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Feb 2004 | Perfect 10: Great Gay Ways

Feb 2004 | Perfect 10: Great Gay Ways

Walking on the wilder side of 10 streets around the globe

Commercial Street (from Franklin to Pearl), Provincetown, Mass.
The street's mix of lesbians, gay men, tourists, artists, writers, Portuguese fishermen, and drag queens makes it a living experiment in social interaction and tolerance. There's nothing quite like seeing Cher roller-skate through a New England fishing village. Sites: The Atlantic House (A-House) bar, once frequented by Tennessee Williams and Robert Mapplethorpe (who paid for drinks with art) and the location for performances by jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald. Cornerstone: Spiritus Pizza, where crowds teem when the bars close. Hot: Ryan Landry's Showgirls cabaret. Not: The beach in front of the Boatslip after hours.

Castro Street (from Market to 19th), San Francisco
A gay ghetto if ever one existed, famous for activism, street fairs, and Halloween. Marked by a 70-foot flagpole bearing a 20-by-30-foot rainbow flag. Sites: 575 Castro, once Castro Camera, the shop and residence of the late Harvey Milk and partner Scott Smith; the legendary Castro Theatre; 482 Castro (now Walgreen's), the address of a succession of gay bars, notably Toad Hall, which opened in 1971, rocking the scene at the time with its innovative use of tape cassettes instead of records. Cornerstone: Cliff's Variety, hardware, utilities, and novelties. Hot: People-watching atop one end of the wall at Harvey Milk Plaza at Market and Castro. Not: Sitting along the wall by the bushes with the junkies.

Oxford Street (from Hyde Park to Taylor Square), Sydney
Route of the flamboyant, enormous gay and lesbian Mardi Gras parade, Oxford is a street in transition and exemplifies the trend toward mixed neighborhoods and the destruction of the gay ghetto. Progress (and commerce) threatens to engulf gay history as high-end fashion stores move down from the Paddington end, swallowing up the more modest gay businesses closer to Taylor Square. Sites: The Albury Hotel, famous as the drag club in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, traded in its stiletto heels for a pair of running shoes--it's now a Puma store. Cornerstone: Decades-old Aussie Boys clothing store, which has kept itself relevant by taking in high-end brands. Hot: Friday nights at the Midnight Shift. Not: Downstairs at the Oxford.

Ste. Catherine Street (from Amherst to Papineau), Montreal
The heart of Montreal's gay village, this strip is just one segment of a street that commercially defines the French Canadian city. Overall, the village is looking much better than it did several years ago, getting trendier, thanks to new businesses and renovations. Sites: Parc de L'Espoir (Hope Park). Cornerstone: Twenty-five-year-old Priape, a one-stop gay products store and Montreal's oldest and most renowned gay business. Hot: Sky nightclub's Sunday tea dance. Not: The corner of Champlain, where the prostitutes hang out.

Canal Street (from Chorlton to Princess), Manchester, England
Setting for the original Queer as Folk series, the gritty working-class northern city boasts this vibrant street, which recently attracted the EuroPride 2003 festival to its sidewalks. The Heritage Lottery Fund also gave Manchester gays a controversial $68,000 to create a historical walking tour. Sites: Sackville Park, home of two sculptures celebrating gay life, including one honoring Alan Turing, the World War II Enigma Code cracker who was later arrested for homosexuality and committed suicide. Cornerstone: The New Union, a bar that dates back to the 19th century. Hot: Hanging out at Spirit (adjacent to 46 Canal) with Manchester's gay rugby team. Local celeb: David Beckham.

Santa Monica Boulevard (from Doheny to Crescent Heights), West Hollywood, Calif.
The palm-lined strip got a face-lift in 2001 and hasn't lost its energy as the cruisiest street in town. Sites: The Troubadour nightclub, where Elton really became a superstar; the first gay-owned bank, at the corner of San Vicente; the vacant Hollywood Stock Exchange building, formerly a furniture store owned for decades by the family of Herb Ritts. Cornerstone: Pavilions supermarket, the best pickup place in town. Hot: Sundays at Here Lounge (Thursdays for the girls) or next door at The Abbey. Not: The steam room at 24-Hour Fitness.

Christopher Street (from Sixth Avenue to the Hudson River), New York City
This Greenwich Village street is known internationally as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, yet New Yorkers balk that there's anything happening here, despite several blocks of bars, boutiques, and businesses. It's the world's old gay uncle, still wearing clothes it bought in the '70s. Sites: The Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher), where gay history began in 1969. Cornerstone: Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop (15 Christopher), the world's first gay bookstore. Hot: The newly refurbished Christopher Street piers. Not: The Beach hair salon, getting your tips frosted.

Reguliersdwarsstraat (from Koningsplein to Thorbeckeplein), Amsterdam
While it seems the entire city may be a little gay, this particular lane stands out. However, Warmoesstraat and Amstel streets are not to be ignored, for there are more partying queens on these few blocks than in the rest of Europe. Sites: The Homomonument (see Orientation). Cornerstone: Sunday happy hour at Bar April, one of the city's oldest. Hot: You II is the only lesbian dance club in the city; for the boys it's Exit or Soho. Not: That depends on your level of liberation.

Old Compton Street (from Charing Cross Road to Wardour), London
The closest London gets to a 24-hour culture, scruffy Soho was once the center of the city's sex industry but has slowly changed to accommodate restaurants, coffee shops, and a large number of the city's gay bars--though like many gay neighborhoods, it feels a bit stale for the locals. Sites: Admiral Duncan pub (more popular than ever), where a devastating nail bomb exploded and killed three people in an antigay attack in 1999. Cornerstone: Balan's restaurant, serving modern European cuisine. Hot: Girls Go Down, in the downstairs bar of G.A.Y., the street's newest lesbian hangout; smart lads head to Rupert Street.

North Halsted Street (from Addison to Belmont), Chicago
While many gays are exiting Lakeview's Boystown district--because of housing costs--for Andersonville, centered along Clark Street to the north, you can't miss North Halsted with its enormous rainbow pylons welcoming visitors. Because of a yuppie influx, strollers have almost replaced chaps as the accessory of choice, much to the chagrin of local gay business owners. Sites: The nearby Belmont Rocks on the lakeshore. Cornerstone: Sidetrack video bar. Hot: Hydrate (3458 N. Halsted) is the new place to be; Sidetrack on a Sunday afternoon is the old standby. Not: The back of the Ram bookstore.

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