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May/June 2005 | Our Towns - Rehoboth Beach

May/June 2005 | Our Towns - Rehoboth Beach

Long known by U.S. senators as an easy escape from sweltering D.C., this seaside slice of delaware is bolstering its claim as the all-American gay getaway

Along the Atlantic coast in oft-overlooked Delaware sits gay-gracious Rehoboth Beach--one square mile of cottages, grand mansions, and sparkling sands. I arrived by powerboat from Washington, D.C., for a weekend in '94 and never really left, morphing from visitor to second-home owner to "don't hassle me, I'm local" status in a whirl.

The town's boardwalk connects 75 eateries and gourmet restaurants (many gay-owned), including the pioneering Back Porch Caf?, which welcomed a gay incursion back in 1974. Lodging includes upscale hotels, a breadth of rental cottages, and Victorian and beach-chic B&Bs (like BEDazzled, a luscious Hollywood tribute, and Bewitched, honoring lesbian icon Agnes Moorhead).

Exceptional gay-owned and gay-friendly shops (like Elegant Slumming for hot home furnishings or Rock Creek for cool clothing) lure diverse visitors from metro Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and beyond. And a stroll along Rehoboth Avenue reveals progress on an $11 million revitalization project that promises to satisfy aesthetic tastes just as the requisite hot dogs, saltwater taffy, and funnel cakes satisfy seaside junk-food cravings.

Summer mornings before hitting the beach, my partner, Bonnie, and I sip java at the women-owned Coffee Mill off very gay Baltimore Avenue. As I lay frying (which, in a shameless plug, is the name of my recently published Rehoboth Beach memoir) at Gordon's Pond women's beach or mostly male Poodle Beach, I hold a book but never finish a page of text--too much eye candy.

Sunbathers of all body types, ages, and personalities generously commingle. Products of the "gayby boom" and leashed pooches are welcome in most places too. Emissaries traverse the sand with leaflets hawking tea dances and celebrity DJs at the eclectic Frogg Pond or Caf? Zeus. At the legendary Labor Day drag volleyball competition, panty-hosed athletes spike, then sashay.

This same sand has hosted gays since the 1940s, when Tallulah Bankhead and her cronies frolicked at the Du Pont mansion and the local art league nurtured a cadre of women painters famous for both their canvases and their close camaraderie.

When a new crowd of gays descended in the '80s, a backlash saw bumper stickers screaming, keep rehoboth a family town! Now, with the providential addition of gay businesses, plus diverse neighborhoods and tourists, Rehoboth is comfortable being a family town for all kinds of families.

Despite having four seasons, Rehoboth is a year-round beach town. Summer cedes to fall's independent film and jazz festivals, wild holiday shopping (no sales tax!), and a New Year's women's gala at the convention center. Spring brings chocolate, wine, and cabaret festivals.

The hometown crowd is a friendly blend of Delaware old-timers and GLBT retirees--or wannabe retirees like me who have decided to spend their waning working years dialing back careers and doing something rewarding in a place they love. Bye-bye, corporate drag and nasty commutes; hello, gay pride and joy in "Gayberry RFD."

With attractions ranging from pinball arcades and dolphin watching to dazzling cuisine and a colossal gay sensibility, Rehoboth is the unexpected place to be this summer. Spend some quality time here and you'll never say "Delawhere?" again.

The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at update@outtraveler.com if you have any new information.


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