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Spring fun in the valley of the sun

Phoenix has good dining, weather, sites and gay life

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Phoenix gay travel, gay news, Washington Blade
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

I have been to Phoenix four times in recent years but could never find the gayborhood. Indeed, the local travel guide said they didn’t have one. Wrong. You will find it at 7th Avenue near Melrose in midtown. You will not need a rental car if you stay and play in Midtown and use the Light Rail to get around.

Spring is the perfect time to visit. The desert is in bloom. Temperatures are in the 80s. You will wonder why you don’t move here.

WHAT TO DO 

The Desert Botanical Garden features a great display of native cacti. You can reach the garden and the nearby Zoo via a light rail/bus connection. The Garden is located In Papago Park just northeast of the Airport. After a hike through the gardens, continue on the light rail east to Tempe, home of the beautiful Arizona State University campus. There are lots of restaurants and shops in downtown Tempe which is very walkable.

Work out at the LA Fitness, Camelback at 7th Avenue. It’s where the boys are.

Phoenix’s Pride Parade Festival is scheduled for April 4-5 (phoenixpride.org). It’s the 40th anniversary of Pride here. 

Don’t miss the new arts district just north of downtown. 

NIGHTLIFE

Make your first stop Stacy’s at Melrose (4343 7th Ave.). Sunday night is the drag show, Stacy’s Follies. It’s packed. 

Nearby is the Pat O’s Bunkhouse (4428 N. 7th Ave.) which is also a lot of fun. 

The lesbian owned bar, Boycott Bar (430 N. 7th Ave.), welcomes everyone.

Charlies (727 W. Camelback) has fun karaoke and two-for-one specials on Tuesdays. Wear your cowboy gear.

WHERE TO EAT 

The Wild Thaiger (2631 Central) has great Thai food.

The Mexican restaurant at 7th Avenue at Osborn, Mi Patio, is also very good.

Durant’s Fine Food is a Phoenix tradition (also on Central).

GETTING THERE

I took American to Phoenix and Southwest home. 

I don’t like the new uncomfortable Southwest seats, especially on long flights. But the staff is friendly and they don’t charge a ticket change fee or bag fee.

Fares can be lower on American (which has a huge hub here) and the service is better. (And the seats are more comfortable.)

From Sky Harbor, hop on the Valley Metro Light Rail (44th Street Station) for the short ride to downtown or midtown. Rental car or Uber not needed.

WHERE TO STAY

I stayed at the Extended Stay Midtown (Metro stop Osborn at Central). It’s a doable walk (or bus ride) to the gayborhood and there’s a 24-hour Walgreens nearby if you need anything. The Ramada is another option as is the Wyndham. I would recommend also The Clarendon but they charge a “resort fee” (which I avoid).

Other hotel options include the new Cambria Hotel in the Arts District. Downtown has a lot of great hotels. I like The Sheraton and the Residence Inn. Downtown too is very walkable and a short light rail ride up to the bars.

FOR MORE TRAVEL TIPS

Phoenix has two excellent LGBT publications. Ion Arizona Magazine (ionaz.com) is one. See its navigation map for a listing of the bars and other attractions. Echo Magazine is the other publication (echomag.com). It, too, has a great map of Phoenix bars. 

Phoenix NewTimes is a new weekly and also lists lots of stuff to do.

The fabulous Arizona Highways has ideas of where to visit around the state. Head up to the Grand Canyon National Park or Sedona if you have time or down to Tucson. Arizona is an amazing and beautiful state.

Phoenix is a great city and is surprisingly gay-friendly. It’s the New West. You can’t beat the spring weather. You may want to even move here.

Bill Malcolm has lived in Phoenix once but currently resides in Indianapolis. His syndicated LGBTQ value travel column runs in publications from Charlotte to Los Angeles. He focuses on affordable vacations which utilize pubic transit and he tries to go where the locals go. He does travel writing as a hobby although he thanks Visit Phoenix for their travel tips and recommendations.

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Sydney WorldPride is planning a celebration like no other

WorldPride is heading Down Under in 2023.

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Miss Ellaneous (Ben Graetz) welcomes guests to Sydney WorldPride, kicking off Feb. 17, 2023. Photo: Anna Kucera

WorldPride is heading Down Under in 2023. Sydney, Australia, has been named the official location for WorldPride next year, and the cosmopolitan city is planning to go all-out to welcome LGBTQ+ guests from all over the world.

