New York City felt like it was almost its bustling self again as I walked through the streets enjoying the warm spring weather during a recent trip.
The city, like many others, is forever changed after more than two years of the COVID pandemic, but in true New York fashion, the Big Apple is coming back. It was my second trip within six months after about a two and a half year break.
New Yorkers rolled up their sleeves (more than 80% are vaccinated), masked up, and have done pretty much everything they can to get their groove back. However, COVID subvariants continue to emerge in the ongoing pandemic. Some venues are still enforcing proof of vaccination and masks. Face coverings are still required on all public transportation until further notice and in Broadway theaters at least until May 31.
Recently, COVID cases have been on the rise in New York due to the new highly contagious Omicron subvariant, BA.2.12.1. People planning to visit should check the city’s visitor site (under Basic Information) for the latest.
Some Broadway shows have canceled performances due to COVID. Other shows are taking place. New restaurants are opening, and reservations are harder to get than ever before. New museum exhibits are opening. Big events are coming back like New York Pride, which returns in-person June 26 with the theme “Unapologetically Us.”
“Our community has been through tremendous hardships over the past few years, beginning with the pandemic, and continuing with a reckoning with social justice, threats to our democracy, and more recently armed conflict overseas,” stated NYC Pride’s new executive director, Sandra Perez, in a March 25 news release. “Compounding these struggles is the onslaught of legislation around the country that directly targets LGBTQIA+ individuals.
“In spite of these challenges and attacks, we are here to tell the country and the world: we will not be erased,” Perez continued, stating that the community will stand together to face the attacks on the LGBTQ community across the country and around the world. “We will continue to love and live our truth and be our full and complete selves – and we are not going to apologize for it.”
NYC Pride board Co-Chair Sue Doster noted the importance of the annual celebration that attracts upward of two million people from across the United States and all over the world.
“We’re thrilled to be able to finally invite everyone back,” she stated.
Tourism officials said the city is rebounding.
“The city is as vibrant as ever,” said Chris Heywood, a gay man who’s executive vice president of global communication of NYC & Company, New York City’s destination marketing and convention and visitors bureau.
The pandemic did not completely stop New York from retrofitting, innovating, and building new hotels, spectacular sites, and opening new restaurants.
“That’s the beauty about New York,” Heywood continued. “Resilience is really our middle name. People are going to encounter a city that is continuing to come back.”
The city’s newest vantage point is at Summit One Vanderbilt. The Summit is a 65,000 square foot space at the top of the 93-story office and residential building at One Vanderbilt adjacent to Grand Central Station.
The observatory deck opened in October 2021. It is much more than the highest view (for the moment) of New York City; it’s an experience with a view. Each room is an art installation accentuating the feeling of being high in the sky or in the clouds. At the very top are Apres and the Summit Terrace, where my girlfriend and I enjoyed a cocktail while admiring New York’s sparkling skyline under the night sky.
Tickets to catch the sunset view cost about an extra $16. The Summit does not itemize what the extra amount is at checkout, but it’s for experiencing the Summit at the golden hour, the optimal time of day.
It wouldn’t be New York City without the many opportunities to see art. This spring and summer visitors can catch the 80th edition of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s “Biennial 2022: Quiet As It’s Kept,” which opened April 6. The two-floor exhibit brings together a survey of 63 American artists exploring the darkness and disruption of 2020. The title is a colloquial phrase taken from the late novelist Toni Morrison. The show runs through September 5.
Henri Mattise lovers can take in a rare exhibit of the French artist’s early works that formed modern art at the Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Mattise: The Red Studio,” which opened May 1. The show runs through September 10.
I rarely leave New York without seeing at least one show on Broadway. Right now, it’s all about the classics and some new musicals (“Wicked,” “Chicago,” and “Funny Girl”) and plays (“Plaza Suite” and “To Kill A Mockingbird”).
Dining and drinking
Food draws my girlfriend and I to New York just as much as Broadway’s musicals. For this trip, I sought out restaurants that were old favorites that survived the pandemic, some that were reborn, and others that were new.
At night we hit the town enjoying dishes crafted by some of New York’s finest lesbian chefs. Chef and restaurateur duo Rita Sodi and Jody Williams’ beloved Via Carota lived up to the hype. You can’t go wrong with pasta, but this is exceptional pasta. I also dined at the culinary couple’s newest venture The Commerce Inn. It veers away from the chefs’ usual turf, French and Italian cuisine, exploring and modernizing American Shaker dishes that hit the mark.
