Five cities That Love The Gay Traveller

From San Francisco to Sydney, the best places to eat, drink and party

On June 28, 1969, the New York City police raided a local pub, and inadvertently sparked the birth of the modern Gay Rights movement. Forty-four years later, things have changed substantially, if not radically. Communities that looked the other way are now welcoming lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders with open arms. To celebrate this change, Condé Nast Traveller lists five cities that love gay travellers:

SAN FRANCISCO USA’s sunshine state is famously gay-friendly, and San Francisco, its heart, welcomes everyone. Long-time San Francisco resident Neil Luddmann recalls an incident from 1980 when he approached a bank teller in the main, downtown branch of a major bank. His boyfriend at the time stood beside him as he informed the bank teller that he wanted to open an account. “Will that be a joint account for the two of you or will there be a single account holder,” the teller asked matter-of-factly.

Today, San Francisco—home to The Castro, the largest gay neighbourhood in USA—has no lack of attractions that appeal to the gay community. And not surprisingly, the point is made that for the most part, gay travellers enjoy plenty of the same things that straight travellers do too. It’s not always about dark clubs and pounding music. Gay travellers are just as interested in the art, theatre, music and dining. One of the biggest hits is Friday Nights at de Young museum (http://deyoung.famsf.org/deyoung/fridays), an after-arts event that draws massive crowds for an evening of live music, dance and performances. Also big is The Grub Crawl (http://www.grubcrawl.com/index.html), a social food tour in and around the Bay Area. If, however, you do find yourself wanting to experience some of San Francisco’s legendary gay nightlife, perennial hotspots like Badlands in The Castro and Blackbird Bar on Market Street are always buzzing. Peter Lawrence Kane of The Bold Italic also has a handy selection of gay bars outside The Castro, if that’s more your style.

LONDON It is a well-known fact that London’s gay scene is probably the largest and most diverse in the world and Soho and Old Compton Street are at the centre of it all. With gay and gay-friendly restaurants, bars and clubs, Soho is where the evening begins for the community. After a few drinks, it’s off to the clubs—since bars and pubs typically close around 11pm but the clubs stay open till much later, some even till sunrise. Of course, London wouldn’t be London if it didn’t have different crowds to cater to. For the pop anthem-loving crowd, Heaven (www.heavennightclub-london.com) underneath historic Charing Cross Station is the place to be, while the hipsters and fashion crowd congregate at East London hangouts like Dalston Superstore (http://dalstonsuperstore.com),Vogue Fabrics(http://voguefabricsdalston.com) and of course, The Joiners  (www.joinershoreditch.com) and the Gaysian (that’s gay + Asian) community—which is quite large in London—has Bollywood nights at haunts like Club Kali and Urban Desi.

Partying aside, London has plenty for the gay traveller. There’s theatre to begin with—The Wizard of Oz, Billy Elliot, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia, The Phantom of the Opera, The Book of Mormon and much, much more, London’s West End is the cultural epicentre of the city. Official London Theatre offers two walking tours of the theatre district from April to December if you want to learn more. Soho too has its own walking tour, which begins outside the Admiral Duncan Pub and takes place on the third Sunday of every month from 2pm-4pm.There are also London’s museums, parks, galleries, speakeasies and world-class restaurants to look forward to. And if that wasn’t enough, a bill is currently in motion to legalise same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom too.  Expect London to get even more fabulous as time goes by.

PARIS Paris may be considered by many to be the most romantic city in the world, but being single and gay in Paris is not an easy thing, said a local resident who wished to remain anonymous.

Anyone who has put the words ‘gay’ and ‘Paris’ together knows Le Marais. Spanning parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissement, it’s the city’s unofficially-official gay district. It is home to some truly delightful cafes like Les Marronniers (18, Rue des Archives) and Les Philosophes (28 Rue Vielle du Temple). Remember not to be a total tourist and order random, expensive bottles of wine—most restaurants serve house wines (in carafes) that are perfectly delicious.

Parisians prefer to frequent bars and pubs as opposed to clubs, and the city’s gay scene is definitely more laidback than its English cousin’s. Popular hotspots include Raidd Bar (www.raiddbar.com)for a truly cosmopolitan crowd, Freedj  (www.freedj.fr)and Open Cafe (www.opencafe.fr)for their smaller dance floors, and Rosa Bonheur (www.rosabonheur.fr) within the charming Parc des Buttes Chaumont, whose happy-hour Sundays are legendary. But if you must sample Paris’s gay clubs, remember that true Parisians prefer Fridays to Saturdays. Saturdays draw in the crowds from the suburbs—and Parisians don’t like that very much.  

NEW YORK CITY New York City is not only touted as one of the world’s best cities, but also as one of the friendliest when it comes to gay travellers. Chelsea, Greenwich Village, West Village, Hell’s Kitchen, East Village—all neighbourhoods that are gay-friendly and you’ll find cafes and bars on every corner. Perhaps it’s the role that the city played in the gay rights movement, or because it’s a giant melting point, New York City definitely  belongs on this list.

Take in a show on Broadway, have a Virginia Woolf-inspired cocktail at The Dalloway (www.thedallowaynyc.com), visit Chelsea’s no-frills Barracuda Lounge (a hit for its reasonably priced drinks), and of course—the iconic Stonewall Inn, which still remains a favourite haunt for New Yorkers. As far as alternative parties go, Scissor Sisters at The Rusty Knot is high on the list, as are Phoenix Fridays (http://phoenixbarnyc.com/friday), which is frequented by the fashion crowd and WestGay at WestWay where you may even bump shoulders with Alexander Wang if you’re lucky.

Then of course, there’s THE OUT NYC (http://theoutnyc.com). Located in Hell’s Kitchen, the hotel is the first ‘gay’ hotel in New York and is virtually steps away from Times Square and XL (www.xlnightclub.com), one of the city’s hippest gay clubs where even Grammy winner Cyndi Lauper has performed. Susan Bartsch and Kenny Kenny’s Vandamn parties are not to be missed either. They take place every Sunday at The Greenhouse (www.greenhouseusa.com).

Finally, make sure you set aside an afternoon and spend it shopping in the Meatpacking District—Jeffrey, Alexander McQueen and Scoop are all highly recommended. Follow it up with a cocktail at the rooftop Le Bain at The Standard Hotel and you’ve got yourself a New York experience.

SYDNEY Bondi Beach, Mardi Gras, surfing and a whole lot of partying firmly secures Sydney on this list. Australia’s most outgoing city is amazingly gay-friendly with an array of activities to keep you occupied 24x7.

Bondi Beach’s northernmost corner is the gay stretch of the beach. With cute restaurants and bars around, this area is always hot and happening. All of Bondi in actuality is gay-friendly but this area is primarily the gay area. Nearby Tamarama beach is also a hit.

As far as parties go, Sydney does it louder and prouder than the rest of Australia. Choose between long-time favourites like The Imperial, The ARQ and parties like The Beresford on Sundays or the more recent The Series: a string of underground parties directly from Europe’s gay capitals. Darlinghurst is the gayest part of town, which is where Oxford Street, the hub of Sydney’s gay life is situated. Other popular areas include Surry Hills for its wine bars and art, Newton, Erksineville and Enmore. If chilling at a cafe is more your thing, Foodgame is a good bet. Don’t forget that Sydney has an amazing culinary scene too. Tetsuya’s, Quay, Becasse and Aria are just some places you shouldn’t miss.

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