Our Writer Had A Gay Ol' Time In Venice Beach


The alternate title for this piece would be "Travel Thursday: A Midwesterner's Guide To A Place He Feels Inferior To In Every Way But Still Braves Because It's Simply Sublime." While glossy, shimmery, shiny Los Angeles continues to make me feel like a potato, the sights, sounds, smells, and borderline frenetic energy that permeates the city makes it impossible to not feel alive when visiting.  

On my most recent trip I was actually pummeled by a rare L.A. rainstorm, but was still the happiest potato around, and I want to spread the good word for anyone considering taking a trip Los Angeles, and for the sake of this post, Venice Beach specifically. My husband and I stayed in Venice Beach and found the area to be a city within a city - an enclave with just the right balance of action and opportunities for reprieve. 



Venice Beach is an area of Los Angeles with a rich history, vintage curiosities, and gorgeous beaches. We settled on staying in Venice Beach for its fifteen-minute driving distance from the airport without traffic (a distance unfathomable to Chicagoans,) immediate proximity to beaches, and stunning Airbnb options available for a more palatable price tag than the houses in nearby hotspot Santa Monica. Navigating to other Los Angeles neighborhoods from Venice Beach is easy, but we decided to mainly explore this fascinating area.



So it’s raining in LA

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A millionaire named Abbot Kinney founded (yes, we're taking it back, but I swear it's interesting) Venice Beach - originally called the "Venice of America" - in 1905 as an oasis of culture and sophistication. His goal of replicating the splendor of Venice, Italy was foiled once the area was incorporated into Los Angeles County in the 20's and oil tycoons ravaged the land adjacent to the beach - turning Venice Beach into an unsightly oilfield. 



This led to the destruction of a lagoon as well as the Abbot Kinney Pier that once featured carnival rides and a circus. A commenter on LAist even recalls having to scrape the tar off her feet after exiting the ocean in the 60's. Yikes.



But Venice's most famous sight - the man-made canals - remain to this day, and a stroll around them while visiting is a must. Here you can peek into unique houses in a neighborhood that feels like it belongs somewhere between Epcot and Architectural Digest. Check out a guide for traversing the canals here



Venice Beach has been in the midst of gentrification for quite some time, and a walk, bike ride, or electric scooter ride along the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk will allow you to take in the old and the new. We stayed in the southern part of the area on 27th Street, and by following the Boardwalk north, you'll see quirky yet mammoth-priced houses abutting the path make way for the endless kitschy shops and throngs of people that many associate with the area.



I want palm trees in Chicago

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If showing off your hard work at the gym at the infamous Muscle Beach isn't your thing, I recommend you take in the action happening at the nearby skate park. These skaters come to impress, and you half expect Travis from Clueless to show up. 

Located directly between the skate park and the ocean is a designated gay section of Venice Beach made perfectly clear with its rainbow flag lifeguard stand. As you guys know I don't get to have fun, but if I was a swiper, I'd have swiped. And no visit would be complete without every Instagram user's Venice Beach pièce de résistance - the "Venice" sign hanging over Windward Avenue. This is a modern-day replica of the one originally installed by Kinney in 1905, showing that the visionary was truly ahead of his time. Readying the world for Instagram perfection over a century ago. 

Of course, all of this isn't even to mention the bazillion other activities to do while in Los Angeles, but for this Midwestern potato, Venice Beach offered more than enough to make me feel like I had a truly unique weekend getaway. Abbot Kinney's master plan may have been thwarted, but he at least made one gay writer's weekend.   


Travel Thursday: My Big Gay Trip To Tokyo


When you contemplate what kind of culture Japan is at its heart, it can be rather awe-inspiring and almost shocking to witness gaggles of gays fawn over each other in fruitful attempts to copulate at the various LGBT nightclubs in Tokyo.

Upon entering the appropriately-called ‘gay district’ of Tokyo, I immediately perceived a sense of familiarity – like I had been there before. That’s because this gayborhood of bars reminded me exactly of the collection of LGBT bars back home, which were approximately 6,296 miles away from my then current position.

I’m from Chicago, the home of the famed (or infamous) Boystown. So therefore I’m very accustomed to living out my full gay life between two informal geographical boundaries that overlap with more officially-recognized neighborhoods. In this case, that being Lakeview East.

