The Best Places to Eat, Drink, and Dance During NYC Pride 2019
WHERE TO EAT
Photo by Cerruti Draime
In March, the good people at the James Beard Foundation gave this spot their “Best Chef: New York City” honors and you'll immediately understand why. Via Carota’s owners, Rita Sodi and Jody Williams, are standout chefs in their own right, lauded for their individual restaurants—I Sodi (traditional Tuscan fare) and Buvette (French-inspired "gastrotheque"), respectively—before coming together in life and in business to open this trattoria-style Italian spot.
At Via Carota, the duo sources sustainable local ingredients to make Italian classics like grilled artichokes with aioli and Sicilian meatballs. The rustic interiors (reclaimed wood floors, vintage chapel chairs, and errant antiques) reflect similar influences. There are no reservations here, ragazzi, so be ready to wait a while. Put your name down and walk across the street to the couple’s newly opened Bar Pisellino for a negroni or two.
Photo by Alissa Bourne
Since opening in 2001, Elmo has been the de facto HQ for gays dining in Chelsea. One key draw is the design: chic and lean, with Eames-esque furniture and a layout that lets you have cozy conversations despite the dining room’s generous size. Then there’s the glass frontage, which has helped transform the block into a gayborhood catwalk. And finally, there’s the staff, who are uniformly handsome enough to be a little bit distracting.
The is open from breakfast to midnight, with the occasional stroller parked out front if you show up on the early side (this is an all-inclusive joint, after all). But it’s cocktail hour to late night when things get really popping—and, of course, during Saturday and Sunday brunch, Elmo’s specialty. Come for the hangover-busting comfort food—huevos rancheros, lobster mac & cheese, and a southern fried chicken sandwich—and stay for the Sex and the City-era cocktail menu. Orange cosmo or chocolate martini, anyone?
Courtesy of MeMe's Diner
This newcomer on the Brooklyn scene is getting lots of attention, and for all the right reasons. The diner is queer-owned and queer-staffed, including by Bill and Libby, who run the place, and who met while working together at a bakery nearby. Classic diner vibes and hipster flourishes—matte silver chairs, an L-shaped counter with emerald green bar chairs and cakes under quintessential glass domes—give MeMe’s a homey feel (as does being named after Bill's grandmother).
The menu changes frequently, but it’s always reminiscent of MeMe’s kitchen: chicken pot pie, patty melt, meatloaf sandwich. The diner is known for its big, fat, fluffy biscuits, so save room. As for drinks, there’s a small selection of well-chosen wines and cocktails such as the Noel Coward-esque God Save the Queens (dubonnet & gin, martini, red wine sparkling soda), and a MeMe’s Punch made with dark rum, ginger, lime, passion fruit, cava, and bitters.
Big Gay Ice Cream
Photo by Donny Tsang
What started in 2009 as an ice cream truck run by two middle-aged gays has turned, ten years later, into one of America’s most beloved ice cream shops. Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff launched Big Gay Ice Cream Truck with an unbeatable combo of great flavors and wry wit blended into treats like the Dorothy, named for Bea Arthur’s Golden Girls character (vanilla soft serve injected with dulce de leche and dusted with crushed Nilla Wafers), and the mega-popular Salty Pimp (soft serve drizzled with dulce de leche, sprinkled with salt, and dipped in chocolate). The formula proved so successful that Big Gay Ice Cream now has three brick and mortar locations around Manhattan—in the East Village, the West Village, and South Street Seaport. As for the truck, it was retired in 2011, but still makes appearances on very rare special occasions. This is big and gay for a good cause, too: Doug and Bryan are proud supporters of the Ali Forney Center in NYC, a non-profit that places LGBTQ+ youth who are experiencing homelessness into safe environments. The ice cream shops hold occasional clothing drives and take donations at the counter to support the cause.
Courtesy of Vinateria
Contemporary Harlem pulses with an energy reminiscent of the neighborhood's 1920s heyday, though this latest Renaissance has a strong LGBTQ+ element thanks to a generation of artists and creatives, including chefs, who’ve flocked here. Out chef Mimi Weissenborn is one such talent and her restaurant, Vinateria, has become one of the social hubs for Harlem’s LGBTQ+ community (she’s even working on a support group for female and queer chefs).
Weissenborn’s food is Spanish and Italian—spicy veal meatballs, steamed mussels—and there’s an impressive drinks list: aperitivi, vermouth, and of course draft Italian beer.