Consistently named one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly countries in the world, Sydney has 17 days of events and activities planned for Sydney WorldPride, with an expected attendance of half a million revelers. Whether you are looking to dance into the wee hours, experience art and culture or simply be yourself with 500,000 of your closest friends, there is something at Sydney WorldPride for everyone to explore. 

According to Kate Wickett, Chief Executive of Sydney WorldPride, “Sydney’s streets will be alive as thousands of people come together to celebrate the global LGBTQIA+ reunion the world has been waiting for.”

1,000 people gathered to create a giant human Progress flag in honor of the upcoming Sydney WorldPride celebration in 2023. Photo: Daniel Boud

Events

With multiple events happening daily during Sydney WorldPride, here are some standouts.

The Human Rights Conference (March 1-3) is considered the centerpiece of WorldPride, and will focus on “global, regional and domestic human rights issues facing people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and variations in sex characteristics.” Tickets are available now and speakers include Executive Director of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality Kenita Placide, Senator Sarah McBride and director of LGBT Rights Advocacy China, Yanzi Peng. It’s expected to be the largest LGBTQIA+ human rights conference ever held in the Asia-Pacific region.

First Nations Gathering Space will be held at Carriageworks and take place over six nights (Feb. 23–28 ). There will be free exhibits to explore, plus theater experiences, dining and drag shows.

Mardi Gras Parade (Feb. 25) is the largest event of Sydney WorldPride and will celebrate Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’ 45th anniversary. Expect to see 12,500 marchers and over 200 floats travel down Oxford Street for the first time since 2020.

Domain Dance Party (Feb. 26) will be the largest circuit party in Australian history. The seven-hour party will include sets from international DJs, dancers and surprise guests. 

Ultra Violet (March 3) celebrates the women of WorldPride with an event curated by DJs and producers Sveta Gilerman and Jess Hill. Not just a dance party, Ultra Violet will also feature burlesque, performance art, visual art, cabaret and drag king performances.

Rainbow Republic (March 5) closes out WorldPride with a day full of DJ sets and live performances from artists including Muna, G Flip, Peach PRC, Alter Boy and BVT. The party will be hosted by actor/musician Keiynan Lonsdale (“Love Simon”).

In addition to official events, there are dozens of Pride Amplified events, from drag brunches to networking events and niche parties.

How to get to Sydney WorldPride

Events for Sydney WorldPride are already beginning to sell out, so if you want to join the celebration, you’ll want to book your tickets sooner rather than later. You might even be able to score a special Pride flight on Qantas out of Los Angeles.

Sydney WorldPride is working with approved travel providers to ensure guests are getting access to genuine WorldPride event tickets. Guests can bundle their World Pride and flight/accommodations with these approved vendors.

If you are traveling from the U.S., check out the following vendors:

Down Under Answers

Goway

Out of Office

Planetdwellers

Guests from other parts of the world, visit sydneyworldpride.com/travel-providers to see what vendors are recommended. And don’t forget your valid passport!

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Travel

Musing on the Shenandoah Valley and W.Va.

Area offers growing selection of farm-to-table cuisine, craft beer, and more

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Robert Earl enjoying time at Muse. (Photo by Anthony Istrico)

Back in 2005, when my husband Stephen and I bought our first cabin in Lost River, W.Va., a close DMV friend dubbed the area “17th Street with trees” and likened Rehoboth Beach to “17th Street with sand.” We had been to Lost River once after we met in 1991 but had not returned due to work and professional scheduling conflicts. As we settled into our cabin, the exploring began locally in Hardy County. We went on ever-expanding jaunts to trail hike and learn about all the Shenandoah Valley had to offer.

When out and about, we enjoyed exploring the local food and wine options in addition to where to buy “this and that,” like other grocery stores not in Hardy County and the closest Lowe’s and Tractor Supply Company. We discovered more quality food and wine options in the Shenandoah Valley than we expected, leading us to some local favorites that became our regular haunts. A major part of our weekend exploration involved the Shenandoah Valley wine scene, which allowed us to expand our palates and better understand Virginia wine. The best and closest to Lost River is Muse Vineyards, located in Woodstock, Va., a 90-minute drive from the Beltway and close to some outstanding hikes. The Vineyard is also adjacent to the newest state park, Seven Bends State Park, named for the meandering curves of the Shenandoah River that uniquely flows south to north.

