The Abbey - West Hollywood gay bar

OUT Destination is a new series of travel guides to popular gay destinations on My Gay Travel Guide. This edition is a weekend gay guide to West Hollywood.

By Joey Amato

In my first visit to the West Coast in many years, I decided to venture out to the land of dreams, Los Angeles, California and more specifically, West Hollywood. In a region known for celebrities, rolling hills and mega mansions, West Hollywood is a wondrous enclave, with its own identity and a drastically different vibe than its surrounding neighbors.

The most difficult part of your journey will be getting from Los Angeles International Airport to West Hollywood…the traffic in Los Angeles is legendary.  But once you arrive, all of your worries seem to fade away.  Check in at the newly renovated Le Montrose Suites, situated just blocks from Santa Monica Boulevard and minutes away from some of the most popular gay venues in the country.

The magnificent boutique hotel offers a full-service restaurant, beautifully appointed suites complete with full kitchen, living space, balcony, flat screen televisions and luxury linens. Le Montrose also features a fitness center and rooftop pool overlooking the Los Angeles skyline, perfect for sun bathing or enjoying a late-night swim.

A car isn’t really necessary in West Hollywood, unless you would like to take a trip to Malibu, Santa Monica or nearby Pasadena. Everything you need during your stay in WeHo is at your fingertips. Stop in at one of many LGBT-owned retail shops lining Santa Monica Blvd. and check out the latest fashion trends from local designers.

For a delightful dining experience amongst the West Hollywood “It” crowd, head to Eveleigh, located on the famous Sunset Strip.  Here, diners can feast on a variety of options. To start, try some of the wonderful “small plates,” which include: Crisp Spring Fennel with black olive aioli, Grilled Monteray Squid with garlic, lemon and olive oil or Roasted Bone Marrow with celery cress, radish and smoked sea salt.

With something for every taste, Eveleigh is definitely one of the premier dining establishments in the area.  The restaurant also offers a wonderful wine selection, perfect to accompany any entrée.  I highly recommend the Grilled Boulder Valley hanger steak with crisp potatoes and caramelized onions or the Roasted Half Jidori Chicken with picholine olives, almonds, preserved lemon, and golden raisins.

The Abbey - West Hollywood gay bar

After dinner, head back to Santa Monica Blvd. to one of over a dozen gay bars/clubs in the city. Of course, the most popular of them is The Abbey. Voted “Best Gay Bar in the World,” by Logo, The Abbey is located just steps away from Le Montrose Suites. Owner David Cooley founded the venue 20 years ago as a coffee shop and since then, it has grown to be the premier LGBT nightlife venue in West Hollywood with approximately 16,000 square feet of space.  Continue reading

Be sure to bring a healthy lunch of cheese, fruit & bread for your day on the Paris beach!
Be sure to bring a healthy lunch of cheese, fruit & bread for your day on the Paris beach!

July and August is very much the holiday season in Paris, with locals leaving the city in their droves to spend a few weeks at their countryside cottages. However for those Parisians that do stay, and of course the tourists like ourselves, there’s a fantastic treat in store – Paris Plages, a number of man-made urban beaches that appear on the banks of the Seine and bring a whole host of cultural events to the city.

Stretching from the Tulleries to the Pont d’Arcole, these beaches feature sunloungers, parasols and plenty of sand on which to sunbathe or build a sandcastle. Whether you arrive to Paris by train or plane, the city can be quite lively and fun in the summer. Maybe that’s because all the stereotypically obnoxious locals aren’t there to annoy the tourists. There’s plenty of action on the Seine itself, with boats, canoes and ‘tube rollers’ to enjoy.

Sun, Sand and Sports

Many exciting events take place throughout the days of Paris Plages too, such as live, free concerts, big-screen broadcasts of the Olympics, a mini Olympic village and even treasure hunts and dance shows, so you’ll never be short of something unusual to do.

The events begin on July 20th and run until August 19th, so if you’re thinking of snapping up cheap flights, check out airlines like Jet2.com for prices as low as £21.99 from the UK including taxes.

Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit!

brighton-pier

Staying near Gatwick? Go active sightseeing this summer: dance and water sports events in Sussex’s alternative capital

Brighton is one of the UK’s real unique destinations. A city with a strong reputation for its liberal attitudes and openness – home to the first ever elected Green MP; widely acknowledged as the most pro gay-rights and sexually liberated city in the UK; a haven of bicycles, organic veg and the seaside.