Run by the openly gay Mexico City-born chef Roberto Santibañez, who graduated from Paris’ iconic Le Cordon Bleu, Fonda began ten years ago in ultra gay-friendly Park Slope, before expanding into two more locations in Manhattan.
At each of them, Santibañez specializes in contemporary Mexican cuisine, like braised chicken enchiladas topped with stone-ground Oaxacan black mole, as well as killer frozen margaritas (try the hibiscus). He’s also the author of three mouth-watering cookbooks, the first of which—Rosa’s New Mexican Table—was nominated for a James Beard Award. They’re all for sale at his restaurants, so you can take one home to recreate your Pride week meal.
WHERE TO DRINK & DANCE
Courtesy of Julius’
This low-slung building was built in 1826, but only in the 1950s did gays begin frequenting the bar within—mostly because the spot was convenient for the literary agents, jazz musicians, and generally bohemian crowd drawn to the neighborhood in that era. In fact, it was at Julius' that four gay activists (with five reporters in tow) staged a “Sip-In” three years before the unrest at nearby Stonewall, back when serving homosexuals was still illegal for bars and restaurants. That pivotal moment in 1966 is considered one of the first organized LGBTQ+ civil rights actions.
Today, Julius' is a favorite watering hole for locals and tourists alike. The drinks aren’t fancy, the jukebox runs a happy gamut from disco to classic rock, and the window seats are perfect for scoping the passersby. Come hungry, too: Julius' is famous for its hamburgers, fries, and onion rings, all cooked up in a closet-sized kitchen at the back of the bar.
The Cubby Hole
Since 1994, The Cubbyhole has been a mainstay of the lesbian bar scene—though this is a true neighborhood bar and people of all genders are welcome (including Bravo TV host Andy Cohen, who lives nearby and is a regular). Heartwarmingly, little has changed in the last 25 years. The only perceptible difference is in the campy, colorful décor, which has gone even more over the top: more silk flowers, more kites, more of everything red and green. (The original owner, the late Tanya Saunders, had a curious superstition that drove her to save anything with those colors; she thought they brought her luck.)
Pick out some of your favorite tunes on the jukebox, then stick around till they finally come on several hours later and give it your best Beth Ditto. Just make sure not to spill the free popcorn from the bar as you shimmy.
If corn-fed country boys are on your NYC wish list, head to Flaming Saddles. This is one of the best theme bars in the city: Appropriately located on the west side of Chelsea, this ode to the Wild West is always popular; expect a line after 9PM. The interior décor is full-on saloon, with walls bathed in red velvet damask and giant bull horns over the bar. But the highlight is the hourly boot-scooting dance-a-thon performed by the bartenders (aka the Flaming Saddle Bandits) on top of the bar.
This isn’t a quiet, cozy site for a first date; come with a crew and channel your inner Coyote Ugly. Drinks are pretty standard—beer and shots—but if you get hungry, order up one of the famous Frito Pies (Frito corn chips topped with chili, cheese, sour cream, jalapeño, spicy brown mustard, and chopped white onions, and served in the actual Frito bag).
In 2002, when Metropolitan opened in then-industrial Williamsburg, the bar was an outlier—the kind of faraway destination to which LGBTQ+ New Yorkers from across the city would make pilgrimages. Almost twenty years later, Metropolitan is the center, an anchor of the thriving, queer-friendly nightlife scene in this hipster neighborhood. Expect cheap drinks (PBRs are still a thing here), Queeraoke on Tuesdays, and an always-packed pool table.
Check the website for programming from drag battles and stand-up comedy to trivia night and artist-themed events. In summer, the patio is open every night and soundtracked by a rotating cast of DJs—and on Sundays, there’s a BBQ from 5-9PM.
A mega-club popular with the LatinX community and those who love them, this Jackson Heights mainstay has been open since 1998 but gets a face-lift every five years to keep things fresh. The current lewk is as clubby as they come with a full spectrum of neon lights, backlit bars, and plenty of strobes to keep you tranced out on the dance floor.
Come here to shake it to hip-hop, salsa, merengue, bachata, and reggaeton on a 500-square-foot dance floor with hot Latin men. But the fun isn’t just for guys: There’s also a women-only section and not one but two VIP rooms (be ready for some bottle service). If you aren’t ready to hit the floor yourself, there’s karaoke, drag shows, and battle dancing to keep you entertained.
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