Destinations: Gay Weddings & Honeymoons in New York
by Jimmy Im
New York has a history of breakthroughs. In 1966, the Mattachine Society staged a “sip-in” at Julius Bar in Greenwich Village, challenging a law that prohibited the serving of alcohol to gay men; we won, and the bar is still serving. A year later, Oscar Wilde Bookshop, the world’s first homosexual-oriented bookstore, opened and served the community until 2009. In 1969, gays fought back against police raids at the Stonewall Inn in the notorious Stonewall riots, marking the start of the modern gay rights movement, the bar is still in operation. And in 1970, the first gay Liberation Day March was held in NYC, fueling one of the most recognized parades in gay history. The latest breakthrough brought not only the gay community together again, but was a huge turning stone for gay lovers: New York state legalized same-sex marriages in 2011.
Now that gay and lesbian couples can legally marry in New York, it gives plenty of reason to head to the state not only to celebrate and rejoice, but to get hitched and honeymoon. While Manhattan continues to be the most visited destination, several cities and regions in the state are fast becoming a favorite getaway for the GLBT visitor. These areas include the sublime, wine-producing region of the Finger Lakes, the celebrity-packed Catskills, and Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. So, grab your partner and head to one of the greatest states in America, not only to get married but also to spend several days experiencing some of New York’s most romantic destinations.
NEW YORK CITY
Truly a world of its own, New York City is a gay person’s dream honeymoon destination and now one of North America’s best places to get married. For weddings, unforgettable settings abound. Arguably one of the top wedding institutions in Manhattan is the Central Park Boathouse (East 72nd and Park Drive North. Tel: 212-517-2233 . www.thecentralparkboathouse.com). Right in the heart of Central Park, this quintessential spot has indoor/outdoor spaces and includes a private lake room for the wedding ceremony and dinner reception, licensed minister, photography and video, salon services, and more with its all-inclusive package.
Weddings along the Hudson are popular, and most couples make a beeline to the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers (61 Chelsea Piers Suite 300. Tel: 212-336-6600 . www.piersixty.com). Stylish and elegant, the Lighthouse weddings are catered by Abigail Kirsch, a legendary caterer in the NY culinary world. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Hudson offer commanding views, and the capacity for a comfortable 400 guests ensures all your family and friends will have a special day.
For a more glitzy and glamorous option (if you’re willing to go over the top) get hitched at Gotham Hall (1356 Broadway. Tel: 212-244-4300 . www.gothamhallevents.com). The modern and posh event space has hosted everything from Grammy after-parties to Zac Posen fashion shows and can hold up to 1,200 guests. From the Corinthian columns and marble floors to the brass doors and seven-story-tall vaulted dome, Art Deco grand ballroom, this landmark building is an architectural highlight that won’t steal your thunder but enhance it. Weddings start at $200,000, so get ready to splurge. You deserve it.
If you really just want the certificate and nothing more, couples can head straight to the Manhattan Marriage Bureau (141 Worth Street. Tel: 212-669-2400 . www.cityclerk.nyc.gov) at NYC City Hall. It’s old-school, old-world charm at its best.
While The Plaza, New York Palace, and Waldorf Astoria are legendary options for weddings and honeymoon hotels alike, there are several other hotels that have become more popular for their location, packages, and services for same-sex couples, like Kimpton’s Eventi hotel in Chelsea (851 6th Avenue. Tel: 212-564-4567 . www.eventihotel.com). Opened last year, Eventi hosts approximately 20 weddings a year with 10,000 square feet of indoor space as well as an outdoor facility that includes a 30-foot plaza with a large screen that can run photos or videos of your choice. It’s also a hot spot for the local gay community, hosting various LGBT events and fundraisers throughout the year.
The gay-friendly, five-star The Pierre, a member of Taj Hotels (2 East 61st Street. Tel: 212-838-8000 www.tajhotels.com/pierre) is one of the few hotels along Central Park with some of the most commanding views of the iconic attraction. Gay and lesbian staff abound at the intimate, elegantly designed property that celebrated its 80th anniversary last year and offers a “modern marriage package” that includes personalized wedding cake by the pastry chef, floral arrangement by L’Olivier Floral Atelier, in-room couple’s massage, and late-night aphrodisiac menu with oysters, Champagne, and chocolate and a memorable carriage ride through Central Park.
