I’d like a Sydney on the Rocks, please.

We are very proud to offer trips all around the world, and we are invested in letting others see why we are so passionate about the places we go. The world is a very big place, and within it are numerous sights to see that are unique as they are beautiful, historically significant, or both. Today we’re going to stop into Sydney Australiawhere opera is certainly NOT on the rocks!

The Rocks is an essential part of the history of Sydney. It is the piece of land where the European settlers first stepped ashore in 1788, which makes the Rocks the birthplace of modern Sydney! What was once a settlement made up of convicts, soldiers, and gangs has been transformed into a thriving precinct which boasts a range of attractions. You can learn about the history of this place by waiting outside historic Cadman’s Cottage at 6pm for the ‘I’m Free Tour.’ You will get to explore various locations which include some famous pubs as well as heritage buildings, and learn a lot of the storied history about the precinct’s colorful past! For those of you who love food you’ll be happy to note on Fridays there is a foodies market with enough stalls of delicious food to make you gain a few pounds just by looking at them! On the weekend there are over 200 stalls in the marketplace selling things from designer clothes and jewelry to souvenir gifts! If you are interested in art there is also the famous Museum of Contemporary Art which features some amazing pieces on display. Although if you really can’t get enough art you won’t be able to walk far without stumbling upon someone, be it artist or poet, who loves to express themselves in a variety of ways in this part of town!

 

The Sydney Opera House is, without a doubt, the most iconic and most visited landmark in all of Australia. While of course the main function of the building is to serve as a venue for various concerts, the Opera House has taken on a life of its own over the years as a beautiful and historic building which is capable of attracting millions of visitors a year the shows it houses notwithstanding. There are guided tours available to explore the nooks of the place while giving the visitor a historical perspective of the building as well as showcasing all of the theater spaces where over 1,600 performances happen every year! The building itself is an impressive display and leaves tourists, as well as locals, breathless by its beauty. It has repeatedly been voted as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, which is remarkable when you consider the beauty it holds within its walls year around with all of the special ballets, plays, and concerts it gives host to! There is a complete agreement from everyone: if you go to Australia, you simply must visit this great place and if at all possible take in a show at this fabulous venue!

Sydney, Australia is a beautiful city with so many historic and fun places to visit, more than could ever be covered in a single setting discussing it or a single day roving the city. You absolutely MUST experience this grand place for yourself, and you can as part of our Sydney Gay Mardi Gras & Best of Australia and New Zealand trip! For all of the information about this fantastic trip, go here.

 

An excellent culinary experience in San Juan!

One of the great things about traveling is the chance to experience different cultures around the world first hand, and there are few better ways to do that then to take a bite of someone’s food. Like music, food is a universal language. We all eat, we enjoy food in vastly different ways, and one person’s supreme meal is another person’s garbage.  I have been doing a lot of research lately when it comes to the highlights of the world, and quite a bit of that time has been devoted to various eateries. Today’s treats come from San Juan, where local ingredients are turned into something special!

Marmalade is a truly thrilling experience that any person who enjoys food should treat themselves to while in the city. Not to be mistaken for a wholly casual experience, sandals and shorts aren’t part of the dress code but the ambiance more than makes up for having to get dressed up. Customers note that the service is fantastic with friendly and knowledgeable staff. It was a consistent trend that the bar tenders here know their drinks and create absolutely delicious concoctions to be enjoyed! Speaking of drinks, this restaurant has won six awards of excellence when it comes to wine pairings, so you can expect very high quality wine that suits the food you are eating here.

 

There is a special pride here about how they go about their business. On an island where over ninety percent of the food is imported for consumption, they aggressively pursue and support small producers and local farmers who share their ideals for organic and sustainable means of producing and eating food. They have plenty of vegan options but what is the true common denominator in all of their food is the commitment to excellence and the explosive flavors they pack into every dish. For fish lovers they have the Queen Red Snapper, which is poached in a Thai style curry and coconut broth and then served over a bed of jasmine rice and spiced shrimp-sesame dumplings. Customers rave that the flavors mix beautifully and create a marvelous seafood experience. The Heritage Berkshire Pork Cheeks are another delicious item, served with barbequed black bean puree, garlicky greens roasted peanut and lime emulsion, and a Californian peach-pablano marmalade. The mixture of flavors are talked about as quite the delight!

 

No fine dining experience is complete without some delicious dessert, of course. One of the featured item is the Millionaires Ice Cream, which is churned with fresh French summer truffles on the inside and served with honeycomb & hazelnuts along with shaved truffles on the outside. It is a truly amazing ice cream experience that customers keep coming back for time and time again! For something truly organic one only needs to look towards the Blueberry-Lavender “No-No” cake. No gluten, no eggs, no dairy, no nuts, no refined sugar of any kind, no GMO’s… everything organic! Needless to say it also tastes absolutely fantastic and is one of the most ordered items off of the dessert menu! They also have a peanut brittle ice cream that wasn’t talked about much but that I personally would love to try, as a lover of peanut brittle!

Marmalade is an interesting and creative restaurant that is clearly striving to bring something amazing to the people of San Juan. Their commitment to excellence oozes off all of their decisions, and their welcoming staff proceeds what is world class food. You should stop in whenever you are in town, and you can get in town as part of our Drag Stars at Sea: Pirates of the Caribbean! For all of the information for this amazing cruise, go here.

