Brooklyn & Broadway beckon
NYC nightlife and entertainment this summer
by Jim Provenzano
They say that Brooklyn is the Oakland of Manhattan. While the comparison certainly has its flaws, there is a sort of fraternal affair on either side of the water for the two regions. And even a new East Bay housing project has been dubbed Brooklyn Bay.
Here is a plan for a fabulous summer escape east, where we share the joys of Brooklyn's cultural and natural splendor, with a hot weekend dose of Manhattan and Brooklyn clubs, and Broadway hits with a queer edge.
While one can certainly recall the stereotypes about Park Slope, seeing some of them in bloom is amusing and a bit of a relief. It's nice.
The heart of Park Slope, 5th Avenue, is near many parks, cultural venues and late nights amusements.
Yes, the baby stroller, toddler-scooter, double-dog-walker clusters at intersections make it all seem like a sidewalk daycare center. But the expanses of trees on residential blocks, the array of beautiful churches, and the occasional back yard afternoon counter any disdain towards the hipster cafes.
Numeorus restaurants have an appeal, but if visiting for more than a few nights, pick up some groceries at the nearly Key Foods, one of several nearby. Although the Brooklyn gays may not be quite as visible as in Chelsea, the Key Food even had a stack of issues of Gay City News.
Speaking of which, publications to read before and during your trip include Gay City News (www.gaycitynews.nyc), Next (www.nextmagazine.com) and Get Out (www.getoutmag.com), along with The New York Times and others, of course.
Walking or biking tours around Brooklyn lead to trails along the piers, and through winding park treks. With its gates at Grand Army Plaza serving as an awesome entrance, Prospect Park, Frederick Law Olmstead's minor masterpiece (compared to Central Park), includes open fields (mostly empty, with clusters of kids playing at recess games), a cute lake with resident swans and geese, and lots of open and shady space for relaxation.
Prospect Park is of course much smaller than Central Park, but retains that balance of natural and tarted up landscaping. Open fields echoed with the joyful screeches of packs of school children at recess, and a lone reader under a huge elm (or oak?) proved the tranquility of the fields. At a corner of the park near the small zoo, a historic house from 'ye olden farming dayes,' a large circular water fountain, a roller rink and a carousel offer diversions.
But it's really about the surprising
amount of park space in this area. Of course, my own curiosity about plants and
trees could have been solved with a few apps, including
Leaf Snap and
Plant Net. The phone apps let you take a photo
of a plant or tree leaf and it identifies the species.
Plants of all types were identified by small nameplates throughout the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, (www.bbg.org) which are adjacent to Prospect Park, across Flatbush Avenue. This highly manicured park includes a rose garden, Japanese mini-lake and landscaping that's quite beautiful.
The greenhouse displays of tropical, desert and other climates were amusing and fascinating. Huge fronds, Venus Fly Traps, and even a display of ornate bonzai trees showcased the floral diversity of our planet.
Among the plates identifying flora in the gardens' greenhouses and adjacent rose gardens are a few possible drag names: Chanelle Floribunda or Silver Queen, anyone?
Near the Botanic Garden entrance, the Brooklyn Museum beckons with a stately edifice and five floors of historic and contemporary fine art classics (www.brooklynmuseum.org).
museum isn't as crowded as Manhattan venues, and visitors can enjoy many
minutes alone in a room to contemplate the beauty of several classic works, and
discover new ones as well.
Modern exhibits included an expansive exhibit of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, another focusing on South African photographer Zanele Muholi's documentation of LGBT lives, including a glamorous butch lesbian wedding. Even Judy Chicago's impressive classic The Dinner Party remains breathtaking.The Egyptian rooms were deliciously spooky, with sarcophagi, statues, and more, and included a thousands of years old scroll of The Book of the Dead.
The serene and spacious arrangement of paintings around the big atrium offers many classics. Along with a Henri Fantin-Letour and a few Monets, atrium showcases a ring of classic portraits and impressive lesser known works.
In other wings, among those of gay interest, the homoerotic lesser-known classic, gay painter John Koch's The Sculptor.
A contemporary favorite was Sanford
Biggers' Blossom, a playing
piano with a tree growing out of it.
Along with hundreds of treasures, one can find Rodins at rest, Art Nouveau Tiffany lamps, and even a smaller version of Antoine Bourdelle's Herakles hidden away in the glass cases of the fascinating Visible Storage Room, where works not on display are, well, still on display in glass cases.
