I know what you’re thinking: all gay Pride parades are the same, right? Shirtless boys dancing on floats and waving rainbow flags, drag queens impersonating Beyonce; the token politicians, the nudists, the G-stringed go-go dancers, and the HIV-activists. Add a little glitter, a lot of KeSha, and a lot of abs. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all. Is that what you think?
Because you’re kind of right.
As a seasoned Pride veteran, I’ve walked in dozens of parades, New York and Los Angeles, Manchester and Tel Aviv, Buenos Aires and Sydney. And when I flip through the photo albums on my phone, all these years later, I can’t tell one from the next. It’s all one big rainbow blur.
But what is different and unique, beautiful and bizarre, are the gayborhoods in which these events are centered around: the everyday villages where so many gay people live, and shop, and meet, and have coffee. It’s those small enclaves of tolerance, where rainbow flags became a sort of welcome mat for an entire subculture that wasn’t always welcomed through past decades of prejudice.
And there’s a pattern to these gayborhoods. It’s the age-old story of a downtrodden ghetto of dilapidated apartments, very affordable and full of potential, transformed by an urban gay community into trendy, fashionable meccas of nightlife and eateries, stylish corner cafes and artsy lofts, places of their own, where they can be and dress and love however they want. Everyone’s happy until the yuppies move in and soon nobody can afford the rent.
San Francisco’s Moby Dick bar. (Photo: Moby Dick/Instagram)
Best Tacky, Sexual Innuendo Business Name
There’s only one real way to measure which gay ‘hood is best, and that’s by figuring out which one can come up with the tackiest sexual innuendos for business names. In New York, you’ve got the timeless classics such as the Cock and the Tool Box and Marie’s Crisis. (And though it’s not technically in a gay village, I’d be remiss for not mentioning the Brooklyn-based dog groomer, Doggie Styles.)
Los Angeles falls hard in this category, with mostly unimaginative business names — Mickys? Rage? Starbucks? C’mon, WeHo! — though 10 points for the Hollywood Boulevard popsicle shop, subtly named Suck It.
Which brings us to San Francisco, the reigning and defending grand dame of gay-spun innuendos, whether it’s Orphan Andy’s diner, Specs In The City eyeglass shop, or the bar called Moby Dick. There’s a cookie store where you can buy phallic baked goods and a sex shop called Does Your Mother Know.
I’m giving the edge to the City by the Bay on this one. No contest here.
A vintage shot of crowd attempts to impede police arrests outside the Stonewall Inn. (Photo: New York Daily News/Getty Images)
This category might just be a little too hard to call. On the New York side, you’ve got the legendary Stonewall Riot, a 1969 police raid of the West Village gay bar that resulted in the gay patrons fighting back, followed by days of demonstrations. The event became the catalyst for the first gay-pride event.
Out in San Francisco, you have the legacy of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk’s former camera shop has been turned into a Human Rights Campaign Office on Castro Street, and his legacy and influence still holds a strong presence in the city.
Harvey Milk at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Pride Parade in 1978. (Photo: Terry Schmitt/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis)
As far as gay icons go, West Hollywood will be tough to beat. From Judy Garland to Dorothy Parker, Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and Lady Gaga, the Hollywood Hills were and are full of legendary divas who would become supporters and advocates for the community, their legacies now synonymous with the gay movement. And if that’s not enough, the city became one of the first to adopt a gay domestic partnership ordinance in 1985, making it a leader in gay trends and politics.
We’ll call this one a three-way tie.
Frances in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, California. (Photo: torbakhopper/Flickr)
If there was any doubt about gay boys turning their ‘hoods into trendy hotspots, the proof is in the foodie scene that follows. Be it the West Village, the Castro, or West Hollywood, all three have bragging rights to some of the best restaurants in their respective cities.
In San Francisco, you’ll find the Michelin-starred Frances, the neighborhood favorite Starbelly that serves up gourmet pizzas and California-inspired plates, and the romantic Poesia, tucked away in an adorable Victorian house.
West Hollywood’s emergence as a global city is evident in its dedication to first-class cuisine. Hotspots like Laurel Hardware, Ink, the seafood-focused Connie and Ted’s, and the classic Italian haunt Dan Tana’s are all must-try. Gordon Ramsay has a gorgeous space inside the London, and the all-star team behind the buzzy Trois Mec have opened Animal and Son of a Gun. On Melrose you’ll find haute Mexican dishes at Red-O, the French burger bistro Comme Ca, and the nearby intimate bungalow known as Lucques, perhaps the city’s most romantic spot.
New York’s Buvette. (Photo: Buvette/Facebook)
But what place can really compete with the West Village? From Babbo to the Spotted Pig, the Little Owl, and Café Cluny, Buvette, and Morandi, the Village might be the best foodie ‘hood in the world, gay, straight, or otherwise. And there’s even a Big Gay Ice Cream Shop near Christopher Street.
Ten points for the West Village on this one.
There’s a lot to love about West Hollywood: its openly gay city council members, its model-worth gay boys, and the sunshine that never seems to fade away. It’s got fun and history and more Monday night drag queens than you can shake a rainbow boa at. It’s a true mecca, and more than that, it’s a complete and cultured city, loaded with restaurants and art galleries, celebrities and first-rate hotels. And yet, we can’t help but feel it hasn’t yet reached the gay iconic status of the West Village and The Castro.
Two men kiss while twirling rainbow flags at the Gay Pride Parade in New York City in front of the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in the West Village. (Photo: Vivienne Gucwa/Moment/Getty Images)
New York is, well, New York. Can you really argue it’s not the best at everything it does? The West Village has a Gay Street, for crying out loud. It has cherry brick brownstones and Michelin-starred chefs, classic gay bars and A-list clubs. There are cobblestoned streets and sidewalk cafes. It might be the perfect gay ‘hood, except it’s not as gay as it once was. The gays have moved on, north to Hell’s Kitchen and east to Williamsburg. The city is as straight as it is gay these days, and so we have to give the crown to The Castro.
Ah, The Castro. The ultimate American gay neighborhood. A village of trendy, upscale gays who have managed to pay homage to their rich, tumultuous past while moving progressively (and stylishly) into a new era of gay life. It’s here where you’ll young gay boys from Indiana and old gay men who’ve been in the city for decades. It’s your gay history and your gay future. And it would be the first city to admit it wouldn’t be anywhere without the support of the others.
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