Exploring Vigo and Santiago de Compostela in grand style!

With approximately six weeks before the start of our Drag Stars at Sea: Europe Allstars there is a lot to be done and planned before our cruisers begin their amazing journey. Each of our destinations within Europe has an overabundance of great activities and sights to take in before people are whisked off to the next leg of their adventure. This article is here to condense some of the information so that you, the ever busy traveler, don’t have to search all over for ingenious ideas on how to spend your time! Today we stop in on Vigo and Santiago de Compostela, Spain!

Caso Vello Vigo is Vigo’s old town, and has a lot to offer in a short amount of time. This portion of Vigo is based around the earliest fisherman’s houses and located on the slopes leading down to Vigo’s first port. A lot of the Roman infrastructure that started the city can still be seen in places today. The area is small, compact, and can be strolled through in a couple of hours making it perfect for a one day excursion! One of the real treats is going down a small road to find one of the many oyster vendors who serve their food with lemon. People constantly rave how delicious and what a special experience they are!  For the book lovers it is interesting to note that the Vigo Bay is the setting for Jules Verne’s famous novel Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. A statue of Captain Nemo, the book’s protagonist, can be found here as well. Over recent years this part of the city has had a lot of work done to it, making it more beautiful than ever and restoring a lot of its lost pride!

The Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is a historically rich church. It is a cathedral of the archdiocese as well as a World Heritage Site! Perhaps the most famed aspect of this building is that it is the reputed burial-place for Saint James the Great, who was of course one of the apostles of Jesus Christ himself. The church has been a popular pilgrimage stop since the early middle ages. The actual building is heavily influenced by Roman architecture, although later on Gothic and Baroque additions were added. We are very proud that we are going to be offering an optional tour to this great city as part of the trip!

Vigo and Santiago de Compostela Spain is are very beautiful cities with a lot of interesting history which helps influence their presence. Diamonds of Spain that are sometimes forgotten in the midst of more heavily populated cities, I think they are  places travelers should experience at least once.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is another awesome sight to see. The building which now houses the museum dates back to the 19th century and originally functioned as a public prison! The building was originally going to be demolished but after a forceful discussion the city decided to turn it into a museum in 2002. The museum is praised for its amusing and thought provoking pieces, and is considered a must see! It is free to enter and explore as well, which is always nice. I hear the café in the shop has very cheap coffee and will offer free cake!

For those who enjoy a good beach, you need not look any further than Samil Beach, which is considered the most popular beach of Vigo! It is well regarded for how clean it is, as well as how cheap everything is near the beach. A lot of people have noted that it is an absolutely amazing place to kick back and relax, as the locals are very friendly and there’s always plenty of open spots on the beach itself. It is also noted for its beautiful boardwalk which is well lit and thus a great spot for an evening stroll. We can take you here, and so many other amazing locations, as part of our Drag Stars at Sea: Europe Allstars! For details, please go here.

Roaming with the Emperors in Beijing, China!

We are very proud to offer trips all around the world, and we are invested in letting others see why we are so passionate about the places we go. The world is a very big place, and within it are numerous sights to see that are unique as they are beautiful, historically significant, or both. Today we are going to take a look at Beijing, China where ancient monuments blend in perfectly with a modern city!

The Forbidden City, otherwise known as the Imperial Palace, is an amazing place to begin an adventure in the city. It served as the imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty – from 1420 to 1912. Its architecture has inspired buildings all over East Asia for hundreds of years! It has over 9,000 rooms and spans over 250 acres, it was built between 1406 and 1420. Notably it has been burned down, sacked, and renovated over the years leading to many lengthy rebuilding processes. Most of the architecture that you see today only dates back to the 18th century in the Qing dynasty. It is highly recommended that you wear a nice, comfy pair of shoes because you are going to be doing a lot of walking around the palace!

The Temple of Heaven, also known as Tiantan, has been one of the most sacred sites for the whole of China in the past five centuries. It was used as a sacrificial compound building for the Ming and Qing emperors. It also boasts one of the few imperial altars to Heaven, Earth, the Sun, and the Moon super natures. If you come into the temple in the early morning you will find people doing their morning exercises and generally being at peace with one another. There is often music and merriment to be found here that makes it a special place to visit. One of the great things about the temple is the rows of Chinese cypress that have been there for nearly six hundred years!

The Ming Tombs are a collection of tombs built for the Chinese Ming dynasty emperors. Collectively they are known as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty due to the fact that thirteen of the seventeen emperors are laid to rest there. During the Ming dynasty the tombs were off limits to the public, but after their reign had ended an invading army ransacked the tombs before marching onto Beijing proper. There has been some controversy over the years over the excavation of the tombs, with the government finally deciding that all work would cease for the time being.

Beijing has a lot of great areas to explore that show off its rich history, and is a fabulous city to visit at any time. Has this article heightened your interest in this great city and in China in general? Be sure you are a part of our Tongzhi (Gay) China & Yangtze River Cruise! For all of the details about this amazing trip, go here.

 

A small taste of Barcelona!