It was 2016 when we first discovered Muse, after its tasting room had just opened, it had already been awarded the 2015 Virginia Governors Cup for its 2009 Clio red wine. Muse’s wines are named for the Greek Muses, such as Erato (erotic poetry) and Calliope (heroic poetry). Owners Robert Muse and Sally Cowal — and Emma the vineyard-guardian Barbet French water dog — are the most gracious hosts, with Sally and Emma in the tasting room and Robert in the rows of fields and wine-making. Muse boasts about 20 varieties of grapes (even Nebbiolo) offering their guests an opportunity to expand their perceptions of what Virginia agriculture is really capable of producing. You can also tour the vines with scheduled, guided excursions with the owners or via a QR-code-self-guided tour with a glass of wine. The owners also celebrate local artists, so the tasting room curates monthly exhibits. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the food. The Muse menu is creative and bucks traditional fare. I’ve been a club member now for seven years, and I enjoy the social aspects ranging from full moon festivals to wine club parties.

Sadly, I now visit Muse and other locations as a widower, having lost my partner and husband of 29 years in 2020. Stephen loved Muse wines and the setting, as well as the hospitality of Sally, Robert, and Emma. Our last visit together to Muse was in May 2020 before we knew he was terminally ill. It still warms my heart on each visit to Muse.

There are many special memories of visits to Muse. One is how well the food offerings have evolved over the years. As a pate lover, Muse regularly has it on its menu. It’s so hard to find pate at grocers in the Valley. When Muse released its sparkling blanc de blanc, it had a special sparkling and oysters on the half shell event. Another is owning two original works of art from an early exhibition. Turns out the artist worked in the tasting room and the purchase were her first works of art to be sold.

Shenandoah County continues to offer a growing selection of farm-to-table cuisine and craft beer, surrounded by the bends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah, with a lovely hike, scenic vista, or river float always within reach.

Back at home at Hardy County, there’s the reliable Lost River Grill and TK’s Lounge with “Flippy the squirrel,” the acclaimed restaurant at the Guesthouse at Lost River, and the Lost River General Store and the Inn at Lost River, where we had our 25th anniversary dinner celebration under prior ownership. The new owners are doing a great job continuing the legacy of food, provisions, and inn-keeping. Life is good – beautiful, serene, relaxed, and friendly – in Hardy County and close by in West Virginia and Virginia.

(Photo by Anthony Istrico)
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3 LGBTQ-friendly cities to visit this fall

San Francisco, Chicago, and Palm Springs beckon with nightlife, food, charm

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San Francisco, Chicago, and Palm Springs beckon with nightlife, food, charm.

It’s late July and that means you’re running out of time to plan a summer vacation — but the time is perfect to plan a fall getaway. Here are three LGBTQ-friendly options to consider with abundant nightlife, culinary delights, and cultural attractions.

#1: CHICAGO

Chicago boasts some of the world’s greatest architecture. (Photo by JaySi/Bigstock)

Chicago makes for a perfect fall vacation. Festivals, biking along the lake or walking the Kathy Osterman (Hollywood) Beach (the queer beach) in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood are all great options. The gayborhood, Boystown has been re-christened as “Northalsted” to promote inclusion. You will find most of the bars and gay businesses on Halsted Street.

I always stay at the Hotel Versey (644 W. Diversey Parkway) near the Diversey Brown Line (at the intersection of Clark/Broadway/Diversey) just south of the gayborhood. The rooms are also full of murals featuring local attractions and parking is just $20 for your entire stay at the garage next door (Century Shopping Center), which also features a LA Fitness free to use for hotel guests. Book directly at HotelVersey.com to save. Weekday rates are reasonable and the weekend rates are also better than anything you will find downtown. Plus, you can walk to the bars or just enjoy the many nearby shops and restaurants. There is even a Trader Joe’s across the street and just west of there is the new Dom’s Kitchen and Market (2730 N. Halstead St.).  

Just steps away from the hotel is my favorite Italian restaurant, which will sell you a slice of their amazing pizza, Renaldi’s Pizza (2827 N. Broadway) is a local favorite. Try the Spingione Sausage Pizza.

Farther up Broadway you will find Unabridged Books (3521 N.  Broadway), one of the last remaining independent bookstores that features a wide array of LGBTQ titles. They have been around since 1980 and are still going strong. Broadway features loads of independent shops and restaurants and is a fun way to spend the day. Don’t miss Cram Fashion at 3331 N. Broadway. Grab a salad or enjoy a glass of wine at Mariano’s.

Bring your appetite for the new nearby Dom’s Kitchen and Market (2730 N. Halsted Street) where every kind of food is available freshly prepared. If you need anything, you will find the Walmart Neighborhood Market at 2844 N. Broadway. Next door to the Hotel Versey you will find Stan’s Donuts, a local favorite that also has grilled cheese and cookies. 

Other hotel options in the neighborhood include the Best Western Hawthorn Terrace and The Willows.

All are just steps to the Lakeshore Path, which runs along nearby Lake Michigan. 

Bargain hunters will also love the Heart of Chicago Motel near the Andersonville neighborhood farther north and features free parking.

Hop on the L or the CTA bus for a trip to the Loop to experience the incredible Chicago architecture.

Walk along the new Riverwalk and then head up Michigan Avenue, which features the best shopping in the Midwest.

Enjoy the buildings. My favorite is the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River. Even the new buildings are stunning. Chicago does have the best architecture of any city on the planet.

Millennium Park in the loop is a must. The Shedd Aquarium is also recommended. Navy Pier has a Ferris wheel.

For nightlife, make your first stop to Sidetracks (3349 N. Halsted), America’s biggest and oldest video bar.

The famous Sunday afternoon showtunes now happen on Mondays and Fridays as well. Don’t miss the rooftop bar. There is something going on every night. You can’t beat this mega video bar institution.

Many other LGBTQ bars are nearby. The North End at 3733 N. Halsted is a sports bar. The Lucky Horsehoe features adult entertainment. Charlie’s is a western themed bar. Just north of Andersonville, you will find Touche and Jackhammer on North Clark, which are popular with the leather crowd.

Chicago is a major hub for all transportation types with both O’Hare and Midway Airports as options. Southwest has a hub in Midway Airport. Hop on the Orange Line for a quick ride in.  

For more information, visit GrabChicago.com (or pick up a copy). GRAB Magazine is Chicago’s only remaining in print LGBTQ magazine. Check the maps at the back of the magazine on where to find the bars, restaurants, and other LGBTQ businesses. The Chicago Reader is the biweekly alternative publication.

You will be amazed at everything Chicago has to offer. It is the Paris of the Midwest and arguably one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the world. Just ask lesbian Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.

#2: PALM SPRINGS

Palm Springs (Photo by photojohn830/Bigstock)

There’s always something new to give you another reason to visit Palm Springs besides the great winter weather. My most recent visit included a stop at the hottest new restaurant in town, Bar Cecil, a stop at the aviation themed speakeasy Air Bar at Bouschet, and a trip up the tram for a hike in the San Jacinto mountains. 

Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tram up to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto and enjoy a hike (or snow shoeing) in the alpine meadows. The 10-minute trip on the world’s largest rotating tram car takes just 10 minutes to ascend 8,500 feet from the base of Chino Canyon to the top of Mount San Jacinto where breathtaking views and pristine alpine wilderness await. Take a short hike in the Long Valley or visit the Winter Adventure Center. Details at pstramway.com. Other ideas:

• Hike on the North Lykken Trail at the end of Ramon Road.  Bring plenty of sunscreen and water.

• Explore the new Heritage Galleries and Antique District in Uptown.

• Visit the Palm Springs Air Museum to see the world’s largest collection of flyable World War 2 aircraft.

• Check out the new city park downtown and the oversize statute of Marilyn Monroe.

Arenas Road downtown features most of the bars. Enjoy happy hour at Quads. The new speakeasy, AirBar, is a must. Enjoy cocktails while you sit on First Class seats from Northwest Orient or enjoy coach seating on what appears to be old Southwest Airlines seats (complete with seat belts) served by a bartender dressed like a pilot. This aviation themed bar is inside Bouschet. Don’t miss the wine tastings, the Saturday night flight, and the Sunday disco and boozy Bruch. However, unlike airline travel, lunch and dinner are served (or available for purchase). Details at pspairbar.com.

Good choices for lodging include the Hotel Zoso, the Holliday House, and The Rowan by Kimpton. The Margaritaville Resort reportedly has the largest pool. But check the resort fees before you book. They can be $47 a day. Another great option is the Santiago.

Ristretto is great for coffee and breakfast. Lulu’s downtown has great quesadillas. The trout at the Eight4Nine Restaurant is to die for. El Mirasol has great Mexican food. The new Bar Cecil (restaurant) is a must. If you cannot get reservations, arrive early and sit at the bar. Vegetarians and juice lovers will want to try Nature’s Health Food and Café.

As for getting there, beware of the new hassles of traveling. American cancelled my outbound flight (staffing shortage?) so I ended up on Southwest. You don’t need a car if you stay in one of the downtown hotels. Also, save by taking the SunLine Bus to your hotel using the stop just outside the airport. It is just $1.

The Film Festival runs Jan. 6-17 while the Modernism week starts in mid-February.

For more information go to the Visit Palm Springs website, visitGreaterPS.com.

You can also read or pick up a copy of GED Magazine (GEDMag.com), Rage Magazine, or the Coachella Valley Independent for a current list of happenings. The Desert Daily Guide is another great resource.

You won’t run out of new and fun things to do in this desert LGBTQ+ oasis, which is always re-inventing itself and always a delight to visit.

#3: SAN FRANCISCO

San Francisco remains a must-see city for any LGBTQ traveler. (Photo by Andy777/Bigstock)

No sooner had I stepped off my Southwest Airlines flight at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) than I was in a LGBTQ history exhibit like no other.

The new Harvey Milk Terminal (aka Terminal One), which has been open less than a year at SFO, showcases the life of former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. Milk was an LGBTQ political trailblazer in so many respects. He was the first openly gay individual elected to office in California (in 1977) and served just 11 months before being murdered by another Supervisor, Dan White who also assassinated Mayor George Moscone. The amazing life of one of the nation’s first openly LGBTQ politicians is showcased in a half mile exhibit as you walk down the new terminal named in his honor. The terminal exhibit alone is worth a visit to the City by the Bay. 

I always stay at Beck’s Motor Lodge near the Castro right on Market Street. Shops and restaurants are nearby and the rates are reasonable. It is also out of the touristy areas and in the heart of the gayborhood. They have free parking but you won’t need a car. Other options nearby include the Parker Guest House and The Willows.

A walk along Castro Street is another history lesson with famous LGBTQ folks embedded in gold sidewalk displays. Learn about the lives of LGBTQ legends, many from the Bay Area. The city was and is a magnet for LGBTQ folks and is still cutting edge today.

San Francisco safe outdoor hiking options abound. From my motel (Becks Motor Lodge) you can hike up to Buena Vista Park for great views of the Bay Area and Twin Peaks.

Then hike over to Corona Heights for more great views of the City by the Bay (with lunch at the Josesphine Café at the Randall Museum). A hike up to Twin Peaks is another option from the Castro.

A bit farther is the amazing Golden Gate Park and the beaches on the Pacific Ocean.

We took BART from 24th/Mission down to the Embarcadero. We stopped at Rincon Center with 1930 era murals of the history of California. Then we headed over to the Ferry Building for lunch and shopping.

Head over to the new rooftop gardens at the Salesforce Tower Transbay Transit Terminal, which features a display in the mile-long garden of the various types of ecosystems that thrive in the Mediterranean climate of this amazing state. Don’t miss the redwood garden.

A walk thought the Financial District up to Union Square is another must.

If you have a car, try Edgewood County Park on the Peninsula just down I-280 south of the City on the world’s most beautiful freeway (really).

The bars are open in the Castro Street neighborhood and include The Lookout (3600 16th St. at Market), which has a great deck overlooking the street scene.

Twin Peaks Tavern at Market and Castro (401 Castro) bills itself as the Gateway to the Castro and features Irish Coffee and drink specials. It also has outdoor seating and great views of the street action. Hi Tops at 2247 Market is another fun sports bar with outdoor seating.

Erics on Church Street (accessible via the J Church Metro Line) has great lunch specials.  It is a Chinese restaurant with tasty home-cooked, healthful ingredients.

In nearby West Portal, enjoy Italian food at the amazing Spiazzo Restaurant. Try the salmon. (Catch the K or L line bus from the Castro.)  West Portal also abounds with other options for dining.

Peet’s Coffee is across the street from Beck’s Motor Lodge is a great breakfast option for to go selections.

I took Southwest to SFO and flew back out of Oakland International Airport (OAK). Both are convenient options served by the BART transit system. Get a Clipper Card and you can also use it on the San Francisco bus system, Muni.

Check out the Bay Area Reporter (ebar.com or pick up a printed copy), which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Bay Times is the other local LGBTQ publication. Both are great sources for ideas on what to do while visiting and current updates on what is open and what is not.

Bill Malcolm’s syndicated LGBTQ value travel column runs in select LGBTQ publications around America.

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