Travel Diary • 01.13.12

IMG_3636Gay Days, which for years has organized circuit-party- like festivities during the week-long “Gay Day” in Orlando — covering DisneyWorld, the Universal Parks and more — is expanding west for what they are calling their first “bi-coastal” celebration.

Only the new city isn’t really on the coast, or anywhere near it. Their bad.

Still, Gay Days Las Vegas does bring the signature event style to the Pacific time zone.

From Sept. 4–10 this year, the Tropicana Casino in Vegas will be host to the Pride party, which will include a travel-retail expo (free and open to the public), daily pool parties and other events around town (pictured).

That follows the annual Orlando blow-out, which takes place as always the first weekend in June. You can book reservations and learn more about both at GayDays.com.

Asian markets are organizing to embrace their LGBT travelers more openly.

Following a symposium late last year in New Delhi, sponsored by San Francisco-based Community Marketing, countries across the region discussed reaching out to gay travelers. The New York office of the Thailand tourism bureau even announced a pilot campaign, scheduled to launch during the first quarter of 2012, called “Go Thai, Be Free,” targeting LGBT travelers on the East Coast of the U.S.

Olivia, the lesbian-focused travel company, will celebrate its upcoming 40th anniversary with two special cruises — the largest lesbian cruises yet to set sail.

The cruises — departing from Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 27 and again on Feb. 3 on Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam liner, for a tour of the Caribbean, including Aruba, the Bahamas and Curacao — will hold 2,100 guests. To book a room or for further information, visit Olivia.com.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

—  Kevin Thomas

Cannes-DO attitude

There’s more to this French sea haven than a film fest, as gay travelers know

ALONG THE MEDITERRANEAN | A view from Fort Royal of Ile Sainte-Marguerite looks across the harbor to the hills of Cannes and the French Riviera. (Photo courtesy Andrew Collins)

Last week, we profiled the French Riviera gay hub of Nice, but smaller, neighboring Cannes may be even more famous. Renowned for its legendary film festival each spring, Cannes curves gently around a sheltered bay, its glamorous hotels and swanky beach bars strung like jewels along La Croisette promenade, it has an increasingly visible LGBT community (Cannes Rainbow promotes gay tourism to the area).

This city of about 80,000 is perfect for strolling and window shopping, rife as it is with antiques and food markets as well as luxury boutiques and department stores.

To get your blood flowing, climb the steep, narrow streets to Suquet hill for majestic views of the harbor, and then walk back down through Old Town, perhaps stopping at a sidewalk café for lunch.

Set aside a half-day for taking a passenger ferry across the harbor to the Lerins Islands, the most famous of which is Île Sainte-Marguerite, home to the famed 17th-century Fort Royal, the cliff-top fortress (now a museum) in which the legendary Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned in the 1600s. The island is also home to the excellent (seasonal) open-air restaurant, La Guerite, which serves superb seafood, including the addictively delicious tiny fried fishes, called blanchaille.

Wine is, of course, important to French culture, and rosé is the most commonly produced wine in Provence —  locals consume it happily at virtually every meal. If you’re looking to pick up a bottle or two, check out the outstanding La Cave Bianchi wine shop in Cannes. The town also has some favorite gay restaurants, including breezy Restaurant le Vegaluna along the beach; see-and-be-seen Le Sparkling et son Club, which is also fun for pre-clubbing cocktails; and Barbarella, a romantic spot with sidewalk seating in at Old Town.

For gay nightlife in Cannes, the intimate and rather ancient Zanzibar tavern makes a nice starting point, perhaps before heading to the city’s top gay venue, trendy Le Night Disco. Also, the nightclub and casino Palm Beach Cannes occasionally hosts gay parties and is always very LGBT-welcoming.

You’ll find a nice mix of swanky seaside hotels and affordable gay B&Bs throughout the region. Movie stars in Cannes regularly nest at the stunning Carlton Inter-Continental Hotel — many suites are named for luminaries from Sean Penn to Elton John. The gay-popular Hôtel 3.14 lies just around the corner and is notable for its over-the-top quirky rooms — floors have fun, if bizarre, themes like American pop art and Moroccan chic. The rooftop pool is a wonderful place to while away an afternoon.

Picasso’s stomping grounds

OOH LA LA! | The swanky Hotel 3.14 is popular with gay travelers, in part because of its uniquely flamboyant rooms.