One of the great things about traveling is the chance to experience different cultures around the world first hand, and there are few better ways to do that then to take a bite of someone’s food. Like music, food is a universal language. We all eat, we enjoy food in vastly different ways, and one person’s supreme meal is another person’s garbage.  I have been doing a lot of research lately when it comes to the highlights of the world, and quite a bit of that time has been devoted to various eateries. Today we stop into Barcelona, where simplicity and hospitality win the day.

 

Petit Pau is a small and terribly inviting restaurant. The first thing that must be said, before we sink into the temptation that is wonderfully prepared food and excellent service, is make sure to make a reservation. This small establishment only has a handful of tables and people are turned away often. Luckily getting a reservation could not be simpler: they even allow you to make them on their facebook page! When you enter the establishment the first face that will greet you is the owner himself, Pau. Customers rave that Pau treats his guests as if they were old friends with his attentive nature and his radiating positivity. His knowledge of his own menu is supreme, and it is consistently noted that he takes the time to answer all of the questions posed to him about the various foods on the menu. In this way Petit Pau benefits greatly from not having a large amount of guests because Pau gets to spend a great deal of personal time with each person. Pau will often take the time to introduce the chef, Marc, as well. As you can see the above the two have a fun sense of humor!

The menu is simple but effective, consisting of five starters, five mains, and a wine list of 3 well-chosen wines which changes monthly. Guests noted repeatedly that the sea food is simply amazing. The cod is cooked to perfection, the scallops are seasoned just right to give a passionate flair to every bite, and the lemon grass that’s in the vegetables served with the turbot gives them a very tasty flavor indeed. Many guests have noted the duck breast, pictured below, is also an excellent menu item. It’s hard to pick favorites here though because everything on the menu is of such a high quality. While you would normally expect to pay hefty prices for such well-regarded food, Petit Pau’s prices are very reasonable for such an extraordinary eating experience. Diners consistently raved that the value of their meal astonished them! Their lunch menu and dinner menu are priced the same as well, so you will be getting a great value regardless of what time you visit.

 

Petit Pau shows off what is possible when you do not fluff up your menu with unneeded items and you keep the setting intimate. The friendliness, the food, and the prices keep people coming back over and over again. When you are in Barcelona you should definitely give this place a try, just remember to plan ahead if you are wanting to take part in this excellent culinary experience! For more information about Barcelona in general as part of our Drag Stars at Sea: Europe Allstars, go here.

The History of Antigua!

Today we are going to be touching on the history of one of the Caribbean’s most luxurious islands, Antigua! It is truly an Island rich with history, albeit some of it dark, which we are going to be visiting as a part of our Drag Stars at Sea: Pirates of the Caribbean trip.

Antigua, which means ancient in Spanish, has a long history. The first known settlement on the Island cropped up around 2900 BC, made up of pre-agricultural Amerindians. When this group died out they were succeeded by agriculturalist Saladoids, named such due to their early adoption of ceramics. These people migrated from Venezuela, and were later replaced by Arawakan speakers, an ancient language that developed in South America, around 1200 AD. While the history of the first two groups is not well documented, the history of the Arawaks is fairly well preserved. They made their way to the Island by canoe from Venezuela after a war with another people and brought wide-spread Agriculture to Antigua. The most famous crop they bought to the Island is the world famous Antiguan Black Pineapple, which is noted for its uncommon sweetness.

The Arawak people were eventually enslaved by yet another segments of people known as the Caribs, whose superior weapons and seafaring ability afforded them many advantages when it came to taking over the Arawak nations. The people of the West Indies made excellent sea vessels that were used to sail the Atlantic and Caribbean. Because of this ability both the Caribs and the Arawaks were able to spread their nations throughout much of South and the Caribbean. Many descendants of these people still live in countries such as Brazil and Colombia.

In 1493 Christopher Columbus sighted islands during his second trip to the new world and named the largest one ‘Santa Maria de la Antigua.’ The population of Caribs made it difficult for them to settle on the island, however, as their fortifications were excellent. It was not until 1632, well over a hundred years later, that England finally managed to colonize the islands by establishing the settlement of St John’s. Once England was in place they began to raise new crops on the island to great success, including tobacco, indigo, ginger, and the ever popular sugarcane cash crops. In the 18th century Antigua also housed the headquarters of the British Royal Navy Caribbean fleet. English Dockyard, which it was nicknamed, was a sheltered and well-protected deep water port and thus made natural sense to be the main base and saw its facilities massively expanded during the latter half of the century. It was not until 1981 that Antigua gained its independence from England.

These days Antigua has put its warring past behind itself and is a beautiful place to visit, featuring all sorts of events and resorts as well as a glimpse into a rather bloody history, all things told. Antigua is just one of the great islands in the Caribbean for someone to delve into past and see what is uncovered! For my look at Old San Juan, go here. For details about our wonderful Drag Stars at Sea: North America: Pirates of the Caribbean please click here.

 

10 Life-Changing Festivals Around the World!

The article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

The Festival of Lights, India.

Traveling isn’t cheap. But some trips are worth the extra cash and the strict budgeting.

If you’re looking for a life-changing travel experience that gives you an intimate view of the history and character of a culture or country, consider attending one of these 10 festivals.

1. HOLI: THE FESTIVAL OF COLORS – INDIA

The Holi festival of colors celebrates the beginning of spring — in late February or early March — and is observed mainly in India and Nepal. Revelers shed the gloom of winter by throwing colored powder and water on others, dancing and singing. This is also a time when India’s social rules are relaxed, and the mending of broken relationships is encouraged.

