Under the Gaydar

Four U.S. cities that are slightly off the beaten path

Milwaukee: Brewing Up a Good Time

Often overshadowed by bustling neighbor Chicago, and outdone in freewheeling reputation by liberal Madison, the pretty Midwestern city of Milwaukee has a lot on tap. From its prime spot on Lake Michigan, “Brew City” today is a proud home of urban renewal and devoted local businesses committed to innovative, sustainable ways to serve their community.

It is for obvious reasons that Milwaukee earned its Brew City nickname. No, it’s not just because this once was the humble home of Laverne & Shirley, TV’s most famous bottlecappers at the fictitious Shotz Brewery. In real life, it is the birthplace of some the world’s most thirst-quenching companies, including Miller, Schlitz and Pabst.

Perhaps less obvious is that Milwaukee is a busy hive of LGBT activity. Walker’s Point is the designated gayborhood, home to thumping dance joints like Le Cage (801 S 2nd St, lacagemke.com) and Wherehouse/Hot Water (818 S Water St, hotwatermilwaukee.com), keeping the boys—and a few ladies—moving all week. (Check their calendars for lesbian-specific events.)

But the mainstay here is the always-friendly Walker’s Pint (818 S 2nd St, walkerspint.com). “The Pint” is a welcoming lesbian hangout, though it draws a mix of genders (calling itself a “mutual respect bar”) that come for the hearty happy hours, outdoor patio, and killer jukebox. Go here to play pool and chat up the locals.

A little more mixed and just as fun is Hybrid Lounge (707 E Brady St, hybridlounge.net), the only dedicated queer bar on Milwaukee’s east side. Perched on the end of East Brady—considered the “Bohemian” strip—Hybrid opened in 2010 and has been kickin’ it with crazy-cheap drink specials and fun DJs ever since.

Leave time for strolling around East Brady’s great clothing and vintage shops, and duck into the recently expanded 65-year-old Glorioso Bros. Italian Deli (1011 E Brady St) for some taste testing. Don’t miss the classic cracker-crust pies up the street at Zaffiro’s Pizza (1724 N Farwell Ave, zaffirospizza.com), a local institution since 1954.

It’s easy to find things to keep you busy in Milwaukee, so pick up local indie paper the Shepherd Express (expressmilwaukee.com) for queer-friendly bars and lesbian-themed nights at a handful of clubs around town, or drop by the LGBT Community Center (252 E Highland Ave, mkelgbt.org) for suggestions. Also visit feminist cooperative bookstore Broad Vocabulary (2241 S Kinnickkinnic Ave, broadvocabulary.com) down in Bayview to see what the cute Midwestern girls are plotting.

It would be wise to time a queer-centric trip to Milwaukee for the annual Pridefest (pridefest.com) in early June, which draws throngs of Midwestern queers to the 76-acre Maier Festival Grounds for three days of music, food and flirting.

Milwaukee is a thirsty town, and adding to the liquid legacy is the small Great Lakes Distillery (616 West Virginia St, greatlakesdistillery.com). Opened in 2004 as the first Wisconsin distillery since Prohibition, Great Lakes makes amazing small-batch, handcrafted Rehorst liquors, and the tasty, perfectly poured Amerique 1912 absinthe. Daily tours (except Sundays) are free, and for just $5 guests can taste test five spirits.

Another converted commercial space is Lakefront Brewery (1872 N Commerce St, lakefrontbrewery.com), housed in a former power plant. Unlike its mass-produced Brew City forefathers, Lakefront keeps it micro. It also hosts a hilarious $7 brewery tour that includes four draughts and a souvenir pint glass.

True to local form, the original Pabst Brewery still stands proud—only now as the recently converted extended-stay, LEED-certified Brewhouse Inn & Suites (1215 N 10th St, brewhousesuites.com). It’s part of a 20-acre sustainable development started by a local philanthropist to repurpose the area as The Brewery complex, using as much original construction as possible and taking design inspiration from the steampunk culture, blended with modern “green” features.

Similarly, the Iron Horse Hotel (500 W Florida St, theironhorsehotel.com)—named for its location by the railroad—is another gorgeous renovation to a former industrial building. It’s also the hottest hotspot to hit Milwaukee in a long while, including the Thursday night motorcycle parties that fill the parking lot with Harleys.

Speaking of bikes, the pinnacle of all things Milwaukee is the Harley-Davidson Museum (400 Canal St, harley-davidson.com). No other city can claim bragging rights for the coolest invention in transportation, thanks to Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson and their 1903 two-wheel combustion-engine experiment. The legacy lives on at this bastion of bikes, where you can see for yourself that very first motorcycle, along with 145 more on display.

