Queer Charities Who Deserve Your Cash On Giving Tuesday

Feeling guilty about spending all your money on a new Nintendo Switch for Black Friday? Well luckily for you, it’s time to give back! On this Giving Tuesday, we’ve put together a list of queer charities that you can proudly donate to. With everything happening in the world today, we’ve put a special focus on LGBT folks who might otherwise be kept on the sidelines.

Trans Lifeline

A trans-led organization that is dedicated to improving trans lives by providing support with “direct service, material support, advocacy and education.” They have hotlines for the U.S. and Canada.

Transgender Law Center

A national trans-led organization that provides “community-driven strategies to keep transgender and gender nonconforming people alive, thriving, and fighting for liberation.” They’re also currently filing a wrongful death suit for Roxsana Hernandez, a trans asylum seeker who died in ICE custody.

The Audre Lorde Project

The Audre Lorde Project is a nonprofit that focuses on community organizing in the New York City area. Through education and mobilization, they work for community wellness and progressive social and economic justice, including fighting against police brutality.

SAGE

An organization that advocates for LGBT elders and resources dedicated to improve the lives of LGBT older adults. They also provide housing support and caregiving training for those providers that work with LGBT elders.

Keshet

A national organization “that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.” They specifically work towards providing training and creating safe spaces for LGBTQ Jewish teens and connecting their parents.

Immigration Equality

Immigration Equality advocates for LGBTQ and HIV-positive immigrants who are seeking safety and fair treatment. This includes free legal services for asylum seekers, LGBTQ binational couples and families, detained people and undocumented LGBTQ people. 

InterACT

InterACT is dedicated to raising intersex visibility and empowering young intersex advocates, promoting laws and policies that protect intersex youth.

Rainbow Railroad 

Rainbow Railroad works with LGBTQ people around the world, connecting them with local resources and helping them flee persecution in their home countries. At any time Rainbow Railroad is working on 30-50 cases, providing pre-travel support, travel costs and other support.

Callen Lorde

This New York City based health center provides quality healthcare services for LGBT communities. They have primary care, sexual health and behavioral health programs and services including helping patients get PrEP and hormone treatment.

Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees 

An advocacy group for Iran based in Toronto that provides assistance with asylum applications, housing and finances. It also files petitions to governments on behalf of Iranian LGBTQ people who are facing deportation. 

El/La Para TransLatinas

An organization that fights for the rights of Latina trans women, specifically supporting them against violence, abuse and illness. They provide safe space, leadership development and HIV prevention/PrEP navigation services. 

ACT UP

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power is an international advocacy group working to impact the lives of people with AIDS through legislation, medial research and treatment.

The Sylvia Rivera Project

This organization works to allow people the freedom to determine their own gender identity and expression, regardless of race or income. They especially seek to increase the voice and visibility of low-income people and people of color who are transgender, intersex or gender non-conforming.

Trans Women of Color Collective

This organization focuses on uplifting the lived experiences of trans people of color. They also provide individual need funding for everything from a meal and hygiene products to community education and events.

The Weekender: Vancouver

Rocketing from the cool waters of the Georgia Strait are the glass towers of downtown Vancouver, which shine through the northwest’s mist like proud gemstones.

It is clear why Nestpick listed Vancouver in the top 20 of LGBTQ cities—this is one where docked sailboats fly rainbow flags in the marina, where same-sex couples hold hands casually on the street, and an active Pride festival ends at a beach called Sunset. While the population of the greater area skims just below 2.5 million, the city boasts a proportionately large queer scene, specifically on the West End’s Davie Street, but it seems nearly everywhere is queer-friendly in Vancouver.

This is a city defined by its Pacific Northwest location. As a result, citizens take advantage in the forms of hiking, canoeing, skiing, surfing, kayaking, and commuting everywhere by bike on its cyclist-friendly streets. Dubbed by some as the Hollywood of Canada for its prominence as both a filming location and creative hub, the question is, what kind of character will you play in your own Vancouver story?

Friday

5 p.m. — Sunset Paddle

In true PNW fashion, let’s get you out on the water ASAP. Ecomarine Paddlesports Centres has been operating for 38 years and is a top choice for half and full day kayak tours.

Choose your own adventure: rent a stand up paddleboard or a kayak and take it for a self guided spin off of Granville Island, or join the sunset kayak tour and learn about Vancouver, the region’s First Nations’ history, and the local ecology — on top of a stunning rose-hued sunset on the water. When the moon is full, the company offers night excursions for a truly unique experience.

8 p.m. — Big Yums

This popular city favorite is the perfect welcoming meal to Vancouver. With two locations, one in lively Yaletown and one in trendy Gastown, you can’t go wrong. MeeT is an all vegan restaurant that attracts young, hip gourmands looking for something delicious and environmentally sound. While the joint is known for their veggie burgers, they also shine in their creative bowls—highly recommended: “The Big Yum” made up of yams, kale, beets, and other veggies on a bed of brown rice, glazed generously with tahini sauce.

9 p.m. — Local Flavors

Juniper is best known for their innovative cocktails with a true PNW twist, led by mixologist Max Barrowman who blends First Nations and Spanish flavors into critically acclaimed drinks. Taste their signature cocktail, the Juniper G&T, a distinguished drink with juniper berries and sprigs from British Columbia’s interior. The space’s vibrant atmosphere is perfect for a nightcap, or the commencement of a night out on the town.

Saturday

Stanley Park

8 a.m. — Cycle the Seawall

Hanging on the northwest end of downtown Vancouver like a beautiful, oversized green earring is the stunning Stanley Park, a National Historic Site of Canada. In it, there are 200-foot-tall Sitka spruce and red cedar, blue herons, lagoons, totems, beaches, and swimming pools. There are many ways to experience the 998-acre park, but the most thorough is by bike. Rent a comfy cruiser from Spokes Bicycle Rentals. Follow the sea wall’s bike lane counterclockwise and circumnavigate the entire park in under two hours, with plenty of stops.

Granville Market

11 a.m. — Granville Market Breakfast

Take one of the city’s charming water taxis, False Creek Ferries or the rainbow painted Aquabus to Granville Island, a historic industrial area turned arts and shopping district. Granville’s Public Market is a sought after destination for foodies after fresh and hard to find produce, like mangosteen, and vendors selling delicious delicacies. Deciding what to eat from the busy market is the hardest part- bagels, crepes, dumplings, or why not ice cream for brunch?

2 p.m. — Radical Reading

Run collectively for 40 years, our favorite queer-friendly bookstore Spartacus Books advertises itself as “the go-to resource for anti-capitalist, political books not found in big-box bookstores.” Visitors are free to hang out, log onto the wifi, and peruse the store’s extensive collection of original zines, fiction and non-fiction, niche magazines, and hundreds more “explosive titles.”

5 p.m. — Gastown

This buzzing historic neighborhood (founded in 1867) contains 40 of the city’s hippest local storefronts and many charming, cobblestoned streets. Find more high fashion masculine lewks at NEIGHBOUR on Water Street, and more high fashion feminine looques at One of a Few. Also housed in the district (besides delicious afternoon pick-me-up coffees at Revolver) is the flagship store of Vancouver- based lifestyle brand Herschel Supply Co.

8 p.m. — Ramen Noms

Haven’t had the chance to try the popular chain restaurant Jinya yet? Here’s your chance. The lines outside downtown Vancouver’s Jinya Ramen Bar can be heavy. But, the ramen broth is always cooked to perfection—it is well worth the wait. Having been to two other Jinyas across the continent, I have to say, Vancouver’s was the best. Who knows why? Located in Yaletown, this hotspot is always popping off. Be sure to try the spicy creamy vegan, a favorite even for those who aren’t vegan.