2. MARDI GRAS – NEW ORLEANS 

Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday, is the final day of partying before Ash Wednesday. But in New Orleans, tourists and locals celebrate during the days leading up to Mardi Gras with parades, costumes, music, the throwing of beads, drinking and partying. The celebration brings in more than $1 billion every year in spending for New Orleans. In 2016, a lot of people will be celebrating from Feb. 5 to Feb. 9, and parades will begin as early as January.

Of course, there is more than one way to party for Mardi Gras! Next March Sydney is hosting a fabulous Gay Mardi Gras event in Sidney, and we’ve got you covered. To see how you can have a once in a lifetime experience, go here.

3. CARNIVAL – BRAZIL 

Brazil’s Carnival is considered the largest carnival in the world. From Feb. 5 to Feb. 9, there will be plenty of street bands, samba parades, balls and parties in Rio. This year, nearly 1 million tourists visited Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, and the city was able to generate $782 million in revenue, reports The Rio Times.

4. DAY OF THE DEAD – MEXICO

Day of the Dead — or Dia de los Muertos — is a ritual in which people celebrate and honor their deceased relatives. The holiday is celebrated in the U.S., Latin America and Mexico, where it originated. From Nov. 1 to Nov. 2,  people will remember their loved ones with parades, processionals and vigils.

5. RUNNING OF THE BULLS – SPAIN 

From July 6 to July 14, tourists travel to Pamplona, Spain for the San Fermin festival to see the famous running of the bulls where thrill seekers put themselves in the path of six bulls set loose in the streets. The run is followed by music, fireworks and more festivities.

6. OKTOBERFEST – GERMANY 

What started off as a celebration of the marriage between Bavarian Prince Louis and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen later became an annual festival in Munich, Germany. Today’s Oktoberfest includes more than 6 million people going to parades, dressing up in costumes and drinking lots and lots of beer.

Speaking of Oktoberfest, AL and CHUCK have a great deal on a 12 day Oktoberfest River Cruise that start from $1,799! For more details on this exciting trip, go here.

7. BURNING MAN – NEVADA 

Burning Man bills itself not as a festival but as a “temporary metropolis” in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. From Aug. 30 to Sept. 17, thousands of people gather to explore art, self-expression and community. The event encourages attendees to participate by creating art installations, theme camps or mutant vehicles. Inspiring creativity, individuality and inclusion, Burning Man will likely leave you feeling enriched and connected.

8. GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL – ENGLAND 

The world’s biggest music event, according to the New York Times, takes place in Somerset County near Pilton, England. The Glastonbury Festival celebrated its 45thanniversary back in June, and its line-up included Kanye West, Foo Fighters, The Who, Florence & The Machine, Pharrell Williams and more.

9. LOI KRATHONG – THAILAND 

Loi Krathong festival is a centuries-old festival that typically marks the end of the rainy season. Those celebrating make a wish and create decorated, lotus-shaped boats and baskets with candles or lanterns to float on the river. It’s a symbolic way for people to get rid of bad feelings or prevent bad luck. Loi Krathon is also know for its flying lanterns the light up the sky.

10. INTI RAYMI – PERU 

The Inti Raymi — or Festival of the Sun — in Cusco, Peru is a nine-day winter solstice celebration. The festival features colorful costumes, copious feasting and reenactments of Incan rituals that will transport visitors back to the culture’s ancient past. The festival occurs every June.

For more information on a wide variety of trips all across the world, please be sure to visit http://www.alandchuck.travel/

 

Let Love Define Family Series Explores LGBT Family Vacations

Let Love Define Family Series Explores LGBT Family Vacations

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post  |  By

There are a few things you hear over and over again from LGBT families that take LGBT-themed vacations: “It’s completely open and comfortable and a place where you are surrounded by people who are experiencing life in a similar way. It’s not about the destination, it is all about the experience.”

Jeffrey and Chris Hietikko-Parsons and their 8 1/2 year old son, Henry, from New Jersey, have been on 10 trips so far with R Family Vacations. “We always have an amazing time,” they explained. “Everything is so well planned and there is a high caliber of activities and entertainment. It’s not like other vacations — these feel like we’re on a trip with our extended family.”

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Planning a vacation can be stressful for everyone involved: Where do we go? How do we get there? What do we do when we get there? What if we get bored? For the LGBT family, there is also the added challenge of finding a place to truly relax and feel comfortable. So, an entire industry was born to create the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure for everyone!

There is no doubt that family trips create memories and bonds that last a lifetime, but a big part of these vacations seem to be the sense of community and spending time in a place where kids, and adults, feel like their family isn’t so different.

One gay couple conveyed the story about how in just the past week, while going about their day-to-day business with their two children, they were asked by two waiters and a cashier, “Where is the woman of the house?” The quick response is that their 13 year-old daughter is our woman of the household. It can be a subtle reminder that some in society still see LGBT families as a sort of anomaly. That could be a reason why LGBT group travel is growing. It’s not just the activities, it is more about escaping to a world of acceptance and true relaxation.

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“Where we live, being a gay family is not a big deal,” said Jeremy Gransky from Massachusetts, “but there are not many other LGBT families around us, so being in that environment with other families like us makes all the difference.” Jeremy and husband John Gransky, with two kids Will and Natalie, are looking forward to their 11th trip with R Family this summer.

