New York City’s West Village holds a special spot for local LGBT people, as well as the larger community. It’s the site of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which helped launch the modern gay liberation movement. You can relive some of this history today by doing your own LGBT-themed walking tour, all convenient to the Hotel Indigo Lower East Side. Here are some highlights:
Stop 1: LGBT Community Center
The four-floor Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center offers a little bit of everything: support groups, lectures, dance events, writing workshops, art exhibits, thought-provoking theater, civic services. There’s even a library renting out LGBT books and magazines, while a lobby features a coffee shop and event postings. A major highlight is Keith Haring’s “Once Upon A Time” bathroom mural — a popular photo opp.
Stop 2: Stonewall Inn
On June 27, 1969, a time when public homosexuality was illegal, the police came to raid the Stonewall Inn. When the cops arrested a group of lesbians and drag queens and put them in a car, the crowd began rioting — to the point where police had to barricade themselves inside the bar. The riot police eventually quieted things down, though the following night more than 1,000 people showed up to protest.
This event caused a trickle effect throughout New York City, leading to organized demonstrations and the formation of activist groups. Within two years almost every big city in the U.S. had a gay rights group. In 1970, a march took place to commemorate the anniversary of the event. Today, the annual Pride Parade ends in the West Village, passing by the Stonewall Inn, which is now a National Historic Monument.
Stop 3: Christopher Park
Across the street from the Stonewall Inn, you will find the small but lovely Christopher Park, with benches for relaxing. One bench is always occupied by white-painted bronze figures — two seated females and two standing males. This is a permanent art piece called “Gay Liberation” installed in 1992. It’s an important stop for many, and at all times of the day you’ll see people posing with the statues.
Stop 4: Big Gay Ice Cream
For a delicious refreshment, Big Gay Ice Cream is a must. The creative soft-serve menu includes such options as the hard chocolate-topped “Salty Pimp” and the “Bea Arthur.” The latter — dulce de leche-laced vanilla topped with Nilla Wafer crumbs — honors the late star of Maude and The Golden Girls who helped support the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth. The cheerful, gay-owned shop features tons of natural light and bright rainbow colors, making for a sweet stop in more ways than one.
Stop 5: 75 1/2 Bedford
Not only is this Manhattan’s narrowest house at nine-and-a-half-feet wide, but it once housed openly gay poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. This tiny home has also been the residence of such outsized notables as the anthropologist Margaret Mead, and the actors Cary Grant and John Barrymore. Around the corner you’ll also find a former farm silo that Millay and her cohorts transformed into the Cherry Lane Theatre.
Stop 6: Sweetwater Social
Open since the 1850s, this underground watering hole once counted among its patrons the poet Walt Whitman, who penned an unfinished work called “The Two Vaults” in tribute to his regular bohemian hangout. Now called Sweetwater Social, the bar combines modern mixology with a photo booth, foosball table and other entertainments.