Of course, you can’t come to this town without a trip to the Third Ward (historicthirdward.org), a former industrial district that’s now home to boutiques, galleries and great restaurants for local people watching. Stop by the Milwaukee Public Market (400 N Water St, milwaukeepublicmarket.org) for some classic local fare, like local aged cheddar and Usinger’s sausage. Milwaukeeans converge here daily for lunch, and on Saturdays for the outdoor market.

It may fly under the radar, but Milwaukee serves up the kind of friendly fresh flavor and fun that will leave you thirsty for more. –Kelsy Chauvin

NASHVILLE: Where Cowgirls Kick the Blues

Nashvillians, face it. It’s darn trendy to be you right now.

Recently declared America’s “It City” by The New York Times, the Country Music Mecca and the Bible Belt Buckle is enjoying its moment in the sun. A blue oasis in one of the reddest states in the union, Nashville is easy to overlook when talking about gay-friendly cities. In fact, Travel+Leisure’s huge “America’s Favorite Cities” feature put Nashville awfully close to the bottom of the list. But this reputation is not deserved. Just a little bit of poking around unearths a vital and dynamic lesbian community that is growing right along with Nashville’s stature.

First, though, a bit of a geography lesson: Nashville is a big circle. The middle is downtown, and this is where you’ll find all the fun tourist-y stuff. You’ve got the Honky Tonks on Broadway, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Ryman Auditorium, and many more landmarks of the country music industry. Just west of downtown is the West Side. West Nashville offers tons of nice houses and classy businesses. East of downtown over the Cumberland River is East Nashville. We call it Nashville’s Williamsburg, a hub for indie rock and hipster culture.

Now that you’ve got the lay of the land, you’re going to need a place to stay. If you’re trying to stay close to the airport, the Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Nashville Airport (590 Donelson Pike, countryinns.com) is a member of the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce. If you’d rather get a little closer to the action downtown, the very swanky Loews Vanderbilt (2100 West End Ave, loewshotels.com) and the Convention Center-connected Renaissance Nashville Hotel (611 Commerce St, marriott.com) are both conveniently located and have hosted Human Rights Campaign dinners. The sleek and hip Hotel Indigo’s parent company InterContinental Hotels (301 Union St, ichotelsgroup.com) also receives high marks from the HRC Buyer’s Guide.

One of the best things about Nashville is its burgeoning food culture. For breakfast, head to the woman-owned East Nashville staple Bagel Face (700 Main St, bagelfacebakery.com) for Nashville’s—and possibly the world’s—best bagel and delicious homemade cream cheeses. If you can’t get enough of breakfast and don’t feel like leaving East Nashville, check out Mad Donna’s (1313 Woodland St, maddonnas.com) award-winning brunch.

As long as you’re at Mad Donna’s, you might as well walk across the street to Nashville’s only “lesbian” bar, Lipstick Lounge (1400 Woodland St, thelipsticklounge.com). Although they are lesbian-owned and have tons of events for the lesbian community, anyone can have a good time at Lipstick. “If you’re human, you’ll fit right in,” they say on their website.

Just west of downtown check out a modern, reasonably priced take on Asian fusion at Suzy Wong’s House of Yum (1517 Church St, suzywongsnashville.com), situated comfortably next to Nashville’s most well-known gay bars, Tribe and Play. Although mostly catering to the boys in town, Play (1519 Church St, playdancebar.com) has Ladies Night on Thursdays, featuring free admission for ladies until 11pm and Nashville’s best drag king show at 10:30pm.

Things really get cooking in the LGBT community in Nashville when the sun goes down. Every third Friday of the month, The 5 Spot hosts Nashville’s extremely popular and extremely fun Queer Dance Party (1006 Forrest Ave, queernashville.com). QDP recently hosted a sold out QDProm, featuring amazing live music, party favors and a flash mob to Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend.” If you happen to be in town on a third Friday, QDP is not to be missed.
Looking for a place to grab a couple drinks that’s a little lower key? No. 308 (407 Gallatin Ave bar308.com) in East Nashville has tasty $5 tap cocktails and is very lesbian-friendly. Just down the street, Beyond the Edge (112 S 11th St, beyondtheedge.net) is also lesbian-friendly and has arguably the best drink specials in town.

You can hardly throw a rock in Nashville without hitting a music venue; it is Music City, after all. Particularly woman- and queer-friendly is The Owl Farm (811 Dickerson, facebook.com/ OwlFarmNashville), a rad new all-ages performing arts space hosting everything from touring queercore bands to Phone Whore, Cameryn Moore’s one-woman play about her work as a phone-sex operator. Karaoke night on Tuesdays at the gay-friendly Blue Genes (1715 Church St, facebook.com/BlueGenes 37203) was made for budding vocalists. The aforementioned Lipstick Lounge also has award-winning karaoke nights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9pm.