You don’t have to plant yourself in only the two biggest cities in the region to have a gay ol’ time. Between Cannes and Nice, you can visit a pair of lovely communities, Vallauris Golfe-Juan and Antibes, whose Roman fortifications overlook the largest pleasure-boat harbor in Europe. A walk through Old Town’s narrow lanes leads to the exceptional Picasso Museum, outside of which a small sculpture garden looks over the sea. Around the corner you’ll find the city’s famous city market, which hums with activity and sells everything from fresh peaches to stuffed rabbits.

Vallauris Golfe-Juan, where Picasso lived for many years, has boasted a reputation for pottery-making that dates back 2,000 years. It’s home to several art museums, including the amusingly offbeat Museum of Kitsch, a celebration of jade-hued ceramic poodles and tropical-fish ashtrays. More esteemed attractions include the Castle Museum complex, which comprises three distinct art museums, including the National Picasso Museum “War and Peace” (with massive murals by Picasso).

Finally, there’s Espace Jean Marais, a gallery celebrating the sculpture (and film career) of the celebrated gay actor Marais, once the lover and muse of Jean Cocteau.

In the leafy, inviting Juan les Pins section of Antibes, the gay-friendly Hôtel Juana and Hôtel Belles Rives — which have the same owners and are within walking distance of each other — make excellent bases for exploring the entire Riviera. Hotel Belles Rives, in which F. Scott Fitzgerald lived while writing Tender is the Night, is the more historic and atmospheric of the two, and it’s home to the exceptional restaurant, La Passagere. Up in the hilly Vence, the gay-owned La Maison du Frêne is an exquisitely decorated B&B whose stunning rooms are hung with bold, playful contemporary art — it’s a perfect hideaway for a romantic vacation.

Two nearby interior villages of note include the medieval town of Vence, whose delightful village center is home to Chapelle du Rosaire, which contains stained-glass by Henri Matisse, and nearby Saint-Paul de Vence, a walled, medieval hilltop town whose cobblestone alleys are lined with art galleries, open-air cafes, and fashionable boutiques. Be sure to walk through the cemetery in which artist Marc Chagall is buried — he lived here late in life, as did the gay American novelist James Baldwin. Down the hill, check out the Maeght Foundation museum, whose grounds and galleries are filled with dramatic, large-scale contemporary art installations and sculptures.

— Andrew Collins

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

My ol’ Kentucky homo

Louisville and Lexington  offer bluegrass appeal for gay travelers

BOURBON AND BLUEGRASS | Verdant Bluegrass County surrounding Lexington and Louisville abounds with scenic horse farms and bourbon distilleries. (Photo courtesy Andrew Collins)

ANDREW COLLINS  | Contributing Writer
outoftown@qsyndicate.com

Each May, eyes fall upon Kentucky’s pastoral Bluegrass area as Louisville holds the Kentucky Derby, the world’s most celebrated Thoroughbred race. But from spring through late autumn, it’s a fine time for touring the hilly, verdant swatch of northern Kentucky that includes the state’s two largest cities, Louisville and Lexington. Despite the region’s generally conservative demeanor, Louisville has a growing core of hip neighborhoods, an increasingly locavore-driven restaurant scene, first-rate culture and one of the world’s largest gay nightclubs, while collegiate Lexington makes a charming base for exploring nearby horse farms and acclaimed small-batch bourbon distilleries.

A large, modern metropolis (city-county population 721,000) on Kentucky’s Ohio River border with Indiana, Louisville’s West Main Street area boasts an impressive stock of grand, Victorian cast-iron buildings and a few of the city’s gay nightspots. A paved RiverWalk affords great views of the city as well as the Louisville Slugger Museum, the excellent Frazier International History Museum and Muhammad Ali Center. Louisville excels at the arts, with respected opera and ballet companies and the Actors Theatre of Louisville, which hosts the acclaimed Humana Festival of New American Plays every spring.

You’ll find a number of gracious residential districts both downtown and south of it, and a particular lively and gay-popular stretch of businesses and restaurants along Bardstown Road in southeastern Louisville’s Highlands and Cherokee Triangle neighborhoods. Many of the city’s most gay-popular eateries are on Bardstown, including the community’s favorite java joint, Days Espresso, and Lilly’s, where you can sample such contemporary regional American specialties as catfish spring rolls with Asian dipping sauce, and locally farmed pork confit and braised shoulder.

One of Louisville’s most distinctive emerging neighborhoods is East Market, a relatively compact stretch of cafes, galleries and funky shops just a short drive east of downtown. Here be sure to check out Bodega at Felice, a trendy market, deli, and coffee bar all in one, and Toast on Market, which serves tantalizingly tasty breakfast and lunch fare, including a memorable Monte Cristo.

Other dining standouts include downtown’s modern take on down-home cooking, Hillbilly Tea (try the “road kill stew” of venison, chicken and mountain vegetables) and a handful of spots along lively Frankfort Avenue.

