Pick Me Up Pick Me Up "Oh, what an awful ...
"Oh, what an awful assignment! You poor thing!" shrieked this guy, whom I'll call Kevin, when I told him about my goal for this piece: to survey the city's best gay pickup spots for summertime romance, love or fun.
It was a lazy, warm evening and I was perched on a stool at the Hell's Kitchen bar Chase (255 W. 55th St. betw. B'way &8th Ave.; 333-3400), listening to pop songs and disco classics while I watched the muscle queen bartenders concoct apple martinis and vodka tonics for the crowd. I'd met Kevin several months earlier at Chase, when we'd made out in the more intimate lounge downstairs. The two-level bar features a rotating cast of DJs, reasonably priced drinks and a design that Wallpaper would cheer: mirrored walls (always helpful for cruising), red tiles, dark banquettes and tiny candles. The heat of summer, and the seminudity that goes with it, attracts a mix of neighborhood types, theater queens and guys making the pilgrimage uptown from Chelsea. The neighborhood's become a haven for gay yuppies and artists who've been priced out of the overgentrified Chelsea.
By the time I got to Chase Kevin was already on his 15th beer, or so it seemed. When he began to slur his words and repeat some of the same tired lines he'd said when I first met him a few months ago, I realized that Chase didn't provide the ideal conditions for a great pickup spot?namely, a clientele you'd wanna wake up next to in the morning. After Kevin left, some bearded, overweight guy leaned over and said, "I have to ask you this?do you ever eat?" I replied by telling him my history of burning calories 24/7 and that my parents were thin at my age. He shared his itinerary for the evening, which included a trip to Rawhide, the dirty leather and chaps bar (212 8th Ave. at 21st St.; 242-9332). On his way out, he leaned too close to me and said, "You should go to McDonald's." I refrained from telling him to hop on the stairmaster so he could cut the lard from his diet?and his ass.
A newish bar that's unfortunately not worth your time is Urge, at 33 2nd Ave. (at 2nd St.; 533-5757). This supposedly cruisey bar in the bowels of the East Village used to be a funeral home. The esthetic is wannabe-L.A., complete with a palm tree, banquettes with puffy white pillows (I didn't sit, for fear of dozing off) and three plasma screens alternately showing spaced-out color patterns and gay porn. Urge is disappointing because it's a gay stereotype. It features the same excruciatingly bland house music (it sounded like the soundtrack to '95), all that porn, plus the requisite downstairs dark room where dirty things supposedly happen (though all I saw were a few Euro types sitting self-consciously on the couch)?all for an older, not very East Village crowd that's seriously lacking in eye candy.
After an apple martini and two Rolling Rocks, I tagged along with my ex and his friend to Phoenix (447 E. 13th St. at Ave. A; 477-9979), where I picked up this Aaron Carteresque guy, mostly out of boredom. He hailed a cab uptown as I made my way to the L train.
I've had more luck in Williamsburg. I was picked up on the L train one night last summer by a cute Jewish guy (we're now friends) who followed me 10 blocks into Greenpoint?where I lived at the time?to give me his business card. Whether I get on at Bedford or Lorimer, there's always a feeling of see-and-be-seen hipster-watching on the L.
Although I'm a regular at the Abbey (536 Driggs Ave., betw. N. 7th & N. 8th Sts.; 718-599-4400), it can feel a little incestuous?you might walk into the bar and think, "Gosh, I've slept with half the guys here, vicariously." The Abbey's a dive bar that caters to local hipsters and attracts a young, gay crowd on Sunday nights. The drinks are cheap, and the music is swell: Pet Shop Boys, Pat Benatar and, of course, Madonna. The cuties are friendly enough, plus there's a pinball machine and a pool table in the back. You're as likely to run into an old flame as you are to meet a fashionista. Said fashionista might even walk you to the East River, but before you could enjoy a moonlit kiss and absorb the beauty of Manhattan at night he'd probably fall into the water, soaking his $300 jeans.
I picked up a girl at the Verb Cafe, at 218 Bedford Ave. (betw. N. 4th & N. 5th Sts.; 718-599-0977). Well, I gave her my number anyway, and we discussed the plethora of attractive hipsters in the neighborhood, with its ubiquitous boho girls and skinny guys in Wrangler jeans and small t-shirts. The cafe's clientele, which always includes a few people typing away on their iBooks or blabbing loudly into their cellphones, is pretty approachable?except for the occasional gaggle of irritating Japanese tourists?plus they make great soup and a good cup of coffee.
When I first moved to New York two years ago, I had lots of fun in Chelsea. Strolling down 8th Ave., I was like a kid in a candy store. I used to stay out till 5 a.m. at Splash (50 W. 17th St., betw. 5th & 6th Aves.; 691-0073)?newly redesigned and now called SBNY?partying at Roxy or hanging out at Big Cup. I haven't been to any of these places over the past year, because they're so passe. If I wanna dance all night, I'll go to Luxx (256 Grand St. betw. Driggs Ave. &Roebling St., Williamsburg; 718-599-1000) on a Friday night, when Spencer Product and Sophia Lamar host "Mutants"?a party where gay guys, dykes, trannies and some straights shake it as DJ Larry Tee spins electro and new wave.
When I do hang out in Chelsea, it's at one of three places. I go to g lounge (225 W. 19th St., betw. 7th & 8th Aves.; 929-1085) for their frozen cosmos, apple martinis and the cute guy serving them. Plus, they open the front in the summer to keep everyone cool at night. I like the two-level xl (357 W. 16th St., betw. 8th & 9th Aves.; 995-1400) for its sound system and crazy, rainbow-colored changing lights, but I loathe their too-tiny square stools. I also hang out at Barnes & Noble on 6th Ave. at 21st St., mainly because no one chases me out of the cafe while I'm reading magazines and eating chocolate chip cookies. I picked up a guy at the bookstore once, but he ended up being a Chelsea queen who worked for a silly home improvement magazine, so that ended shortly thereafter.
Over dinner recently, a gay relative of mine asked if I was offended when my editor asked me to write this piece. I said, "No, why should I be?"
"So, basically, he thinks you're a?" His voice trails off.
"Slut," I replied, provoking laughter around the table.
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Summer in the City