If business travel takes you to a city that wouldn’t have been your first choice, don’t despair. There are lots of ways to meet people in your free time.
“Las Vegas?!” groaned my friend Matthew Burns. “Of all the cities that have big convention centers, why did they have to pick this one?” Then he turned to me. “I’m there for six days, and I have several dinner meetings. But most evenings I’m free. One night in a casino is enough. Do I have any other options in Las Vegas?”
We’ve all been in these situations. Conventions, business travel, and family reunions often take us to cities that didn’t top our “fun destinations” list. Where do you meet people in a new city? The traditional approach is to head for a gay bar. But any city big enough to host a large convention also offers a wide range of gay and lesbian activities, nearly every night of the week. They may not be obvious to the casual visitor, but most (at least with a little planning) welcome newcomers. Here are a few ideas I threw out to Matthew for tracking them down.
First, do a little homework before you get there. The Internet has a wealth of information; as usual, the trick is to find it. On America Online, the most popular service, try this: Go to keyword GAY, then scroll down and click on “Over the Rainbow”. Now click the City Guides icon, then (at the bottom of the screen) “SEARCH”. Now type in the city you want.
Or just look in the Gayellow Pages, the most useful book on my desk. Here you’ll find gay, lesbian, and women’s bookstores; bowling and softball and volleyball; Dignity and MCC and other religious groups; AIDS organizations; and much more. Call up a few and see what they’ve got planned.
If you live in a town that’s blessed with a good gay bookstore, tell the clerk where you’re headed, and ask for recommendations. They may carry a gay newspaper from your destination, or a guidebook that covers it in depth.
Finally, on your pre-departure checklist, call the gay helpline at your destination. (These phone numbers are in the Gayellow Pages, and sometimes on the Internet.) Helplines are usually volunteer-staffed, and vary in reliability. If the person who can’t suggest an activity or group that interests you, try again a day or two later. You may get a different volunteer with different interests.
Once in town, pick up the local gay newspaper at a bar or newsstand (those near a campus are your best bet). Matthew later told me that this was where he hit pay dirt. A community calendar in the Las Vegas Bugle listed a gay skating night. He befriended a gay couple there, who invited him for dinner the next day. At last report, he couldn’t wait to go back for next year’s convention.
And now, recommendations from Out & About editor Billy Kolber-Stuart, for those heading off to any of four popular convention cities.* * *
Traveling to a convention city can pose a housing dilemma: Whether to stay close to gay nightlife, or close to business. In some spots, you can find a good compromise.
New Orleans: The French Quarter is the heart of the city’s entertainment district, with the two most popular gay bar/discos, OZ and The Bourbon Pub/Parade, facing each other at 800 and 801 Bourbon Street. Around the corner is The Bourbon Orleans (800-521-5338), the most gay-popular mainstream hotel, charming, well-kept, and friendly. While not particularly convenient to the convention center, it is probably worth the extra cab fare if you’re planning to indulge in the city’s gay nightlife.
Atlanta: Atlanta’s gay community claims Midtown as its home, a location convenient to the city’s many business centers. The Four Seasons (800-332-3442) and Sheraton Colony Square (800-325-3535) are popular business choices in the neighborhood. The Regency Suites Hotel (800-642-3629) and Grenada Suite Hotel (800-548-5631) are adjacent to the MARTA Midtown station, offering rapid rail transport to the airport, Downtown, and Buckhead.
Las Vegas: Most of the gay nightlife is on or near Paradise Road, at the airport end of town. This makes two hotels off the strip particularly convenient. The Alexis Park Resort (800-582-2228) is the only deluxe hotel in Vegas that has gaming tables or slots. The Hard Rock Hotel (800-693-7625) offers the full Las Vegas glitz experience, just down the road from the cluster of gay nightlife.
Chicago: Any large convention utilizes hotels throughout the city, with frequent shuttle service to McCormick Place. Since the gay nightlife is north of downtown, choosing the northern-most hotel on the shuttle route will make evening transportation easier. To stay even closer, three small hotels in the Near North Side market themselves to business travelers under the banner of Neighborhood Inns of Chicago. The Surf Hotel (800-SURF-108), the Park Brompton Inn (800-PARK-108) and the City Suites Hotel (800-CITY-108) are all convenient to gay nightlife, gay-friendly, and affordable.