A couple of months ago, I attended an art symposium and one of the speakers, a lesbian writer, was a tried and true Brooklynite who had spent a great deal of time in Manhattan’s Bowery neighborhood during the 1980s. She reminisced about how the iconic Bowery was once a seedy bohemian area known for being an epicenter of punk music and underground art before gentrification replaced homeless heroin addicts and rat infested lofts with high rise condominiums and trendy cafes. I braced myself for the usual “Manhattan’s queer and art scenes are so over” speech. But instead, she acknowledged that Manhattan is a borough constantly in flux, always changing while remaining the same in many important ways.
I relocated to Manhattan in 1999 and I live in a historically wealthy neighborhood just a few short blocks away from Central Park, Madonna, and Anthony Bourdain. Interestingly, my rent is cheaper (and I mean way cheaper) than some “grimier” neighborhoods in Brooklyn, which exemplifies that gentrification is alive and well in places where hipsters are trying to keep the façade of “edginess.” (Bklyn Boihood has a good post on said gentrification.)
Yes, other neighborhoods and boroughs may be the “new black.” But Manhattan is the new Manhattan…and in certain respects, the old Manhattan. What I like most about Manhattan is that it is not just for a niche group of people; it’s for everyone! Here you’ll find tattooed dapper genderqueers; hip hop honeys; bougie L-word types; old school dykes rocking fanny packs and leather vests; power gallerinas; and doms and studs! All are welcome. If someone tries to tell you that there is nothing left in Manhattan for queers, you need not look further than this guide to prove them wrong.
Cubbyhole: Too-cool-for-school kids roll their eyes at this lesbian bar that has become a queer institution in Manhattan’s West Village. But if you check your pretentious hat at the door, you’ll see that Cubbyhole is the “Queer Cheers,” with a bring your own food policy, gay anthem blasting jukebox, and ceiling covered in insane amounts of kitsch (e.g., plastic tropical fish).
(281 West 12th Street, New York, NY)
Henrietta Hudson: Going 20 years strong, this keep-it-simple lesbian club has three small rooms: one with a dance floor, one with a pool table, and one with make-out couches. It attracts no-pretense, girl next door types. Henrietta Hudson hosts a different party every night (e.g., Sunday’s Roc da Mic Karaoke and Wednesday’s Tócame Noche Latina) that caters to their diverse clientele. This is often the go-to club for outta towners, so you can find lots of fresh meat here!
(438 Hudson Street, New York, NY)
Escualita: While Escualita’s website appears to cater primarily to men, this LGBTQ club does have its own lesbian scene with all of the drama and incestuousness found in lesbian-specific bars. However, there is a true sense of LGBTQ community here; it is not unusual to find a butch rocking a sideways cap playfully putting dollar bills into a drag queen’s bra. DJs spin sets of hip-hop, reggaeton, and Latin beats.
(301 West 39th Street, New York, NY)
Also: The divey hipster gay bar Nowhere (East 14th street between 1st & 2nd Ave), with its pool tables and reasonably-priced drinks, attracts a mixed crowd all week as well as hosting Ladies Nights.
Boxers Off! is a bi-monthly butch burlesque party featuring some of NYC’s hottest gender-bending talents, such as L-Boogie, Goldie Peacock, Susan Herr, and Drae Campbell.
Choice C*nts: I would describe Choice as the intersection of rock-n-roll glam, hip-hop chic, and urban hipster (Bowie+Runaways+N.E.R.D. = CC) with a lot of genderfu*king. Promoter Ellie Conant (a.k.a. the Gaysha) hosts Choice at Drom on the last Friday of every month. Each party has a different theme and celebrity photographer Maro Hagopian is there to capture all of the debauchery inspired by resident DJ Leslie Van Stelten’s panty dropping mixes.
(85 Avenue A, New York, NY)
Crème de la Femme: Every Wednesday night at Union Square Ballroom, promoter Maggie C. hosts Creme de la Femme (CDLF), one of Manhattan’s most popular femme (and femme chaser) nights. The party has an upscale, “well heeled” feel.
(27 Union Square West, New York, NY)
girlNATIONnyc: B&T (short for “bridge and tunnel,” a term used by Manhattanites to describe visitors who come into the city via those routes) flock to this Saturday night party for shots out of plastic test tubes and sweaty dancing. It sort of has a New Jersey/Long Island feel. You won’t need to own a leotard from American Apparel or a pair of bejeweled Christian Louboutins to fit in here.
Girlz Parties: Without giving you all the gory details about my wild family tree, I will let you know this. My mom is also a lesbian and more women fawn over her than men fawn over Stifler’s mom! But my mom is not interested in women with Shane’s style; she would prefer someone like Papi! So when my mom visits Manhattan, she hits up Denise Madison’s Girlz Parties, weekly events with a smoothed out hip-hop and R&B feel.
Hot Rabbit: In the Here/Queer guide to Brooklyn , author Sam asked, “Have you ever gone to a packed party with gorgeous people and thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be great if there were better music??'” Hot Rabbit has a cure for this by featuring a new DJ every week at this Friday party. The DJ line-up has included JD Samson, Whitney Day, and Shomi Noise. Did I mention the party is free?
