Zurich is a modern metropolis anchored by the financial industry. Amazingly, however, alongside the suits and ties is a thriving underground that once birthed the Dada movement and now fully embraces its LGBT community. At least two major gay bars, Barfüsser (Barfuesser.ch) and Cranberry (Cranberry.ch), as well as Platzhirsch (MeinPlatzhirsch.ch), a gay-friendly bar in the lobby of a chic, small hotel, sit right in the middle of Zurich’s historical Old Town. And many of their patrons, you may find, are not necessarily gay — they just like the atmosphere and the cocktails.
Zurich’s attitude toward gay rights may also be buoyed by the fact that most people in the city are well-educated. A full tenth of the city’s population are students, thanks to several universities that dot the city. One local told me that one of the ways LGBT people started gaining legal traction in the country was by dominating Zurich’s social scene; once young people started realizing gay people were throwing earth-shattering raves in the late 1990s, the local LGBT community found young, straight allies. Zurich is run by lesbian mayor Corine Mauch, who is also the city’s first female mayor. Her election is a doubly significant coup; Swiss women have only had the right to vote since 1971.
These days there are plenty of gay, lesbian, and mixed parties that pop up in abandoned warehouses and spaces around Zurich West, a part of town that could be twinned with Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, or Burnside in Portland. Entering the neighborhood, formerly an industrial area still in the process of converting every leftover factory and warehouse from the industrial revolution into lofts and studios, you pass under the new Viadukt Markthalle (Im-Viadukt.ch). It’s still an active railroad bridge, but the arches below now house bakeries, fromageries, and furniture boutiques.
A few streets down, the Freitag brothers (Freitag.ch) sell 1,600 different eponymous messenger bags, clutches, and duffels made of recycled truck tarps from an 85-foot structure made of 19 freight containers. You can’t miss it.
If you continue to venture into Zurich West, art students and young professionals rule the streets packed with art galleries, bars, and shops. Unique among them is Schiffbau, a space that was once a boat factory. Nowadays this warehouse houses a beautiful, lofty restaurant, LaSalle (LaSalle-Restaurant.ch/en), an art gallery, a jazz club called Moods (Moods.ch/en), several theater stages, and an event hall.
The former guild house Zunfthaus Zur Waag (pictured, above) was built by an apothecary and served as the meeting place for textile workers. Nowadays it’s a formal dining experience, where you can also have a civil wedding ceremony if the mood strikes you. Waag.ch
If you’re done with all of the fondue, rösti, and chocolate, enjoy a Mediterranean lunch right in the middle of Old Town at Terrasse (Limmatquai 3, +41 44 251 10 74).
Courtesy Hotel Platzhirsch
Right across from Barfüsser, boutique hotel Hotel Platzhirsch oozes Old Town hipness but with a few more amenities. Established by the same team that built the nearby gay club T&M, but with a cheery, intimate bar and patio downstairs. MeinPlatzhirsch.ch
Get lost in the Landesmuseum Zurich, one of the three institutions of the Swiss National Museum. With room after room detailing art, commerce, history, design, and handicrafts of the Swiss, one might need a precision timepiece to mark the hours. Musee-Suisse.ch