“The kids are a big focus for us,” explains R Family Vacations co-founder Kelli Carpenter. “The trips will look like every other family vacation, but on a bigger scale. We’re always finding ways to bring wonder and excitement to the experience for everyone, but especially the kids.”

Stephen Botte from San Jose, and his son Francesco, continue on these excursions just for the experiences they have. “In society you’re the gay family, but with these trips you just a family enjoying a vacation. It’s a total VIP experience that you get to share with thousands of people just like you.”

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Since LGBT families are growing, so is the industry. Two of these companies, R Family Vacations and Olivia Travel, are actually teaming up to provide a new inclusive package for everyone in the family!

“We’ve been in the business of lesbian travel for over 40 years and people started asking us about family trips,” explained Judy Dlugacz, founder of Olivia Travel. “Instead of trying to do it ourselves, we decided to partner with the best in the business, R Family Vacations, to create something wonderful for everybody.”

Both travel companies discussed how the LGBT travel market has changed and evolved to offer an array of destinations and options for singles, parents, kids and even extended family and friends.

Gregg Kaminsky, co-founder of R Family Vacations, said, “we started by providing trips for gay and lesbian families, but quickly discovered that people were bringing their parents, aunts and uncles, friends, and it developed into this great experience that was welcoming to all.”

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The first collaboration between Olivia Travel and R Family Vacations will be a Mexican adventure at the Hard Rock Resort in Nuevo Vallarta, July 9-16, 2016.

Stephen was recently at the resort for an Atlantis vacation with some friends. “I was at this gorgeous resort and was sitting by the pool and my only thought was I wish that Francesco could experience this. Now he can, and we’ve already got the dates marked off on our calendar!”

Judy Dlugacz sums it up best: “we’re working hard to provide the best in activities and entertainment that will have something for everyone, no matter your definition of ‘family,’ this is the family vacation for you!”

Let us plan your next LGBT Family trip!

Please contact us at 866-949-1429

Or Fill Out the Contact Form Below:

Please allow at least 24 to 48 hours to receive a response to your inquiry.

Best Gay Bars In Paris !

 

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    Paris is a European capital for all things gay and fabulous, from extravagant local personalities to a neighborhood teeming with addresses for a night of cavorting. The Marais, centrally-located just north of the Hôtel de Ville and south of the Place de la République, is the epicenter for nightlife catering to boys and men of all walks, but it’s just the beginning. Starting an evening in or around the Marais is the best way to find out from the locals what’s going on in other gay bars around town. Whether you’re looking to share casual drinks, dance until dawn, or have a brush with a local Parisian, there’s fun to be had any night of the week.

    Les Souffleurs

    Les Souffleurs is all about relaxation, refinement and modernity, a hip little gay bar in the centre of the Marais that would be difficult to spot if you didn’t already know it was there. Once inside, you almost feel that you’re in Berlin: hyper-styled barmen, classy décor and carefully selected music. In the daytime, it’s a quiet escape from the frenetic Marais, welcoming to groups and people going solo, settled comfortably in leather sofas. But the temperature goes up quickly at night, with some out-there DJ mixes, and it gets seriously busy, so come early. Some evenings feature concerts, aftershows and performances.

    Aim for the happy hour between 6pm and 9pm for prices much lower than you’ll usually find in the area (punch at €3 a glass). Mostly for masculine gays (but not exclusively), the clientele is young but open to variety.

     (© Romain Pomian)

    Le Spyce Bar

    More than an essential gay bar and club in the Marais, Le Spyce is a rallying cry. You can’t miss it, the frontage ornamented with a huge screen that flashes up the name of the current night in rainbow colours. It gets boiling hot inside especially on weekends, with no a/c – it’s a young, happy, sweaty, undressed, excitable crowd, ready to dance and take people home on a whim. There’s an informal (read barely-there) dress code on the dance floor, with bold guys welcome to take a place on a podium and dance til 4am. It’s busy and happening every night of the week, but Thursdays through Fridays are the best.

    Entry is free, and the drinks reasonably priced: allow €10 for a vodka red bull or €4 for a demi, served by smiling topless staff. The music is house and current hits, with plenty of themed nights – we like Tuesday’s ‘SMS Video Mix’, when you can text your song requests to the DJ.

    Banana Café

    Banana Cafe

    Banana Café, an institution the Les Halles neighbourhood, attracts a younger set of locals, suburban Parisians, and travellers who have strayed from the core gay scene of the Marais. With themed soirées, drag shows and go-go boys that could have taught Joséphine Baker a few moves, it’s a solid choice for any night on the town. The ground floor bar and adjacent terrace serve up happy hour drinks including €3 pints from 6-11pm, though service is far from attentive. After happy hour, patrons are ushered inside from the terrace and, eventually, downstairs for some dancing and go-go boy antics, should you be so interested. Depending on the soirée, there’s a cover fee for those who arrive later, but the relaxed ambiance and club-like atmosphere will make up for it.