Louisville’s gay bars are spread around the city, with a few standouts downtown, including the legendary Connection Louisville, an immense nightclub with several distinct spaces, from a drag show bar to leather lounge (Boots, with its own entrance) to an area with male erotic dancers — there’s something for all tastes here. Around the corner, Tryangles is locals-oriented cruise bar with male strippers on weekends.

At the other end of downtown, in the Cultural District, Starbase Q is a handsomely decorated bar with a welcoming staff, fun theme nights (C&W line dancing, cabaret, karaoke), and a great mix of guys. Gay neighborhood spots south of downtown include Teddy Bears, Marty’s Tavern, and the mostly lesbian Tink’s Pub. Also of note is the famed Magnolia Bar & Grill (aka Mag Bar), an Old Louisville institution with a mixed gay-straight crowd and a fantastic jukebox.

Downtown’s Cultural District is home to one of the most fascinating accommodations in the country, the 21c Museum Hotel This luxe property with 90 sleekly designed rooms has been crafted out of a row of warehouses that once held bourbon and tobacco producers. The multilevel public areas comprise a dramatic, 9,000-square-foot contemporary art museum, and the hotel also contains a chic spa, a full fitness center and one of the hottest restaurants in the region, Proof on Main, which fuses mod Italian and Southern culinary traditions.

Stylistically, Louisville’s grand Brown Hotel is the polar opposite of 21c, but this regal 1923 property is every bit as cushy, its nearly 300 rooms outfitted with classic Old-English-inspired dark-wood furnishings and baths with Spanish marble. Make every effort to dine in the hotel’s formal English Grill, and plan a breakfast or lunch in the more casual but renowned J. Graham’s Cafe, which is famous as the home of the “Hot Brown” sandwich, a local take on a Welsh rarebit.

The city’s historic Old Louisville neighborhood has several gay-friendly B&Bs, all of them set in stately old homes with ornately appointed rooms: Austin’s Inn Place, Culbertson Mansion and Columbine B&B.

About 75 miles away, gentile, attractive Lexington (population 296,000) is surrounded by picturesque countryside graced with lovely old horse farms. Although the city has just one gay bar, the presence of the University of Kentucky has given the city a more progressive bent than much of the region, and in 2010 the city elected openly gay Jim Gray as mayor.

(If you’re headed to Lexington from Louisville, go by way of U.S. 60, stopping for a look at the historic downtown of the state capital, Frankfort, and passing through the quaint town of Versailles, which is home to one the respected single-batch bourbon makers, Woodford Reserve.)

The residential neighborhoods around the university comprise one road after another of gracious brick and limestone homes with neatly tended gardens and broad green lawns. A highlight is Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate.

Excellent dining options in Lexington include Metropole, the cozy French bistro Le Deauville, Alfalfa (which specializes in healthful veggie-oriented fare) and the legendary breakfast joint, Doodles (beware — there’s always a long wait for brunch on weekends).

The Bar Complex is the city’s most popular gay nightspot — it’s always packed at happy hour and well into the evening. Also worth a look is the loveably gruff neighborhood joint Al’s Bar, an eclectic but gay-friendly spot, great burgers, live bluegrass and stiff drinks. The upscale dance club Soundbar also has something of a gay following, especially with students from university.

Lexington has a nice mix of hotels and inns, with the upscale Gratz Park Inn, a three-story 1906 hotel with 41 pleasantly furnished rooms and a fine restaurant, Jonathan’s. The seven-room, gay-friendly Lyndon House B&B is perhaps the most romantic and luxurious inn in Lexington.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Travel diary

The Crescent celebrates 25; gays pick Sydney as fave destination

SYDNEY TOPS | A recent study shows Sydney is an across-the-board fave destination among inter- national gay travelers. (Photo courtesy New Mardi Gras)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

The Rosewood Crescent Hotel celebrates its 25th year with some sweet deals that will make for a luxe vacation or staycation. The “25 Offers for 25 Years” includes specials throughout the hotel including The Spa at the Crescent, Beau’s Lounge, The Conservatory restaurant and even Starbucks. They celebrate with the original 1986 room rate of $100 and booking is now available through April 6, 2012. The hotel will book at this rate for select rooms for the upcoming July 4 and Labor Day weekends. CrescentCourt.com.

If your vacay requires major gay flair, read the Out Now Global LGBT2020 Study first. The study recently revealed the best spots around the world for LGBT tourism. The results are a culmination of information from six continents which help paint a picture of LGBT travelers and their destinations for the next three years.