(322 E 14th Street, New York, NY)
Stilettos: When the weather heats up, promoter Maggie C. brings the action outside with her seasonal Sunday party, Stilettos, located in the Maritime Hotel Cabanas, a breezy rooftop lounge high above the hustle and bustle of Manhattan’s streets. The urban oasis is reminiscent of an L.A. nightclub and the patrons look as if they’ve just walked off the L-Word set.
(363 West 16th Street, New York, NY)
Lesbo-a-Go-Go: Dykes descend on the Stonewall Inn, site of the historic 1969 Stonewall riots, every Friday night for come-as-you-are dancing. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a business suit or flip-flops. You don’t have to dress the part. Just dance. (It’ll be ok.)
(53 Christopher Street, New York, NY)
Truckstop: The L.A. based stripper-esque Truckstop Convoy brings their booty shaking go-go to Manhattan once a month. Onlookers dare one another to approach the Truckstop crew for a dirty dance. (“You go give her a dollar.” “No, YOU go give her a dollar.”)
(54 West 21st Street, New York, NY)
Probably the best resource for lesbian bars and ladies nights is the NYC-based GO Magazine, which hosts annual nightlife awards and always has the most up-to-date event listings on its website.
Food & Caffeine Fix
Manhattan is a culinary city. With most places being LGBTQ-friendly, it’s hard for me to make specific recommendations short of getting a Zagat guide to help you narrow down your options. That said, I thought I’d throw in some restaurants with a lesbian/bi following for good measure.
There are only two Cowgirl restaurants in the country: one in Santa Fe and one in Manhattan (519 Hudson Street, New York, NY). It has such a queer following that it also got a shout out in the Queer-Girl Guide to Santa Fe . Cafe Forànt (449 W 51st St (between 9th & 10th Aves) is another queer favorite owned by two super-cute lesbians who met in Provincetown and now want to serve you brunch every single day. Lesbian Top Chef Anita Lo‘s Annisa Restaurant (13 Barrow Street at 4th street) gets rave reviews for its unique style of infusing French cuisine with Asian ingredients.
If you want to eat a sloppy taco with Rachel Maddow, head over to La Rosita Grocery & Taqueria (526 W 47th Street,New York, NY) in Hell’s Kitchen. The Maddow staff members are fans of their tacos and sopes, Maddow herself saying, “If those chicken sopes ran for Congress, I would quit my job on TV to go door-to-door campaigning for them.”
For ice cream so delicious that even Anthony Bourdain approves, head over to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop (125 East 7th Street, New York, NY) or Big Gay Ice Cream Truck (various locations), both of which have a homo following (obvi).
In Chelsea, Cafeteria (119 7th Ave at West 17th St) is well-known for it’s attractive gay-boy waiters, but the queer atmosphere, fancy comfort food menu, awesome brunch and 24/7 hours make it a lesbian favorite too.
The Yaffa Cafe (97 St Marks Pl between 1st Ave & Avenue A) is an eclectic Village spot with a cute back garden, funky lighting, and a diverse menu vegetarians and their friends will love. Speaking of vegetarians (and vegans!), Manhattan is packed with opportunities to consume soy in a variety of permutations — we recommend Josie’s ( 565 Third Ave at 37th St and 300 Amsterdam Ave at 74th St), Blossom (187 Ninth Ave at 21st street), vegan spot The Candle Cafe (1307 3rd Avenue at 74th street) and the famous Angelica Kitchen (300 E 12th St at 1st Avenue).
With over 60 museums and 600 art galleries, Manhattan is considered one of the art capitals of the world. (Some say it is THE art capital of the world.) The Guggenheim, MoMA, and Metropolitan Museum of Art are usually on the top of most visitors’ lists, as they should be. But queermos may also enjoy the Museum of Sex (233 5th Avenue, New York, NY) and the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (26 Wooster Street, New York, NY). If you’re low on cash, consider this. Many opening receptions at galleries offer free booze. Got a few extra bones in your pocket? Then schedule an LGBT art tour.
Bluestockings (172 Allen Street, New York, NY) is a bookstore, fair trade café, and activist center that hosts a feminist book club, workshops, readings, performances, discussions, and films every night. There is usually a suggested $5 donation to attend events, but no one is ever turned away for lack of cash.
The Housing Works Bookstore and Café (126 Crosby Street, New York, NY) has a large selection of books and hosts events, with 100% of their proceeds going to support their mission of providing lifesaving services to people living with HIV/AIDS.
Manhattan abounds with adult toy shops, especially along Christopher Street, which stretches from 9th Street to 6th Avenue and has become a symbol of gay pride. However, Babeland and Pleasure Chest are two shops that have a devoted LGBTQ following. Babeland is a women-friendly adult toy shop with several locations, including two in Manhattan (SoHo location at 43 Mercer Street and Lower East Side location at 94 Rivington Street). In addition to selling toys and erotica, they offer workshops that cost $0-40. Events range anywhere from “How to Give Great Oral Sex” to happy hours with free bubbly. Opened in 1971 in Manhattan’s West Village gayborhood, the Pleasure Chest (156 7th Avenue South, New York, NY) remains one of the most popular LGBTQ-friendly boutique style erotic stores.