Later

Finally, time to hit the town. Vancouver’s queerest neighborhood is centered around Davie Street between Burrard and Jervis. Popular favorites include 1181, XYYVR, and Pumpjacks. Vancouver’s last lesbian bar closed in 2006, but pop-up parties are constantly organized by Fly Girl Productions. More rotating queer events can be found at WhatsOnQueerBC. For queer-friendly techno and house after-hours parties, look into the privately-owned warehouse, Open Studios in East Vancouver.

Sunday

Museum of Anthropology

10 a.m. — Museum of Anthropology

Located on the University of British Columbia campus 30 minutes from downtown, The Museum of Anthropology is a must for the culture seeking traveler. Here, not only are there totems, sculpture, art, and artifacts from the Northwest Coast First Nations like the Coast Salish, Nisga’a, Haida, Gitxan, and Kwakwaka’wakw peoples, but also artifacts from diverse cultures around the world. Currently on exhibition alongside the hundreds of thousands of ethnographic and archaeological artifacts is the poignant and brave “Arts of Resistance: Politics and the Past in Latin America” running until September 30.

12 p.m. — Wreck Beach

This well-known beach padding the shores of Pacific Spirit Regional Park is one of our favorite clothing-optional beaches and is said to be North America’s largest. A brief hike through the regional park from the University of British Columbia leads you to the wild beach. Come prepared with snacks and water and follow trail 7 for queerer, cruiser places, or go to the more popular section of the beach off of trail 6.

The Snugs

Fancy Pants

The DOUGLAS is one of Vancouver’s newest hotels is part of the much buzzed about Parq Vancouver complex. This Marriott-owned boutique hotel occupies a handsome tower of Parq Vancouver and each one of the property’s 178 rooms (and 10 suites) resemble a cozy, modern-lux cabin interior sitting amidst a stunning Douglas Fir stand, the local tree of the hotel’s namesake. High environmental standards, attentive service, and its location in Yaletown make this a top choice stay. Rooms from $212-492 USD (seasonal) and up.

Goldie Locks

The West End Guest House

The West End Guesthouse is an incredibly charming 7-room Vancouver bed and breakfast. Gay-owned, this intimate Victorian guest house is the perfect home away from home. Its location on the lively (and queer-centric) West End of town near Davie street make it an ideal stay for those looking to explore the action of queer Vancouver, while still having a quiet, calming environment to relax in. Rooms from $153 USD and up.

Backpackers

Samesun Backpacker Lodges is a well-reviewed and friendly accommodation for the budget traveler. The property hosts both dorm beds as well as private rooms and is a short 8-minute walk to the action on Davie Street.  Beds from $40 USD and up.

Images via Getty and Miles W. Griffis

INTO’s Guide to Los Angeles Celeb Hot Spots

We all have some sort of fascination with celebrities, whether we openly admit it or not, and what’s better than being able to brag on social media that you just had a celebrity spotting, or went to a place that one of your favorites frequents? The good news is that celebrities are people and people basically go everywhere in LA, so if you happen to be hanging anywhere in the massive city, your chances of spotting someone recognizable are better than, say, someone visiting Appleton, Wisconsin. The greater Los Angeles area is full of places known for celebrity sightings, but we’ve narrowed it down to a very short list of some well-known as well as some more secret spots that many don’t know about, all of which have had some celeb action in recent months. So, the next time you are in LA, check out some of these hot spots, and whether you see someone you recognize or not, they are all worth a visit anyways and they will all automatically up your LA game.

Larchmont Sanctuary Spa

So here’s the deal. LA has more spas than one could ever imagine, but it’s finding the right spa that is key. This particular spa is very intimate and private and located in a really neat area; the historic Larchmont Village. The indoor/outdoor boutique was constructed from a 100-year old home and was even blessed by Tibetan monks from the Garden Shartse Monastery, which creates a very inviting and spiritual environment. The unique factor here is that the spa focuses on being a relationship spa, whether that be a romantic relationship or a friendship, and a lot of the services are catered for two, so grab your friend and go release some tension.

Monday has never looked better 😍 #LoveIsServed

A post shared by Café Gratitude (@cafegratitude) on

Café Gratitude

There are actually three locations in LA, but after a day at the spa, take a walk down the road to the Larchmont location. This place is very LA, and also very yummy. The menu is 100% organic plant-based while still being gourmet, so basically it’s upscale Vegan. Café Gratitude is all about honest and transparent communication and your server does an excellent job of explaining how things work if you happen to be a first time guest. But basically, the menu is written so that when you order, you are ordering with positive affirmations, and although it may sound a bit odd, it’s a really beautiful experience, which encourages conversation and engagement. “I am radiant and I am glorious.” I mean, it feels good to say that, and also, order that exact meal and you will be very pleased.

Velvet Lounge at the Culver Hotel

First off, don’t let Culver City scare you off, as it’s centrally located and has undergone a transformation worthy of a visit, plus, this historic hotel takeover is possibly the coolest thing to happen to the area in decades. The hotel itself is just stunning and meticulously designed by the chic owner. The lobby bar and restaurant is the place to be in the evening for live music, but the hidden gem here is the Velvet Lounge which is their “speakeasy” bar located just up the lobby staircase. The space is eclectic and dark, which makes it a perfect spot to be seen but still not fully seen while sipping on expertly crafted cocktails, ordering an aperitif after dinner, or even upscaling to bottle service. The good news is, if you happen to indulge too much, there are some pretty killer hotel rooms right upstairs.

Culina, Modern Italian at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills

With a name like that, it’s a given that this place is pretty special. This might be the most obvious of places to bump into someone familiar, and it’s also one of the places not to miss because the culinary experience is brag-worthy. The restaurant has been regarded as “the best” by countless publications. Culina is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner but it’s at lunch that you’ll spot entertainment industry leaders closing a deal.

Earthbar

So here is another health spot that can’t be missed in LA. Luckily, there are plenty of locations all over the LA area, so it’s kind of hard not to stumble into one, but the West Hollywood location is your best bet if you want to stand in line next to someone you may recognize. Earthbar is a combination of highest quality products/supplements, a “food as medicine” juice bar and in the West Hollywood location, a Vibrance Clinic that offers nutrient I.V. drips and injections administered by health care professionals. Also, if you have never had an acai bowl, this is the best place to try one.

The Pie Hole

It really doesn’t get much better than pie and coffee, and The Pie Hole is known for their seasonal sweet and savory pies, which are made from scratch daily. They also feature a full coffee program using their very own Fair Trade Organic coffee. The Arts District location is the place to be, not only because the surrounding area is just so freaking cool with all the street art, but because it’s basically where everyone comes to do their headshot since the art is just perfect for that “perfect” background that everyone is searching for. So have some pie, grab your coffee to go and go explore the area and see how many photo shoots you can spot in one day.

The Rooftop Pool at Andaz, West Hollywood

This might be one of the best pools in LA, and if you watch reality T.V., you’ve probably seen it a few times. Andaz, West Hollywood is an iconic rock n’ roll hotel with a rich history of musicians and artists having stayed and even lived there. So if you want access to that epic rooftop pool, start by booking your room or suite, and make sure to get one that faces Sunset Boulevard. Up top, enjoy the pool that overlooks the Hollywood Hills and downtown LA to the Pacific Ocean, as it’s one of the tallest rooftop pools in Los Angeles. There are private cabanas and there’s a bar with service staff, so all you need to bring is your sunscreen and most fashionable swimsuit.

The Weekender—Cape Town

A beach called Bloubergstrand hunkers North of Cape Town, South Africa. Looking South from its bleach white shores, the brooding outline of Table Mountain and its compatriotsDevil’s Peak and Lion’s Head becloud the grand metropolis of Africa’s Mother City.

As noon draws near, “the tablecloth” of mist that decorates the mountain is shucked by the cold magician winds of the Atlantic. They clear the table for the sunny afternoon ahead, allowing the sun to shine on the infamous Robben Island in the Bay that detained Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment.