“Out Now is delighted to be dramatically expanding the global knowledge base of tourism data with the LGBT2020 research study project,” said Out Now CEO Ian Johnson. “We sample in 10 languages and in 2011 we will reach people living in 25 countries around the world. There has never been an LGBT market research project with the scale and true global reach of LGBT2020.”
So which spots were tops?

New York ranked one for global travelers. London was a fave for Europeans, Australians and North Americans while South Americans favored Paris. But Sydney was a popular choice for all travelers. The U.S. narrowly beat out France as the top country to visit. To see the entire study, visit OutNowConsulting.com.

LGBT travelers can connect with others thanks to the new IGLTA Tripping Network. The social network encourages gay travelers to engage in conversation and “to make the world a better place through cultural exchange.”

Think of it as part Facebook, part Yelp, but with a personal touch. Travelers could connect with local gays for guiding them through neighborhoods, meeting up or even providing a spare room. The site also helps to connect with gay and gay-friendly businesses.

The network hasn’t forgotten safety concerns and protects travelers with the TripSafe Program which includes references, ratings, videos and emergency hotlines.

“This is all about facilitating cross-cultural connections and we’re excited to offer members of the LGBT community a safe way to connect with each other all around the globe,” says Jen O’Neal, Tripping.com’s cofounder and CEO. For more information, visit Tripping.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

The real Russia

Forget Cold War images of cold, gray Soviet sameness. The Golden Ring shows glorious Old World beauty

BRETTON B. HOLMES  | Contributing Writer bholmes@holmesworldmedia.com

CHARM INITIATIVE  |  The towns along the Golden Ring, including Rostov, enchant visitors with their medieval architecture, such as churches like this one. (Photo courtesy Svetlana Frolova)
CHARM INITIATIVE | The towns along the Golden Ring, including Rostov, enchant visitors with their medieval architecture, such as churches like this one. (Photo courtesy Svetlana Frolova)

The Cold War has been over for 20 years, but for many Americans, Russia remains a mystery. From movies, we imagine a skyline of gray, Stalin-inspired buildings and murky green waters of the river that runs through the city.
Wrong.

Much of this misperception results from our failure to understand the country’s history. And a chance to explore that history can lead to some of the most awe-inspiring travel one can find.

Russia’s history reveals a deeper partnership with the West than many might expect. It’s actually two countries at odds with each other. The people show great fortitude and graciousness, and are among the most welcoming of cultures. Russians are a proud people, defined by an undercurrent of their Orthodox faith and the monuments to that faith that have survived the Communist state.

One of the greatest travel opportunities the country boasts can be found in the towns that make up the Golden Ring. Comprised of several cities that extend out from the country’s capital of Moscow to the northeast, it is often referred to as the “museums under the sky” because of the many gorgeous churches and monasteries found in and around them. Russians themselves often refer to these towns as “the real Russia,” as Moscow is believed by many to be something of a “country within a country.”

The Golden Ring offers great opportunities for travelers tired of the typical tourist spots. You can travel back in time walking through the halls and courtyards of buildings built nearly 1,000 years ago. Although these rural locales hardly provide nightlife opportunities for gay travelers, the chance to experience history is not to be missed.

Kostroma
Founded in 1152, this town boasts the Ipatievsky monastery. It is understandable why the Romanov tsars regarded Kostroma as their special protectorate. Icons and chalices, some nearly 1,000 years old, extol the history while being dutifully preserved in a surprisingly modern way. Most of the buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Trinity Cathedral is famous for its elaborately painted interior. Photographs of the interior of the Trinity Cathedral can be had for a few hundred rubles, which the avid photographer should quickly shell out. Nuns and priests, upon seeing your photography ticket, are usually more than happy to suggest great picture spots.

Yarolslavl
Recently celebrating its millennial anniversary, Yaroslavl is a large city that boasts the Church of St. John the Baptist, a church so inspiring that its likeness can be found on one of the bank-notes. Other churches here date to the 17th century; visitors will be struck by the elaborate frescoes and enormously majestic proportions of the cathedrals. Of particular note is the Assumption Cathedral, a brand new church that doesn’t look like it. Though the city is the biggest and most active one in the Golden Ring, there is still an abiding sense of its provincial life and history.

