Start spreading the news: NYC is still one of the gayest destinations in the world! The iconic Stonewall Riots, which kicked off the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement with a brick or two in 1969 happened here, and today the neighboring boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens also boast thriving queer residents, businesses, and nightlife.
Events & Festivals
There are multiple LGBTQ festivals, events, and marches all across the boroughs every year, most famously the annual NYC Pride, which takes place in Manhattan on the last weekend in June and encompasses a day-long march on Sunday followed by the evening Dance on the Pier fundraiser, which has featured performances by gay icons including Madonna, Grace Jones, Kylie Minogue, and Cher.
New York's pride season actually kicks off in May, with the month-long Staten Island PrideFest. Celebrating its 29th year in 2021, Queens Pride is the NY metropolitan area's second-largest Pride celebration (with approximately 40,000 spectators, according to their website). Its parade and festival take place in early June, while winter sees a Winter Pride Dinner Dance.
2021 will mark the 25th anniversary of Brooklyn Pride, which entails a week of events including the climactic march and festival in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood on June 12th. Early June also sees Westchester Pride, just north of NYC, and while it's technically a state over, August's Jersey City Pride is an easy 20-minute commute across the Hudson via PATH subway or car. Later in the summer, the five-day Black Pride Festival sees about 10,000 visitors from around the globe attend its events.
Launched in 1981, NewFest is NYC's annual LGBTQ film festival with an extensive online archive of programs over the years. Many LGBTQ films and events are also part of other buzzy NYC film festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival, which celebrates its 20th Anniversary in 2021 (June 9-20), Film At Lincoln Center's New York Film Festival, and the saucy and adults-only CineKink (2021 marks its 18th year).
The Best Things To Do
Soho's Leslie-Lohman Museum is the world's only institution of its kind dedicated entirely to LGBTQ art (also worth name dropping here, Berlin's Schwules Museum blends history and archives with its exhibitions of LGBTQ art and pop culture). Expanded in 2017, with 30,000 items in its permanent collection, the space hosts six major exhibitions per year plus events and an annual Gala. Exhibitions on the 2021 calendar include a group show from Leslie-Lohman Museum Artist Fellowship recipients, A Call To Disorder (Jan 24-April 18), and a retrospective by the late photographer Laura Aguilar (Feb 6-May 9).
Part art gallery, the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division (BGSQD) is an incredible indie LGBTQ bookstore that stocks a wide range of literature and art books including self-published, small press work, and queer magazines from around the world. Also hosting a robust calendar of readings, signings, and events, BGSQD is conveniently located on the second floor of NYC's LGBT Community Center, aka The Center, where you'll also find a restroom with a mural by late great gay pop artist Keith Haring (it's quite naughty though!). A location of the outstanding and socially conscious Think Coffee cafe, meanwhile, occupies the Center's ground floor (they also have locations elsewhere in NYC and South Korea).
Take a short stroll from the Center to the outdoor, visually striking New York City AIDS Memorial, where you can sit and reflect on those lost to the plague (it's engraved with passages from Walt Whitman’s “Song Of Myself").
The Best LGBTQ Bars and Clubs
Each neighborhood is worth its own best LGBTQ bar article, from Hell's Kitchen to the East Village. Regarding the latter, Club Cumming is one of the most fun, entertaining additions to the LGBTQ nightlife scene this decade (it opened in 2017). The handiwork of NYC (and Fire Island) nightlife promoter Daniel Nardicio and actor/singer Alan Cumming, CC attracts celebrities like Emma Stone, Jake Shears, Adele, and Jennifer Lawrence with its diverse line-up of performances ranging from singers and drag queens to burlesque and comedy, by both established and unknown names (but possibly not for long!).
Greenwich Village and the West Village are home to some of NYC's most beloved and iconic bars and clubs, starting with the Stonewall Inn, which was designated a U.S. National Monument by President Obama in 2016. Located just across from the pie slice-shaped Christopher Street Park and its Gay Liberation statues of two same-sex couples, the Stonewall Inn continues to be a vibrant, vital hub of LGBTQ social life, plus drink specials, drag performances, and the sporadic surprise celebrity appearance.
A few blocks east, Julius' boasts its own historic cache: first opened as a bar in 1864, it was named Julius in 1930 and started drawing an LGBTQ clientele in the 1960s after a 1966 "sip in" protest by activist group The Mattachine Society brought attention to the fact businesses could refuse service to gay people at the time. More recently, Julius has been prominently featured in the movies "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" and "Love Is Strange." John Cameron Mitchell throws a free monthly party, Mattachine, here, and Julius' unpretentious burgers are shockingly delicious.
While in the area, also check out the long-running and still vibrant Pieces for drag, events, and dancing; two-floor piano bar and basement disco Monster; Hangar for neighborhood fun; cozy bear bar Ty's just across the street; and roomier bear favorite Rockbar, which also hosts a diverse range of events and performances like Final Exam Horror Trivia and drag performances.