Ritz-Carlton Battery Park (2 West Street. Tel: 212-344-0800 , www.ritzcarlton.com) is a downtown favorite, and 146 of the 298 well-appointed rooms have views of the Statue of Liberty (with telescopes to boot!). On-site weddings with guests up to 250 people take place in their recently remodeled event space or the Rise, their indoor/outdoor space on the 14th floor that provides panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor. The hotel’s Celebrate Equality Wedding Package (June 22-September 3, 2012; December 15, 2012-March 31, 2013) offers the same-sex couple much to get excited about: a dedicated expert to coordinate the event, complimentary suite upgrade, complimentary room night for every 25 room nights, and more. Couples who spend more than $40,000 on catering for their wedding can also enjoy a complimentary, five-night honeymoon at participating Ritz-Carlton Hotels or Resorts around the world.
For a fashionable wedding in the heart of downtown New York, the Crosby Street Hotel (79 Crosby Street. Tel: 212-226-6400 . www.firmdale.com) brings style and elegance to a quiet cobblestone street in SoHo. All 86 rooms in the boutique feature high ceilings and full-length windows, and they’re individually designed by the owner (an interior designer) who’s designed the rooms to be colorful and calm with furnishings she’s picked up on her world travels. Couples can expect intimate and flexible spaces, for small weddings and civil ceremonies (up to 50 guests, 125 guests for reception). The wedding reception starts at $250 per person.
THE FINGER LAKES
While most visitors will argue Niagara Falls is more alluring on the Canada front, the New York side still hosts a number of terrific hotels and wedding locations. The packs of tourists rushing through the area as fast as the falls themselves may be reason to choose an alternative location, should you want intimacy. If you’re looking for a similar experience upstate in a sublime natural setting, head to the Finger Lakes region.
Closer to New York City (a four-hour drive), the Finger Lakes region is home to charming bed and breakfasts, quaint villages, and a whole lot of sky, not to mention more than 100 vineyards perched along the shores of 11 gorgeous, finger-shaped lakes that enhance the natural setting. Known as “wine country,” it’s an economical, short distance from major US cities like D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston, with air service to nearby cities like Rochester and Syracuse. The remote location ensures you’ll most likely rent a car, but this also suggests it’s off the mass-tourism radar. It’s also not a pocket destination: the Finger Lakes region is a whopping area of 9,000 square miles.
The largest wine-producing region east of California, the Finger Lakes region is old-school Americana. Visit the small towns of Elmira and Horseheads, and you’ll feel like nothing has changed since the 80s. As my friend and I drove through the village of Watkins Glen, essentially one street lined with antique stores, bed and breakfasts vintage neon signage, stand-alone pubs and family-owned variety goods shops, we couldn’t help but think of the song “Small Town” by John Mellencamp. Store- and home-front American flags are ubiquitous, the streets are clean, and businesses shut down quite early. While the bounty of American flags may raise the red flag for gay travelers, it’s rather one of the gay-friendliest regions I’ve visited upstate. I never felt awkward or threatened (there’s a small gay community in the town of Elmira, with a stronger number in the nearby college town of Ithaca) and the Finger Lakes is ready to host same-sex weddings, some of which have already happened in the region.
The bulk of activity is centered around Cayuga, Keuka, Seneca, and Canandaigua Lakes, and we spent most of our time at Seneca, thanks to its popular wine trail (all lakes organize their own wine trails to promote member wineries and events, and Seneca Lake Wine Trail (www.senecalakewine.com), one of the largest with 34 members, celebrated its 25th anniversary last year). Also, Seneca Lake is the deepest of all the lakes, which has a blunt effect on extreme weather conditions.
Theoretically, this has a favorable impact on the quality of wine production. While Riesling trumps the variety of wines, visitors can expect terrific chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Meritage. Popular vineyards on the wine circuit include Atwater Estate Vineyards (5055 State Route 414, Burdett. Tel: 800-331-7323 . www.atwatervineyards.com), Wagner Vineyards (9322 State Route 414, Lodi. Tel: 866-924-6378 . www.wagnervineyards. com), and Castel Grisch Winery (3380 County Road 28, Watkins Glen. Tel: 607-535-9614 . www.castelgrisch.com), opened in 1982 by a German couple, so expect German themes in their restaurant menu like schnitzels and waitresses in traditional garb.
Glenora Wine Cellars (9322 State Route 414, Dundee. Tel: 607-243-551. www.glenora.com), a popular vineyard for both locals and tourists alike has a 30-room inn, all with a complimentary bottle of wine, private decks, and lake views. It hosts approximately 40 weddings per year. A separate, romantic cottage is just at the lake’s shore where newlyweds or honeymooners can enjoy a variety of wine-and-dine or spa packages. As of last fall, Glenora had hosted two gay commitment ceremonies.
