Downturn? Fuggedaboudit

By Dan Allen

Originally published on Advocate.com May 06 2009 12:00 AM ET

If ever a city's proven its resiliency, New York has. Sure, it's had easier years than this, situated as it is at the epicenter of a global financial snit. But the city also has a business-minded mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who's deeply committed to preserving both the might of the city's powerful corporate engines and its indisputable status as a premier meeting and convention destination. The hordes of international leisure visitors may be slightly reduced following the uptick in the dollar's conversion rate, but a new class of domestic travelers is finding that New York offers all the culture and excitement of many foreign lands at a fraction of the cost.

With hotels offering deals, restaurant reservations easier to come by, and shopping bargains rampant, there's never been a better time to extend that business trip to the Big Apple. This June is perfect for a few free days loose in the city, especially with gay Gotham gearing up to commemorate 40 years since the Stonewall uprising (see page 51)-a fitting reminder of New York's ability to turn sticky situations into so much pink lemonade.

Extended stay The new Ace Hotel (20 W. 29th St.; 212-679-2222) couldn't be positioned more centrally for gay guests. Though its immediate neighborhood (now dubbed NoMa for the area north of Madison Square Park) is still in flux and fairly nondescript, the Ace is just a stone's throw from the city's most popular queer quarters. The latest in the Seattle-born, vintage-industrial, chic but friendly Ace family, the New York incarnation and its 247 rooms pay artsy homage to the nearby historic Tin Pan Alley and Garment District areas through room appointments like vinyl turntables and rolling garment racks.

Take things to a higher level -- 56 feet skyward, to be exact -- at the new Standard Hotel (848 Washington St.; 212-645-4646), perched with mid-century aplomb on steel and cement stilts above the southernmost portion of the new High Line park in Chelsea. The latest and largest of André Balazs's L.A.-originating Standard Hotel group, the New York City version has 18 stories and 337 rooms, each boasting floor-to-ceiling glass window-walls offering stunning views of the city and/or the nearby Hudson River. Manhattan-based design firm Roman and Williams, which also plotted the Ace's interiors, oversaw the Standard's hip Saarinen-ian innards. Watch out, though, if you want to have friends up for an after-work drink and gander at the view. Stung by rowdy parties during its first months in service, the hotel has instituted a -- dare we say, silly -- policy of limiting guests to one per room.

If business demands a Midtown address, now there's one with style -- and grace. The Grace Hotel (125 W. 45th St.; 212-354-2323), formerly Hotel QT, was snatched up last year by Spain's fashionably fun and gay-owned Room Mate chain, which has brought a decidedly European chic vibe to the mostly mundane Midtown scene. Furnishings in the 139 rooms are modern, Wi-Fi and breakfast are free, and DJs spin five nights a week at the swimming pool immediately behind the main lobby -- including Mondays for the gay pool party Drip.

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Convention Exit Strategy Locals bemoan that the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is set so far west, several long blocks beyond anything of importance. But for the out-of-town gay conventioneer its locale is auspicious, offering relatively quick access to both the tried-and-true gayborhood of Chelsea and its more recent rival, Hell's Kitchen. Together they're part of a 60-block north-south stretch along Manhattan's west side that's both steeped in gay history and brimming with some of the city's most exciting new developments.

Start your tour in glorious Central Park, where the Sheep Meadow -- which provides a visual banquet of summer sunners -- hosted the 1970 "Gay-In" at the end of the city's first Gay Liberation Day March. Next dart over to Lincoln Center for a glimpse of the newly revamped Alice Tully concert hall, part of a 10-year, $1.2 billion retooling of the world's largest arts complex. As you make your way south, say hello to Hell's Kitchen, the latest hotbed of Manhattan's gay nightlife. Speaking of colors and riotous energy, Times Square is nearby, and an obligatory first-timer stop on your way downtown. If you plan to see some theater later on, the recently remodeled TKTS booth offers great same-day discounts.

Due south lies Chelsea, where Newfest (New York's LGBT film festival) unspools this year at the new SVA Theaters on 23rd Street, June 4-11. A short stroll west takes you through the city's premier art gallery district en route to the magnificent new High Line park, an elevated stretch of freight railway transformed into gorgeous green public space, set for a much-anticipated mid-June opening.

Just below Chelsea, Greenwich Village was the city's first true gay hood, where the struggle for gay equality began in earnest. Drink to freedom at Julius', the city's longest running gay bar, where three years pre-Stonewall, queer organizers including Craig Rodwell (founder of the recently shuttered Oscar Wilde Bookshop) staged a "Sip-In" to demand homosexual gathering rights. Just two blocks away, the Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher St.; 212-488-2705), where it all began, needs no introduction.

If business takes you to Manhattan's east side (that's you, diplomats), spend your off time soaking up the island's culturally rich other half. Along Museum Row, the phenomenal Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Ave.; 212-535-7710) currently hosts the only American showing of "Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective," celebrating the 100th birthday of the Irish-born gay artist. For an off-the-beaten-museum-path plunge into the city's past, check out the fascinating Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth Ave.; 212-534-1672), where the half-hour multimedia show "Timescapes" screens throughout the day and traces the city's growth over the centuries.

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Meal Plan In this foodie heaven with more than 16,000 restaurants, there's nary a palate that can't be satisfied. As a boozy recession-beating bonus, some eateries are even offering cut-rate wine prices or waiving corkage fees. If you're on the west side (and the company's expense account), you can't do better than the nine-course wonder of Per Se (10 Columbus Circle, fourth floor; 212-823-9335), the much-heralded East Coast outpost of the French Laundry's Thomas Keller. Down in the West Village, the Little Owl (90 Bedford St.; 212-741-4695) is a fantastic and friendly foray into new Americana and far easier on the pocketbook.

Over on the east side, Momofuku Ko (163 First Ave.; 212-475-7899) is one of the city's newer darlings, where the lunch tasting runs a staggering 16 courses. Fair warning: Snagging a table at this tiny Asian fusion gem can be tough, doable only via daily online lottery. Click on "reservations" on the website for details. For trendy grub on the fly (though less quick late at night, when hungry hipsters queue en masse), Artichoke Pizza (328 E. 14th St.; 212-228-2004) offers gobs of gooey goodness.

Insider's Tip: New York's Finest "Corrado, a bakery that just opened at Stonewall Place [35 Christopher St.; 212-242-3535], is a great place to stop in for a quick, delicious breakfast or lunch. For lunch, nibble on a ready-made sandwich to go. My favorite is the ham and brie on pumpernickel. Corrado has amazing pastries too. You can enjoy your Village snack with the locals sitting at a sunny café table overlooking Gay Mecca." -- Carter Peabody, director-producer and 14-year West Village resident