Up in Harlem, there are a pair of black-owned LGBTQ bars located just six blocks from door to door: Alibi Lounge and Lambda Lounge, the latter having been opened in 2020 by married couple Charles Hughes and Ricky Solomon, who previously founded Lambda Vodka in 2016.
There are some fun spots—and must-see drag queens—located outside Manhattan as well. In Queens, Icon Astoria features nightly shows plus weekend dancing, while Albatross Bar also keeps its events line-up lively with drag and karaoke. Jackson Heights' New Evolution and Hombres Lounge draw a largely Latinx crowd for dancing and sexy eye candy, while Friends Tavern is Queens' oldest LGBTQ bar.
Brooklyn's LGBTQ nightlife highlights include Bushwick's sprawling, multi-bar and performances-centric House of Yes and The Rosemont; Williamsburg's popular 9-year-old Metropolitan Bar, which throws revolving themed parties featuring drag and other performances throughout the month; its equally fun but more chilled out sister venue Macri Park; mixed venue The Exley; Park Slope lesbian bar Ginger's; and Greenwood Heights' deliciously Latino-centric Xstasy Nightclub.
Where to Eat
The Hell's Kitchen gayborhood, running along 9th and 10th Avenue from the 40s through 50s, is of course packed with buzzy see-and-be-seen, ethnically diverse spots to eat and socialize. Plenty of gay chefs and restaurateurs keep the NYC dining scene exciting, and several specialize in Southeast Asian cuisine. With locations in the East Village and Red Hook, Brooklyn, the Michelin star-winning, gay-owned Somtum Der serves delicious (and very affordable) Thai Isaan cuisine including a variety of freshly pounded green papaya salads, sundried pork and beef, and sausages.
Chelsea's Elmo and the 24/7 Cafeteria are longtime gay favorites, serving up twists on American comfort fare, tasty cocktails, and of course brunch. The same goes for West Chelsea's bustling Cookshop, located just across from Highline Park. If you're a fan of Mexican cuisine, James Beard Award-nominated, openly gay chef/cookbook author Roberto Santibañez's Fonda—with locations in both Chelsea and Park Slope—offers dishes straight out of Mexico City (his hometown) and Oaxaca. Don't forget the flavorful margaritas, including tamarind and jamaica (hibiscus).
One of NYC's bona fide celebrity chefs and a James Beard Award-winner, April Bloomfield, whose The Spotted Pig closed in early 2020, heads up The Breslin, known for its seasonal, produce-driven menu. Lesbian couple Jody Williams and Rita Sodi are the acclaimed chefs and owners of fabulous, perpetually popular Greenwich Village Italian spots Via Carota and Tuscan-inspired I Sodi (the lasagna is a must-try), and 10-year-old European "gastrotheque" Buvette (which has sister locations in Paris and Tokyo!). To the southeast in NoHo, out chef Hillary Sterling's Vic's also brings the Italian gluten decadence with creative fresh pastas and light, blistery wood-fired pizzas, plus paleo-friendly options. Bari Musacchio's Baz Bagel in the Lower East Side fuses old school Miami and NYC Jewish delicatessen culture, decor, and menus with toothsome hand-rolled bagels, smoked fish, latkes, matzoh ball soup, blintzes, and plenty of other Ashkenazi staples.
Up in Harlem, gay black restaurateur/chef Brian Washington-Palmer's latest foray, Ruby's Vintage, pays tribute to old school house parties (aka "salons") with its decor and vibe, while the brunch and dinner menus traverse new American comfort (truffle deviled eggs), Italian-Southern fusion (fettuccini alfredo with catfish or shrimp), and Asian (green curry chicken), plus classic cocktails like a painkiller and Aperol spritz.
Don't forget dessert! For many, a trip isn't complete without a selfie at a Big Gay Ice Cream (which started as an ice cream truck and opened its first brick and mortar in the East Village), while Hell's Kitchen's Schmackary's Cookies offers creative, sometimes iced varieties of fresh-baked cookies that attract locals, Broadway talents, and tourists before and after showtimes.
Where to Stay
Talk about spoilt for choice! If budget isn't a concern, NYC is a hotel lovers' dream. The Flatiron District's 258-room hipster favorite, Ace Hotel, features April Bloomfield's The Breslin restaurant and an outpost of Portland's Stumptown Coffee. Hells Kitchen and Broadway theaters are just outside the door of 509-room W Times Square, while the 452-room Times Square Edition kicks up the Zen-blissed urban luxury a notch higher (with superb dining from chef John Fraser).
Brooklyn's 183-room The William Vale boasts an unbeatable Williamsburg location, open-air balconies, rooftop bar, Manhattan skyline views, a 60-foot outdoor pool, and outstanding Southern Italian restaurant Leuca (the pasta is spectacular).