FAIRY TALE TOWN  |  Spaso Jakolevskij monastery in Rostov is well-known for the brilliantly colored domes on its spires. (Photo courtesy Svetlana Frolova)
FAIRY TALE TOWN | Spaso Jakolevskij monastery in Rostov is well-known for the brilliantly colored domes on its spires. (Photo courtesy Svetlana Frolova)

Rostov
One of the oldest towns in Russia, Rostov is also one of the best-loved destinations on the Golden Ring. Because of its meticulous preservation, it is a popular locale for the film industry. It’s home to what many believe is the most magnificent kremlin outside of Moscow’s. The cathedral and four tall kremlin churches, with their silver domes, were imitated throughout the city, a trend especially evident in the Savior-on-the-Market Church and the cathedral Church of the Nativity convent. The oldest church within the city center was consecrated to St. Isidore the Blessed in 1565. It is believed that Ivan the Terrible had the architect executed because his church was so much smaller than its predecessor.

While Rostov may appear to be a bit rundown, this characteristic only serves as a fitting backdrop to the majesty of the churches that can be found there. It’s also an excellent place from which travelers can venture out approximately 20 kilometers to the Boris and Gleb monastery. Located in the town of Borisoglebsky, it’s where Ivan the Terrible personally oversaw the construction that surrounded an even older church.

Suzdal
By far considered to be the favorite location on the Golden Ring even among Russians, this picturesque fairy tale village requires at least a full day’s exploration. To maintain its charm, village leaders mandated that no buildings be built more than two stories tall in the historic areas. The architectural consideration upon arrival makes perfect sense. The monasteries and churches in Suzdal offer dream-inspired views — simply walking around the village or resting in the grass under the cool shadows of the gilded church domes are memorable experiences.

The kremlin in Suzdal is the historic center of the town and provides one of the best places to view the area. Rozhdestvenskiy Cathedral is the oldest cathedral here, marked by its brilliant blue domes with gold stars. Walking down Lenin Street, you might expect to find a yellow brick road not far off. The windows of these buildings are exceptionally ornate and colorful, adding to the town’s fairy-tale appeal.

Farther down Lenin Street is the Saviour-Euthimiev monastery-fortress, with its immensely thick walls and porticos and towers letting all and sundry know that to attempt to lay siege to the place would be a rather sizeable mistake.

The Kamenska River offers travelers the best place to enjoy a traditional Russian pancake or blini. A rare and specific treat that can only be found in Suzdal is medovukha, a honey-based liquor cherished across the country. The babushkas can be seen along the lined market selling the beverage, with happy bees circling their covered heads.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Shawn lately

Comic Pelofsky pairs with Dallas’ Paul J. Williams for a gay ol’ time Saturday

COMIC PAIR  |  Paul J. Williams, right, opens for comedian Shawn Pelofsky at the Rose Room Saturday.
COMIC PAIR | Paul J. Williams, right, opens for comedian Shawn Pelofsky at the Rose Room Saturday.

SHAWN PELOFSKY
The Rose Room at Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. Sept. 25. Show begins at 9:30 p.m. $4 cover. Caven.com

…………………………

Shawn Pelofsky has probably been on more gay cruises that any straight woman should feel comfortable claiming.

The L.A.-based comic, who performs nationwide with her Lady Haha & Friends Tour, has appeared on E! with Chelsea Handler, but is familiar to gay travelers for her frequent stints on Atlantis Cruises. She brings her act, alongside local comedian Paul J. Williams, for a show at the Rose Room Saturday.

Pelofsky chatted (with Williams) about what she likes about Dallas’ gay community and why she is so popular with gay audiences (hint: It’s her schnoz).

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Voice: You were here a few years ago at the Lakewood Theater; how did this show come about? Pelofsky: I was already booked in Austin. I had a lot of requests from the Dallas boys from working the Atlantis Cruises so I thought, “If I’m gonna be that close, and we make it happen…” So I called Paul and he did it.

Williams: I am just a vessel for you to perform.

Pelofsky: Paul is so nice and funny.

Are we talking about the same person? Pelofsky: Yes. You can’t get much by me. He’s funny.

You’re straight — how’d you get to be so big in the gay community? Pelofsky: I was born with a Streisand face, so I couldn’t dodge anyone in the gay community — they stop me all the time. Actually, I wasn’t born with it — I broke my nose three times and it got this way. I think with that, people noticed me a little more.

About five or six yeas ago, I just noticed most of my friends were young gay men and I was working a lot of gay venues in Los Angeles. Then the Atlantis [Cruises] people saw me. I was really one of the first straight comics to work so much for them. I really represent the community because I understand that thought process, that mind behind the gay man. It’s my mind. And I’m very accepting.

Do you tailor your act for your audiences? Pelofsky: Sure. Believe it or not, I have worked in front of kids, and I do kid humor. Or when I’m in front of a bunch of old Jews in New Jersey. I can’t do all my gay material when I’m in Afghanistan for the troops.