After the quiet museum serenity, the borough's streets energize anew. For a more urban appeal, areas near the Clock Tower are busy as any major train intersection would be Atlantic Terminal will take you anywhere, from Manhattan to Long Island. Nearly discount stores, a show arena, and a constant flow of traffic rival Manhattan's.
But there are plenty of other amusements in the Brooklyn side.
But what about the Brooklyn bars? For a solid jukebox selection, friendly staff, and classic cocktails, Excelsior caters to gentlemen and can be relaxed in its early hours, and the outdoor patio and garden are sweet. But the bar, which has received top honors from many local publications, gets a bit rowdy for its drag shows hosted by Lavinia Draper and at benefits for local charities. 390 5th Ave. www.excelsiorbrooklyn.com
Women into women don't have to be redheads but are especially welcome at Ginger's, where their G-spot is located at 363 5th Avenue. Popular Happy Hours, Karaoke nights, and Bingo are among their events. www.gingersbarbklyn.com
For unconventional nightlife, the intimate Happy Fun Hideaway attracts all manner of queer folk since it opened a year ago, specifically for its weekly Fade to Pink parties, Gurl and the after-party for the annual Bushwig Drag Festival. 1211 Myrtle Ave. www.facebook.com/HappyfunHideaway
Among the newer clubs, Love Gun offers trashy fun with Manhattan style. The owners of Eastern Bloc, Bedlam and Atlas Social Club (including Anderson Cooper's beau Benjamin Maisani) gave the space a complete makeover/under (with tacky graffiti and neon signs), and many travel to Brooklyn just for their drag shows, hot gogo guys and drinktastic events like Trigger, Trade and Drink & Draw. 617 Grand St. www.lovegunnyc.com
For a relaxed afternoon of beer and barbeque, Metropolitan's big yard provides ample space for its ten-year history of attracting diverse patrons. Alternative rock and electro, plus disco days and the Wednesday Girls Girls Girls night provide fun to shake it up, too. 559 Lorimer St. www.metropolitanbarny.com
Over in East Williamsburg, the ultra funky Spectrum is both a makeshift nightclub and a community art center with dance and wrestling classes. Nightlife events range from drag and glitter raves to cabaret shows and costumed club kid-fests. May's Ova the Rainbow was a recent success. 59 Montrose Ave. www.facebook.com/TheSpectrumBK
Despite its scifi underground tunnel look, This n That is cozy, with a long bar, ample booths, and a range of events to amuse. Rage is the wilder of events, along with Truth or Bare, Take It Off, and Thorgy, a raucous drag show. 108 North 6th St. www.thisnthatbrooklyn.com
You just missed the thousands of gay comic nerds who dressed up and had fun at Brooklyn's for the first ever FlameCon, held at the Grand Prospect Hall on June 13. Check out the fun comics and their plans for 2016 at www.flamecon.org
Also, Brooklyn's warehouse-filled areas, complete with a little bridge over a canal, offers late night ice cream on a rooftop, live bands and barbeque, gallery parties, and even a game bar with shuffle boards. While not specifically LGBT, these venues welcome any patrons looking for fun.
Of course, a trip to Manhattan's a part of any New York adventure. Broadway offers a wide array of fabulous shows. Some have particularly gay themes that'll please.
The multiple Tony winner Fun Home, based on Alison Bechtel's acclaimed autobiographical graphic novel, is enjoying a burst of deserved acclaim. With songs like "I'm Changing My Major to Joan," the lesbian teen elements are heartfelt, along with the family tragedies.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the Tony-winning Broadway revival of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's transgender rock musical, is a favorite among LGBT fans, and deservedly so. Adding Darren Criss as the star in this edition only made it more fun. With contemporary inside-Broadway jokes, and a few Criss-specific one-liners, the San Francisco-born Glee actor embodied the role and obviously had fun. Near front-row audience members like myself got an up- close view of his antics, including spits of bottled water, a lap dance and some bawdy face-licking. The woman whom he slurped that night may never recover! Criss plays Hedwig through July 19, after which Taye Diggs takes on the wiggy role.
photo: Joan Marcus
Other current Broadway hits include Kinky Boots, Something Rotten, Finding Neverland, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, and the long-running powerhouse Wicked are just a few of your many theatrical choices. For more listings, visit www.playbill.com
However, Times Square itself may induce a sudden case of the crowd-phobia after emerging from the 42nd Street subway. Snap a few photos, photo-bomb a group snap session with the Naked Cowboy (who still isn't naked), and divert your path from the tourist hordes around the Hard Rock Cafe.
