From my city to yours: inside New York’s LGBTQ+ scene with local guide Michael Venturiello

Discover a different side of the Big Apple with Michael Venturiello who offers tours of and insights into the city’s fun-loving, inclusive LGBTQ+ community. Here, he shares his passion for his city and some insider tips.

By Charlotte Wigram-Evans
Published 14 Nov 2020, 08:00 GMT, Updated 6 May 2021, 11:18 BST
In 2020, New Yorkers celebrated 50 years since the first ever Gay Pride march in their city and ...

In 2020, New Yorkers celebrated 50 years since the first ever Gay Pride march in their city and 51 years since the infamous Stonewall riots that stoked the movement for equality.

Photograph by Getty Images

Tell us about New York City and your relationship with it.

It really is an incredible city and I feel very fortunate to be living here every day, even in the midst of a pandemic — and that’s really saying something. Moving to New York as a queer man, I found a new lease of life. I was already out when I arrived, but I was able to find out what that truly meant for me when I moved to this city.

What are your first memories of the city?

I’m a real history nerd, and when I first arrived I watched a documentary on David France and his activism work during the city’s Aids epidemic in the 1980s [How to Survive a Plague, 2012]. I had this amazing, transformative moment: here I was living in New York, and the streets I was seeing in the documentary were the streets I was walking every day. The group David was showcasing was called Act Up, and after Googling them I found out they still met at the LGBTQ Centre every Monday. I went along to my first meeting the next week, and that put me on a whole new path.

Tell us about New York’s LGBTQ+ community.

The interesting thing about New York is that there isn’t just one community. I’ve lived elsewhere and a place may have one centre, for example, that everyone goes to — or that no one goes to, as the case may be. In New York, you have thousands of smaller communities within that larger community. It was after the Second World War when LGBTQ folks really arrived here in droves. People realised they didn’t have to stay in their own little suburb; they could go to a place like New York and find community. They could find love in ways they never could before. That spirit of freedom and liberation, and being your true, genuine, authentic self — that feeling continues today.

Michael began running tours of New York during Pride Week 2018. Following the coronavirus outbreak, he now offers a virtual version of his NYC LGBTQ Historical Bar Crawl in partnership with Brand USA and Airbnb.

Photograph by Michael Ventriello

What LGBTQ+ landmarks should we visit in New York?

There are a couple of underrated sites I’d really recommend. One is the New York Aids Memorial — a reminder of a dark time in history, but a really, really important one. The memorial is beautiful, and it’s set in a peaceful and serene little green space, which is quite rare in the city. The other is the LGBTQ Center on West 13th Street. I think we’re so fortunate in New York to have something like that. It’s three stories tall and takes up half a block — it’s massive. There’s a cool cafe inside, and outside hangs a huge flag that they alternate from the rainbow flag, to the trans flag, to the bi flag and so on.

In normal times, where would you usually go for a great night out?

In Greenwich Village, standing at the Gay Liberation Monument in the middle of Christopher Park, you can do a 360-degree spin and see so many great gay bars. There’s Stonewall Inn, which in 1969, when there were riots across the city, was the only place that welcomed gay people, people of colour, gender-nonconforming folks, trans folks, drag queens, drag kings — everyone. Then you’ve got Duplex, as well as Julius and Monster, and a block away there’s Marie’s Crisis, which is my favourite. It’s this little queer piano bar, and they have a pianist every night performing everything from Broadway to Disney. Only about 20 people can fit in there at a time, it’s that tiny, and by the end of the night everyone’s belting out Broadway tunes and hugging each other.

What would your perfect day in the city look like?

I’d wake up early, go to a cafe in Soho and do some journaling, reflecting and people-watching while having a nice, strong coffee. Then I’d walk up to Washington Square Park, it’s underrated but it’s beautiful and there’s always someone playing great music there. Next I’d walk west along Christopher Street, pop into Christopher Park to pay my respects at the Gay Liberation Monument, and keep walking until I hit the Hudson River. There’s this beautiful park that runs down it, The High Line, which is always busy with people running or walking and the atmosphere is really wonderful. For dinner, I’d head to Chelsea; there’s a great little food court in the Chelsea Market, or close by, Ace Hotel New York has a very cool coffee shop that, around happy hour, transitions into a lounge bar with couches, big comfy armchairs and dim lighting. That’s my perfect kind of night.

Tell us about someone who embodies the city of New York for you.

I met the founder of Act Up, Larry Kramer, before he passed away [in May 2020] and it was an incredible moment. He embodies New York for me, because as well as the magic and the sparkle, it’s also a very resilient city. He lived here as a gay man his whole life. He was here before Aids and he was here during the epidemic, starting multiple organisations to help people and then continuing as an activist and writer. He was also a kooky, eclectic character. He wore bright red glasses, colourful rings and gaudy outfits; outside the city it might be a little strange, but in New York, it’s just New York.

Michael began running tours of New York during Pride Week 2018. Following the coronavirus outbreak, he’s teamed up with Brand USA and Airbnb to offer virtual tours. The NYC LGBTQ Historical Bar Crawl costs $15 USD (£11.20 GBP) per person.

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