One sweet non-musical thing to do in Nashville is Girl on Girl Comedy (girlongirlcomedy.net) at Zanies Comedy Club, a monthly standup comedy series featuring the hot female and LGBT comedians, plus variety performers doing everything from burlesque to pole dancing. It is definitely R-rated: The Girl on Girl Comedy Facebook page proclaims, “Weak stomachs and the faint of heart need not apply.”

For more information about what’s going on in the LGBT community in Nashville, you can pick up a free copy of Out and About Newspaper (outandaboutnewspaper.com)—a local fixture for more than ten years—or the brand new Unite Magazine (unitemag.com) at many coffee shops and newsstands around town.

Although Tennessee as a whole is a little behind the curve for the gays, at least legislatively, its capital Nashville has a plenty vibrant LGBT scene. It might be a little tough to hit up all Nashville has to offer in one visit, but y’all are welcome to come back for round two, bless your hearts. –Ellen Angelico

San Juan Comes Out to Play

Temperate blue skies and sunny vistas are part of what makes San Juan, Puerto Rico a welcoming respite all year round. Even better is its growing LGBT appeal, thanks to outspoken elected leaders coming out in support of gay marriage and domestic-partner benefits—as well as a new legislative bill on the docket that would outlaw discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. (It’s expected to pass soon.)

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that pro boxer and Olympian Orlando Cruz, a P.R. native, came out last year, proclaiming to The Advocate, “I’ve had overwhelming support from the Puerto Rican people. We’re very proud people, and they have been so accepting of me.”

For us everyday travelers, it all translates to a whole lot of awesome across this burgeoning Caribbean capital—which, as a U.S. territory, manages to straddle both Puerto Rican and American culture.

Most trips to San Juan consist of two parts: relaxing at the beach and resort, and roaming the narrow streets of Old San Juan and outlying neighborhoods. Like most cities, Old S.J. is the “downtown” area that always serves up great dining, shopping, and strolling—just beware of the midday cruise-ship arrivals, which can throw off the otherwise wonderfully low-key flavor.

Start with lunch or dinner at El Jibarito (280 Calle Sol, eljibarito.com), where you can eat economically like the locals do, choosing from a simple menu that involves delicious standards like pork stew, tasty plantain-beef lasagna and ice-cold Medalla Light, the local P.R. beer. Don’t miss the mofongo—not that you could even if you tried, since they serve this mashed-and-fried plantain dish just about everywhere.

Nearby, try some fresh seafood, vegetarian tapas and amazing paella at lesbian-owned Airenumo (102 Calle Tanca, airenumo.com). Friday nights you may even see the place attract ladies ready to mingle (though at press time, Airenumo management was still working to make it an official lesbian party).

When cocktail hour rolls around, head to local dive El Batey (101 Calle del Cristo), where locals and the occasional celeb hang out for heavy pours, rounds of pool, a booming jukebox, and to zone out on the crazy graffiti’d walls.

Scenic and mellow as it is, you won’t find much queer culture in Old San Juan. For that, head east to Condado, just a short drive from the airport and home to most of the big beachside hotels. In the middle of it all is the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino (1309 Ashford Ave, marriott.com). With balconies for every room, a great pool with swim-up bar, and direct access to warm ocean waves, this recently renovated hotel is queer-friendly, with reasonable year-round rates.

The Marriott is just a quick walk (via street or sand) from the designated gay beach at the end of Calle Vendig. Sure, it’s mostly buff boys in Speedos, but gay is gay, and that means the ladies can feel safe and welcome here too—and can get great tips on where the night’s best party is, and probably some new friends to meet there.

At 2 Calle Vendig, you’ll find Oceano (oceanopr.com), a gay-owned, two-level upscale club that attracts a true gay-straight mix (check the calendar for gay-themed nights). A block over at 6 Calle Condado, check out the more humble Splash Lounge, where you may sample free rum shots and get down with energetic local queers. You can also hit Circo (650 Calle Condado) a few blocks south if you want to go further down the dancing-boys rabbit hole.

Santurce is the other gay-friendly neighborhood, a short cab ride or hearty walk east from Condado. It’s sprinkled with a few mainly gay-boy bars, but by day you’ll find good local restaurants, galleries and cafés, and nice eye candy.

San Juan is rich in history, and a visit to Castillo San Cristobal (nps.gov/saju)—a dramatic cliffside fort—will lead you through some haunting corridors and up to observation points with unrivaled vistas. Plus it’s perched on the edge of Old San Juan, making for an easy exploration of the colorful, photogenic local architecture just outside the fort walls. (It’s where Johnny Depp’s The Rum Diaries was filmed.)