As the Weekender alights in the city proper from a lively minibus blasting African house, it becomes clear that no singular culture exists; only a wonderful conglomerate proved by the country’s 11 national languages. And only by exploring the city’s onerous history, inveterate outdoor possibilities, and lionized food scene can they do their darndest to chronicle the continent’s most progressive city.

Christmas and New Years blast the city’s tourist industry welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors during its warmest months with the celebrated The Mother City Queer Project every December.

While the 2017/18 summer tourism season looks to maintain its appeal, visitors should be aware of and respect Cape Town’s severe drought and strict water consumption regulations as reservoirs drop dangerously below 13%.

Friday

3pmCossies
As you wait for your room, grab your swim briefs and store your luggage. Head to Clifton beach, located beneath the highrises, mansions, and bungalows of Clifton, a neighborhood at the toes of Lion’s Head. The African sun scorches hot on the silky sand and is remedied only by dips in the chilly waters of the Atlantic, reminding you that Antarctica is the next landmass South. Set up on Clifton 3, a much less crowded escape from the popular 4. A young crowd in short cut “cossies” sun tans and by the boulders- models pose for international magazine features.

6pm-Sundowners
The Bungalow overlooks the open Atlantic and Camp’s Bay (perhaps the Malibu of Cape Town) and is the best place to watch the sun sink as it paints the Twelve Apostles in maritime alpenglow. The view will look familiar, it’s nearby the filming location of the final scene of the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror. Sit cross-legged on the cabana day beds and enjoy the a sundowner. The Espresso Martini (75 Rand) is sweetened by Amarula Cream (an African spirit from the fruit of the Marula tree) is the pick-me-up for the night ahead.

8pm-Mojo, Baby!
In recent years, Cape Town has grabbed accolades left and right, grooving its way to one of the top food capitals of the world, surpassing Dubai in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2016 list. The secret is its wealth of world cuisines. The eclectic food scene is best displayed at Mojo Market, an indoor market that offers a smorgasbord of food stalls and unique retailers with the everpresent hip and creative Cape Town flair. Try bowls at Hokey Poke (100 Rand), the fresh oysters at Mussel Monger (25 Rand per mussel), or the authentic South African cuisine at Chef Phil. Finish the night with a walk on the Seapoint Promenade and retire early, or, let it carry on to the notorious Long Street.

10pm- Up Yours
UP YOURS rooftop bar on Kloof street is praised by young spirits with an ear for experimental, unique sounds. Locals and foreigners cheers below fairy lights and leafy plants. What a place for a night cap. And for an even more diverse scene of Cape Town’s queer culture, Zer021 welcomes all.

Saturday

8am- Platteklip Gorge
It’s time to ascend the mountain. Take an Uber up Tafelberg road to the tram station and begin the hike up Platteklip Gorge (Free 99). While the hike it short, it is an asskicker, ascending 2,300 feet in only two miles. Allow two hours and bring a litre of water for each. Enjoy the hairpin switchbacks through the beautiful feinbos and say hello to the orange-breasted sunbirds and Cape skinks. At the top, a rewarding coffee awaits in the cafe as well as your ride down- The Table Mountain Aerial Cablewaytram takes only minutes (R 150.)

11am-Bay Harbour Market
A scenic drive on Victoria Road, part of the gorgeous Chapman Peak Drive, skirts you along the Atlantic shoreline to the little town in the valley of Hout Bay. Its solitude from city life has made it a hub for artist studios and galleries exhibiting contemporary African art. Its weekend Bay Harbour Market puts an emphasis on local handmade clothing, interior decor, and art, while sustaining visitors with food vendors serving some of the best brunches in the region. Order a pitcher of fresh, raspberry mojitos (R 350) to accompany your lunch.

1pm- Robben Island
The pale mint walls and barred window of Nelson Mandela’s 6’x6’ cell on Robben Islandare viewed every year by hundreds of thousands of tourists. The prison turned museum is a ferry ride away from the V Waterfront and takes visitors to the infamous island. Here, past inmates give tours of the corridors that isolated political opponents since the 17th century. The museum and tour give visitors the difficult narrative of the country’s past. Round trip ferry tickets and island tour are R340. Tip- ask your guide about the local penguin colony to see one of South Africa’s most unexpected birds.

5pm- High Tea
One of the country’s most cherished activities is afternoon tea. Relax after a big day and gain strength for the night over South Africa’s own rooibos tea (meaning red bush in Afrikaans) at The Lounge at Table Bayin the V Waterfront.

8pm- Dinner and Drinks and Dancing
Locals praise Harrington’sas the “vibiest” nightlife experience in town. The three part journey of dinner, cocktails, and dancing all take place in the glam-chic space the unpretentious bar hosts a diverse, open-minded, and often queer hip crowd sporting everything from suits and dresses to tees and flops. Groovy lounge music sparks revelry and fills the boutique dancefloor as the night parades onwards.

Late Night
If you’re blessed with good timing on your trip, Distotkah (R 80 cover) is Cape Town’s revered underground queer party that happens every few months. Their recent halloween party blew the city away with local DJs and an ambiance that refused to let down into morning.

Sunday

9am- Breakfast in Bo-Kaap
The homes in the historic Cape Malay neighborhood of Bo-Kaap are as bright as easter eggs. The neighborhood is a famous self guided walking tour and a positive exuberant way begin the day. You can’t miss Batavia Café, painted royal blue. Here Cape Town’s coffee culture shines and is paired with light to heavy breakfast options enjoyed on a quaint outdoor patio.

10am- ART
Just this past fall, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAA) opened premiering the largest collection of contemporary African (and its diaspora) art anywhere in the world. Internationally known artists like South Africa’s Marlene Dumas, Kenya’s Wangechi Mutu, and American Kehinde Wiley are among the any on display. Tickets are R 180.

12pm- Wine Tram
Along with its hopping food scene, the Cape region has long been known for its exquisite wines, especially its famous vineyards of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. While the wines are stellar in both, the Franschhoek Wine Tramoffers the most convenient and unique way to taste the reds and whites via a hop-on-hop-off tour (R 195.) Six separate tours let you customize your lush needs, with each stopping at six or more historic vineyards where tastings, restaurants, and strolls await. Transportation is available from Cape Town (R 550.)

The Snugs

Fancy Pants Built above the Zeitz MOCAA museum in an old grain elevator, the Silo Hotel hosts 28 rooms in the buzzy V & A Waterfront. The bright colors of the eclectic decor pop in the spacious rooms overlooking the Atlantic and Table Mountain. The hotel’s bar is a popular date spot locals. Rooms from R12 000 and up.

Goldie Locks The number of daddies at the Grand Daddy Boutique Hotel certainly fluctuates, but its location on the city’s most social street, Long Street increases your chances of spotting one. The hotel has airstream trailers (converted into rooms on its roof) as well as traditional rooms. Rooms from R2945 and up.

Backpackers Once in Capetown shrugs of the stingy /grotesque stereotypes of a hostel and offers a trendy and social space for budget travelers. The hostel has its own cafe, Yours Truly, and is located in the hippest part of the city on Kloof Street. Beds from R235 and up.

*All prices in South African Rand. 1 Rand=.073 Dollar as of 12/10/17.

Modern-Day Montreal Is Where You Need To Be

The first ever-recorded gay establishment in all of North America was Moise Tellier’s apple and cake shop on what once was Craig Street (now Saint Antoine Street) in Montreal.

The city has had a sordid past with gay repression, particularly before Montreal’s Expo 67 World’s Fair and the Olympic Games in 1976, when many bars were raided, which led to the formation of the Comité homosexuel antirépression or Gay Coalition against Repression (CHAR).

By the early 1980’s though, things in Montreal became a bit more welcoming and gay establishments began to dominate an area of the city, located in what is now Le Village. What once was a working-class area, the Centre-Sud is now the mecca of all things gay within Montreal.