Gay couples will adore Red Newt (3675 Tichenor Road, Hector. Tel: 607-546-4100 . www.rednewt.com), a boutique winery with 15 labels, and the only vineyard with a gay wine maker, Brandon Seager. A certified oenologist, Brandon started making chardonnay in his own basement eight years ago, and now produces some of the best wines in the region. The signature Red Newt Bistro, a rustic restaurant with terrific tasting menus, takes pride in locally sourcing most of their ingredients.
Stay at Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel (16 N Franklin Avenue, Watkins Glen. Tel: 607-535-6116 . www.watkinsglenharborhotel.com) just at the southern foot of Seneca Lake. The newest hotel in the area (opened in 2008) offers 104 well-appointed rooms, many with patios, an indoor pool, and a large outdoor terrace for intimate weddings.
Despite the big draw of the destination, wine tastings are not the only highlight of the area. Most visitors take a sail across a lake and a stroll through the Glen Watkins State Park (home to stunning gorges) and hike some spectacular trails. Not an outdoor person? The Corning Museum of Glass (1 Museum Way, Corning. Tel: 800-732-6845 . www.cmog.org) is the world’s largest glass museum where you can blow your own glass. Additionally, American author Mark Twain wrote the majority of his great works in the town of Elmira, and visitors can visit his study (Mark Twain Study, Elmira College Campus, 1 Park Place, Elmira. www.marktwaincountry.com) and even his gravesite.
Nightlife may not exist outside the handful of pubs, but gay-owned Starlite Room (3018 Lake Road, Elmira. Tel: 607-733-3333 . www.thestarliteroomelmira.com), offers live music throughout the week. The owners have been together 26 years, and got married shortly after it was legal in New York at their own lounge. A livelier bar is Felicia’s Atomic Lounge (508 West State St., Ithaca. Tel: 607-273-0219 . www.atomicloungeithaca.com) in Ithaca, no more than a 30-minute drive from Glen Watkins, where mostly lesbians congregate any given night of the week.
For even more country solitude, head to the Catskills in the Hudson Valley, which offers some seriously sublime scenery, historic towns, charming inns, farm-to-table restaurants, and, believe it or not, a sleepy gay community that nobody knew existed. The destination is as rural as you saw it in Dirty Dancing (where the movie was based) with long, windy, two-lane roads, sprawling hills, solitary barns, and not much more.
Gay New Yorkers who can brag about having been around long enough to see it all (and we’re talking the Stonewall riots) will remember the town of Roxbury (population: 700) as the gay destination in the 80s. The legendary Roxbury Run was always thriving with visitors and, while the destination died out, Roxbury is going through a gay renaissance, thanks to couple Greg Henderson and Joseph Massa. In 2004, they took over an old-school motel and completely transformed it into a hip, trendy inn and renamed it the Roxbury Motel (2258 County Highway 41, Roxbury. Tel: 607-326-7200 , www.theroxburymotel.com). Last year, they added a brand-new building across the street with nine new themed suites, each paying tribute to popular 60s and 70’s TV shows and movies, a nod to the era when the Catskills were at the peak of their time. As for the rooms that are mostly bi-level with two baths, don’t expect anything tacky. Joe and Greg’s backgrounds are in theater and set design, so the rooms are tastefully whimsical, visually commanding, and blatantly fun (some would say “over the top,” but we can’t be gay for nothing). For instance, the “Gilligan Island’s suite” (or Mary Ann’s Coconut Cream Pie) is an ode to the character’s obsession with coconut cream pie on the island. The bed is round, tiki decorations adorn the walls, and the ceiling looks like the pie top itself. There’s not one detail that’s been overlooked (coconut taffy at turn-down, coconut-scented soap) and this is the same for all the other suites, including The Final Frontier (Star Trek) with a space theme and glow-in-the-dark bathroom and bar tiles and The Wizard’s Emerald (Wizard of Oz) where a yellow brick road runs through the bedroom floor right into a mural. The new Shimmer Spa, equipped with steam room and some of the best therapists you’ll find north of the city, will ensure proper pampering during your stay. The hotel performs smaller-scale ceremonies and weddings, and it’s not uncommon to find same-sex honeymooners taking over the property.
Thanks to the reputation of its farms, the culinary scene in the Catskills will not disappoint. Next door to Roxbury is Public Lounge (2318 County Highway 41, Roxbury. Tel: 607-326-4026 . www.publiclounge.net), a groovy restaurant serving farm-to table dishes (come early before they sell out of daily favorites) and owned by a lesbian couple (the street is referred to as “Lollipop Lane” as there is only one house that is not gay owned).
