Harlem is my lady! Whenever I go there, a beaming stranger—but not always the same one—generally greets me on the street and says, “Hi! Welcome to Harlem!” Could you imagine that kind of reception in Soho? And shouldn’t they actually say, “Welcome to Harlem, you entitled piece of oppressive lily-white dreck”?
In any case, I’ve long patronizingly thrilled to the neighborhood’s personality, music, food, and males, all of which come together at gospel brunches, where you can occasionally find me testifying by the buffet. A Voice colleague once criticized me for taking a “liberal hard-hat safari” through the place, but I find that way preferable to pretending it doesn’t exist. And so I just donned my pith helmet once again, now that inevitable changes have seized the neighborhood and it’s become much more aggressively fabulous.
I was lured to a strip of land on 137th Street and Twelfth Avenue that bustles with a fancy-assed restaurant, an outdoor café, and a wildly popular club (the three-floor, 9,000-square-foot Body Restaurant & Lounge), coming off like an uptown mini-version of the meatpacking district, but not nearly as annoying. My destination was the corner eatery Talay, a glossy but relaxed place that serves “Southeast Asian flair with Latin accents”—i.e., Thai noodles, bistek currasco, basil lime sorbet, and very little attitude. The place is decorated like a den out of Auntie Mame as re-envisioned by the Rat Pack, and the ambience is so upbeat that the couple at the next table chatted with me and my guest through the entire meal and even invited us to their home afterward! Can you imagine that at the Sherry Netherland Cipriani?
Instead of going for the four-way, we trekked even farther up to the Heights to see if it’s anything like that Broadway musical. It turned out to be studded with multiple McDonalds and my beloved 99-cent stores and even some cheaper bistek joints. I could easily go here every night, except that my legs were on fire from the bike ride and they could only be put out by the blood shooting out of my nose like a Monty Python gag.
We parked it at the gay bar No Parking (on 177th and Broadway), where a regular patron was greeting guests by announcing, “Welcome to the new Chelsea!” Sure enough, the place is kitsch-perfect, with zebra-print walls, shaggy bar stools, and a rotating solar-system chandelier. It’s like Talay’s wacky Dominican cousin. At midnight, a sweaty queen handed out stacks of singles and begged me to put some of them next to the go-go boy’s pinga. But I wouldn’t touch that thing! I’m lactose-intolerant! And I’m not sure I’d go that far again for what is basically just another gay bar. Then again, I’ve traveled much farther for less.
Back in midtown, Channel 11’s Toni Senecal has written a forthcoming novel, Red Carpet: Confidential, that mixes real and fake names for a jaunty look inside the compromising world of entertainment reporting. I’ll serve you just one choice snippet along with your basil lime sorbet: The novel features a movie version of The Facts of Life starring Bette Midler as Mrs. Garrett and Rihanna as Tootie! Fiction imitating inevitability?
And from Toni, we go to the Tonys, the Broadway honors that were all about In the Heights, though that show doesn’t even mention my new favorite gay bar. The awards telecast desperately tried to blind us to the mostly obscure batch of nominees by throwing in celebrity drop-ins, long-running hits from years past, and some barroom-style jokes. Worked for me! Here’s a blow-by-blow account of all the trumped-up glamour and glory as seen on my flat, 24-inch living-room telly:
8 p.m.: Opening with a number from The Lion King is like screaming, “We are obsolete! We have to dig up an 11-year-old hit to rouse the masses! The Tonys are deader than the plans for Glory Days II!” But Whoopi Goldberg spills onstage and starts having fun—her racial commentary is perfect for the year of Obama and my Harlem trips—and at least there is a host this year.
8:10 p.m.: August: Osage County winner Rondi Reed thanks co-star “Amy Morton! Amy Morton! Amy Morton!” Am I the only gay wondering, “But what about Deanna Dunagan! Deanna Dunagan! Deanna Dunagan!”?
8:12 p.m.: The Cry-Baby number is bursting with hot menfolk striking provocative poses. A promo letter I got from John Waters accurately called the show an “oral adventure.” There are two chorus boys I’d particularly . . . never mind.
8:27 p.m.: Serial non-winner Raul Esparza is now officially the Deborah Kerr of the Tonys. That will comfort him, I’m sure.
8:40 p.m.: A full-throttle showstopper by Patti LuPone! Patti LuPone! Patti LuPone! The performance of a lifetime. An aural adventure. This will be educating young gays on YouTube for decades to come. The other four nominees in her category can get offa her runway right now.
8:55 p.m.: Lin-Manuel Miranda, you’re such a clever ham/And it’s sweet you turned the Tonys into Def Poetry Jam/Your referencing Sondheim suggests your class will get you far/But still you didn’t mention my favorite fucking bar!
9:15 p.m.: The fab Laura Benanti breathlessly thanks Arthur Laurents for his direction of Gypsy. Maybe she doesn’t realize he wrote it, too? I bet he’ll remind her.
10 p.m.: Guess who won Best Actress? Deanna Dunagan! Deanna Dunagan! Deanna Dunagan!
10:14 p.m.: Daniel Radcliffe presents an award, and the air is fraught with tension: Will he flash his magic weenie to beef up the ratings? And he does! (Oh, hush. When Macbeth lost to Boeing Boeing, I went into toxic shock and started hallucinating.) Sondheim doesn’t show for his special award. Hopefully, it’s not because of Miranda’s rap—or because he’s still working on Bounce.
10:35 p.m.: Xanadu showcases one of its very few semi-straightforward numbers. Weird, but at least all the principals get to strut their stuff—especially Cheyenne Jackson‘s thighs. And at least they didn’t show all their numbers, like South Pacific did.
10:50 p.m.: That show’s dreamy Paulo Szot doesn’t thank a lover of either gender in his speech. I’m totally available in between the Cry-Baby boys. Meanwhile, guess who wins Best Actress in a Musical? Yes! Yes! Yes!
11:30 p.m.: I went to the after-party! And I asked Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz if his professed closeness with the Passing Strange guy, Stew, is true shit. Yes, he said, “he’s even lived in my house. I’m a sucker for someone staying there. It’s a total commune.” More shockingly, I had no idea Duritz was a complete show queen. “I grew up in San Francisco,” he explained simply.
En route to the memento bag, I caught Xanadu writer Douglas Carter Beane running for the exit and asked if he’ll do yet another Olivia Newton-John adaptation for his next project. “Maybe that movie with John Travolta where they had zero sexual chemistry,” he played along. No, not Grease—it was a sad follow-up called Two of a Kind, which is absolutely ripe for the spoofing. Though Travolta had even less chemistry in Moment by Moment with Lily Tomlin, who on the Tonys cutely mocked the butch walking style of Marisa Tomei—whose Top Girls co-star Martha Plimpton was feeling even less pain than the old man from The Seafarer.
My next adventure: a scary outer borough! Which I came from!