BY Dan Allen
May 06 2009 12:00 AM ET
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.