That said, Brighton is far more than smug yummy mummies buying avocados. It is a place that houses projects, social centres and cafes committed to alternative living – such as the renowned Cowley Club, on London Road. It’s also the city to find some of the most expressive voices on queer and feminist politics in the UK.

It’s actually a city with a small city centre which mashes together the liberal middle classes, students, activists and working class locals who are often all drawn to the same, magnetic point: the Pier and the accompanying seaside.

Many visitors to the UK don’t realise that Brighton is both extremely close to London – more than that, the UK capital and this Sussex city are more or less equidistant to Gatwick Airport.  Yet visitors rarely think of turning the other way and heading out to the coast for a taste of Pier life.

As well as being a great place for culture – from poetry readings by the likes of Keston Sutherland to works by resident Brighton Dome dance company the Hofesh Shechter Company – Brighton is an excellent place to get active.

As well as hosting an increasingly over-subscribed marathon in spring, Brighton’s proximity to the sea makes it an ideal spot for getting a wetsuit on and having a paddle.  This summer there’s the chance to jump right in as part of an alternative Olympic season.

In July, Brighton hosts two of the biggest community sports events in the UK – Paddle Around the Pier (7th-8th July); which also coincides with the launch of a national Big Dance Wee. This runs from the 8th until the 15th and aims to get record numbers of Britons dancing – many events are free and there’ll be plenty of people there, so you can easily blend into the crowd with your moves…

More unique to Brighton is the aforementioned Paddle Around the Pier. This was established in 1996 by local surfer Dave Samuel and the premise is simple: bring surfers together to raise money for charity by paddling around the pier as fast as you can!

Money raised by the event goes to charities which protect the sea and support surfing communities and areas. You can do it on a sea kayak or surfboard of your choice. Previous beneficiaries include the RNLI, Surfers Against Sewage and SurfAid International.

This year is no different, as competitors from around the world will be lining up to take part. The event will be launched on the 7th July with a Brazilian Carnival at The View in Hove – with handsome rewards for the best attire. In my opinion, it’s a safer bet for a good time than trumping around London during the Olympics.

If you are travelling through Gatwick airport, why not make a day of it and visit Brighton?

schwuz-club

The past week in Berlin has been an especially gay one for me. I’m not one to hit up gay clubs or bars every week, but sometimes life just works out that way.

We’ll do this narrative style.

Saturday night out in Berlin

My very gay week in Berlin began with a friend’s going-away party at Club der Visionaire. It’s not a gay club but instead a hipster one. It’s on the side of the Landwehr canal and has some of Berlin’s best pizza (seriously). It’s open 24-hours on the weekend, only costs 2 euros to get in and has some of the most awesome DJs you can find for that price. Some of the people inside are going to be the type to party hard, usually with artificial supplements, but chilling on the floating barge attached to the bar is also a perfectly acceptable way to enjoy the club. Nothing extraordinarily gay here except a lot of cute hipsters…and druggies hanging out in the bathroom.

As my Friday evening at Club der Visionaire wound down, I made my way to the legendary Berghain club with a friend. He’d try to get inside several times before but had always been stopped at the door (as so many do). With a little luck, though, we’d make our way inside.

We waited in the Berghain line/queue a good two solid hours. Thankfully we had brought some beers and there was a friendly Irish couple in front of us. We spent the time talking about the party scene in Berlin, travel around Europe and other things I don’t remember. Sometime after 4:30am, we were in. Continue reading

pink_umbrella_pride2010

Forget Queen Lizzie’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, many a gay in the UK has been building up to this month’s World Pride celebrations in London, following a shortfall in cash however the expected proceedings were ‘adjusted’. Meaning that World Pride 2012 went ahead in central London last weekend without a number of well-known Pride mainstays e.g. big flashy corporate floats and the Soho street party.

According to Pride London, the UK is “the best country in Europe” to be gay, and I’d say even better if you’re a fan of the rain (welcome to the UK folks!). The drizzle on the day itself added to the potential disappointment, but as ever with Pride there was more than enough joy swishing around to attract thousands strong crowds of curious onlookers.