Lesbian executive chef Hillary Sterling crafted a distinctive Italian menu at Ci Siamo restaurateur Danny Meyer’s latest culinary venture. Lesbian executive chef Mary Attea at the Michelin-rated The Musket Room serves a revisioned world on your plate. There was no doubt that I wouldn’t enjoy chef and restaurateur Mark Strausman’s new restaurant Mark’s Off Madison, which has a warm atmosphere and incredible, flavorful comfort food.
Two unique restaurants that might signal a shift in the queer culinary scene in New York are Tagmo and Hags. Both restaurants are queer-owned and -operated. They actively hire LGBTQ staff and are deeply involved in the community.
Queer chef Surbhi Sahni is the heart behind Tagmo, an Indian restaurant that opened in Seaport, a small shopping and dining center near One World Trade Center, in September 2021. Tagmo is not your average Indian restaurant. Dining there is a gastronomic adventure through India with all its diverse cuisines.
The much-anticipated Hags is targeted to open just ahead of Memorial Day weekend, May 25. The Lower Eastside restaurant aims to be the first upscale queer restaurant, according to business and life partners Telly Justice, a transgender woman, and Camille Lindsley, a queer woman.
New York’s nightlife isn’t quite what it used to be like yet. My girlfriend and I enjoyed early nightcaps at Tiny’s & The Bar Upstairs in Tribeca, the historic Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, and Bar Veloce in Chelsea.
Village lesbian bar mainstays – Henrietta Hudson and Cubbyhole – and Brooklyn’s Ginger’s Bar got makeovers during the pandemic and recently reopened. Catch roving lesbian events hosted by Dyke Beer and Dave’s Lesbian Bar on their websites or follow them on social media.
The boys are back in action from Midtown to Harlem with bars and nightclubs for every stripe in the rainbow flag. Check out Midtown’s swanky The Townhouse of New York. Head to the West Village’s Playhouse or get nostalgic at New York’s oldest gay bar Julius’ and the historic Stonewall Inn. Head uptown to Harlem for the last remaining Black-owned gay bar Alibi Lounge.
Where to stay
My girlfriend and I stayed at the Smyth Tribeca. The newly renovated modern 100-room hotel opened in September 2021. The hotel is comfortable, chic, and perfectly located on the corner of Chambers Street and West Broadway above the Westside’s 1 line. The subway line is a direct vein to Broadway, the Village, and many of New York’s most popular destinations.
New York’s metro is going touchless with Omny, an app that allows riders to tag on and off the subway and buses with their smartphones and other smart devices. Riders can choose to use the Metro Card or the app to get around the city.
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Annual LGBTQ march held on Saturday
The 2022 Baltimore Pride Parade was held on Saturday, June 25. The march was followed by a block party and entertainment.
(Washington Blade photos by Linus Berggren)
Queer actor on new role: ‘Playing villains is a blast’
Jaye Ayres-Brown returns as a contemptible Londoner in ‘Red Velvet’
Through July 17
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh, 450 7th St., N.W.
After a five-year absence from the stage, actor Jaye Ayres-Brown (queer, gender fluid, non-binary, and trans-femme) returns to the boards as a contemptible cisgender Londoner in playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s “Red Velvet” at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Klein Theatre.
Possessed of presence and genuine warmth, Ayres-Brown, 27, is playing Charles Kean, the smug and dubiously talented son of legendary English actor Edmund Kean. Charles is also the essential antagonist in Chakrabarti’s exploration of the life and career of renowned early 19th century African-American Shakespearean actor, Ira Aldridge (Amari Cheatom).
When Aldridge is tapped to play Othello on the London stage, Charles, who’s slated to act opposite the star as evil Iago, quits the show. It’s 1833 and Charles is deeply opposed to a Black actor playing a Black lead character, and he’s even less pleased that his real-life fiancée Ellen Tree (Emily DeForest) is assaying Othello’s romantic obsession Desdemona in the production.
Offstage, Ayres-Brown is Aldridge’s biggest fan: “He was way ahead of his time. A hundred years before Stanislavsky, Aldridge was introducing a proto naturalist approach to acting. In retrospect, it’s hard to disentangle the public’s reaction to him. He was something so different. But were white audiences reacting to his innovative acting style or were they showing their racial bias?”