If you want something a little more “NYC,” head to Peekamoose Restaurant and Tap Room (8373 Rt. 28, Big Indian. Tel: 845-254-6500 . www.peekamooserestaurant.com), where you’ll get some five-star comfort food from Chef Devin Mills, who worked at Gramercy Tavern.
While the town shuts down quite early (don’t expect to be out past 10 P.M.), days are best for discovering some of the area’s sublime natural attractions where plenty of hikes abound, including the popular Kaaterskill Falls. Make an adventure at the man-made beach, sail on the highest zip line in North America through the forest and relax by Small Pond, Big Pond, and Alder Lake, three bodies of water so tranquil and photogenic you’ll be satisfied with those wedding photos.
As Roxbury is experiencing its renaissance, Sullivan County is already a hot spot for the gay community. In fact, one of the first things I noticed when driving through the main road was a large, storefront rainbow flag in a shopping emporium next to popular Benji & Jake’s (5 Horseshoe Lake Road, Kauneonga Lake. Tel: 815-583-4031 . www.benjiandjakes.com) pizza parlor. Sullivan County was really the first county to promote to the gay market; almost 20 percent of the visitor’s association is openly gay. Furthermore, a vast number of second homeowners are openly gay, not to mention the gay community operates many businesses here (up to 70 percent of businesses in Narrowsburg Village alone are gay owned). Gay locals and visitors are such a part of the community, you’ll most likely find the free Out&About guide in almost all the independently owned shops, lounges, and antique stores.
There is a website exclusively for gay visitors (www.outinthecatskills.com) who flock here for outdoor adventures (including hiking and canoeing), the unforgettable farm-to-table culinary scene, and getting married at one of the many pleasant bed and breakfasts, which are as you would imagine, gay owned. Bradstan Country Hotel (156 Route 17B, Whitelake. Tel: 845-583-4114 . www.bradstancountryhotel.com) is a charming inn owned by a gay couple that recently became husband and husband last summer. The quaint property looks over White Lake and is within walking distance of a number of cute shops. A newer option is Gosling Pond (142 Swill Hill N. Road, Kenoza Lake. Tel: 917-834-3922 . www.goslingpond.com). Opened three years ago, the four-unit, former egg farmhouse turned bed and breakfast is owned by a film set designer who lets her animals (from dogs to geese to quail) roam free for full natural effect. Already a big hit for honeymooners thanks to its modern-chic decor and choice of fresh eggs for breakfast (eggs are a “thing” here), Gosling Pond is hosting its first same-sex wedding this spring. Should you want to upgrade, gay-owned Ecce Bed & Breakfast (19 Silver Fish Road, Barryville. Tel: 845-557-8562 . www.eccebedandbreakfast.com) is truly remote, perched 400 feet high on a bluff overlooking the Delaware River, with stunning, scenic views. While a B&B, it feels more like an intimate boutique hotel. Expect contemporary furnishings in all five guestrooms, some of which have private terraces or whirlpool tubs, as well as rotating local art like paintings, sculpture, pottery, and some impressive antique pieces. The 60-acre property (a former private residence from the fifties) exudes romance with a private hammock area and a stone cliff etched with initials and names from lovers dating back to the twenties. Owners Kurtis S. Kreider and Alan J. Rosenblatt (together for 26 years) are charming hosts who enjoy guests from all over the globe and have already had two commitment ceremonies in addition to hosting their first same-sex wedding this month.
As much as Sullivan County is a gay wonderland, it’s also majorly historic. Those who truly know their 60s trivia may remember it being home to the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969 (yes, the festival actually never took place in Woodstock). The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (200 Hurd Road, Betherl. Tel: 866-78?-2922. www.bethelwoodscenter.org) celebrates the iconic concert and sixties history with educational and fun multimedia and memorabilia right on the very site. Take a stroll where 400,000 fans made history, then get a real drink and dance on at the Dancing Cat Saloon and Catskill Distillery (2037 State Rt. 17B, Bethel. Tel: 845-583-3141 . www.dancingcatsaloon.com). The recently opened distillery that produces Peace vodka and five whiskeys doubles up as an event space and gallery (note: the actual bar is from the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens) and was home to the first Day to Be Gay event, a gala/mixer that was so successful it will happen again. Owner Tracy Cohen is a trip and singer in her own band, not to mention she was actually at Woodstock, so don’t expect Dancing Cat to be a snooze with her in charge.