Record numbers of Pridegoers from around the world were drawn to London all the same (by the promise of proximity to each another), with revellers wholeheartedly ignoring the fact that the Soho street party had ever been called off. Some even reported Soho square and the surrounding streets being busier than ever.

But what about us Brits, where do we fantasize about taking our beau away for a romantic break, or for that boy’s or girl’s holiday with friends? In Europe, and even Tel Aviv in the middle-east, couples can take a break in easy-going gay friendly surroundings all year round. With World Pride celebrations upon us, the very real atmosphere of acceptance in the air – and those flashy pink euros to boot – the world is your oyster!

Take a look at Adam Spawton-Rice’s choices for next month’s Pride celebrations in Europe: Continue reading

le-big-jay-gay-vlog

Originally posted here by LeBigJay.net who is currently traveling through Eastern Europe & the Middle East. Read below to find out what it was like traveling through Eastern Europe…

I left London, and Paris a bit more than a month ago, and I’m travelling east.

I knew that progressively things would become more and more difficult, slowly walking my way out of my comfort zone: culture, language, habits, diet, growing importance of religion(s), random hygiene and cleanliness in some places, reliability of transports, road signs… and degrading gay rights.

I’m currently in Georgia, and I’ve only crossed countries where homosexuality was decriminalised in the early 2000s for the most recent. From place to place, I’ve seen dwindling gay visibility and poorer and poorer conditions of life for homosexuals: UK, France, and then Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia. One after the other they roughly form a gradient pattern from green to red of gay freedom. Actually, Romania is the exception, being far behind its two neighbours.

In every country I have met with at least one gay, and had the chance to hear them talk about their life. I will describe my experience and feeling as a witness here in a nutshell.

Italy

Northern Italy was almost just as cool as southern France. This means Mediterranean patriarchal catholic Italy is a relatively tolerant society, but discretion is key. You might get the odd look if you hold your partner in the street in big cities.

Slovenia

Slovenia is a small country, and the capital is a small city. But the people seemed rather open-minded, and the religion is not as much leading the moral as it is in Italy. I had a flirt with a delicious local boy when I was there, and occasional displays of affection were no problem. Once we were lying on the grass in a central square of Ljubljana, my head resting against is thigh (!), and this was cool.

Hungary

I didn’t stay long in Budapest, Hungary, and went to an awful gay bar because my Couchsurfing host had organised everything (do not ever let a hetero organise gay entertainment, NEVER!). But other popular and friendly places are plenty, and gays seemed to be pretty relaxed out there.

Romania

Romania was very different. The country openly boasts that homosexuality doesn’t exist, which is a frightening enough introduction. And indeed, not a bar, not a place. Just a few people online. So not much to say about it really, just avoid it.

Bulgaria

I had a more extensive chat with a gay in Golden Sands, the Black Sea resort north of Varna, Bulgaria. This is a very lively and touristy area, and an emerging summer destination for eastern and western Europeans. The national entertainment industry has some openly gay stars. All this has helped developing minds and making things easier for gays. Varna used to have two gay bars, but only one remains open these days, and from what I was told Sofia had a ‘good’ scene with bars and clubs, which I imagine is comparable to the one in Budapest.

Turkey

I met a gay in Istanbul, Turkey, but he wasn’t so much out of the closet because of Syrian origin. As for most of the previous country, the gay ‘life‘ is mostly happening online, which is probably what has killed the struggling businesses of bars. I returned to the place where there was a gay bar near Taksim on my previous visit six years or so ago, but it was no more. Indeed, when you connect to Grindr, there is a significant number of fit and hairy torsos and bottoms (see inset), but people of the same gender in the streets have friendship displays of affections and misleading eyeballing attitude. Men have a habit to scrutinizing each other to compare fashion and fitness, which can be pretty disturbing but is no way a mark of homosexuality. Despite this, this is the starting point to a very subtle and exciting game to find out what is beyond that look… but be VERY careful!

Georgia

Finally I made it to Georgia, and this even more complicated here. Even in the capital Tbilisi, there is no gay scene, very few people online (see below) and absolutely no tolerance of any kind. I’ve also been in Batumi, the coastal city and a popular resort with mostly Russian, Turkish, Armenian and other Middle Eastern tourists. Although almost as developed as its sister resort Varna on the other side of the Black sea, mentalities remain stuck in the past. I had a flirt with a guy there. There was absolutely no way we could touch or kiss. He even rejected my hands on his knee below the table. This is the worst living conditions for gays here, and even if a few militants are working hard to walk their way to parliament and have political and social representation they’re only welcomed by violent anti-gay protests (see below).

I’m about to continue my trip into Azerbaijan, and on to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. I have arranged to meet with a gay in Uzbekistan, and shall post a follow up article on the topic.

The gay scene

Generally speaking, I don’t like to hang out in gay bars unless I’m in good company of friends. I don’t feel comfortable. So although I was always asking the locals about bars and clubs, I never went. Except for Romania, all eastern European countries had at least one or two places in their capital cities, and some of them had one in smaller cities. In Bulgaria, I was told that Sofia had a pretty developed scene, and one bar remained open in Varna, the coastal city. Budapest, and Istanbul are OK, with a few places to hang out, and cruising spots. In Georgia, no gay bar, hardly any friendly bar or cruising area. Gay rights organizations seem to be struggling to fight for our rights, and to keep a randomly up-to-date website. There was a march attempt in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, this year, but because of outnumbering anti-gay religious protesters, the police stopped the march and took the gay militants to safety. You can read the BBC report here.

The Grindr indicator

It was interesting to connect to Grindr along the way, and see the thumbnail of torsos dwindling in number as I was progressing. In Georgia, only a few were in the vicinity. The fourth guy would be 160km away (Yerevan, Armenia), and the tenth would be in Istanbul (1200km away)… And even they would send you the introductory (and somewhat hilarious) ‘sexy’, or ‘hot’! Sorry, my dick ain’t so long… Well, don’t be mistaking, there are two factors to this. Not to my dick size, please focus. One is that the gays are in the closet or, worse, they are in denial and live a heterosexual life. So very little open gays, and second reason is that very few people have a smartphone. There is a Nokia museum here. So homophobia, or poor acceptance, gays in the closet and very low-tech equipment make it very hard to meet the gays, and certainly a nightmare for locals.

Follow @lebigjay on Twitter

montreal-queer-year-contest

Queer of the Year is an annual competition hosted by Tourisme Montreal (this is the contest’s 3rd year). Five Gay, Lesbian and Queer people fly to Montreal (all-expenses paid) to compete for a $5000 cash prize. The winner will also come away with a return trip to Montreal, and the official title: QUEER OF THE YEAR 2012.

You can enter the contest any day up until July 20 by visiting www.facebook.com/QOTYcontest. If you want to take part, you’ll have to submit an official application explaining why you’re the best candidate. Finalists are chosen each day from July 12 to July 26. Five finalists will be flown to gay-friendly Montreal for an all-expenses paid trip during which they’ll have to participate in various challenges and activities. The trip will take place during the same time as Montreal’s Pride Week, August 11 to 19th.

Details from the Facebook contest page:

We’re looking for participants with personality, talent, a healthy lifestyle, community spirit and sex appeal. Five finalists will be chosen, but only one will earn enough public votes to be crowned Queer of the Year! Tourisme Montréal, in collaboration with Air Canada and Hotel Le Germain, will fly the finalists to Montréal for an all-expenses-paid trip of challenges, adventure and high-performance fun worth C$15,000. There they’ll duke it out for a grand cash prize of C$5,000. Runner-ups will even receive C$1000 just for participating! Think you have what it takes? Enter by July 20 to find out.

Are you planning to enter?

(via)

VB-00039545-001

The city of Las Vegas is to be the official destination partner of WorldPride 2012, an international celebration of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. It is the first year that the annual PrideLondon has the honour of hosting the WorldPride Festival, and several million worldwide visitors and locals are anticipated to attend the event in Central London on 7th July 2012.

With a series of cultural and campaigning events happening across the Capital in the run up to the parade day, the Festival calendar is littered with a vast array of entertainment events, spread across various venues in and around central London. Whether looking for a gay dog show, art, music or theatre, the festival will offer something for everyone.

“Las Vegas has become a destination of choice among the LGBT community,” said Cathy Tull, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas convention and Visitors Authority.  “By supporting  WorldPride, Las Vegas will generate awareness among this key market as well as promote the destination as a whole.”