Do you do it at all? Any “don’t ask, don’t tell” jokes when performing for the troops? Pelofsky: I haven’t really touched that. They say do nothing about that or the president. I just don’t go there. But it does come off the cuff…. But I do love gay humor. And I do it when I work at the Comedy Store.

Do you have any topics that are burning a hole in you comically speaking? Pelofsky: Yes, Prop 8. I support it. Just kidding!

You’ve worked Vegas — did you hear they are closing the Liberace Museum? Pelofsky: Yes! Who doesn’t wanna go to the Liberace Museum?

Williams: I just wanna know if they’re having a garage sale. I’d buy anything shaped like a piano.

Pelofsky: I want a Bedazzled jock strap.

You grew up in Oklahoma as, as you put it, one of 10 Jews born and raised in the state. Do you like coming back to your old stomping grounds? Pelofsky: I have not been to Texas in a few years. I’m not going home until Monday — gonna stay longer because I have a couple of best friends there. I will tell you this, though: I will always get to Texas before I get back to Oklahoma. My dad says, “You gonna be playing Dallas and not Oklahoma?” Yes.

But you like performing here? Pelofsky: Yes, I’m excited! I think the Dallas gay community is one of the best-looking communities, and I’ve been around. And yes, I know everything is bigger in Texas. And everyone knows I’m a size queen.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Louisiana: Top & bottom

Part 2, profiling our gaybor to the East: Shreveport’s homespun gay appeal

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

KING OF CAKES
KING OF CAKES | The king cakes at Julie Anne’s are the best you’ve ever had, but all the baked goods soar. Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

We profiled the bottom of Louisiana as a travel destination earlier this month — now it’s time to hit the top.

With Southern Decadence right around the corner in New Orleans, nearby Shreveport-Bossier City doesn’t get the attention from gay travelers it deserves. But this neighbor to the east is making strides in cultivating its LGBT cred — and not just during Mardi Gras (although we like it for Mardi Gras a lot).

Much of the central business district is fairly compact and surprisingly lively. Less than a week after SoDec ends, Shreveport will gay up the state with the town’s second annual Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, sponsored by PACE (People Acting for Change and Equality) at the Robinson Film Center. The Robinson, like our own Angelika, is a mecca for artsy films (it was the only place in the region to show Milk a few years ago). It’s a beautiful, modern facility that, along with the ArtSpace across the street, gives Downtown an artistic vibe. That sense is augmented with John Waters in tow, which he will be for the fest.

Credit SBC’s progressives for standing up for gay rights. Last year, a city councilman threatened to yank funding for the Robinson because of the gay film fest. The reaction was large enough that not only did the resolution get nowhere, in December the city adopted a non-discrimination policy that covers sex and gender identity. (PACE is also sponsoring a mayoral candidate forum this Sunday.)

Walk or drive down toward the Red River to check out Sci-Port, an interactive science museum targeting families and especially curious kids, but an addictively entertaining place for nerds of all ages. The Sawyer Space Dome Planetarium inside offers everything from laser shows to calculating your weight on the moon (a boon to pound-conscious gays) and lets you show the stars on the day you were born. It also hosts the state’s only IMAX dome theater.

Just down the street, the Barnwell Memorial Garden and Art Center has a greenhouse that’s a hoot to wander through.

Farther away, but completely worth the drive, is the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, a huge museum of eclectic and excellent art, including “double elephant” Audubon portfolios and rotating high-end exhibitions. The self-guided cell-phone tour is an ingenious way to enjoy the art at your own pace.

Perhaps the most interesting attraction, though, is the Logan Mansion. Built in 1897, this private home (Vicky and Billy LeBrun live here full-time) is an architectural marvel bursting with history. It’s also full of believable ghost stories, which Vicky is more than willing to share. It’s one the best historic home tours ever.

Although SBC is not as famed as the Crescent City, all Louisianans know how to enjoy their food, and the culinary scene has several highlights.

Don’t miss the Wine Country Bistro, which deftly executes rustic dishes with French and American country influences. Try the perfectly seared scallops (the size of a fish) on a bed of bacon grits, a corn bread soufflé so sweet it’s more like spoon bread and a mixed berry cobbler with buttermilk ice cream that’s slap-yo’-mama good.

Bistro Byronz has branches in Baton Rouge and Mandeville, but the décor and fare cry out New Orleans, with traditional French dishes like cassoulet (a hearty white bean soup) and chicken paillard (a form of scallopini) in a casual setting that invites jazz music and mimosa.