Today, Le Village gai or as it’s more commonly known, Le Village, is a bustling area within the city, bursting with LGBT businesses. In terms of area, Montreal’s gay village is the largest gay neighborhood in North America.

An island in the St. Lawrence River, Montreal is a blend of historic and modern architecture in what appears to be a very European-style atmosphere. It’s a multicultural and multilingual city with more than 100 languages spoken, but French and English are most prominent. Visitors shouldn’t miss places like the Notre-Dame Basilica, where Celine Dion was married, or the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, where the best poutine shops are located.

But beyond the obvious tourist hot spots, the city has some pretty unique options.

Nom Nom

Let’s start with the easy basics that are kind of a must.

Schwartz’s iconic smoked meat is as casual as it gets, but the meats are considered somewhat of a Montreal delicacy – just make sure to avoid rush hour times as the lines will stretch down the block. Another classic is St.Viateur Bagel, a haven for bagel lovers. Also, keep an eye out for food trucks, which oddly enough, were banned in the city up about until a few years ago, but are now a thriving market (food trucks might also arguably be the best source for classic poutine, but you’ll have to try several and come to your own conclusions).

For a quick bite, stop byXavier Artisan, but leave room for the crème glacée (ice cream).

But If you’re in the mood for fine dining, the options are endless, as the Montreal food scene is hailed as not only exquisite, but regularly considered one of the best places to eat in the world.

The Italian restaurant Le Serpent has an incredible Bucatini with pork flank confit, black garlic and soy. The oysters served with a maple mignonette are also a must. Hidden in the heart of the city’s business district is Jatoba, a premier Japanese restaurant with a mouth-watering menu and to-die-for raw bar.

For authentic Quebecois cuisines, Auberge Saint-Gabriel is steps from the Notre-Dame Basilica. The braised rabbit with mustard, crème fraîche, celeriac purée and Brussels sprouts is a highlight of the dinner menu.

Or head to Le Bird Bar, a fried chicken and champagne bar for a menu with the obvious (yet amazingly delicious) chicken and waffles, served with watermelon, feta & mint side and sriracha maple. Beyond the staple, the menu is filled with unexpected items like vegan popcorn chicken, and has over 15 different dipping sauces to satisfy every chicken lover’s dipping fantasies.

Insider Ideas

If traveling with friends, or if you can make friends easily, head down to the Old Port of Montreal for a one-of-a-kind private luxury yacht experience.

Asbolü Cruises is the only company to offer this type of high-end service on a commercial vessel. With two yachts to choose from, depending on needs, the company can practically customize any type of experience one can dream of.

From an intimate gathering for a sunset cruise to a full-on champagne-filled hot tub party cruise that lasts all day and night, they are pretty much open to satisfying the requests of their guestsplus, there are no better views of Montreal than out the water.

Nearby the Port d’Escale Marina is Bota Bota, a floating spa. Here you can book spa services or just simply enjoy the extensive outdoor water circuits and pools. There’s also a bar and restaurant to help make a day of it.

For incredible pastries, indulge at Libertine Bakehouse. And for some killer vintage glasses, stop by Vintage Frames Company, where one can spend hours drooling over all the frames that are available – they also happen to supply frames to some of the hottest celebrities in the world, including Gaga. Just down the same road is Notorious Barbershop, by the same owner, where you can fix your fade or trim your beard before a night out. And of course, a not so hidden gem, don’t skip the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the largest museum in the city that is located in the Golden Square Mile and remains one of the most respected cultural institution in North America.

Nightlife

Le Village is going to have every kind of gay bar imaginable and if you don’t know what you are looking for, just take a stroll down the beautiful streets of the Village until you do. That being said, if you do venture at night and need a suggestion, Cabaret Mado, the infamous drag bar, is an absolute must.

Named after drag icon Mado Lamotte, the queens here are fabulous but the French-speaking host who is funny and quick on her feet will affectionately rib English speaking guests with her deliberately butchered English.

And if you’re need a place to have an incredible drink after some fun with the queens, then you must make your way to the one cocktail lounge you can’t miss: Agrikol, a Haitian bar with lots of rum based drinks.

Random Fact

Montreal’s underground city, literally below the city, is made up of 32 kilometers of tunnels that are spread over an area of twelve kilometers of downtown. The city includes sixty residential and commercial complexes.

Some of what you will find underground include hotels, shopping malls, banks, and museums, as well as university buildings, seven downtown Métro stations, two commuter train stations and the Bell Centre hockey arena. More than 120 exterior access points lead to the underground city and nearly 500,000 people use it daily, especially during the winter.

Hotel Recommendation

Check outHotel William Gray, a new upscale boutique with 127 rooms and suites, located in the center of Old Montreal.

This property was carefully designed to not only be aesthetically appealing, but ultra-convenient for guests, with an upmarket grill restaurant, a rooftop bar, a lobby bar, café and even a high-end retailer.

Additionally, the hotel offers a multi-functional Living Room with library, pool table and music station, as well as a full service spa with outdoor pool and state-of-the-art fitness center.

This post was brought to you in partnership with Tourisme Montreal. Discover your Montreal today.

Photography:
Lead Photo,Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Great Noms: A Weekend In Dallas

Out of the blue, the surprisingly gay-friendly city of Dallas emerges from the northern plains of Texas, cozied by caboodles of handsome lakes and rivers. Just at the southern tip of Tornado Alley, the country’s 9th largest city features a Goldy Locks climate that turns humid in summer and features a couple of days of snow in the winter. The perfectly pleasant fall and spring seasons allow visitors to see one of the largest art districts in the U.S. without breaking a sweat.

With a Human Rights Campaign score of 100 (which for reference, cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Austin all hold) Dallas still needs to catch up on trans rights, but is slowly becoming a jewel of shining acceptance. The city is Austin’s impressionable little sibling, self-aware and remarkably friendly but with a focus on shopping, dining, and football; less rambunctious techies at music festivals doing yoga and keepin’ it weird. The city is learning, in fact, the owner of the Dallas Eagle recently announced he’s running for Governor of Texas.

As you arrive into the city for a visit, perhaps building in a day or two layover before jetting around the world from the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, make sure to journey the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. The architecture conjures a broken dream catcher, a spider’s web gone awry. Spanning the Trinity River, the bridge welcomes you to a stay of fine dining, cultural exploits, and perhaps the Lucchese and Stetson-wearing cowboy of your Lone Star dreams.

Hitting the Hay

The best lively, queer-friendly neighborhoods are Downtown and Uptown/Oak Lawn. The Adolphus Hotel lies Downtown and was built in 1912 by the beer baron money of Adolphus Busch. Modeled after a Beaux Arts German Castle, the hotel is undergoing a massive restoration to reimagine its storied history, blending light contemporary colors and design among buffed marble floors. The newly redone lobby tastefully blends masculine and feminine styles into a neutral space that will woo you into reading books by one of a few grand fireplaces. The hotel features a stunning 7th-floor pool with tropical style drink service, the perfect place to relax after receiving a wealth of services at the hotel’s luxury spa. The hotel is within walking distance to the some of the city’s best museums and bars, but why leave with three stunning restaurants in house?

Just north of Downtown’s Cedar Springs Road, between Oak Lawn Avenue and Wycliff Avenue lies Dallas’ gayborhood, Oak Lawn, voted the best gayborhood in the country in 2014 by Out Traveler. The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Agency approved Warwick Melrose Hotel as the top pick of the neighborhood with great service and centralized location to retail, dining, and a saddlebag chock-full of gay bars.

The Noms

I had the meal of my life at the grand re-opening of The French Room, a sophisticated staple in the Dallas culinary scene now under the control of chef Michael Ehlert, who draws on classic French methodology but infuses the experience with high concept surprises leading you warmly to the future of culinary adventure.

