Out of Town - Three Great New York City Neighborhoods

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which galvanized New York City’s GLBT community and helped ultimately to kick-start the modern gay rights movement. To commemorate this occasion, the city has a particularly impressive Gay Pride celebration planned for the end of the month (events take place from June 20 through June 28). It’s a terrific time to visit one of the world’s leading gay destinations, although any time of year, there’s plenty to see in this exciting city.

With this in mind, here’s a look at some of the more noteworthy places to eat, play and stay in three of Manhattan’s most gay-popular neighborhoods, Chelsea, the East Village and Hell’s Kitchen. If you’ve never been to New York, these are three must-see parts of the city. And if you have been, you may be surprised by some of the cool new hangouts and hotels that have opened in these neighborhoods.
The neighborhood’s gay area is situated primarily along 8th and 7th avenues, between West 14th and 23rd streets, and on the blocks connecting these two thoroughfares. Here you’ll find dozens of bars, restaurants and shops, plus a few accommodations of note.

For dining, neighborhood stalwarts include Mare, which presents creative, super-fresh seafood with contemporary American and French preparations. The chatter-filled, high-ceilinged space looks like a bit like a Marseille fish market. Yet another slick corner eatery with French doors, Niso’s describes its cuisine as Mediterranean but definitely emphasizes - and excels - in Greek-style seafood. The grilled-octopus appetizer and broiled snapper entrees score high marks.

Romantic East of Eighth has a cute patio, wonderful cabaret shows and delicious French food at reasonable prices. On 7th Avenue you’ll find great noshing at Cafeteria, a trendy diner-style spot that’s open 24/7; Restivo, a romantic spot serving first-rate Italian fare and Regional Thai Taste, a reliably good Thai restaurant.

Chelsea sets the pace for New York’s boy-bar scene. Longtime favorites include G Lounge, Splash Bar and Barracuda. If you’re a fan of gay sports bars, definitely stop by Gym for a drink. Next door, the relatively new Ate Ave is a friendly lounge and restaurant that’s fast developing a loyal following among Chelsea boys (it’s also a good bet for brunch the morning after bar-hopping into the wee hours). Fans of leather should venture to the neighborhood’s western reaches and check out the venerable Eagle, which is also a fun spot to shoot pool.

This neighborhood with few hotels received a nice boost in 2009 with the opening of the GEM Chelsea, a mid-priced, sleek property that has a wonderful location on 8th Avenue, steps from bars and restaurants. Rooms are cozy, but well-equipped and the staff couldn’t be friendlier. Just down the street, the charming Colonial House Inn has long been a reliable place to stay in Chelsea.
The East Village
Although intensely gentrified over the past decade, the “EV” acts as the city’s hub of alternative dress, nightlife, and entertainment. Cheap eateries, iconoclast-meets-slacker bars and lounges and garage-sale-inspired shops keep a steady stream of tourists and locals slinking about at all hours of the night. One of the best streets for strolling is St. Marks Place, which is jammed with divey bars, groovy shops and cheap restaurants. It’s not a particularly gay part of the neighborhood, but it is fun for a browse. Great shopping and people-watching can be had along the neighborhood’s avenues, which take on an increasingly hip ambience the farther east you go.

Ethnic eateries have always thrived in this part of town. Fans of Basque cooking adore Euzkadi, a homey, old-world space with hearty, rustic food. Just a block south of the EV, Sorella serves exceptionally tasty Piedmont-inspired Italian food (it’s especially fun for brunch). You’ll often see folks lining up outside the door at Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, a simple-looking storefront pizzeria that’s become famous for its delectable thin-crust pies. One place that shouldn’t be missed in this neighborhood is Veselka, a beloved Ukranian diner that doles out generous (and amazingly tasty) portions of home-style fare, from cheese blintzes to feathery pierogi dumplings.

Gay bars in the East Village still draw heavily, as they always have, from the city’s dressed-in-black ranks. Just off Avenue A, the Phoenix is a crowded no-frills chat bar that swells nightly with students, arty types and even a few Chelsea boys. There are erotic shows, drag events and hormone-charged crowd at the sleazy-chic Cock. Actor and East Village resident Alan Cumming is a regular at Eastern Bloc. One other gay hangout that’s long been popular in the neighborhood is the Boiler Room, which has a strong following with students from nearby NYU.