Logan Mansion
GHOST TOUR | Logan Mansion offers one of the best hist- oric home tours anywhere. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

More formal and spacious, but just as delectable, is Giuseppe, an Italian restaurant with tons of private dining rooms for intimate parties. Try the Sunday “champagne symphony” brunch, which serves bottomless bellinis, mimosas or champagne for six bucks and has well-priced entrees. The razor-thin salmon carpaccio is a highlight, but the housemade pastas are unmissable.

OK, some of the food is more kitsch that cuisine — but even that is noteworthy. Julie Anne’s Bakery is home to the king cake, the signature confectionary of the Lenten season. If you’ve only choked down local grocery store versions, be prepared: They do ‘em right here (as many as 600 a day in the week before Fat Tuesday) and aside from being about as healthy a stick of butter, the flavors are heavenly. (There are other delicious baked goods here for the other 10 months of the year.)

On the other hand, it’s not a bad idea to plan a Mardi Gras season visit, where you can enjoy floats, a pet parade and maybe even get access to the pre-parade krewe parties where the massive moving structures are finished out. Some of the krewes are even gay — which goes to show NOLA doesn’t have a lock on queer-friendly Louisiana.

…………………………………..

LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Wine Country Bistro
Wine Country Bistro

ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
ArtSpace, 710 Texas St. ArtSpaceShreveport.com.
Barnwell Memorial Garden & Art Center, 601 Clyde Fant Parkway. BarnwellCenter.com.
North Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Sept. 10–16), NLGFF.org.
Logan Mansion, 725 Austin Place. R.W. Norton Gallery, 4747 Creswell Ave. RWNAF.org.
Robinson Film Center, 617 Texas St. RobinsonFilmCenter.org.
Sci-Port Museum, 820 Clyde Fant Parkway. SciPort.org.

DINING
Bistro Byronz
, 6104 Line Ave. BistroByronz.com.
Giuseppe, 4800 Line Ave. RistoranteGiuseppe.com.
Julie Anne’s Bakery, 825 Kings Highway.
Wine Country Bistro, pictured, 4801 Line Ave. Wine Country Net.com.

RESOURCES
PACE,
PaceLouisiana.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Louisiana: Top & bottom

Southern Decadence is almost here, but even closer than the Big Easy is the Shreve

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor  jones@dallasvoice.com

BE GAY HERE | NOLA shows its pride with gay-friendly businesses boldly inviting queer customers in for some retail therapy. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

It was five years ago this month that Hurricane Katrina barreled through the Gulf of Mexico, ultimately ravaging New Orleans just before Southern Decadence, the gay end-of-summer bacchanal in America’s favorite municipal speakeasy, got underway.

Now, half a decade (and one more SoDec evac) later, the city welcomes its gay patrons openly. It might not be right to say it’s back — in some ways, it never went away, and in others, it’s more low-key — but the Crescent City remains a great draw for gay travelers.

But not the only one in the state. Even closer — about two hours by car — is Shreveport, a smaller town, more family-oriented burg best known now for its casinos. And while the gays in “the Shreve” make treks to NOLA for the big gay scene fun, there’s a lot to do here that’s cheaper and easier to get to.

So which is it: Extravagance or convenience? How about a little bit of both?

New Orleans

Now in its 39th year, Southern Decadence is a Labor Day weekend tradition that attracts countless gay men, a decent number of gay women and a surprisingly large contingent of straight people who come to revel in the exuberance. You can’t live in — or really even visit — New Orleans without being a little open-minded about sex and alcohol. But that’s not all there is to do.

New Orleans boasts two W Hotels, as different from each other as they can be. They do have one thing in common, though: An enthusiasm for gay clientele. (Last year at SoDec, one of the hotels hosted an Andrew Christian underwear fashion show and party that was as sexy and raucous as you’re probably imagining.)

The W Hotel New Orleans is a high-end high-rise with the W’s signature mod look (plums and scarlets with rich velvets and busy prints set the tone), including hipster-style lounge areas. (Whiskey Blue, the bar, exudes flashy urban cool.)

New Orleans
WHERE  THE BOYS ARE | Bourbon Street is gay bar central, with lots of rainbow flag and ‘to go’ drink spots along the flesh-filled streets. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

The “Wet” pool, lined with private cabanas equipped with TVs and room service, is as social as the pub and affords good views of downtown, as well as Harrah’s Casino, if you want a quick walk to empty your pockets. Zoe, the restaurant, is a multipurpose eatery open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving contemporary American cuisine in a relaxed setting. (A new chef was hired since last year’s SoDec.)

Just a few blocks but a universe away, the W French Quarter, nestled in the heart of party activity and historic sites, is a boutique property with small but charming rooms and a courtyard that looks like something from a Roman garden. A dramatic staircase overlooks a small shaded pool area with a dramatic fountain. Best of all, it’s shielded from the hubbub of the Quarter, but also in the thick of it, so you can go native or relax in a luxury cocoon.