(The French Room, Steven Visneau)

I began the meal with a very unique cocktail, a variation French Cognac, where the bartender came to our table, lit tobacco strands and smoked them into my glass, mixed a concoction of Blue Swift, and spritzed the glass with absinthe. Finishing with a citrus peel, the drink was the most unique cocktail I’ve ever had, and I worked as a bartender tasting myriad concoctions. The food came out in multiple courses, featured wonderful surprises (like a confectionary cart, AFTER an already stunning desert), and the most attentive and genuinely friendly waitstaff of my dining experiences. The French Room gives Feary’s, the city’s notoriously posh restaurant, a true run for its money.

For lighter and quicker fare for lunch, whiz through Gather Kitchen, a healthy California inspired order-at-the-counter eatery that allows you to build your own bowl of proteins, grains, and veggies. The pesto sauce is highly recommended.

By now, you’re wondering about the cliche Dallas staple: the steakhouse featuring dark wood embellishments that recall Restoration Hardware vibes complete with over-the-top chandeliers, boisterous noise levels, and a rich red wine menu to complement such wood grilled proteins. Make a reservation for the unapologetically Texas establishment Town Hearth, located in the trending Design District.

(City Hall Bistro, Steven Visneau)

After such a heavy dinner, wake and walk to another new restaurant City Hall Bistro, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For breakfast, wake up in an airy booth of light brown leathers beset white tiled walls and enjoy the most delicious avocado tartine (a fancy avocado toast) or a sweet, low fat, Greek yogurt bowl of dates, granola, and fresh fruit. If you still need a caffeine buzz before the day’s activities, walk over to Stupid Good Coffee a few blocks away, where “if it’s not stupid good, it’s just plain stupid.”

The Art

While many locals described the best hits of Dallas to me in the forms of retail and dining, there are plenty of cultural and outdoor activities to get yourself moving and grooving around town.

The city that began on cattle and cotton (later profiting ferociously on oil) began drilling the foundation for a strong arts scene with large swaths of money. Now, the city boasts the “largest contiguous urban arts district in the nation.” The epicenter contains three visual art exhibits with the most diverse being the Crow Collection of Asian Art. The massive district also contains nine performing arts venues from symphonies and opera houses, to The Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

Nearby in the Design District, The Dallas Contemporary, another free museum, engages the community with challenging ideas. Currently showing is McDermott and McGough: I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going which featuring the works of David McDermott and Peter McGough, two New York City artists who explore “gay identity, societal repression, and performative time travel…rejecting the contemporary present in favor of an invented queer past.” The exhibit is unapologetically gay, obsessed with the Victorian past, and is an inventive stance of resistance to the modern political climate. The exhibition runs through December 17, 2017.

If you’re drawn to the past, it’s a short trip from the Contemporary to Dealey Plaza, the site of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassination, where multiple mementos sprinkle the street of the fateful day of November 22, 1963. There’s an entire museum dedicated to the late president’s life and modernist memorial plaza designed by Philip Johnson with an epitaph reading, “It is not a memorial to the pain and sorrow of death, but stands as a permanent tribute to the joy and excitement of one man’s life.”

Get Out There

It’s time to explore those handsome lakes, handsome. For a brief walk or afternoon picnic, take a quick lift over to the Dallas Arboretum on the banks of White Rock Lake. Technically, it’s a reservoir, but the 66-acre arboretum and botanical garden will give you the peace of a remote lake as you razzle dazzle through azaleas and chrysanthemums and lie back in the sun listening to the afternoon lullaby of fountains.

(The Dallas Arboretum)

For more ambitious jaunts, tackle the 9.33-mile circumnavigation of the lake on the White Rock Lake Trail on a rental bike. As you mosey around the lake on your cycle, look to the waterif you’re lucky you’ll spot a group of long-limbed rowers practicing in eights or fours. Unfortunately, there is no swimming in the reservoir, but if you’re inspired to get on the water, there are a wide variety of options of boat rentals. The most popular (and grammable) of course, is the stand-up paddleboard.

The best way of all to work up a sweat in Dallas is with some good old-fashioned line dancing at the long-standing (and iconic) gay bar Round Up Saloon, located in Oak Lawn. The venue hosts events like “Boys, Boots, & Boxer Briefs” and hosts dance lessons for couples and singles on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Bring your Tony Lamas and tuck your thumbs behind your biggest belt buckle: it’s time for the Georgian Winder.

Enjoy yourself, dance your heart out, and in the words of Kacey Musgraves (who grew up on the far outskirts of Dallas) “make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into…just follow your arrow wherever it points.” 😉


Cover Photo: (The Dallas Arboretum’s “A Tasteful Place”)

Rome Three Ways

Before I had been, I had never really had Rome high up on my bucket list, mostly because in the back of my mind, it was just too touristy for me. Plus, Rome has been featured in so many movies and television series that I felt as if I had already seen itbut once I finally did, it was unlike anything I had ever imagined.

I’ve always been drawn to Italy. The combination of the food, the culture, the language, the gelato, and of course, the men. Each time I leave, I leave with a broken heart, at times longing for the one more slice of that perfectly thin pizza, or espresso paired with a Nutella filled fresh-baked cookie.

There are many ways to see Rome, and one needs plenty of time if you plan to see it all. I’ve now been a handful of times, and each time I find a way to experience the city in a new way.

First Timer

On my first trip to Rome, I booked at theRome Cavalieri, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts. I wasn’t messing around, I wanted a full-on, over-the-top hotel and experience. And I got just that with this grand hotel. It was a bit out of the city center, but it didn’t matter because the opulence of the property and the luxuriousness of the rooms made up for it. Plus, the pool overlooked the city from atop, making one feel as if they were more important than they truly were, emperor-like.

On my first day, my friend Michelle and I decided to skip the taxi to the city center and just walk. We saw the Vatican in the distance and decided that was where we would attempt to make our destination. The epic long walk proved to be a successful one. Upon arrival to the Vatican gates, we were first enthralled by the presence of the Italian military guards, who all mostly had short beards and were somehow more handsome than the Italian men all around them – it was the uniforms, it had to have been the uniforms.

The lines to enter the Vatican went around the city blocks, and Michelle and I followed them just to see how long they actually were – it was like a scene from my worst nightmare, and we had no intention of standing in any line, especially on that extra hot day.

As we continued our romantic stroll through Rome, as we like to recall it when telling the story to people we meet, we found the Trevi Fountain and took some time to be tourists. The fountain has recently undergone a restoration, so it’s currently a brilliant white that just looks stunning against the teal blue water. But now it was time to eat. We walked into the tiniest of restaurants and managed to get two seats next to the wall. The table was so small; there were wine glass holders attached to the wall so that your food plates could occupy the table space.

We had some fresh pasta and a bottle of rosé and by the end of our quick meal, we had only one thing on our mind; gelato. We found ourselves at Piazza Barberini and walked into the first gelateria we could find. We were both craving the sweet treat, but we were also really wanting to capture that great Instagram shot of our hand holding a cone with brightly colored scoops on top of it. I think I picked the most obnoxious pink options and Michelle went for the more traditional and non-chemically enhanced flavors.

We walked over to the main fountain across the street to get our photos. The sun was intense that day and our photo shoot turned disastrous when the gelato began to melt all over our hands and then mine plopped over and made the biggest mess. We still got our pictures; they just weren’t exactly what we had envisioned.

After our solo adventure in the city, we booked all of our tours with City Wonders, a company who pretty much does all the work for you and makes things a lot easier. Our tours included the Vatican, with an early entrance pass before the hoards of tourists were permitted inside, and a beautiful gourmet dinner with views of the Colosseum at night, followed by a private nighttime tour of Rome’s most iconic structure.

The package options range from affordable to not so affordable, but hey, in the end, the ones we did were worth it – no lines, no hassle, no stress.

One Day

While on a cruise around Italy, one of our ports was near Rome, so I decided to hop on the Rome Express train with my friends and make our way to the city for the 7 hours we had free that day.

