St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix
THE PLEASURES OF AMERICA'S CARIBBEAN
by Rich Rubin
As I sit at the Beach Side Cafe,
the wonderful restaurant at St. Croixs Sand Castle
on the Beach resort, a cool tradewind rustles the
palms. My lesbian dinnermates are telling me about their
commitment ceremony, held here under a canopy twinkling
with tiny lights. The Caribbean washes up onto the shore,
bathed in the crimson and tangerine light of a perfect
sunset. As our seafood risotto, ancho-dusted scallops,
and chicken marsala arrive, I have a sudden thought: the
U.S. Virgin Islands could be a relationship-saver.
Look at it this way: you want to go
to the Caribbean, but your lover prefers to stay in
the United States. Youve had this argument before,
and what should be a vacation turns into a battle. Why
havent you thought of the U.S. Virgin Islands,
where domestic travel comes with a tropical
twist? While there isnt a specifically gay nightlife
scene on any of the three islands, the acceptance level
is a welcome change from many Caribbean islands. Best
of all, its like three vacations in one, as the
three islands have such utterly different personalities,
from St. Thomas urban pleasures, to St. Johns
laid-back, pristine environment, and St. Croixs
mysterious, about to be hip aura. With a
fab hydroplane making the jaunt daily between St. Croix
and St. Thomas, and a car ferry plying the waters between
St. Thomas and St. John, travel between islands can
be as much fun as the time you spend on each.
The most familiar and built-up of the Virgins,
St. Thomas boasts one of the prettiest cities in the
Caribbean. As I walk down the tiny alleyways of Charlotte
Amalie, houses of yellow, white, blue, and pink
spill up the hill from the harbor. While only about
20,000 people live here, theres a real city bustle.
One-time Danish warehouses (Charlotte Amalie was named
for a queen of Denmark) stretch along quaint little
alleyways, now filled with an enviable array of dining,
drinking, and (of course) shopping.
I fuel up with a double espresso in
R & Js Island Latte, a sophisticated
coffee house thats my favorite hangout in town.
Then I wander along Main Street past duty-free shops
like Little Switzerland and Crystal Shoppe, designers
like Ralph Lauren, Nicole Miller, and David Yurman,
temptations from Cartier, Lalique, Coach, and Tiffany
& Co. Diamonds International proudly displays
a gay-welcoming rainbow symbol, as do Cardow Jewelers,
Imperial Jewelers, and Tanzanite International.
Will power? Fuggedaboudit. Theres
just too much on offer here, at prices too tempting
to resist. Its not all duty-free goods from abroad,
either. Rising young artist David Hill has a
gallery in the Royal Dane Mall (one of the alleyways),
while right on Main Street is Gallery St. Thomas,
a second-floor gallery where proprietor Claire Ochoa
has assembled a truly astounding selection of some of
the Caribbeans finest artists, primarily from
the USVI. In her gallery, I admire William Stoehrs
vibrant and evocative portraits, and John Holubs
dreamily impressionistic island scenes. I flip over
the amazing woodturning of St. John master Avelino Samuel,
vases and urns so delicate they could be made of fine
Among its other city pleasures, St. Thomas
once had a thriving gay nightlife scene. Thats
no longer the case, though youll find a gay-friendly
atmosphere (and a lot of down low action).
A lot of men here are in the closet, notes
W. Champagne Chandler, a longtime fixture
of St. Thomas gay scene. Im in the
living room, he adds. With pumps on.
This native St. Thomian (they call me Champagne
because Im a bubbly experience), while offering
the usual caveats about public affection, visits the
closet only to pick out the black and white outfits
hes famous for. If you believe in something,
he proclaims, you stand up for it. Im not
going to uncomfortable myself to comfortable you.
Has anyone, I ask, ever given him trouble
for being so out? He smiles. Well
Chandler is busy reviving the islands
drag pageant, which lit up the scene for years. Chi
Chi Melindashe was quite a number in the day!
Ramona? Another jalapeño! While the island
is no longer full of gay hotspots, he sees a growing
acceptance and a tendency toward mixed places. The
gay children on this island, if they like a spot, they
make it their own, he proclaims.
Bearing in mind Champagnes words,
I set out to find which spots the gay children
have adopted. I start at Epernay, a classy little
wine bar in Frenchtown, an area on the west side of
Charlotte Amalie that boasts some of the islands
best restaurants. This sleek, chic little spot attracts
a nice mix of professional types who gather under the
deep red walls, Moet et Chandon bottles, and Van Gogh-ish
café painting. On Friday and Saturday nights
it really buzzes, for this is when Stereo, the upstairs
club and the current rage among gay St. Thomians, is
open. Youll find a mixed, youngish crowd making
their way from wine bar to dance club and back.
For a downhome, local spot, try Wet
Willys, a small place with pool tables on the
second floorunpretentious, unglamorous, lots of
fun. A lot of mixed children go there, notes
Champagne with approval. Or join the tourists (youre
one too!) at Greenhouse, right in the heart of
town, a favorite for 2fer Tuesdays and live
music on Wednesdays and Fridays. Plunk yourself onto a
pink, orange, or purple barstool, or kick up your heels
in the large back area, its purple wall is painted with
a pink-trunked palm and blazing sun.
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Of course, theres more to the
island than Charlotte Amalie, and I set out with my
pal Louise to discover some of its riches. Magens
Bay is the most famous beach on the island, often
making Top Ten Beaches lists. This long,
curving strand of pure gold fringed by verdant cliffs
is the quintessential Caribbean beach.
You can also soar to paradise (Paradise
Point, that is) on the St. Thomas Skyride near
the cruise ship port, plunge to the depths on Atlantis
Submarines, and cavort with dolphins or feed the
sting rays at Coral World. In town, dont
miss the dignified beauty of North Americas oldest
synagogue. Note: the rabbi performed the St. Croix ceremony
of my lesbian friends.
As youd expect from a well-touristed
destination, theres a great choice of hotels.
The islands luxury leader is the Ritz-Carlton,
set above Great Bay on the islands east end and
offering plush rooms, private boats for sunset cruises,
and the Great Bay Grill where youll dine
in style on a creatively spectacular menu.
I also love the Best Western Emerald
Bay with subtly-designed, comfy rooms overlooking
the sea, and Pavilions and Pools where landscaped
walkways lead to spacious, very private villas with
their own pools.