Feel like staying closer to the Big Apple? Buttermilk Falls Inn + Spa (220 North Road, Milton. Tel: 845-795-1310 . www.buttermilkfallsinn.com) is only a short hour-and-a-half drive from the city in the heart of the Hudson Valley, and close to the birthplace of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The country-chic resort spans 75 acres of gardens and farmland with an on-property waterfall. Seventeen rooms and suites are built within a historic 18th-century barn and five freestanding guesthouses, preserving the past with modern touches. Couples tend to rent out the entire property for small weddings (their event spaces can hold up to 250, but rooms are equipped for a maximum of 54 overnight guests). Weddings are easy here, but if you need to de-stress, head to the spa for signature Soil-to-Spa treatments (they use fresh ingredients grown at Millstone Farm) and unwind in the sauna, steam room, and pool overlooking the Hudson River
The “butch,” “bears,” and Paul Bunyan admirers alike will effortlessly feel at home in the alpine village of Lake Placid, just five hours north of NYC. It’s nestled among the scenic peaks of the six-million acre Adirondack mountains so all outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate four seasons here: the summer sun, spring mist, fall foliage, and snowy winters have captivated visitors year-round. Lake Placid became the upstate hot spot even back to the 19th century, when the rich and famous were drawn to the quiet village and the immense Lake Placid. In fact, Essex County has lured high society for generations: everyone from the Rockefellers to Shania Twain own sprawling estates, a testament to the luring destination.
For those who may remember, Lake Placid was home to the 1980 Winter Olympics, where the “Miracle On Ice” occurred (a group of American college students and amateurs beat the Soviet national ice hockey team to win the gold medal). Visitors can still visit the Olympic Park and take one of the world’s fastest bobsleds at a thrilling 70 MPH. Great hiking and cycling trails and ski slopes abound at the iconic Whiteface mountain, and a trip wouldn’t be complete without a canoe, kayak, paddle boat, or paton on Lake Placid itself.
When I visited, I was already in awe with just the train ride upstate. The tracks align the Hudson River, providing one of the most scenic trips I’ve discovered up north. From Penn Station to Westport, a round-trip ticket on Amtrak averages $120, and hotels often offer complimentary shuttle to the town of Lake Placid, less than an hour drive from the station.
No one can deny the beauty of the region: from looming spruce and evergreens to birch trees as white as bone, as well as the handful of shimmering lakes, Lake Placid has been the romantic getaway for couples for centuries.
One of the most notable resorts is Whiteface Lodge Resort & Spa (7 Whiteface Inn Lane, Lake Placid. Tel: 518-523-0500 . www.thewhitefacelodge.com). Thanks to the rustic allure (expect timber beams and hand-forged ironwork lamps), comfortable suites (one, two, and three bedroom) and myriad in-house activities, Whiteface Lodge has quickly been a favorite for both locals and visitors alike. There are 94 suites, all equipped with private kitchens, outdoor decks, and gas fireplaces, as well as the only indoor/outdoor swimming pool, and three hot tubs in the area. The award-winning spa is just as cozy as the rest of the property, with a variety of signature treatments that pay tribute to the area, like maple butter body wraps, and apple cider masque and massage. Guests (expect young couples and families) generally have difficulty leaving the property, considering the amenities. Aside from the swimming pools, there’s also a game room with ski ball and billiards, parlor, KANU restaurant with inventive dishes, a waterfront property Canoe Club on actual lake Placid, movie theater, and two bowling lanes in the “lower trail” of the property. Thanks to its location and reputation and, of course, romantic setting, Whiteface Lodge hosts dozens of weddings per year, whether in their landscaped courtyard with the backdrop of the Adirondack Mountains or at their private Canoe Club on the lake. Whiteface is excited to host its first same-sex wedding this July 2012.
An even more remote property is Lake Placid Lodge (144 Lodge Way, Lake Placid Tel: 518-523-2700 . www.lakeplacidlodge.com), a member of Relais & Chateaux and the only hotel on the actual shores of Lake Placid. With 19 rustic cabins (30 guestrooms total), Lake Placid Lodge has been the home away from home for more than 100 years (it opened in 1882) for top politicians, socialites and a large celebrity roster (including Richard Gere, Michael Caine, and Justin Timberlake). It gives a nod to the Great Camp Era of the area, with antique furnishings, beds carved by local artisans, plenty of taxidermy, and stone fireplaces. The Artisans restaurant, now equipped with new teaching kitchen, is headed by Chef Nathan Rich whose culinary flair is inspired by the great outdoors with a touch of elegance. Lake Placid Lodge has already been host to two same-sex weddings and will always be an unforgettable getaway for newlyweds.