Cruises can be frustrating at times because you get such little time in the ports and typically the port cities are not that great, so one must find a way to reach the bigger and better cities nearby, in this case, Rome. We had all been to the city before, so we didn’t need to hit the typical sights. We focused on one neighborhood; Trastevere.

Just across the Tiber River (which is what the name translates to) is this part of town that is often overlooked by general visitors, as it’s not in the city center, but really, it’s just a quick walk over a bridge away. Trastevere is filled with little restaurants and small streets that twist and turn, making it at times a bit confusing to navigate.

In the evenings, the place comes alive and the streets are filled with young people drinking outside of the bars and clubs that dominate the area. We had a day to spend there, so we went on our own food and wine tour, which consisted of us walking into a restaurant, ordering bites to share with a bottle of wineand then repeating that over and over again until our time in Rome was up. In the end, we may have overkilled on the pizza, pasta, and wine, but we managed to make our train, and somehow managed to bring a bottle of wine for the hour trip back to the port.

Next Level Rome

On my most recent trip back to Rome, I had booked a hotel for the two nights I was going to be in town. Days before departing, I received a call from the hotel asking if I was going to still be checking in that day. Apparently, I had confirmed the dates incorrectly and had flubbed up my reservation.

While I waited for the hotel to call me back with possible booking options, I quickly made a decision and went with it. I wanted something different and I wanted an adventure of sorts, so I canceled the hotel and found myself on the MrB website. Within minutes I had found a very affordable shared space with a young gay couple. With my affinity towards young, cute Italian men, I felt like this would be a great fit, and in the end, it was just a couple nights. Their new modern apartment was on the outskirts of the city, about a 20-minute car ride from the center. For me, it was perfect because it would give me a sense of real life outside of the hotel infested city center.

After landing, I made my way to their home, where they greeted me at the gate (both just as cute as their profile photo). Obviously, I was here to rent a space from them and not date them, but it didn’t hurt that they were easy on the eyes. After an afternoon nap, I wandered to the grocery store and picked up the essentials; cheese, charcuterie, and wine. Dinner was perfect that night.

I spent the next morning with them, just running errands; household shopping, a trip to the mechanic, and grocery store. Later I hitched a ride to the city center. I walked around on my own, got my gelato fix in, and had an opulent dinner. I met back up with them around 11 p.m. and they took me to the “gay street,” which is literally a small street with two gay bars on it where everyone just stands outside and drinks. If I hadn’t been so tired from the day, I would have found it more amusing, but I was glad to see it so I could return the next time I was in town.

Spending two rather simple days on the outskirts of Rome was exactly what I needed and what I was looking for. After one has visited a city more than a few times, it’s nice to go beyond the typical and find new ways to see more of what the city and city life has to offer.

No matter how many times I’ve now been to Rome, there’s always one takeaway; amo a Roma. Ask Italians in any other part of the country and they will most likely tell you how awful it is. I think that’s mostly because they love whatever city they live in a bit more, and feel a sense of pride, which makes sense and I can totally relate to.

But whether it’s Rome or Milan or Lucca…I honestly could live in any part of Italy, so long as there is gelato readily available on every corner.

The Insider’s Guide to Palm Springs

Often described (by me) as the most glamorous desert in the world, Palm Springs and I have a sorted past, most because I grew up in Southern California and it’s always been super accessible. Going there as a kid with my family, it wasn’t always my favorite place because we would visit during the summer months and my parents would force us go sightseeing on tours that I wasn’t particularly keen on as a kid. As an adult though, after figuring out there’s more to it than what I had been exposed to as a child, I’ve come to really love the area (outside of the splotches of ultra-right conservatives in the era of mango president, that often flood the area).

Now also remember that Greater Palm Springs is made up of nine cities, including Palm Springs, so don’t get thrown off when mapping out what to do because everything is relatively close to one another. All nine of the cities are worth exploring, but some have a bit more than others. Obviously Palm Springs itself with it’s mid-century modern architecture and streets lined with restaurants and boutique shops will keep you captivated, but spread out a bit and have a look at some other parts that make up the area. If you are into golf or just hanging in fancy golf clubs, La Quinta is the city to be. There’s also an abundance of art and cultureand shopping! Rancho Mirage is another golfer’s paradise and was once home to famous folks like Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra. And in the heart of the Coachella Valley is Cathedral City, which has more of an outdoor vibe with epic hiking trails as well as shopping – although here you will find everything from trendy to vintage collectibles.

What To See

August is National Mountain Climbing Month. Let’s go to the top. #ClimbToTheTop #PalmSpringsAerialTramway

A post shared by Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (@palmspringsaerialtramway) on

For a marvelous view of the desert, take a 10-minute trip up the mountain on the world’s largest rotatingtrams. Once up top, take some killer panoramic photos and then head for a guided nature walk or hike a trail. It can get cold up there (I’ve played in the snow many times up there and then laid by the pool the same day), so dress appropriately. Back down where it can be warmer, get in your rental and just drive through the old neighborhoods. For architecture buffs or for anyone who appreciates vintage design, it’s a great way to see some really fun houses from the outside. If you want to step inside one of the houses, drive to the “House of Tomorrow,” which is a prime example of mid-century modern architecture. The home used to belong to Elvis Presley, and his bizarre décor style can be seen within. Think leopard print walls and pink, lots of pink.

ThePalm Spring Art Museum– Architecture and Design Center is also worth spending some time inside for a more in-depth overview of the area’s architecture and design. Additionally, the museum itself has a renowned collection of some of the world’s best art. Smaller galleries worth stopping by for some unique finds includeElena Bulatova Fine ArtandMichael Weems Collection, which is one of my all-time favorites because of the tiny backroom where he keeps his extra naughty collection.Stewart Gallerieshas a bit of everything, including paintings, drawings, antiques, collectible as well as rare finds, whileSavage Art Galleryfeatures more local artists in a comfortable and unpretentious atmosphere.

Where To Eat

The food scene here is endless and ranges from the casual brunch to reservation required. For the ultimate in views and unbelievable cliff-side dining,The Edge Steakhouseat The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage presents unreal prime steak, seafood, and wine experiences, all highlighted by the spectacular views from its dramatic cliff-side setting.Workshop Kitchen + Barhas been praised as much for its approachable seasonal California cuisine menu as for its high design.

The charming and hard to findFarmrestaurant features a French countryside aesthetic that carries over to the menu. French press coffee, croque madames and monsieurs, mimosas, and more are what make this a favorite spot for early eats. Tiny but fun, located in the Uptown Design District,Bootlegger Tikiis an all-out tiki experience with everything from sweet, fruity, and heavily poured boozy cocktails, to light fixtures resembling blowfish and racy aloha art, which can be fun to pose next to for an Instagram. The high-end, chic rustic ItalianAppetito Deliis known for making most everything that can be, in-house, such as pasta, cheeses, sauces, and more. There’s a full bar, which means one thing: Negronis.Matchboxshould be on the pizza radar whileGyoro Gyorois on the sushi watch.Sherman’sis an old school deli, andWally’s Desert Turtleis an old school supper club, both of which provide a bit of nostalgia.

Where I’ve Stayed

“Winter” 😉 #gaypalmsprings

A post shared by Kent Taylor GM (@santiagoresort) on

Santiago Resort– So let’s start out with the obvious. This isn’t your typical clothing-optional gay men’s resort – not that there’s anything wrong with those, but it’s definitely a few levels above from what we’ve come to expect. I typically wouldn’t dare take my clothes off in public, let alone around a pool, but I came here at a time when I was in my more adventurous mode, and I was pleasantly surprised. The rooms are updated and comfortable and the staff is really considerate. It was actually a lot more relaxing and mellow than expected, and wellonce I was comfortable, it was quite liberating.

Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage– Those who know me, know I’m a bit of a hotel snob, and it shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that this place is one of my favorites in the Greater Palm Springs. It’s near enough to downtown but also just far enough away, so it provides a bit of an escape. Also, it’s near where my beloved President Obama and his family were rumored to be purchasing a home. True or not, he does vacation nearby, so that automatically makes it special. The hotel itself is spread out on a lovely Cliffside and has in recent years, undergone a renovation. A lot of the rooms on the first level have access to private-ish fire pits, so it’s kind of great to pour a glass of wine and enjoy the sunset with the warmth of the fire.

Beat the Palm Springs desert heat by taking a dip! 🏊 ☀️ (PC: @autographhotels)

A post shared by Triada Hotel Palm Springs (@triadapalmsprings) on

Triada Palm Springs– On the boutique scale of hotels, this is one of the best. Located close to downtown, this 56-room modern Mediterranean retreat is made up of three separate wings. First opened in 1920’s, there’s a great history to the property, which now comes with a more updated presence. There are two very cute sparkling pools on property and some of the accommodations have full-size kitchens, making it convenient for longer stays or for those of us who simply enjoy having a fridge full of champagne at all times (me). It’s located in the Movie Colony District of the city, and right next door is their sister hotel,Movie Colony Hotel, which is currently undergoing a full-transformation and will be making its debut in the near future.

It’s always a beautiful day in Palm Springs. 💚 R/ps

A post shared by RIVIERA Palm Springs (@rivierapalmsprings) on

The Riviera– I most recently visited this property to check out their renovated public spaces and re-imagined restaurants. I was here over a holiday weekend, so the place was packed. If you are into the big pool party scene with a DJ, this place has two of them. The lobby also had a party scene one evening when we came back from a night out, so it was really nice to just continue the party inside the hotel. The rooms and overall customer service are in need of some upgrades, but overall, if you’re into boozing by the pool, it’s a fun time (just avoid talking politics with guests – another story for another time).

A Philanthropic Desert Queen Has a New Stage

This past weekend, on a whim, I decided to head to the desert to enjoy some Labor Day fun. And with keeping with my Palm Springs tradition, I decided to include a drag show during my weekend because I needed an excuse to check out from reality and work out my stomach muscles a bit.

When I stumbled upon a new Sunday drag brunch at the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs and saw that it was a set price, including bottomless mimosas, there was no turning back. I booked the VIP seats (for an extra $10) for DRG BRNCH (Divas of Rock & Glam) and guaranteed my front row seating, to ensure I would have prime time viewing, and couldn’t wait for the highlight of my spur of the moment trip. With a name like Hard Rock backing up these queens, I knew I was in for a great production.

After digging around a bit, I got in contact with Arial Trampway, the leading queen behind the show (also the one whose face I would later see splashed across a massive billboard on the drive into the city). Arial Trampway, a.k.a. AlfiePettit, took the time for a quick interview between last Sunday’s shows.

The interview started backstage as I jumped into a service elevator with a half naked Alan and his hair and makeup artist. We made our way through a kitchen where he waved to hotel staff as he continued to disrobe. The entire experience was a bit surreal and reminiscent of some pop diva leaving the stage after a big show.

As I stood there, drooling to snap photos of him mid-drag, he didn’t even let me ask as he proclaimed, “take all the pics you want, this is me.”

1. So what’s your background with Palm Springs?

I first visited Palm Springs in 2002 and fell in love with the place. I knew on the spot I would end up here. In 2006, I first bought here and lived part time, sharing my time with Thailand where I lived at the time.Finally, in 2010, I was ready for the big, permanent move.

Prior to this show, I was with Carnival Cabaret for a year and a half, working alongside the incomparable Gypsy.I was one of three owners.We used my pink chrome Cadillac to promote the business and increase visibility, as well as riding up and down the local Street Fare on my Segway. And just like now I was the opening and closing act for that show. All this, as well as numerous charity functions and philanthropy, earned me a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Fame in September 2016.

2. How did you partner with Hard Rock Hotel and how does it feel to have such a big name brand as a venue?

It’s amazing to be able to partner with them! I think Carnival Cabaret was the launch pad to working with Hard Rock Hotel.They saw what the Arial Trampway brand was able to do for Carnival Cabaret, and wanted to work with my presence in the city to help build a stronger foothold in the Palm Springs community. It’s a perfect Palm Springs marriage.

Not to mention Hard Rock Hotel is one of the most well-known brands when it comes to music and performers, so matching that up with drag queens was only natural.And before I ever came to Palm Springs I owned Alfie’s Of Hollywood, obtaining signed celebrity head shots and memorabilia, which one walk through the Hard Rock Lobby will let you know we have in common.

3. How did this show come to fruition?

The General Manager of Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs, Juan Rivera, approached me about setting up a meeting with Dale Hipsh (now SVP of hotels), to discuss a possible show at the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs. After a few meetings, including Kristian Zambrana head of F at the time, and Vince Koehle Director, Corporate Marketing & PR – Hotels & Casinos at Hard Rock International, it was decided theywanted me to produce and star in a weekly drag show. ANDthey wanted it donein 2 weeks! But thankfully with an amazing team surrounding me, we pulled it off.Many thanks go to my executive producer who really made things happen in the beginning, David Reese. If you can get an executive producer with a shelf full of Emmys, you’re starting off on a good foot!

4. Tell me the concept behind the show or what someone coming for the first time can typically expect?

The concept is Divas of Rock and Glam, which is actually what DRG stands for, though it works perfectly as a shortening of DRAG as well.Vince Koehle came to me with the concept shortly after signing the contract.And I was thrilled when it was also put on the back of my very own Arial Trampway Hard Rock hologram labeled T-Shirt.

Our show is all about high energy, in your face, fast paced performances and glam to the max with over the top costuming and glitz. I open the show with my giant feathered fans (in signature pink of course), flying around the room and setting the tone, and then we are off and running from there. The entire show is highly produced, so there is no downtime, not a slow moment.It’s a fast paced thrill ride from beginning to end.

5) How is this show different from the other drag shows in Palm Springs?

Like I said, it is completely professionally produced beginning to end.My executive producer David Reese set it up that way, and it has since been passed on into the capable hands of my producer Ezra Zane and talent coordinator Michael Ralke. We leave nothing to chance. And what other show can boast a giant billboard of my face on the 111 highway, greeting you as you drive into Palm Springs, and a big pink hummer (also with my face!) driving around Palm Springs available for LYFT?

We also have an amazing charity portion midway through the show, #PassThePurse #DRGChallenge, where we do a very special number with guests randomly picked from the audience.We do them up in drag and parade around with our purses open collecting tips for a very special local charity for the entire month.Then, the last Sunday of the month we do a giant check presentation to said charity. We consider ourselves the “Show with a Soul.” To date, we have raised over $7,000.00 for various charities including ACS, HRC, Parkinson’s, DAP, United Way, and manyothers.

6. How do you pick the talent for each week?

I do a lot of in person scouting around Southern California shows, always looking for those amazing performers that may not have the big name cache’ yet, but have all the talent to light up a stage and thrill an audience. Word of mouth is invaluable in the drag community, so I have a lot of referrals from friends and talent we hire as well.

Internet trollingand of course the phenomenon that is Ru Paul’s Drag Race is undeniable. We love the frequency with which we get to have those performers with us like Pandora Boxxx and season two winner Tyra Sanchez, as well as widely known favorites of the scene such as Wendy Ho and Raquell Lord.

7. The show just moved to a bigger space. How did the success of the show make you feel?

The show was always set up as a very high concept, big room experience. We wanted it to have the feel of a fully produced Vegas show.So even though such a big move (and starting a two show back-to-back format at the same time!) can be a little daunting, ideally it’s the space and platform that Arial Trampway Presents DRG BRNCH Sundays at Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs was always intended for.

8. Now that the new space has had its first run, how do you feel it went?

Incredible! There are always going to be some nitpicking kinks here and there you want to smooth out, but the overall flow, energy, and excitement of the show in that space was spectacular.I was over the moon.