The luxury element extends to Bacco, the onsite eatery from famed New Orleans restaurateur Ralph Brennan. In a town known for great food, Bacco is a standout for brunch or dinner, with the filet Oscar with a vegetable medley a heavenly bit of surf-and-turf, while the house shrimp entrée — whole prawns in a beer broth with rosemary and Creole spices — breath authentic Bayou cuisine.

The Ritz-Carlton splits the difference between the two Ws. Located on the corner of the French Quarter but with full-service amenities, it’s gorgeously ornate property constructed hacienda-style around a central court. The interior spaces are lush, and the amenities (an umbrella in the room in case you forget yours) justify the legend. (Rates at the Ritz are surprisingly affordable, especially in the summer off-season.) The Melange restaurant was relaunched as M Bistro, but the essence of the place — locally-sourced and organic foods predominate — remains.

CAJUN HEAT | The whole prawns at Ralph Brennan’s Bacco are a to-die-for dish.

The 41-story Marriott, also in the French Quarter, recently underwent a massive renovation and defies the old-school “Marriott-style” expectations. Its casual but tasty 5 Fifty 5 restaurant offers a marvelous takes on mac and cheese and oysters Rockefeller, and the bread pudding is more like pound cake doused in caramel and ice cream. Then again, you don’t come to NOLA to lose weight; you come to lose inhibitions.

The famous Brennan’s is unmissable for brunch, renowned for its alcoholic milk punch and of course its flaming bananas foster (which they invented). It’s an institution for a good reason.

Perhaps even more revered in the FQ is Arnaud’s. In a city that has taken casual exuberance to near pornographic extremes (flashing in the streets is not uncommon during Southern Decadence), Arnaud’s remains a bastion of erudition and dignity: The main dining room still requires gentlemen to conform to a dress code. We were fine leaving the coat and tie at home and holing up in the jazz bistro, where live music isn’t the only art: The food is (the menus are identical). Classic dishes, like the oysters Bienville and the house crab cakes, need to be tried. For dessert, treat yourself to the café brulot, a coffee drink with flames and booze and fruit prepared tableside. The show alone is worth it.

FRENCH  OASIS | The pool area at the W French Quarter is charming and quiet … and just steps from the hubbub of Southern Decadence. (Arnold Wayne Jones/.Dallas Voice)

The building that houses it is a massive structure that extends far beyond the well-appointed but gracefully ageing dining rooms; that’s true of a lot of New Orleans. Architecturally, it’s a monument to sturdy, bold structures that have weathered more than a few storms.

Galleries welcome browsers (and you can find some fabulous, often affordable art), and the street vendors are worth a look, too: From tarot card readers along Jackson Square to a permanent flea market along the waterfront, it’s a walking city meant to be enjoyed. (Dress comfortably, though — it’s a swamp in the summer, and it smells like it.)

You can enjoy most of the delights of New Orleans almost anytime during the year, but there are some definite key times to visit. The gay clubs book some racy headliners during Southern Decadence, but the entire city goes pretty gay during that time: There’s a street parade and the entire French Quarter becomes almost inaccessible to vehicles. Mardi Gras, of course, is also a draw, but also Halloween and even late spring, when the arts community comes out for the Saints & Sinners festival. That’s part of the charm of the city — the party never stops.

Shreveport

Those in Shreveport-Bossier City like to call their corner of the state “Louisiana’s Other Side,” but there’s much more to it than just NOLA’s poor relation. True, it does not celebrate SoDec in quite the same way, but be in town on Super Bowl Sunday with the Saints playing and you don’t doubt the city knows how to party.

A complete profile of the city will appear in two weeks in Dallas Voice.

Click HERE to see more photos.

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LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Accommodations
New Orleans Marriott, 555 Canal St. 504-581-1000. Ritz-Carlton, 921 Canal St., 504-524-1331. W Hotel French Quarter, 316 Chartres St. WHotelsNewOrleans.com. W Hotel New

Orleans, 333 Poydras St. WHotelsNewOrleans.com.

Food & Drink
Arnaud’s, 813 Rue Bienville. Arnauds Restaurant.com. Bacco inside the W Hotel French Quarter, 316 Chartres St. Bacco.com.

Brennan’s, 417 Royal St.

BrennansNewOrleans.com.  5 Fifty 5 inside the Marriott, 555 Canal St. Whiskey Blue inside the W Hotel New Orleans, 333 Poydras St.

Resources
SouthernDecadence.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens