Distinctive urban districts with great energy
Over the years, a number of urban neighborhoods around the world have developed decidedly gay followings. GLBT visitors to San Francisco have long made a beeline for the Castro. Areas like Chelsea in New York City, Lakeview in Chicago, and Hillcrest in San Diego are also famous for having substantial concentrations of gay-popular businesses.
But so-called “gay ghettos” have gradually begun to diversify in recent years, as mainstream populations embrace these neighborhoods, and gays and lesbians feel increasingly comfortable shopping, dining, socializing, and living in other parts of town. A result of this trend has been the way in which many progressive, artsy neighborhoods have developed a slightly gay following, without necessarily possessing a core of gay businesses. Stroll some of these areas, such as Bay View in Milwaukee and Roosevelt Row in Phoenix, and you might not see dozens of rainbow flags, or an especially high number of same-sex couples milling around. Yet, it’s easy to discern a certain queer sensibility.
If you’re something of an urban adventurer, or you’re simply longing to branch out in your travels and explore hip, distinctive urban districts with great energy, a liberal vibe, and a gay-welcoming attitude, check out some of these 10 particularly inviting neighborhoods.
Alberta Arts District (Portland, Oregon)
The media have been showering plenty of attention on Portland lately for its vaunted indie-music scene, rapidly rising culinary reputation, and overall cool factor. A handful of funky neighborhoods around the city have helped propel its bohemian image, with the Alberta Arts District one of the most intriguing. Extending along Alberta Street from about Martin Luther King Boulevard east to 33rd Avenue, there’s a slew of art galleries, independently owned boutiques, and affordable restaurants. This highly diverse neighborhood stages numerous arts events, including a gallery hop the last Thursday of each month and an annual street fair in September. Among the many restaurants, Zaytoon’s has a particularly queer following and serves superb Middle Eastern fare, but you’ll find plenty of worthy spots along here to eat and drink.
Bay View (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
About 2 miles southeast of Walker’s Point, the main gay-bar hub of Milwaukee, you’ll find Bay View, a gracious neighborhood near Lake Michigan containing a bounty of beautifully restored Victorian and early 20th-century homes. Lesbians and gays have been steadily moving into the neighborhood in recent years, and a number of “family-friendly” businesses have opened along the main thoroughfare, Kinnickinnic Avenue, including festive Cafe Lulu and Broad Vocabulary feminist bookstore. These businesses have joined some of the area’s longstanding ethnic restaurants, such as Three Brothers Serbian eatery and De Marinis Pizza. With much of Milwaukee experiencing an impressive resurgence of late, Bay View has become a particularly enjoyable area for exploration.
Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens (Brooklyn, New York)
Brooklyn’s charming Park Slope neighborhood has long cultivated a lesbian following. Just across the Gowanus Canal from Park Slope, there’s a pair of similarly diverting, trendy neighborhoods, Cobble Hill and – due south – Carroll Gardens. Essentially an extension of debonair Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens are handsome residential districts chock-full of 19th-century townhouses. Both areas have seen a major transformation in recent years, as hipsters, gays, intellectuals, and fashion plates have invaded en masse. In fact, nobody living around here in the mid-’90s could have imagined that Cobble Hill’s once-dowdy commercial thoroughfare, Smith Street, would today glow with haute eateries, stylish home-furnishing shops, and esteemed art galleries. Along Court Street in Carroll Gardens, you’ll still find many of the Italian markets and pizzerias that date back to the area’s Little Italy heyday.
East Atlanta Village (Atlanta, Georgia)
Many visitors to Atlanta focus on the glitzy downtown and super-gay Midtown area, missing out on a number of enchanting, offbeat neighborhoods outside the city core, such as Inman Park, Little Five Points, Castleberry Hill, and East Atlanta Village. All of these communities have a somewhat gay vibe, and East Atlanta Village is perhaps the most interesting at the moment, with its wealth of indie coffeehouses, lounges, music clubs, ethnic restaurants, and boutiques. This neighborhood about 5 miles southeast of downtown draws an amazingly diverse bunch. Walk along Flat Shoals Avenue to find such intriguing hangouts as Mary’s, a raffish and lovably gay bar; Joe’s Coffee, with its quirky artwork and potent java; and City Life Apparel, carrying a wide assortment of urban attire.
Faubourg Marigny (New Orleans, Louisiana)
The neighborhood immediately downriver from the French Quarter – across tree-shaded Esplanade Avenue – is Faubourg Marigny, which, because of its increasing LGBT following, is sometimes referred to affectionately as “Fagburg” Marigny. Many gays and otherwise progressive-minded types have bought up this artsy neighborhood’s quaint French West Indies-style cottages and Greek Revival mansions. The neighborhood’s greatest attribute, at least for gay visitors, is its wealth of gay-friendly (and moderately priced) restaurants and B&Bs – there are even a few queer bars here, including the Phoenix and Cowpokes. You’ll also find one of the most gay-popular spots in town for jazz brunch, Feelings Cafe.
Ferndale (Detroit, Michigan)
To get a full sense of everything metro Detroit has to offer, plan to spend some time venturing out of Detroit proper, as many worthy attractions – as well as the heart of the gay scene – lie outside downtown. The first community you reach heading northwest along Woodward Avenue is Ferndale, a formerly working-class community that has developed cachet among young, forward-thinking professionals and artists in recent years, including quite a few gay folks. Its main drag, West Nine Mile Road, has a bounty of cool boutiques, vintage clothiers, and home-furnishing shops. The dining scene is solid, too – consider dining on down-home comfort food at Christine’s Cuisine, or enjoy soul-warming pizzas at Como’s.
Logan Circle (Washington, D.C.)
If you walk about six blocks due east of uber-gay Dupont Circle, you’ll come to Logan Circle, the white-hot D.C. neighborhood that’s enjoyed a massive gentrification in recent years. Along 14th Street, you’ll see the greatest evidence of change – hot new restaurants, the chic gay lounge Halo, a huge Whole Foods Market, and the stylish Mason & Rook Hotel, which is run by the LGBT-friendly Kimpton Group. Fans of the neighborhood’s handful of fine theaters hang out at the inviting 1409 Playbill Cafe, and live-music devotees stroll along the U Street Corridor, which marks the neighborhood’s northern boundary and is lined with great clubs and restaurants. Even before Logan Circle became so fabulous, gays and lesbians began buying the Edwardian and Victorian townhouses in this historic but formerly blighted neighborhood.
Midtown (Houston, Texas)
Between downtown and Montrose, Houston’s Midtown neighborhood has one of the hottest real-estate markets in the country, as this once virtually deserted area booms with new condos and town homes. Cool restaurants are popping up, too, such as Farrago, a dapper bistro serving creative pizzas, affordable pastas and burgers, and wonderful weekend brunch fare. A more upscale but still moderately priced option is Gravitas, a slick space serving innovative regional American cuisine. For nightlife, there’s Brazos River Bottom, a country-western bar that was welcoming queer folks to Midtown years before the neighborhood started getting trendy. Midtown’s proximity to the numerous gay bars of Montrose have made it a hit with many gay and lesbian homeowners.
Roosevelt Row (Phoenix, Arizona)
On the north side of downtown Phoenix, Roosevelt Row is a burgeoning mixed-use residential district that supports several excellent galleries as well as a wonderful bakery, Tammie Coe Cakes (stop in for a latte and a sweet treat or two). Vinophiles have taken a shine to Cheuvront Wine & Cheese Cafe, the brainchild of the city’s openly gay state senator, Ken Cheuvront. This happening neighborhood is also home to the esteemed Phoenix Art Museum and the Native American-focused Heard Museum. You’ll also find one of the city’s top gay bars, Amsterdam, an elegant lounge with a festive patio out back.
St. Anthony Main (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Just across the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis, you’ll find some of the city’s most intriguing neighborhoods, beginning with Nicollet Island, which is home to the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, a warren of vintage mills and renovated warehouses. St. Anthony Main, the area immediately northeast of the island, was once a Polish neighborhood. Several cool bars and restaurants have opened in these parts, and younger residents – many of them gay – have begun transforming the area. You can stroll along the riverbank, which has park benches, and amble down along the crashing cataracts at St. Anthony Falls. You’ll find some great, gay-friendly restaurant options in the area, including Pizza Nea and kitschy Nye’s Polonaise Room, serving up hearty Polish food and featuring dancing to live polka bands.