    FreeDJ

    FreeDJ

    If you want to dance, and claustrophobia is no issue, FreeDJ, right around the corner from Open Café, is a top choice for an all-nighter with no cover to pay. Upstairs, the bar and a foosball table occupy those looking to chat or share a cigarette in the glassed-in smoking room. Head downstairs and the intimate cellar welcomes those looking to hit the dance floor with like-minded gentlemen. Soirées like Wednesday’s RnB night keep the weeknights new and fresh while house and pop take over the downstairs, pumping Madonna and Lady Gaga through the speakers while the bartender pours Red Bull and vodka all night long.  It’s a relaxed and not overtly-cruisey scene that’s better fun with a few pals than solo, but don’t try to smuggle in any lady friends. The bouncer at the door notoriously turns away anyone with a menstrual cycle.

    Le CUD Bar

    Le CUD Bar

    When the bars and restaurants start close, the party is far from over in the Marais. Things at the Cud, an unfortunately-named but sinfully fun venue, start to heat up around 2am as party-seekers leave other venues for this classic and basic cave bar. Located off Rue du Temple on a tiny street, this is one of the best late-night spots in the Marais. The seating area upstairs is for amateurs, since the real party is in the vaulted cave below. Two bars serve pricey drinks all night long as the DJ spins a fun and current mix of pop tracks and house music – and he sometimes takes requests if you’re polite. The clientele, as per usual, is mixed, but notably younger and very friendly, sometimes too friendly, with a lot more cruising than many of the other bars. Those looking to get up close and personal with a Parisian shouldn’t have too hard of a time here, since space is at a premium, but a healthy dose of international men also frequent Cud since late night options in the Marais are few. Make sure you check your coat, it gets hot down there.

    Sly

    Sly

    A newcomer to the gay scene, Sly is a kitschy bar down the street from the Bear’s Den that attracts a much younger set of guys and their gal friends. It seems trendy with its flashy lights and risqué videos on the flat screen inside, but there’s nothing pretentious about the bar or its patrons. The best spot is on the tiny heated terrace, offering some of Paris’s most eclectic people-watching on Rue des Lombards, but the seating inside is cozy and inviting if it’s too late to snag a seat outside. With cost-effective happy hours (€3.50 for a pint) and attentive service, it’s a great change of pace from some of the other overly-cruisey bars. That said, each Thursday is a special after-work party, ‘Single or Not’, where you can wear a colour-coded bracelet identifying your relationship status. Green means ‘go for it’, so give it a shot.

    Cafe Cox

    Cafe Cox

    The Pearl achieves a rare balance between all-day and late-night venue, and has a good gay? straight? whatever vibe. In the morning, it draws early risers; lunchtime is for a business crowd; the afternoon reels in retired locals, and in the evening, screenwriters rub elbows with young dandies, keeping one eye on the mirror and an ear on the electrorock. The menu runs from omelettes to seafood salad. Expect a DJ later on in the night.
    La Perle

    La Perle

    The aptly named Cox bar is a mainstay, centrally located in the Marais on Rue des Archives where, on warmer evenings, the crowd spills onto the pavements with only a feeble chain rope to keep patrons from taking over the street. This watering hole attracts a manlier set of slightly older bikers and leather fans that seems intimidating at first, but if it’s your scene, prepare for a hearty welcome, even if you’re a bit younger with a full head of hair. And no, it hasn’t changed hands since it opened in 1995, but the décor does alternate every three months to keep things fresh. Ambiance is everything, after all. DJs spin on Thursday nights and a lengthy happy hour on Sunday keeps the beer flowing until 2am before the crowds head elsewhere.

    Raidd Bar
    La Perle

    Although this bar is kinda expensive, this is one of the best bars in Paris.

    The infamous ‘shower bar’, Raidd welcomes a trendy mix of younger locals, innocent study abroad students, and other voyeuristic internationals to the Marais who don’t just come for the pricey drinks. Instead, they crowd around to ogle the scantily-clad go-go boys who make you feel dirty while they get clean, stripping down and lathering up in the glass shower by the bar. Each Thursday, Raidd has an extended shower show, featuring four different male specimens who take their time cleaning everywhere to make sure they get squeaky clean. Themed nights, including Disco Tuesdays and Brazilian Wednesdays keep the party going all week. It’s not the place for intimate conversation or a relaxed evening, but the crowds are thick enough that you could pick up a number or two. Men queue up on the weekends, but there’s no cover to enter, so prepare to wait patiently, and quietly, on the sidewalk and play nice with the bouncer.

    Le Feeling
    Le Feeling

    An unusual combination, Le Feeling is a low-key gay and lesbian hangout with the atmosphere of a small local bar. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the rainbow décor, Dalida soundtrack and easy-going staff are the perfect antidote to the tumult at Spyce just over the road. It’s at its best in summer, when the long bar is open onto the street. The mixed clientele includes a lot of regulars, and the general atmosphere is chatty and welcoming. On the other hand, there’s no wasting time – it’s an enthusiastic pick-up joint for people of all tastes (the bar staff ensure that everyone is respected). Prices are very reasonable (a demi at €3.50), and during happy hour (daily from 7pm-9pm and 11pm-12mid), it’s buy one get one free.

    Vienna’s Got Balls !

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    Vienna’s Got Balls

    BY MATTHEW BREEN via OutTravler

    Between the Life Ball and Eurovision, Vienna may be having it’s gayest week ever! Here are the other offerings in the historic Austrian capital.

