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Quebec City

by Kelsy Chauvin Quebec City - Gay Travel

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Enchanting and gorgeous Québec City is a must for travelers the world over. This historic capital offers visitors four distinct seasons, each one bringing its own beauty and pastimes. French-speaking Québécois are an active lot who embrace the outdoors and find unlimited ways to enjoy recreation—not to mention luxurious spas to keep the blood flowing.

Québec also is an emerging queer capital that straddles the big- and small-city vibe. It's true that Canadians are, generally speaking, beguiling and open-minded. Throw in the charming Francophone accents, warm smiles, and leisurely coziness, and Québec becomes a place LGBT visitors adore.

"It's the perfect balance between a gay-friendly, American-style, party-loving modern capital, and a charming, welcoming-yet-discrete European-style big village," says Olivier Poulin. Poulin is Director of the Québec City Pride Festival (www. glbtquebec.com), the organization that hosts the city's annual LGBT celebration over Labor Day weekend (first September weekend). "I feel like Québec City is the perfect place to be part of a gay community that is not too little and you know everyone, but not too big and you feel lost," he adds. "And the guys are cute!"

That big-city reputation is swiftly catching on. Top chefs are finding a sophisticated crowd among the locals, and new restaurants and upscale lounges are cropping up around the city. Tourism is a major economic engine, inspiring renovations that lately have added modern and green features to historic structures.

On top of everything, the real proof that Québec is super-hip on a global scale comes in one word: Madonna. The Material Girl will fill the Plains of Abraham (the Central Park of Québec) this September 1st (during Gay Festival weekend), letting her presence serve as added evidence that this city has arrived

Like other Canadian cities, Québec is a very welcoming place and gay and lesbian travelers will find friendly faces everywhere they go. At the heart of the city, Le Drague (815 rue St-Augustin. Tel: 418-649-7212. www. ledrague.com) is the preeminent gay and lesbian bar just a few blocks west of Old Québec. Open nightly, the club has four rooms spread across three floors, letting Le Drague serve the gamut of queer dance, lounge, and live performance. Parties change nightly, including karaoke Wednesdays (in French and English, bien sur!), Friday night drag shows, and two different DJs spinning Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, as well as other special soirées. Expect a $5 to $10 cover, and don't be shy about chatting up the locals who may seem frosty at the sight of a new face in their club, but warm-up instantly and have beaucoup insights to share about their city. Quick tip: After a night out, stop by Snack Bar (780 rue St-Jean. Tel: 418-522-GRAS) for your late-night fix of poutine (fries with gravy and cheese curds), the indulgent local staple Nearby, Bar St-Matthew (889 cote Ste-Genevieve. Tel: 418-524-5000) is a neighborhood hangout (some say dive bar), with a pool table and many slow-sipping Canadian bears. Though its Saturday nights are emerging as a place where even non-bears congregate. Sauna Hippocampe (31 rue McMahon. Tel: 418-692-1521. www.saunahippocampe.com), a short walk from Le Drague, is gay men's hot spot, with its steam rooms, saunas, and Jacuzzis.

Head down the hill of cote d'Abraham (there's a shortcut stairway at the foot of cote Ste-Genevieve) to the very cool Boudoir (441 rue de L'Église. Tel: 418-524-2777. www.boudoirlounge.com). Lesbians tend to hang here for Friday happy hour and beyond, enjoying the chill music in the downstairs lounge and the restaurant's simple and delicious menu.

When gearing up for your visit, be sure to check out local monthly gay magazine Fugues (www.fugues.com) and the weekly cultural newspaper Voir (www.voir.ca) for other goings-on. Both are in French, which makes a great opener for asking a local to help you translate. Online, ladies should check out lesbian website Sapho (www.magazinesapho.com) for the latest girl parties (Note: at the time of this writing, the website was awaiting renewal). Every last Friday of the month, Sapho hosts women's parties at the versatile event space Studio P (280 St-Joseph Est. Tel: 418-692-0637. www.librairie-pantoute.com/lestudiop).

French-language GLBTQuebec.org also has tips for gay and lesbian visitors, and an extensive list of gay-owned and gay-friendly establishments. For more insider tips, the gay radio program Homologue on CKIA 88.3 airs every Wednesday at 4 P.M., or listen online at www.ckiafm.org/emission/homologue.

While exploring the city set aside some time for fashion and art. You don't have to be a swimmer to enjoy the buff bods behind Un Style de Vie (833 rue St-Jean. Tel: 418-914-3117. www.unstyledevie.com), an upscale, new underwear and swimsuit boutique. On the same street you will also find DomaHom (221 rue St-Jean. Tel: 418-912-8121. www.domahom. com), the new gay art gallery and lounge where owner/curator Yves Simon will be glad to regale you with the latest works by queer Québécois artists. The gallery is open to all every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 A.M. to 3 P.M., and becomes a men's-only Forhom club (www.forhom.ca) daily from 5 P.M. to 1 A.M. (though hours sometimes vary).

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