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.
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.
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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.
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.