Although more pedestrian-friendly with its central parklet, the entire area's still a bit much. I did get a snap of Mickey Mouse and Minnie, who only days later was arrested for brawling with a Hello Kitty character.
photo: David Kimelman
Off and really off Broadway, other shows include the vast array of Pride Weekend events. Former San Franciscan turned international sensation Justin Vivian Bond's new show, Swallow Your Pride at The Public Theater's Joe's Pub June 27 and 28. www.justinbond.com
You just missed Brooklyn's Pride celebrations from June 7-13 – yes, they have their own smaller festival – www.brooklynpride.org
And New York's Pride takes place the same as San Francisco's, June 28. And like ours, there are hundreds of rainbow-themed events, including the classic massive Dance on the Pier and the Parade. www.nycpride.org
Clubbing is thriving in the Big Apple, with more than 140 gay bars, stray bars, and special nights at all kinds of venues. For an updated list, our partners Edge Media have the full list of venues. (www.edgenewyork.com/nightlife). But are a few:
For rooftop views, Fly Sundays at Monarch serve tasty mimosas and brunch. The new event kicked off in May. Boxers rivals our SF Hi Tops with its sexy sports theme, with two locations. Non-traditional bar scenes include Brut (at Santos Party House, 96 Lafayette St.), which attracts the circuity muscle men, bears, cubs and leather folk and goes late with some sexy interaction. For cocktails with a zing, and a hunky staff and gogo crew, check out Evolve.
Some smaller East Village venues pack in the fun, like Nowhere Bar and Arrow Bar. Also compact yet packed with neo-burlesque and vaudeville style, The Slipper Room fulfills its mission of classy lowbrow shows.
For old school show tune crooning, Marie's Crisis is still downstairs in the West Village. Blunt and cruisy, the Cock Bar shoves its sexy self upon you with salacious nights.
And for a bit of Folsom New York style, Folsom East invades West 28th Street June 21. www.folsomstreeteast.com
"So, where's the beefcake?" one Facebook pal asked after hearing about my trip. For those with a penchant for pulchritude, gogo guys, strippers and semi-private parties will quench your desire for some booty-shaking. Times Square may be forever Disney-fied, but a sexy time for fans of a good bump and grind can be found.
Let's start classy with Broadway Bares. The hugely successful, acrobatic and splashily sexy strip show performed by Broadway's cutest performers and special guests, annually sells out well in advance. The next one is June 21 at Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 West 34th Street, with a Top Bottoms of Burlesque theme.
Find out what's under those sailor suits (On the Town), clip-on ties (The Book of Mormon) and leopard puppets (The Lion King) when Broadway's best male and female dancers bare (almost) all for the HIV/AIDS charity. www.broadwaybares.com
Speaking of burlesque, although not Tony Award material, Chris Harder shows a lot more in his porn videos, but his burlesque nights in New York City bring back a lot of tease. His shows have been at Therapy Lounge, WestWay and The Slipper Room. For updates, visit his website, www.chrisharderfilms.com
For an up close strip experience, Adonis Lounge boasts some of the physically biggest performers, albeit mostly straight trade. Big spenders are welcome here after the $10 admission, where the pricey private dances reveal more muscles. www.theadonislounge.com
No, it's not what is used to be, as those who recall the meat packing district of even Greenwich Village's glory (hole) days.
For a stroll down memory lane, the Hellfire Tours, led by eccentric SM photographer Efrain John Gonzalez, includes an underground former club scene stroll accompanied by his expansive talk, with iPad photos from the area's heyday of straps, chaps and butt slaps.
Nightlife usually goes a bit later for many events, like 4AM. But returning to Brooklyn won't cost you a mint's worth of cab money. The N, Q, R and other trains run all night (catch up, BART!), so get a Metrocard and you'll be fine.
Still, although the main borough appears to be safer, a few odd incidents reminded us of the dirty old New York days, including a 2AM trash can-tossing drunk at a Papaya Dog who was chased off by the bat-wielding staffers. One person hooted, "How totally New York!"
So, folks, be careful and have fun when you visit Brooklyn, Broadway and beyond.