Las Vegas as a gay destination

In addition to its enormous offering of world class day and nightlife, Las Vegas has a high concentration of gay bars, many of them clustered together in a small quadrant along Paradise Road south of the gay-popular Hard Rock Hotel – an area often dubbed the “Gay Quarter” or “Fruit Loop.” Another neighborhood of top gay bars is situated in the Commercial Center – also home to one of the most legendary Thai restaurants on the West Coast of America, Lotus of Siam, which happens to be extremely gay-friendly.

Commenting on the Festival, Chair of Pride London Patrick Williams said: “Our team has worked hard to produce a festival that’s bigger and better than ever before. Not only do these events highlight the cultural diversity of the LGBT community, they also provide a vibrant backdrop to our campaigns. We are naturally delighted that Las Vegas has decided to come onboard as a silver level destination sponsor this year, and look forward to what will hopefully be a long collaboration together to promote the city to this important market.”

For further information on Las Vegas please visit www.visitlasvegas.co.uk

gay_pride_flag

World Pride 2012 is in London this year – so what’s going on? What’s there to do?

Well, this article was originally going to be about all the exciting events lined up as part of World Pride 2012 in London next week… but as it turns out, not so much!  London’s World Pride on Saturday, July 7th, has been significantly scaled-back.

Much is being said in LGBT circles around London about missed opportunities and the wasted efforts of volunteers, not to mention must aspersion-casting at the Pride London organisation, but none of it helps you very much if you’ve got a weekend trip to London booked and now aren’t sure what to do with it…  but Fear Not!  You certainly won’t be the only one in that situation and with everyone geared-up to celebrate, we’re going to have a damned good party anyway – even if the pubs do close at their normal time!

There are lots of gay things going on around London independently of the official Pride events, but let’s start with a recap of what’s happening with World Pride:

The big event will be the Pride Procession.  It’s taking its familiar route through the heart of London’s West End, but it’s now going to be starting at 11am on Saturday.  The procession assembles around Baker Street (Baker Street Tube) before setting off and if you fancy tagging on to the end, lots of people usually do and you can march through the cheering crowds with the rest of us!  Dress proudly – in fact, dress outrageously proudly, or you’ll be lost in the crowd!

After the parade disperses a few hours later, most people will head back to Trafalgar Square or on to Soho.  Trafalgar Square will have a stage under Nelson’s Column where there’ll be a variety of entertainment acts and political speeches throughout the afternoon.  Soho, the centre of Gay London, will host the more traditional revelries (drinking, eating and people-watching) until late into the night, when the action transfers to any one of a number of clubs around the West End and Vauxhall.

If you’re in town for longer than just the day there are literally dozens of Pride-related events you can go see.  The Pride London website has a long list to scroll through, but I’m going to highlight a few of my personal favourites…

Go along to the London Gay Men’s Chorus’ World Pride concert on Friday 6th July in Southwark Cathedral (London Bridge Tube).  It’s free entry with a “suggested £10 donation.”  The Chorus are celebrating their twenty-first anniversary this year with a selection of hits from a long back-catalogue, alongside a few newly arranged pieces.  The acoustic of the cathedral should show off the voices – and the eclectic repertoire – to their best advantage.  [BTW I should declare an interest here – I sing Baritone with the Chorus – but it’s still a damn-good night out!]

Another free-entry is the London Gay Photographers Network Exhibition, f20-12, held around the corner from Charing Cross in the Strand Gallery, John Adam Street.  Not especially gay-themed (although there’s certainly a variety of manflesh on display!) the exhibition showcases the best works of nearly sixty gay photographers and runs daily until Sunday 8th July.  (The exhibits are for sale at pretty reasonable prices too!)

If you fancy a night at the theatre, the Menier Chocolate Factory is staging a production of The Torch Song Trilogy throughout the Pride period.  The Menier is known for staging gems which often go on to bigger things and Torch Song has had good reviews here.  Probably best to book in advance as it’s an “intimate” venue and I understand it’s selling well.  They have a restaurant on site too which does a decent pre-theatre menu.

So, those are my suggestions for your Pride weekend!

Whatever official events do or don’t happen on World Pride Day 2012, it will still be a great weekend for LGBT folks around London and, at a risk of sounding trite, it’s worth remembering that real pride comes from within; within oneself and within one’s community… so get together with your friends and go out and celebrate!