Wine, Friend, and Truth, the Proverb says, agree/And now I’me heated take this Truth from me. —Theocritus’s “Idyllium 26”
The truth for some of us is that, after watching Sunday’s Gay Pride parade—hours of vigilant standing among the phalanxes of people lining Fifth Avenue in the blazing sun—we get Prided out. The evening’s circuit parties, clubs, and pier dance just seem a little too frenetic. But tiring of the heat and crowds doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to agree with the Proverb’s advice and join friends in a cool, mellow setting. Gay bars have been sprucing up or opening their backyards since the smoking ban pushed the puffers outside. Conveniently, most of these idyllic gardens have popped up at laid-back neighborhood watering holes, where the clientele is more likely to arrive in jeans and T-shirts than in Lycra and leather, and where you’re bound to spot lesbians mingling with gay men. We visited a few of these bars and found tranquil vibes, summer breezes, and fun-loving boys and girls.
Finding a happenin’ spot in Hell’s Kitchen is easy; Ninth and Tenth avenues overflow with plenty. But locating an alfresco cocktail space in the Kitchen proved a little tougher. Then we found FUSION (818 Tenth Avenue, 212-397-1133), a cozy locals’ den. The long, narrow lounge opens up, via a small tent (for rainy days?), to an urban canyon dotted with plastic chairs and potted trees. We plopped down on a park bench and, beneath the fire escapes and peacefully droning air conditioners, enjoyed a sparkling, minty Bacardi mojito ($8) and a vodka-based Pussyfoot ($9)—a secret recipe, though we detected hints of melon and citrus—which came chilled in a martini glass. My drinking buddy, an interior designer by trade, remarked that the mood lighting was “excellent,” and that the bartender had concocted the best mojitos he’d ever tasted.
The name of the Park Slope bar EXCELSIOR (390 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-832-1599) attracted our attention. “Excelsior!” (“Ever higher!”), for those unaware, is New York’s state motto. This liquor-serving incarnation of the slogan boasts an expansive, lush outside space with plastic flamingos. But the deck and garden had just closed when we arrived (outside hours until 11 p.m. on weeknights, 1 a.m. on weekends), so we played a few classics on the jukebox, which had Echo and the Bunnymen, the Psychedelic Furs, and INXS, and quaffed a fresh, extra boozy (“Ever drunker!”), icy margarita ($7) served in a tall pilsner glass. Most of the primarily button-down-shirt-and-khaki-clad bargoers seemed, not surprisingly, to live nearby, judging from the presence of several dogs, who wove among the bar stools and tables begging for a pat on the head.
The Billyburg regulars at METROPOLITAN (559 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn, 718-599-4444), on the other hand, had their own maxim, “Ever hipper!” Faux-hawks, vintage tees, and studded belts prevailed in the enormous backyard. The latticework and wood decking juxtaposed with all the tattoos reminded us of a boathouse at some punk-rock summer camp for homosexuals. We cruised around with a potent tequila gimlet ($5) and enjoyed what we believe to be one of the most gay-pleasing jukeboxes in New York, with its heavy rotation of New Order, Stevie Nicks, Erasure, and the B-52’s. Inside, a couple of guys clustered around the red-felt pool table, intent on sinking the eight ball, while most of the diverse group of drinkers relaxed under the kinda starry sky, creating a tableau that reminded me of another famous motto: “Out of many, one”—what a happy thought for Pride.