Another reason why this place felt so familiar to me was the true sense of community and pride that you can feel the moment you arrive. It’s so palpable and tangible that I could’ve poured it into my cocktail that night and consumed it like the perpetually-thirsty bear cub that I am. Like Boystown, there is a genuine sense of love, understanding, kindness, communication, and openness that you simply cannot resist within the similarly informal geographical boundaries that create the gay district of Tokyo.

One particular club, Dragon MEN, located in downtown Shinjuku, is a foreigner-friendly gay bar with kindly staff, moderately-priced drinks, and it was one of my favorite hotspots to visit during my adventures in Japan last year. It could’ve easily existed in Boystown itself or any other gay-friendly neighborhood. You had beautiful, beat-for-the-gods, Drag Queens dancing and lip-syncing for your life, his life, her life, all of our lives. There were, of course, the less-than-friendly ‘cliquey’ gays that were in the corner, judging you, and you had the uber-friendly hosts that were just so happy to greet you inside. Plus, as a bonus, all the handsome locals and expats love to meet and greet fish-out-of-water foreigners such as myself.

Dragon MEN is the definitely the popular bar. It seemed, at all times, the busiest with guests lined outside the club trying to get in. It does offer a lot of room to move around, dance, cruise, or sit down and just have an alcohol to yourself. For me, as I said, it was my favorite place to visit because I continuously met extremely nice people who offered to buy me drinks, donate cigarettes upon request, or exchange kind words of mere flirts with me. In fact, I made a great friend there who I still occasionally talk to on Facebook. I also hooked up with a gentleman from Paraguay there. It was a good night, overall. I expanded my ethnic horizons that day.

My next evening in the gay district did not involve the loud speakers and overly-enthusiastic dancegoers because eventually that can lose its appeal after awhile. So, I meandered on over to Bridge, which is a more atmospheric gay bar on Ni-chome and it’s reserved for those of us who want to enjoy a softer, less in-your-face gay experience whilst journeying through the dicks of Tokyo. Inside, you can relax and have thoughtful conversations while sipping on Sake. It’s a more ‘chill’ environment, so to speak. Ironically, I didn’t really talk to as many people as I did at Dragon MEN. Those I did speak to were again very outgoing and social, which speaks volumes when you consider again what country you’re visiting. There was no hooking up that night. Jesus wept.

Gold Finger is also another foreigner-friendly bar, but (and you guessed it), it’s definitely your go-to Karaoke bar. In Japan, Karaoke is a big cultural staple and you’ll find plenty of it wherever you end up. In the gay district, to find the best Karaoke bar is to find Gold Finger and it’s also the best lesbian bar as well, offering Saturdays as their women-only nights. Absolutely no men are allowed inside at all. And it’s home to a totally mixed grabbag of different genetic party favors. I met men and women from London, Uruguay, Switzerland, Florida – all manner of places. And even though I sang Staying Alive by the Bee Gees in English at a Japanese Karaoke bar, I still received much fanfare and applause from the audience. But that’s probably because everybody was either too drunk to care or just making fun of me. It didn’t matter. I still had a blast. What also made this experience such a highlight was watching people from places all around the world singing pop songs in their native languages. I felt cultured as fuck.

I could continue to shamelessly plug all these amazing bars that I visited, but that’s not really the point of why I’m writing this Thursday Travel blog. As familiar as the gay district of Tokyo is to me, at the same time, it’s different and inspiring for it’s own merits.  

Japan is a reserved country. As congested as the train stations of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are, you don’t hear too much talking. In fact, if it weren’t for the purposeful feet of those walking to their respective train platforms or the trains themselves, I’m convinced the stations would be nearly soundless. While walking up and down the busy streets of Akihabara, the electric town, I didn’t really see people inside or outside of stores talking to each other. And that’s because the people of Japan are quiet, shy, introverted, independent, and very solitary. They do communicate, but it’s very implied. Subtle hand gestures and facial expressions suggest enough meaning to one another to avoid any further vocalizations or even possible confrontations.

 And there’s nothing wrong with this at all. There’s a quiet dignity of the people of Japan and it’s highly respectable and warrants merit. But when you witness two gays inside of a dark nightclub desperately lusting after each other in a culture, in a country, that otherwise isn’t very vocal, isn’t very communicative, isn’t very confrontational, isn’t always that sexual, and whose people mostly keep to themselves, it can be very illuminating and downright inspiring to know that the same sense of pride and love that encompasses the LGBT community, one that I’ve always felt in Boystown, can be felt, heard, tasted, smelled, and seen even in the quietest, most solitary of all peoples and cultures. Such as the beautiful Japan.