Located just a short 3 hour drive from Toronto, Rochester offers plenty for those looking to indulge in an upstate New York urban adventure. With a rich history of civil rights, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Rochester is among the most welcoming, LGBT-friendly metro areas in the US (it was recently ranked 11th in 2016’s Gayest Cities in America by the Advocate).
Tucked between Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes wine region, the tradition of dignity for all runs deep. Suffragette Susan B. Anthony’s home, a National Historic Landmark, still stands in Rochester and is open to the public. While Frederick Douglass established his abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, here and the nation’s oldest continuously published LGBT paper, The Empty Closet, has been in business for more than 40 years.
If you’re looking to enjoy a perfectly gay weekend away, plan your trip during Rochester Pride (July) or ImageOut: The Rochester Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (October), two of the city’s most vibrant annual festivals. The destination is welcoming year round, with a population of just over 200,000 friendly faces, this relatively small city boasts three gay bars where you can mix and mingle 365 days a year.
Things To Do in Gay Rochester
Rochester’s top luxury retreat is the Strathallan Hotel, located a short stroll from the city’s famed Memorial Art Gallery. The property is a DoubleTree by Hilton, a boutique brand best known for its famous cookie (a classic recipe featuring rolled oats, chocolate chips, and walnuts) which each guest is given as a gift upon checkin (although you can certainly hoard more throughout your stay).
The Strathallan’s spacious luxury suites feature plush king sized bed and separate living room space featuring full-sized sofa, flat-screen tv, tech friendly work desk, and sliding door access balcony offering pretty views of the city.
If you’re looking to enjoy a slice of R&R skip across the street to the Strathallan Spa. The Strath’s urban oasis is located in a beautifully restored heritage coach house and features cozy relaxation lounges for him and her, bathrooms outfitted with Swedish sauna and luxury showers, and a pampering menu offering massages, facials, body treatments, mani/pedi, hair service and makeup.
George Eastman Museum
Rochester’s most fascinating backstory is the fact that it is the birthplace and HQ for Kodak. The pioneer of photography died a very wealthy man, donating his lavish mansion to the University of Rochester, which is now the George Eastman Museum. Founded in 1947, it is now the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the oldest film archives on earth.
The museum offers a rotation of temporary exhibits, showcasing treats from its permanent collection which numbers several million objects. History buffs will love strolling through George Eastman’s historic mansion and gardens, where you can see how the visionary entrepreneur and philanthropist lived almost thirty years during the twentieth century.
Film fans should ensure to plan their visit during a special screening at the museum’s 500-seat Dryden Theatre, which exhibits more than 300 different films every year, and is uniquely one of the last remaining venues in the world to exhibit highly flammable nitrate film. They recently screened Beetlejuice here and guests were treated to an intimate Q&A by no other than the man himself, Michael Keaton!
Memorial Art Gallery
Culture vultures love skipping through the Memorial Art Gallery, offering guests a journey through more than 5,000 years of art history. From the relics of antiquity to works in the vanguard and contemporary movements. MAG’s permanent collection of more than 12,000 objects has been called the best balanced in the state outside of the MET in New York City. Highlights include pretty pieces by European masters El Greco and Rembrandt, ancient Egyptian sarcophagus and African tribal masks, and America’s own Norman Rockwell and Milton Avery.
Rochester Public Market
The best spot in town to people watch is Rochester’s City-run Public Market which has served the community since 1905. The market bustles Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and features over 300 vendors that offer local produce, meats, seafood, eggs, cheese, ethnic delicacies, and sweets. There are also an array of indie shops located in the surrounding Market District such as cafes, food stalls, florists, art galleries, speciality food shops, breweries, and restaurants.
Boxcar Donuts & Fried Chicken
Boxcar Donuts & Fried Chicken is one of the most popular and unique eatery’s in the Market District. The spacious spot is famous for its innovative donuts – flavours of the moment during my visit included creme brûlée, cannoli, maple pecan, and apple cider fry cake. Guests are encouraged to pair their sweet treat with a cup of specialty coffee, a pint of local cider, a pretty craft cocktail, or for the big bellies, a selection of Southern-inspired savouries featuring fried chicken, grits, and spicy Korean fried cauliflower.
Genesee Brew House
Craft beer fans make sure to plan a sud-sloshed pilgrimage to Genesee Brew House, one of America’s oldest breweries. The 9,200 square-foot space is a beer destination in its own right, featuring interactive exhibits, multimedia content, gift shop, pilot brewery, tasting room and pub-style restaurant. On a sunny day skip up the stairs and enjoy an al fresco lunch on the brewery’s rooftop which offers jaw dropping views of the surrounding city skyline and dramatic High Falls. Those keen to sip and sample can order a flight of four brews – my faves include Pilot Batch IPA, Genesee Beer (their signature), Dundee Honey Brown Lager, and Genesee Cream Ale. If you’re feeling peckish, a basket of Fried Pickles and drool-worthy Buffalo Chicken Pierogies are certain to hit the spot.
Cocktail Bar Hopping
Cocktail fans keen to sip themselves silly in upstate New York can find happiness at a handful of swanky bars which call Rochester home sweet home. Rochester’s craft cocktail scene is spread out across the city, with the majority of bars breathing new life into historical homes, old manufacturing facilities and moody warehouses. Prohibition vibes are the life of the party, with interiors that feature moustache waxed bartenders, walls covered in whisky, luxurious chandeliers and taxidermied treats. If you’re heading to Rochester and in a celebratory mood here are five swanky cocktail bars worth sipping through.
In the Spring of 2017 Radio Social opened up shop in the Stromberg-Carlson warehouse on Carlson Road. The name pays homage to the 40,000 square-foot facility which produced radios during World War II. With Radio Social the Morgenstern family has perfected the ideal adult play place. It’s not just any old bowling alley: it’s an urban social experience and destination where slick design, world class food, crafty cocktails, and a colourful collection of games offer the ideal spot to enjoy an adventure on date night.
While bowling is at the heart of Radio Social, the place is filled with games that could easily keep you busy from the early afternoon to late into the evening. Vintage gamers will feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven playing corn hole, viking chess, giant jenga, ping pong, billiards, darts, skee ball, fooseball, shuffleboard, ladder golf, and horse shoes.
Comedy @ The Carlton
Comedy @ The Carlson is Western New York’s premier destination for all things LOL. Located right next to Radio Social in the historic Stromberg-Carlson Building, Comedy @ The Carlson features a 350-seat showroom that hosts the nation’s best entertainers weekly. Alongside the comedy clubs main showroom is a beautifully renovated atrium bar, which contains many nods to the building’s rich Rochester history.
The Little Theatre
The Little Theatre is Rochester’s must-visit for film buffs. The historical theatre first opened in 1929 and today offers a mix of indie & foreign films, rotating art displays, music, and a casual cafe. It is the oldest continuously-running art-house film theatre in the US, and does a great job at hosting niche film festivals throughout the year such as ImageOut: The Rochester Lesbian & Gay Film Festival which takes place in October.
Tilt is Rochester’s most celebrated gay nightclub. Located in the St. Joseph’s Park neighbourhood, the popular bar features a modern aesthetic, multi-room layout, and fabulous al fresco courtyard. Set in an old brick warehouse which was originally built in the 1800’s, the intimate venue fills up on weekends with friendly gays who come here to dance under disco balls and lip sync to dolled up drag queens. RuPaul’s Drag Race fans head to Tilt in hopes of spying local queens Darienne Lake, Mrs. Kasha Davis, and Pandora Boxx who spent years at Tilt perfecting their personas.
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