    My first visit to Vienna was under less than ideal circumstances. It was 1995, and after studying at a summer program at Cambridge University in England, my friend with whom I was going to backpack aroun Europe cut his stay short and flew home, leaving me with my train pass and some half-baked plans for a month on the continent.

    I had been primed to travel in the classic student style, armed with a shoestring budget, a list of hostels in various capitals, and my first real attempt at growing a beard, which was coming in meagerly. I wasn’t opposed to traveling alone, and having just turned 21, I was feeling liberated, even if that milestone was looked upon as rather quaint by Europeans who at age 16 had grown accustomed to ordering a beer without even a sideways glance from a bartender.

    Nevertheless, I was a little frightened by the prospect of finding my own lodging in Prague when I didn’t even know the Czech word for “hello” or negotiating train travel in France when I could barely read a timetable in English. I had spent summers abroad before, but never entirely on my own. My plans were all pretty flexible, so I agreed to meet an ex-girlfriend in Austria. I suspect she may have been hoping to rekindle something (I was at least a year from coming out), as Vienna, an Old World romantic city, was high on her list of destinations. But that trip was kind of a bust.

    The rain was incessant, and the temperature was unseasonably cold for late summer. The Viennese people I encountered were either made grumpy by the inclement weather or determined to live up to a tired stereotype about their haughtiness. In either case, I was overwhelmed by the deluge and underwhelmed by the attitude. So after only one day running from cathedrals to cafés, we called it quits. The highlights were some amazing gulaschsuppe (beef and paprika stew) and mélange (half coffee, half milk), and a ride on the Riesenrad (the giant Ferris wheel that makes appearances in The Third Man and Scorpio). After that we departed for a warmer location.

    Sixteen years later, my second visit changed my mind so thoroughly about the city and its people that I returned a third time just seven months later. I encountered a city determined to maintain its rich cultural heritage all the while forging the foundation for a modern European center, fostering young artists, and rolling out the red carpet for tourists, especially LGBT visitors.

    The occasion for my visit in early spring 2011 was the culmination of the ball season, Vienna’s grand tradition of glorious formal waltzes, where tails and tiaras are de rigueur. There are dozens of such balls thrown by all manner of groups: The Vienna Philharmonic hosts one, the professional organization of pharmacists hosts one — and naturally, the gays throw a few. And each year, the most formal and the queerest of the season’s events share a calendar date.

    The Opera Ball, held at the magnificent Vienna State Opera, is the undisputed pinnacle of the ball season, and European cultural icons, high society, and international heads of state are likely to be found there. The formal dress code is strictly enforced, and rigorous tryouts are required for anyone wishing to take part in the traditional polonaise dance that opens nearly every ball in Vienna. It’s stately but, I’m told, stuffy.

    The annual Rosenball (“Rose Ball,” pcitured above), on the other hand, is a massive queer party. The 2011 event was its 20th anniversary, and the dress code was more of an anything-goes affair — specifically, anything fabulous goes. Dressed in everything from tuxes to drag to wild, glittery, and outrageously skimpy costumes, guests are everything but casual.

    The event simultaneously mocks and takes part in the notable elements of the ball tradition. The setting, the Palais Auersperg, a baroque palace completed in 1710, is suitably grand. But the evening opens with a comic drag polonaise, revelers dance under laser lights to thumping disco instead of Strauss, and DJs and house divas take the place of orchestral accompaniment. And you can bet this is the only ball where the dancers on the stage are hunky go-go guys. After 1 a.m., I noticed a trickle of more formally attired guests arriving; having sampled the more staid traditions of the Opera Ball, these folks were ready to get a little sweaty dancing with the flamboyant crowd at the Rosenball.

    After enough gin-and-tonics to reinforce my courage and bolster my rusty German, I spoke to a handsome Austrian who was stationed at the main dance floor bar while his female friend tried to get the attention of the straight, shirtless bartender. His first sly glances across the bar belied the beaming smile I’d soon discover, and I was quickly disabused of the notion of any Viennese arrogance. (Truth be told, whatever was true of that reputation has since faded. I found the Viennese to be as friendly as people in many European cities, and far friendlier than those in many other places I’ve visited.)

    The event went into the wee hours and included a very late after-party. Night owls never fear: You’ll have options until dawn.

    The other LGBT events of the season include the more ceremonial Regenbogenball (“Rainbow Ball”), where formal attire is required, even if one is cross-dressing. The traditional waltz is the order of the day, and event proceeds go to the Homosexual Initiative Vienna. The Mauerblümechenball (“Wallflower Ball”) is free and informal, and has a more ironic dress code of nerdy cardigans and horn-rimmed glasses, as exemplified by the organizers’ professed love of beige.

    Though outside the ball season, the Life Ball (in May) is another gay-popular event, and one of the best-known AIDS events in the world, drawing celebrity entertainers and guests. Revelers get a discounted ticket if they dress in the costume described in the party’s “Style Bible,” and shirtless men often get a discount on their entry ticket sometime after 2 a.m.

    After a long night out, some hearty food was in order. Vienna’s cuisine is a blend of traditional and modern, a mix emblematic of the entire city. Meeting over a meal is key to gay life in Vienna, and while a true bon vivant might have known this, it had to be pointed out to me that Viennese cuisine is the only cuisine in the world to be named after a city. It’s often to be found in a classic beisl, like a bistro, with dark wood paneling, a bar, and simple tables and chairs. Schnitzel (veal or pork pounded flat, breaded, and fried), pastries, soup with pancake strips, and goulash constitute the basis of menus.