“In the play, I’m that bias,” says the New York-based actor.
WASHINGTON BLADE: Joan Crawford famously said, “I love playing bitches. There’s a lot of bitch in every woman — a lot in every man.”
JAYE AYRES-BROWN: Oh yeah, playing villains is a blast. Ira Aldridge was such a spectacularly heroic person, an amazingly gifted and resourceful artist, he deserves a good villain to push against, a meaningful villain who makes us admire the hero even more. And Amari [Cheatom], the actor who plays Aldridge, is a great artist who deserves a strong antagonist too.
BLADE: Are you enjoying your stay in London 1833?
AYRES-BROWN: No, I hate it! But my character loves it. Charles enjoys tremendous privilege – racial and professionally. He’s a cisgender white supremacist committed to the patriarchal power structure of the time. But me, Jaye as a person, is less than charmed by it.
BLADE: But aesthetically, it’s quite fine?
AYRES-BROWN: Yes, You-Shin Chen’s sets are impeccable, and the period costumes are beautifully rendered by Rodrigo Muñoz. Sometimes, I do feel a little bit like a drag king in Charles’ attire. It’s a performance of masculinity.
I have an expansive experience of gender in which I include masculinity and I think I have something interesting to say and a unique perspective. Language about gender nonconforming identity didn’t exist in 1833, but the people existed, getting by the best way they could. Everyone was either a man or a woman. Who knows today how any of these characters would identify?
My objective is to cram as much humanity in the character as I can. The play is deeply considered with questions about who gets to play what roles. And I try to bring as much of myself to each role regardless of their gender.
BLADE: Charles is very far from who you are?
AYRES-BROWN: For me, the work of playing a character like this is derived largely from the racist lessons all Americans learn. The stereotypes are things that I’ve been exposed to as someone who grew up white in America. There’s the initial desire to distance and highlight contrasts, but ultimately you must mine your own experience even if it’s uncomfortable.
BLADE: How is it to be working in live theater again?
AYRES-BROWN: Like Christmas morning! It’s my first play in five years, and still my training kicks in. I re-balance on my bike and it’s like I’ve never stopped riding. But mostly, I’m trying to have as much fun as I can.
BLADE: And how was working with young director Jade King Carroll?
AYRES-BROWN: Wonderful! The play deals with some difficult moments, harmful language and ideas. Jade created a space in our rehearsal room where people could be playful while engaging with that. Dealing with concepts of history requires the seriousness it demands, but there’s also a need for humor and lightness, and Jade made that possible.
BLADE: Any thoughts on “Red Velvet” being stuck in time?
AYRES-BORWN: No, I think this play is a shockingly contemporary telling of a lost history that feels overwhelmingly resonant as it’s related to identity politics and the push for representation. I hope the audience sees a period but appreciates the present-day dynamics, discussions, and language. It’s also surprisingly human and very entertaining. To me it’s a very funny show. Anyone interested in laughing at posh British folks being stupid might agree.
Olympic champion Tom Daley ‘furious’ about bans on trans athletes
“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not ok”
Olympic diving champion Tom Daley said he is “furious” about FINA, the world swimming body, banning some transgender athletes from women’s swimming, diving, and other competitions.
“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not OK,” Daley said to iNews at a press conference. “It’s something I feel really strongly about. Giving trans people the chance to share their side.”
Earlier this month, FINA released the new policy on eligibility, banning athletes who have experienced male puberty from women’s competitions.
FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said the new policy intended to protect athletes’ right to compete but also ensure competition fairness.
FINA intends to create an open category for athletes whose birth sex is different from their gender identity.
“This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.” Al-Musallam said.
The new policy was condemned by the Human Rights Campaign, which said that requiring athletes to transition before age 12 was unrealistic and unlikely. States such as Alabama regulate young people’s access to age-appropriate gender-affirming care.
“This sudden and discriminatory decision is a blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years without issue,” said Joni Madison, HRC’s Interim President, “This policy is an example of swimming organizations caving to the avalanche of ill-informed, prejudiced attacks targeted at one particular transgender swimmer.”
The new policy will impact the career of trans swimmer Lia Thomas, the first trans woman to win a NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championship, and may prevent her from participating and competing in the female category.
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