It felt like graduation, with all the proper pomp and circumstance to go along with it. And to be honest, it just got my creative juices flowing even more for bigger and better things that are now available to us. More, more, more show!

A Weekend In Phoenix — While Never Leaving Downtown

I have a soft spot for Phoenix.

When my parents left Southern California for the desert, I had already been long gone from the nest, so I figured it would be like going on vacation each time I went to go see them.

At one point, I even liked it so much that I tried to lay some roots there, but my constant travels and need for a nearby beach kept me from ever committing to the city I had seen transform over the years. Way back in the day when I first would visit, downtown Phoenix was definitely lackluster and besides the few gay bars and the monthly art walk, there was no real reason to be there, as it was mostly scarce and abandoned after regular working hours.

But today, downtown is booming with new residential high-rise buildings and incredible restaurants, and nowmodern, boutique hotels, which are attracting a new clientele outside of the convention-goers which typically dominate the downtown mega-hotels.

Granted, outside of their politics, Arizona is a beautiful state, one of my favorites. There is so much to see and experience all around, like Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, etc. Within the Phoenix Metro area, there are really great cities like Mesa, Glendale, and Scottsdale. And within Phoenix proper, there are many neighborhoods worth checking out like Biltmore, Arcadia Lite, and Central Phoenix.

But I’m determined to really hone in on the Downtown Phoenix area and keep it all on things to see and do within the Central Avenue vicinitybecause there’s enough to talk about within a 2 mile stretch of road.

Where To Eat:

DeSoto Central Market

Located in the center of the arts district, Roosevelt Row, DeSoto Central Market is all about community and providing a gathering place reminiscent of a time when the daily market was the heart of every city.

The market is a combination of boutique eateries, an artisanal market, and a deco-era bar, a bar that serves one hell of a bloody mary: The Kraken, a three-course meal in a mug which has some unusual garnishments like a cheeseburger slider and a homemade dessert that really make it one of a kind.

Joyride
One of my absolute favorite Mexican restaurants, check this place out during their infamous happy hours. Every day from 11am-5pm they have $5 margaritas, pitchers of beer, wines by the glass, and spiked agua frescas – and since day drinking is one of my favorite pastimes, now you see why I love this place. That, and the tacos are ridiculously good.

Windsor

Also with a $5 until 5pm daily happy hour (same owners as Joyride and many others on this list), this place is great for some typical pub food and craft cocktails. They’ve also got an impressive brown booze menu featuring Irish whiskey, single malt scotch, and blended scotch, as well as Canadian, bourbon, and rye options.

Federal Pizza

Federal Pizza is housed in a restored First Federal Bank from the 1950’s. The architecture is mid-century modern while the pizza is wood fired. If you don’t want to dine in, feel free to order ahead and then drive right up to their drive-thru window to pick up your order, but don’t forget your growler of beer. Federal Pizza has an extensive and thirst-quenching selection of beers just calling out to be taken home in a 64oz growler.

Phoenix Public Market Cafe

A casual urban hangout offering all three meals a day, Phoenix Public Market Café’s goal is to provide the downtown community a place to gather and enjoy a meal together. But come breakfast time, the cooks are usually bombarded with orders for their house made biscuits and gravy. The dish is served with two eggs (any style), chorizo gravy, and of course, the house made biscuits – you’ll hate and love yourself for indulging.

Clever Koi

It’s evident from the love and attention that goes into their menu that this place is awesome, and the food and cocktails at Clever Koi are expertly crafted. Lunchtime here is fun as guests can build their own bowls with noodles, stir-fry, or rice options serving as the base. It’s a quick way to enjoy a delicious lunch at a great price. Pro tip: add on a small bite (the chicken & waffle bun is out of this world). Full disclosure, the owner is a friend of mine, but really, they’ve already opened a second location so you don’t have to take my word for it, the proof is out there.

Postino

Ok, so it’s Monday and Tuesday that makes this place perfect for a date because on either night, diners can order a bottle of wine and a bruschetta for only $20. Bruschetta options include smoked salmon and pesto, tomato jam with fresh sheep’s milk cheese, and brie with apples and fig spread. It’s possible to mix and match your bruschetta, so don’t worry about not knowing which to choose.

FEZ

Another Phoenix icon with a new location closer to downtown, FEZ offers up an eclectic menu. But it’s the twelve different burger options here that should call your attention, besides their really great happy hour. Burgers come in all sorts of flavor combinations, but the Bleu Cheese Balsamic with a half pound grilled Angus burger, balsamic glaze, Danish bleu cheese, spinach, red onion & aioli is a great first one to start with. Pair that burger with some spicy harissa fries or garlic and rosemary fries for a fun flavor combo.

Churn

Here you will find all sorts of sweet treats, including old-school candy, but the ice cream is what takes the cake. The rotating menu will make you want to come daily to try new flavors. From goat cheese, honey, pistachio, to Mexican chocolate, there is a flavor to please all. If you happen to see the Hangover Helper on the menu, give it a try and don’t let the ingredients turn you off because somehow, they work.

MATCH

Located in the hotel I’m about to talk about below, MATCH Cuisine & Cocktails is FOUND:RE’s on-site eatery. It offers a creative menu of social plates focusing on eclectic, globally-inspired street food, made with locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, served in a fun, vibrant atmosphere that channels the spirited downtown art scene.

Where To Sleep:

During my last trip to Phoenix, I stayed at the new FOUND:RE Hotel, a boutique, art-focused gem with an equally amazing restaurant (see above, like literallyyou just read about it). After I made my reservation, I was contacted by the staff and was asked if I wanted to take part in a new wellness program they had in partnership with IV Revival. They offered shooters (actual injections) as single or multiple intramuscular injections of B Complex 21, CoQ10, anti-nausea & anti-inflammatory, which leave you feeling relaxed before going home or give you some energy at the start of the trip. I, of course, decided to just go for a full on IV bag with anything and everything they could (safely) place inside. It was the first time I had purposely asked for an IV treatment, and being inside my really spacious hotel room made it kind of addicting.

The rooms at the hotel are really big and industrial chic with a lot of the beds placed in the center of the room, making it possible to walk around them. My favorite feature was the large sink that sort of doubled as two sinks, one inside the shower and the other in the hallway. But the main attraction is that the hotel itself is an art museum, one that truly focuses on local art. Their in-house expert curator has meticulously selected works of art to grace the walls, but the art is ever changing so each time you come, expect something new (unless you are going like every weekendwhich you should). But, it’s the massive “Burtney” that’s behind the front desk that will probably blow you away (it’s for sale, so you could ruin it for everyone and take it home if you wanted). “Burtney,” a painting of a nude Burt Reynolds, created by Phoenix artist Randy Slack. The painting is a salute to Reynolds’ iconic 1972 centerfold in Cosmopolitan, with an assist from Caitlyn Jenner. “Burtney” has Jenner’s hair, which Slack painted blond to resemble both Reynolds’ ex-wife Loni Anderson and Britney Spears. (I had to borrow that epic description from Phoenix Magazine.)

Where to Art:

The really great thing about this part of town is that there is art all over the place. From the killer David Bowie murals, to Roosevelt Row (RoRo), a walkable creative arts district in the urban core of downtown, to the endless sculptures (including some really unique ones found at each Light Rail stop – yes, they have a metro system, and it goes straight down Central Avenue), there’s enough art to satisfy your thirsty art-craving needs. But for the mother load of art, one would need to visit the Phoenix Art Museum, which has provided access to visual arts and educational programs in Arizona for more than 50 years and is the largest art museum in the Southwestern United States.

Critically acclaimed national and international exhibitions are shown alongside the Museum’s permanent collection of more than 18,000 works of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American, modern and contemporary art, and fashion design. There’s also a really cool T-Rex sculpture outside that’s worth an Instagram photo. The museum shop inside is also filled with some quirky gifts or souvenirs.