    Motto is a chic, gay-owned restaurant, with decor drenched in purple and black, with pops of orange and teal. As a fashion student, Helmut Lang once served patrons there. The floor-to-ceiling-mirrored bathroom is a somewhat pleasantly overwhelming sight to behold. The menu offers elegant presentations of classic Austrian dishes like tafelspitz (simmered tri-tip with root vegetables) and schinkenfleckerl (noodle casserole). Meals here often start with an Aperol spritz, a champagne cocktail spiked with an Italian aperitif that turns the drink a vivid orange. The restaurant’s sister location, Motto am Fluss has a restaurant and café right over the Danube Canal and draws an urbane young crowd for beer, cocktails, and dinner.

    Ein Wiener Salon (pictured above) is an intimate and upscale restaurant, dominated by a portrait of Empress Maria Theresa — though her face has cheekily been replaced by the gay owner’s, taking any remnants of fuss out of the decorous atmosphere. The tasting menu is seasonal, and a meal often ends with regional schnapps.

    Schon-Schön is a hybrid of a most unusual kind: a restaurant, fashion boutique, and hair salon. The menu is limited to two or three daily specials, and the fresh fare is served at a large stark-white communal table. While the food is good, the draw for the hipper-than-thou crowd is undoubtedly the atmosphere.

    The Palmenhaus (Palmenhaus.at) was the ideal setting for a pre-Rosenball dinner, and the night I was there the dining hall was filled with men in tuxedos and women in glittering cocktail dresses and wraps. While architecture lovers are drawn to the 1901 art nouveau greenhouse, it’s the osso buco that brings in the foodies.

    My new Austrian friend with the killer smile took me to a Saturday brunch at Deli in the Naschmarkt, the large outdoor market along the Vienna River. Dotted with fishmongers, cheese and produce stands, bakeries, and restaurants of every stripe, Naschmarkt is a must-see, a prime people-watching spot on the very busy Saturdays. It’s frustratingly closed on Sundays. Deli is crowded but friendly, and my brunch of lamb chops and mélange was accompanied by a DJ’s breakbeats.

    Much of Viennese social life takes place in cafés. Coffee isn’t unique to Vienna, of course, but nowhere have I seen such attention paid to a cup, in classic 19th-century and art nouveau settings. Cafés come in a few varieties, and it pays to know the difference. A Café-Konditorei also serves pastries and sweets; a Café-Restaurant serves food, sometimes remarkably good food — not just something to soak up the caffeine; a Nacht-Café is a bar. I find the experience of coming in from the cold, peeling off layers of jackets and sweaters, sitting down on a red velvet banquette to a cup of einspänner (espresso with whipped cream) and a slice of Sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam filling) served on a silver tray to be a lush experience. And it’s the perfect remedy for a sightseer’s aching feet.

    Also near the Naschtmarkt is the official center of LGBT life, the Rosa Lila Villa, the gay and lesbian center. It’s a good place to pick up the local gay publications and take a look at fliers for club nights, parties, and other, more earnest gatherings. It’s also a good spot for women to find events, because offerings for gay men outnumber those for lesbians.

    Nightlife often begins with a coffee, beer, or cocktail at Café Savoy, a café in the grand, traditional Viennese style. From Café Savoy, many head to Village Bar, a small but reliable video bar, or Felixx an ambient cocktail lounge with theme nights. Pitbull is a monthly party for bears and admirers. Younger gays often head to the boisterous Mango Bar, which shares its website with dance club Why Not. Another large dance club with weekly parties is Heaven Vienna.

    The Frauencafé is a trans-friendly women’s bar founded by a feminist collective in 1977 and open on weekends, and Marea Alta is a lesbian bar furnished in a flea market style, offering performances, parties, and DJs.

    Vienna may be a refined and sophisticated city, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for some less genteel action. Fetish and cruising bars with darkrooms include Eagle Bar, Sling, and others. The city isn’t squeamish about sex-positive venues, so lists of bars with darkrooms, sex shops, gay cinemas, and bathhouses are easy to find on gay city maps and at GayNet.at.

    Art abounds, but for one-stop shopping the Museumsquartier has no rival. One of the largest complexes for modern art and culture in the world, it contains the Leopold Museum (which displays the works of Austrian modernists Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt), the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna), and the contemporary dance space Tanzquartier, and it hosts numerous festivals. But art is everywhere, from imperial public works to modern pieces. Even my hotel, the new Levante Parliament, incorporates a gallery exhibiting glasswork by Romanian artist Ioan Nemtoi.

    Vienna is also a centrally located starting point for day-tripping. On a weeklong trip in the autumn of 2011, my Austrian beau and I visited Bratislava, Slovakia, just a 45-minute drive away; the picturesque Austrian cities of Salzburg and Graz, and Hungarian metropolis Budapest, which shares Vienna’s imperial heritage, are all just two hours’ drive. While I wouldn’t suggest one needs a local paramour to properly see the sights, if you’re looking for one, this romantic capital is a capital place to look.

    Originally published on Advocate.com January 11, 2012