Although the East Village is lacking in hotels, there are a couple of excellent lodging choices right on the edge of the neighborhood, including the quirky yet stylish Cooper Square Hotel. And in the ultra-chic Lower East Side, the Thompson LES is garnering raves for its stunning, high-ceilinged rooms and fabulous pool — plus an outstanding restaurant, Shang.
Hell’s Kitchen
It’s almost unheard of to pass through New York City without taking in a Broadway show and strolling around Times Square. In the past decade, plenty of attention has been given to the neighborhood to the west, Hell’s Kitchen, a once tough-as-nails Irish working-class enclave that’s become increasingly fashionable. Many lesbians and gays have moved here in recent years, and the gay-trendy dining and entertainment scene has lately spread like kudzu vine.

It can be a challenge scoring a table at celeb-chef Mario Batali’s fabulous space, Esca, but do persevere — you’ll be rewarded with exceptional yet reasonably priced seafood like whole-roasted sea bass with lemon and olive oil. A sophisticated pan-Latin American eatery named for the neighborhood it anchors, Hell’s Kitchen is the place to sample such stellar victuals as duck-confit empanadas, or pan-seared halibut with sweet-plantain puree and salsa verde.

Dig into exceptionally tasty Moroccan fare at Tagine, a riotously colorful eatery with its own fleet of exotic belly dancers. Inexpensive pan-Asian and American cooking - including Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese specialties — is served at Vynl, a funky retro diner with a friendly staff. And for you homesick southern girls, fill up on amazingly authentic Cajun and Creole fare at the Delta Grill, a brassy and seductive neighborhood canteen that pays homage to down-home faves like fried chicken with candied yams.

Sassy and sexy lounges are all the rage in Hell’s Kitchen. Notables include Posh, which could just as easily be called “Lush” for its fab drink specials; Barrage, a favorite happy hour hideout for gay scenesters and media upstarts; and Therapy, a snazzy, two-level bar known for great music, potent drinks, and a cheeky unisex bathroom.

You’ll find dozens and dozens of worthy hotels near Hell’s Kitchen around Times Square and the Theater District. But if you want to be away from the touristy fray and right in the heart of the neighborhood, check out the Skyline Hotel, an affordable property on 10th Avenue, steps from several popular restaurants in the neighborhood. A more intimate experience can be enjoyed at Hotel 414, a dapper boutique hotel that’s set inside a pair of restored, historic townhouses. You can relax over in the leafy courtyard garden and easily forget you’re in one of the largest, gayest cities in the world.
The Little Black Book
Arbor House 608-238-2981, arbor-house.com
Artichoke Basille’s Pizza 212-228-2004, artichokepizza.com
Ate Ave 646-763-8355, ateave.com
Barracuda 212-645-8613
Barrage 212-586-9390
Boiler Room 212-254-7536, boilerroomnyc.com
Cafeteria 212-414-1717, cafeteriagroup.com
Cock no phone, thecockbar.com
Colonial House Inn 800-689-3779, colonialhouseinn.com
Cooper Square Hotel 212-475-5700, thecoopersquarehotel.com
Delta Grill 212-956-0934, thedeltagrill.com
Eastern Bloc no phone, easternblocnyc.com
East of Eighth 212-352-0075, eastofeighth.com
Eagle 646-473-1866, eaglenyc.com
Esca 212-564-7272, esca-nyc.com
Euzkadi 212-989-9788, euzkadirestaurant.com
GEM Chelsea 212-675-1911
G Lounge 212-929-1085, glounge.com
Gym 212-337-2439, gymsportsbar.com
Hell’s Kitchen 212-977-1588, hellskitchen-nyc.com
Hotel 414 212-399-0006, 414hotel.com
Mare 212-675-7522, chelseadining.com/mare/
Niso’s 646-336-8121, nisos-ny.com
NYC and Company 212-484-1200
(aka the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau) nycgo.com
Phoenix 212-477-9979
Posh 212-957-2222, poshbarnyc.com
Regional Thai Taste 212-807-9872
Restivo 212-366-4133
Skyline Hotel 212-582-4604, skylinehotelnyc.com
Sorella 212-274-9595, sorellanyc.com
Splash Bar 212-691-0073, splashbar.com
Tagine 212-564-7292, taginedining.com
Therapy 212-397-1700, therapy-nyc.com
Thompson LES 212-460-8888, thompsonles.com
Veselka 212-228-9682, veselka.com
Vynl 212-974-2003, vynl-nyc.com
Andrew Collins covers gay travel for the New York Times-owned website About.com and is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA. He can be reached at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.

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