While you were busy sipping all that Manhattan haterade, the rest of us were getting our learn on at Manhattan’s world renowned colleges and universities: Barnard, Columbia, NYU, Hunter College, Juilliard, Pace, Fordham, School of Visual Arts, Baruch College, FIT, and Parsons School of Design, to name a few. Listing all of the LGBTQ and feminist resources for these universities would require a separate post. I had the honor of attending graduate school at NYU and working at Columbia for several years and can say from personal experience that both universities are LGBTQ–friendly. (Just take a look at Columbia’s “It Gets Better” video.)
New York has plenty of professional sports teams to root for, including the Jets, Giants, Yankees, Mets, Rangers, Knicks, and WNBA Liberty. The last three teams play right in Manhattan at world famous Madison Square Garden. But if you’re looking to support or perhaps join smaller, non-professional sports teams in Manhattan, there are lots of queer-friendly options, such as Gotham Girls Roller Derby, Cheer New York, and the Big Apple Bowling, Dodgeball, and Kickball leagues.
Summer in the City
Manhattan is a great place to be in the summer, especially if you’re low on cash. The HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival shows free movies in Bryant Park; Hudson River Park offers free summer events and educational programs, including movies on the pier, concerts, and kayaking on the Hudson River; the New York Philharmonic and the New York Metropolitan Opera both put on free performances in Central Park; and
Governors Island in New York Harbor hosts art exhibits, food festivals, and concerts.
The Day Trip to End All Day Trips
You can certainly visit any of NYC’s other boroughs (Lez go to Coney Island!) or take a ride out to some of Long Island’s small towns (Hamptons, anyone?). But I’m going to share some insider information re the day trip.
Fire Island, just 1.5 hours from Manhattan, is a 31 mile long island that is in some places only accessible by boat or seaplane and where motor-vehicles are prohibited. Two of the hamlets on the Island, the Pines and Cherry Grove, are gay summer resorts. They are sheer gay paradise. People sunbathe on the beach all day and party all night. There are drag performances, lesbian parties, gay nightclubs, restaurants, gay bingo, you name it. However, since there are no cars allowed on the hamlets, the area has not been over developed. You get around by foot via treelined wooden walkways and piers, running into deer (yes, deer) along the way. It’s about a 20 minute walk between the two hamlets.
To get to Fire Island from Manhattan, take the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station to Sayville and then take a ferry to the Pines or Cherry Grove. If you have the time and money, rent a room or get a share because you’ll never want to leave!
The NYC Pride Parade, attended by approximately 1-1.5 million people annually, is held in Manhattan on the last Sunday of June. Many of the promoters in the above party section throw pre (the night before the parade) and post-Pride Parade parties. However, the official women’s dance party, Rapture on the River, takes place on the Saturday before the NYC Pride Parade, following the NYC Dyke March and Harlem’s amazing Pride block party.
Manhattan is one big gayborhood, but the most well-known gayborhoods are Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and Greenwich Village. I lived in Chelsea for 10 years, so that’s my favorite of the three. Chelsea is home to over 370 art galleries, High Line Park, Chelsea Piers, and Chelsea Market, an indoor market with over 33 food vendors. Greenwich Village has historical significance, as the Stonewall Riots marking the start of the gay rights movement took place in this neighborhood. Hell’s Kitchen is Manhattan’s Off-Broadway theater district.
There’s also a growing queer lady community uptown in West Harlem and East Harlem. The Morningside Heights area hosts the eager students of Columbia, Barnard and the Manhattan School of Music and also is home to gay bar Suite and its legendary karaoke nights. Harlem has a long glorious gay & lesbian history and remains moderately affordable, too.
Git Yo Hair Did
You will not find a shortage of salons in Manhattan, but when I think of queer cuts, two immediately come to mind: Crops for Girls (437 East 9th Street, New York, NY), a salon specializing in short haircuts for women, and Fringe Salon (248 Broome Street, New York, NY). Stylist Jenn at Fringe Salon says, “I have a lot of short haired clients who are queer and come to me looking for something that is not feminine. I try and give them a haircut that makes them comfortable with themselves – makes them happy. A lot of my queer clients go to that extreme and want to shave, texture, keep a tail, [or] wear a mullet. And they wear it better than my male clients. It’s their individuality that makes the hair, not their sexuality.”
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center (208 West 13th Street, New York, NY), known as “the Center” for short, is the second largest LGBTQ center in the world, offering a variety of youth, family, health, advocacy, and arts initiatives and home to New York’s largest lending library of LGBT material. Over 6,000 people visit the Center every week.
Located in Chelsea’s gayborhood, Callen Lorde Community Health Center (356 West 18th Street, New York, NY) provides non-judgmental, culturally competent health services to the LGBTQ community.
New York’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), which added sexual orientation to the New York State Human Rights Law that prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, creed, color, national origin, disability, age and marital status, took effect in 2003. In 2011, New York became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage. Same sex couples can petition to adopt in New York.
What are your favorite places to be a queer lady in Manhattan?