And then there’s the party weekend known as San Juan Pride every first Saturday and Sunday in June. What better way to feast your eyes on thousands of proud Puerto Ricans than through their annual outdoor fiesta. One thing’s sure—they’d love you to come join the fun. —Kelsy Chauvin


Austin: lone star style

Austin isn’t just liberal by Texas standards. It’s one of the nation’s most progressive cities. The Texas capital has steadily developed into a gay and lesbian destination, especially during South by Southwest in mid-March, Gay Pride in early September, Austin City Limits Music Festival in early October and the Austin Film Festival in late October.

Austin (austintexas.org) has grown from about 470,000 residents to 820,000 since 1990, becoming the nation’s 13th largest city. Many businesses around town are LGBT-owned, although the community is very well-integrated and there’s no defined gayborhood. Austin may also have more lesbian-owned accommodations than any city in the country.

The locavore food movement thrives in the trendy South Congress (SoCo) and South Lamar neighborhoods, a short drive across the river from downtown. In South Lamar, you’ll find the Barley Swine (2024 S Lamar Blvd, barleyswine.com), a bustling if cramped gastro-pub serving unusual dishes like a chicken-fried chicken egg, and duck foie gras with carrot, lavender, farro and hibiscus. Next door, Henri’s (2026 S Lamar Blvd, henrischeese.com), a dapper little spot, serves artisan cheeses, charcuterie and wine.

South Congress Café (1600 S Congress Ave, southcongresscafe.com) has been one of SoCo’s hot spots for years, turning out mesquite-grilled pork chops and carrot cake French toast with cream cheese-pecan syrup. Owned by gay restaurateur Lou Lambert, the Elizabeth Street Café (1501 S 1st St, elizabethstreetcafe.com) serves creative Vietnamese noodle bowls and Texas-inspired kaffir-lime fried chicken banh mi.  He also helms Lambert’s (401 W 2nd St, lambertsaustin.com), a sleek downtown space that describes its fare as “fancy” barbecue.

For dessert, gay-owned Lick (2032 S Lamar Blvd, ilikelick.com) serves such delightfully daring flavors as roasted-beets-and-fresh-mint and goat cheese-thyme-honey.

Coffeehouses also have a major presence in Austin. The cafe inside the famous and LGBT-friendly Book People (603 N Lamar Blvd, bookpeople.com) is always a good bet. South Austin’s Bouldin Creek Café (1900 S 1st St, bouldincreek.com) has delicious fair-trade coffee and chocolates, plus excellent breakfasts (try the migas) and veggie tacos.

On the east side of downtown, Lipstick 24 (606 E 7th St, lipstick24austin.com) is the city’s top lesbian venue, although everybody is quite welcome here—head for the attractive deck on warm evenings, and enjoy local bands to poetry readings to belly dancing. In downtown Austin, the Warehouse District has long been a favorite hub of gay nightlife—it’s home to long-running Oilcan Harry’s, and its neighbor, Rain on 4th (217 W 4th St, rainon4th.com). The latter has a lovely deck out back and an always-crowded dance floor. For a somewhat mellower scene, head across the street to stylish Halcyon (218 W 4th St, halcyonaustin.com), a gay-friendly hangout that offers espresso drinks, bistro snacks and cocktails. A few miles north of downtown, ‘Bout Time II (6607 N Interstate 35 Frontage Rd, bouttime2.com) is a welcoming neighborhood bar in a relatively new and roomy space that has karaoke, dancing and cheap drink specials.

In the heart of downtown, the wonderfully glamorous, allegedly haunted Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St, driskillhotel.com) is where VIPs stay. This gorgeously restored 1886 building has warmly furnished rooms and the acclaimed Driskill Grill restaurant, which serves artfully composed farm-to-table creations.

Across the river, lesbian designer Liz Lambert (sister of Lou Lambert) operates the Hotel San Jose (1316 S Congress Ave, sanjosehotel.com). This vintage motor court has been given a swanky postmodern, minimalist facelift. In the same area, partners Kimber Cavendish and Vicki Faust run the Kimber Modern (110 The Cir, kimbermodern.com), a dramatic boutique hotel whose high-tech, minimalist rooms have plush platform beds and sleek furnishings.

Austin has a handful of lesbian-owned B&Bs, each with its own charm. In SoCo, the Park Lane Guest House (221 Park Ln, parklaneguesthouse.com) is a peaceful, eco-minded hideaway comprising three spacious cottages as well as a more affordable room in the main house. Not far from here, Gateway Guesthouse (1001 E Riverside Dr, gatewayguest.com) is a striking 1918 beauty with six smartly furnished rooms or cottages; co-owner Bess Giannakakris —a talented chef—prepares delicious breakfasts and teaches cooking classes at the inn. –Andrew Collins

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