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Off-campus Boston
Gay scene

By Robert Sullivan

Boston's gay and lesbian population is one of the largest in the country, but its presence can be subtle. There are surprisingly few gay bars here, and there is no one-stop community center like in many other cities. But signs of a vital gay community are almost everywhere if you look closely. Boston is unrivaled when it comes to such gay indicators as rainbow stickers on store windows, pink triangles on car bumpers and backpacks, and campy humor on billboards and subway ads.

So if you're new to Boston and want to know more about the gay scene, my first piece of advice is to pay attention. Once your gaydar is fully turned on, you may proceed to some of the most popular spots for young gays and lesbians.


You can usually find a Whitman's sampler of gay Boston, sometimes both sexes, but usually one or the other, in one of the screening rooms at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge.

Most new gay- and lesbian-themed films play here (like the recent "Trick" and "Better Than Chocolate"), and there seem to be more every year. Arrive early enough to get a good seat and join in the pre-movie chatter. The atmosphere is friendler than in most bars and not as sleazy as the all-male audiences from the days when "gay" meant X-rated. Lesbian and gay cineasts can also find what they're looking for at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square; their women's film fest is a big lesbian draw, and they show gay-themed films on an ongoing basis.

Drama queens should head to the Boston Center for the Arts, a three-stage theater in the heart of gay Boston. Resident companies include the Theater Offensive (whose "Out on the Edge" festival runs through Oct. 2) and the SpeakEasy Stage Company (with frequent gay-themed plays). Even if none of the featured plays interest you, check out the lobby for notices about other gay arts events.


Glad Day Bookshop in Boston has all kinds of gay and lesbian volumes, plus a bulletin board of housing notices and meeting announcements. The store is also well-stocked with erotic videos and magazines, which gives it a cruisy feel in the late evenings.

Over in the South End, the oddly named We Think the World of You Bookstore has a similar inventory but has rainbow-themed gifts instead of a porn section.

New Words, in Cambridge's Inman Square, specializes in feminist and lesbian books. Keep your eye out for its book readings - often well-known women authors appear. The shop has an extensive bulletin board with postings for jobs, events, and housing.

Grand Opening is not an event, but your first trip there just might be. It's a shop in the nondescript Arcade shopping mall on Harvard Street in Brookline that caters to women's sexuality: everything from sex toys, erotic books and magazines, to literature on safe sex. It's owned by a bisexual, but geared to women of all kinds. (Guys are welcome, too.)


If you're not legally old enough to drink and you prefer a mixed crowd over an all-gay scene, try a coffeehouse. None are officially gay, but at most places in the South End, Jamaica Plain, and Davis Square, it's safe to flirt with strangers without worrying about what might happen if you guess wrong. The worst outcome is that you'll needlessly flatter a straight person.

The most popular spot in the South End is Francesca's (564 Tremont St., 617-482-9026), a bright and cozy cafe that offers an inexpensive way to familiarize yourself with a neighborhood full of pricey condos and restaurants. A new hot spot on the collegiate Red Line is the Diesel Cafe in Somerville's Davis Square, which attracts more students and more lesbians than you'll find in the South End.


What if you want to skip the ambiguity and proceed to a designated cruising area? Club Cafe in the South End is a great introduction to the Boston bar scene, especially if you're a gay man, or part of a mixed group. The front part of Club Cafe is a fairly upscale restaurant and cocktail lounge with a pianist on weekends. Gays pack the back room, a louder and darker video bar where it's often impossible to move without bumping into someone (which is precisely the point).

Club Cafe is also a reliable place to find copies of Boston's two gay and lesbian weekly newspapers, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. Both publish comprehensive listings of gay and lesbian events, and lively coverage of relevant local and national news.

There are plenty of gay men's nights at some of the area's largest dance clubs, but you can start with three. Man Ray, smack in between Harvard and MIT, hosts "Campus" (a 21-plus night "for gay men and their friends") on Thursdays and "Liquid" (a 19-plus night with a more eclectic crowd) on Saturdays. Both nights attract a crowd heavy on black clothing and leather. Make at least one visit to Boston's oldest and largest gay night, at Avalon (on Sundays).

There isn't much as far as clubs for women. Try the Lava Bar in Kenmore Square on Saturday nights, the Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain on Thursday nights, and Ryles, a jazz club in Cambridge where the upstairs is devoted to women, but not jazz, on Sunday nights.


Hanarchy Now Productions sponsors a ton of lesbian events around town; their web address is www.hanarchy.com. They also have an e-mail list you can subscribe to, which gives regular updates on local happenings. This is the first place for lesbians and bisexual women to look for worthwhile gay/lesbian/bi events.

One of the better college sites is Gays at MIT, or GaMIT (http://web.mit.edu/gamit/www), which has links to college-oriented and other gay groups in the Boston area, plus a guide to bars and restaurants.

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