Does a straightfriendly, gay resort in NYC make sense? Oh, yes
Here’s the difference between a hotel and a resort: A hotel offers conveniences to make your travel experience more enjoyable; a resort offers the experiences in-house. It’s a perfect explanation for why, when we think of resort properties, we think of dusty sweltering deserts like Las Vegas (which offers air-conditioned casinos, cave-like stage spectacles and watery spas and pools) and Palm Springs (with its clothing-optional guesthouses so the floor show is right outside your patio door). If you want a resort, you go there.
So if you’re going to, say, NYC, who needs a resort? The city is the attraction.
Only that’s not how The Out NYC sees it.
It’s kind of a stupid idea, until you see it for yourself. The Out, a recently opened “straight friendly urban resort” in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, markets itself as something different than a hotel where gays can congregate among their own; you could go to the Chelsea Pines Inn for that. Nope, it realizes what calling itself a “resort” means, and it’s serious about it.
And seriously good at it.
First is the design. The building that houses it was most recently a parking garage (I know, right?) but began it’s life as a mid-century travel lodge, the kind of serviceable, courtyard-centric motel that, starting in the 1940s and ‘50s, dotted every byway along Route 66 and I-95. You can still detect its bones if you look closely, but if you weren’t told, you might not notice. You’d be too caught up in the funky personality of this engaging space.
Enter from 42nd Street — it’s sandwiched between 10th and 11th avenues on the periphery of Broadway and Times Square, at the edge of Hell’s Kitchen — and it looks less like boutique accommodations than the entrance to an underground club. You’re drawn up the oddly sloping, enamel-black painted concrete floor up to the reception desk, a small cubby populated by pretty, well-dressed and perpetually smiling staffers. (This is a gay hotel after all; we expect our fabulousness up front.)
Continue down the winding hall, which recalls the swooping art of Richard Serra, and you’ll discover the guest rooms — just a few on the first floor, including several hostel-style beds-for-rent in a shared common space — before heading up to the oasis of floors two and three. There, the rooms wrap around several courts, each serving up a slightly different experience. In one, two hot tubs and curtained cabanas abut an open-air tanning area suitable for one thing no one gets to do while vacationing in NYC: sunbathe. Down the hall, another cleverly designed space provides more sunning opportunities, plus a wall of AstroTurf that permits occasional movie screenings. Around the corner, a bamboo garden is designed for private functions like wedding receptions (they’ve hosted several in the six months since The Out opened, including straight ones). You could be entertained just walking from one common area to the next, mingling with the other guests.
But you wouldn’t mind staying put in your room. In keeping with the retro-modern styling, rooms are funky and hip, with Danish-style super-comfy beds and a roomy tub with moveable shower heads and exquisite custom bath products with heady but no fou-fou scents, plus flat-screen TVs, complimentary wifi throughout and a mini-bar stacked for gay travelers. In a city where space is at a premium, you couldn’t wish for more luxurious accommodations.
No need to carry a rape whistle to go for a jog to the health club down the street; there’s a full service exercise room, and spa with sauna and steam, as well as massage treatments. The latter deserves special note, as Savas, the burly but soft-handed masseur, spent an hour of deep tissue work, pulverizing nearly every muscle in my body for the best, most invigorating rub I’ve ever received. If this sounds at all like The Island House of other all-male guesthouses, think again. Savas is a therapist with a broad understanding of kinesiology and thorough professional approach toward wellness. It’s also not clothing optional here in the common areas, but breeds a respectful, sophisticated elegance with a boutique sensibility.
That’s not to say you can’t tell it caters to the gay community. Samovars of lemon water provide complimentary refreshment, and there’s a central computer area for printing boarding passes. There are also mirrors everywhere —in the bath, behind the bed, along the halls — but it exudes “modern” not “swinger.” Let’s face it: Gays like to look at themselves.
You barely need to step off property to enjoy a gay time in the Big Apple. The resort’s on-site restaurant, KTCHN, provides room service (the same menu in the dining room), serving breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner with delicious items at surprisingly reasonable prices. (The name, sans vowels, makes it easy to text and tweet your friends where you are with no wasted letters.) Across the hall, XL has — according to locals — fast become one of the hottest gay bars in the city. In front, it’s a dance club with pulsing DJ music and hot bartenders; in back, it converts on some nights to a full-on cabaret, with such acts as Drag Race Season 1 winner Bebe Zahara Benet doing full-out shows with dancing boys and world beats. It rivals Vegas.
Of course, you don’t need to feel constrained by The Out — this isn’t the Hotel California. You’re a six-minute walk from the theaters (movie and legit) of Broadway and off-Broadway; go the other way toward West Side Highway, and you can take a Circle Line boat tour of Manhattan, soaking in the new facility at Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty and passing under the Brooklyn Bridge.
Or stay on land and a five-minute cab ride has you down 20 blocks to Chelsea, where you can wander around or settle in for a top meal at the still-excellent Spice Market in the Meatpacking District, the Jean-Georges pan-Asian eatery where the girls from Sex and the City toasted.
It’s hard to feel gayer than pretending you’re Carrie Bradshaw (well, Samantha Jones). But staying at The Out NYC is a good start.
To see a slideshow from The Out and other NYC destinations, visit DallasVoice.com/category/Photos.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 28, 2012.