masses at Mother (432 West 14th Street; 366-5680) pay tribute to this landmark era. Whether you’re off to the Tuesday-night theme-morphing mainstay Jackie 60, Friday night’s Clit Club, or Saturday night’s full-throttled cyberfetish freakout Click & Drag, it’s in your best interest to call beforehand so as to keep on top of the strict dress code. Gatekeeper Kitty Boots doesn’t take kindly to Abercrombie or Fitch. Mother impresarios Chi Chi Valenti and Johnny Dynell do a bang-up job keeping New York nightlife alive even though a large percentage of their patrons seem to believe themselves dead.
Cats Bar (232 West 48th Street; 245-5245) has known for years what so many of us are just figuring out: Sleaze peppered with irony isn’t sleaze at all. This notorious midtown bar, the last standing vestige of pre-Lion King Times square, is decidedly post-ironic in its approach: A jiggling gigolo in a 100 percent-polyester tiger-striped bikini is a jiggling gigolo in a 100 percent-polyester tiger-striped bikini. Furthermore, there’s absolutely nothing subversive about that transvestite’s snapped heel, nor anything satiric about the corpulent business exec who has sidled up to you to explain exactly why they call him Anaconda. So why are you there? Because inch for inch, Cats Bar has way more going for it than Katz’s deli, and it’s one of the few New York watering holes in which the grit isn’t winking at you. Just don’t be chicken.
Rudy may have taken a bite out of Manhattan’s gay nightlife, but it’s still possible to hit at least seven events any night of the week (especially if you’re someone who takes moderation in moderation). Monday night, head over to Milk (Axis, 17 West 19th Street; 675-5556) to dance to old-school house tracks with a mostly black and Latino crowd (while Chelsea boys prowl the sidelines). Stylists, fashion victims, industry bigwigs, and Michael Musto collide at the Tuesday- night party Beige (B Bar, 40 East 4th Street; 475-2220), the type of environment where you can arrive a salon receptionist and leave with an editorial position at W. For a lower-maintenance Tuesday night, curl up with the girls at Meow Mix (269 East Houston Street; 254-0688) for its popular “Xena Night,” which joins back-to-back episodes of Xena: The Warrior Princess with a medley of cheering lesbians.
Every Wednesday, neophyte deviants and veteran leather men come together at Pork (The Lure, 409 West 13th Street; 741-3919), long a favorite of the open-minded and the people who whip them. Meanwhile, hip-hopping homeboys and Chelsea men who can’t pronounce banjee bounce to R&B mixes at Rob Fernandez’s Phab (Rebar, 127 Eighth Avenue, at 16th Street; 627-1680), Manhattan’s premier gay hip-hop party. On Thursday evenings, Life’s a Bitch (Life, 158 Bleecker Street; 420-1999) is the place where flash girls smear the Rich and Rosie Estée Lauder off lipstick lesbians. Party like 1999 isn’t seven months away at Chip Duckett’s still-fabulous Friday retrofest 1984 (Pyramid Club, 101 Avenue A; 462-9077), then check out The New Escuelita (301 West 39th Street; 631-0588) for merengue in wigs. For Saturday-night clubbing, stop by Roxy (515 West 18th Street; 645-5156), still one of the happeningest gigs in town, or Crash (34-48 Steinway Street, Queens; 718-937-2400), the trendy club where Latin boys and girls show slumming Manhattanites how to really party. Still alive? Stagger into Juniorverse (Twilo, 530 West 27th Street; 268-1600), where Junior Vasquez spins starting at 11 p.m. and cloudy clubsters stumble around till 4 p.m.
Music journalists scribble into Mead pads while club aficionados tell them how to spell papi at the Sunday tea at Body & Soul (Vinyl, 6 Hubert Street; 330-9169), one of the few house parties where patrons are more interested in showing off their dance steps than their labels. Perfect for those who have jobs, “Body & Soul” starts at 3 p.m. and wraps up around ten. A week in parties … but how do you know you’ve gone too far? When you develop a strange strain of Tourette’s Syndrome that forces you to end each sentence with the word honey.