To better navigate and enjoy New York City, it's necessary to have a general understanding of its neighborhoods, because this huge metropolis is really a collection of "small towns." Some of these neighborhoods are nearly an hour's travel time apart. All of them have their own distinct rhythms, idiosyncrasies and in some cases, even languages. Many New Yorkers, geocentric by nature, don't venture beyond their neighborhood except to leave town. As a visitor, you should experience the triumph of curiosity over inertia that escapes many natives. Although Chelsea and Greenwich Village have the greatest concentration of gay life in Manhattan, with the Upper West Side a distant third, you'll find gay people and gay-friendly venues all over the city. We'll start with a guide to the neighborhoods, then list attractions by category.
With its epicenter at 18th Street and Eighth Avenue, (the corner and the eponymous restaurant), Chelsea is New York's visibly gayest neighborhood, typified by its legions of young muscle boys, pumped-up and proudly parodying (oops! we meant parading) their sexuality. Until about fifteen years ago, the neighborhood (bounded by 23rd and 14th Streets to the north and south, respectively; and from Fifth Avenue to the West Side Highway to the east and west, respectively) was mostly made up of Puerto Ricans and lower to middle-class whites. But as rents continued to rise in the West Village, gays and lesbians began moving directly uptown, above 14th Street, where the Village was still within walking distance away but the rents in the teens and twenties were cheaper. Now Chelsea's rents are equally as high as the Village's, if not more, as gay gentrification has turned many a sleepy storefront and bodega into a buzzing cafe or scene-making restaurant.
There has been friction between the nuyoricans of the area (Puerto Ricans raised in New York City) and the new gay element, but most of the time, tensions between the two groups seem to be far below the surface.
Chelsea's most famous landmark building would have to be the Chelsea Hotel (see above). In recent years, art galleries have started moving to the western fringes of Chelsea, between 20th and 26th Streets and 10th and 11th Avenues. Long an area of large warehouses,this area has rapidly been transformed into a bustling art gallery district, reminiscent of SoHo in the 1970's. While the area is not yet populated by the trendy restaurants and clothing stores that inevitably follow art galleries into new parts of town, there is a fascinating collection of over 50 significant galleries that can be found here. And every day it seems that new galleries keep opening.
Several of the galleries have moved from SoHo, including Paula Cooper (521 and 534 W. 21 St; 212/255-1105), Pat Hearn (530 W. 22 St), and Metro Pictures (519 W. 24 St; 212/206-7100). There is quite a buzz about Daniel Reich (537A W. 23rd St; 212/924-4949).
The main concentration of galleries is located on West 22nd Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues, also the location of the Dia Center for the Arts (535 W. 22nd St; 212/989-5566, fax 212/989-4055). The Dia is a four-story space known for its innovative and large-scale installations. On the top floor is a "Rooftop Urban Park" along with a small cafe. In the warm weather, this rooftop is one of the most interesting spots in New York to relax and enjoy the view of the surrounding warehouse neighborhood. (The Dia charges a small fee for entry.)
At 529 West 20th Street is a large building filled with contemporary art galleries. In fact, wandering from floor to floor in this building can be a rewarding adventure -- one never knows what type of unique art one will find.
Eighth Avenue crams as many gay dining and drinking options into nine blocks as is possible; you'll find everything from Mexican to nouvelle California to Thai to French, in addition to dozens of bars, catering to the leather daddies or gym dandies. If you're out for a night of dancing and serious partying, Chelsea is home to the major dance clubs where the boys boogie `til six in the morning (see PLAY/MEET).