Out of Town - Upstate New York Vacations
May 4, 2012
The recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York has given a number of classic romantic vacation spots throughout the state’s northern and western regions. Of particular note are the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes, two areas that abound with gorgeous natural scenery and charming accommodations; the former is also a renowned winemaking region. Near the Finger Lakes, the progressive, culturally vibrant city of Rochester is a better choice if you’re seeking an affordable, gay-friendly urban weekend getaway.
Here’s a quick profile of these three upstate New York destinations steadily earning cache with the LGBT market.
Made up of more than 46 peaks that soar above 4,000 feet and a mix of hardscrabble villages and dapper resort towns, the Adirondacks region (visitadirondacks.com) encompasses one of the largest state parks in the country. The park’s southern gateway is Lake George, a well-developed vacation center popular with families and rife with amusements, from riverboat cruises to minigolf centers.
Venture north along Rtes. 28 and 30 through North Creek, Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake, and Tupper Lake and you’ll discover some of the prettiest road-tripping, hiking and boating in the Northeast. Key attractions in these parts include the Adirondack Museum, a rambling 32-acre living-history museum that traces the region’s history in fascinating detail, and the Wild Center, where clever exhibits interpret everything from local wildlife to the geology of the Adirondack’s soaring peaks. Or head up Interstate 87, taking Rte. 73 west to reach storied Lake Placid, a lively hub of recreation and relaxation that’s hosted the Winter Olympics on two occasions.
Many of the swankier dining options in these parts are in Lake Placid, with Brown Dog Cafe and Wine Bar, Red’s Eats, Caffe Rustica and Eat ‘n Meet Grill (in Saranac Lake) scoring high marks for great food and inviting settings. A New Leaf Coffeehouse is a funky stop for java, and in a wooded grove between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, kitschy Tail-O’-Pup makes a fun stop for a lobster roll or a platter of barbecue ribs (you’ll find affordable cabins on-site, too). Down in the area’s southern reaches, check out casual Basil and Wicks in North Creek for well-prepared comfort favorites, or nearby BarVino for creative regional American fare.
Both members of the revered Relais & Chateaux group, the upscale Lake Placid Lodge (lakeplacidlodge.com) and ultra-exclusive, completely secluded Point Resort (thepointresort.com) are among the plushest accommodations in the Adirondacks. The historic family-operated and quite gay-friendly Mirror Lake Inn (mirrorlakeinn.com) is less pricey but still upscale, with an excellent spa and three restaurants on-site as well. In the heart of downtown Lake Placid, the Haus on Mirror Lake (thehauslp.com) has handsome rooms with full kitchens and contemporary Adirondack furniture.
Other good LGBT-welcoming bets around the area include the charming Porcupine Lodge (theporcupine.com) in Saranac Lake, and the tidy and affordable Shamrock Motel & Cottages (shamrockmotellonglake.com) on the shores of Long Lake. Farther south in the village of Chestertown, Fern Lodge (thefernlodge.com) is an intimate B&B with spacious, warmly furnished rooms and a lovely setting on a tiny lake, and the nearby Friends Lake Inn (friendslake.com) is also quite nice.
The Finger Lakes
For its acclaimed Riesling as well as increasingly well-regarded Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, the Finger Lakes wine region (fingerlakeswinecountry.com) has developed into top winemaking area in the eastern United States. More than 100 wineries thrive in this land of 11 deep, narrow lakes.
Seneca Lake (senecalakewine.com) is at the center of the wine country, but neighboring Cayuga (cayugawinetrail.com) and Keuka (keukawinetrail.com) lakes also have plenty of prominent wineries. Some highlights include Red Newt Cellars, the purview of openly gay winemaker Brandon Seager and the home of a sensational restaurant. Just down the road, Atwater Estate turns out terrific Cabernet Franc and Riesling and has also been a venue of same-sex weddings (the lake view is impressive). Wagner Vineyards produces not only a bounty of great wines but also well-crafted microbrews. And Finger Lakes Distilling earns kudos for its aromatic gin, bourbons and distinctive aperitifs. Also consider Miles Wine Cellars, Anthony Road, Hermann J. Wiemer and Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, a Riesling legend on Keuka Lake.
Other highlights in these parts include the liberal college town of Ithaca (visitithaca.com), home to Ithaca College and the main campus of Cornell University, as well as such cultural gems as the Hangar Theater and Kitchen Theatre, and the Cayuga Nature Center, with its many trails and animal enclosures. Also spend some time in the small, rejuvenated city of Corning, home to excellent Corning Museum of Glass, which showcases a collection of glassworks dating back 35 centuries; the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, with an outstanding collection of Western and Native American artworks; and the several blocks of distinctive shops, galleries, and restaurants that make up the Gaffer Historic District.
For dining, favorites along the Seneca Lake shoreline include the Stonecat Cafe, which serves boldly seasoned, rustic American fare, and Suzanne, which occupies a rambling old farmhouse and serves artfully plated dinners with the same genial pace and warm service you might encounter at a dinner party. In nearby Ithaca, students get their fix of cheap and authentic ethnic food at Saigon Kitchen and Sticky Rice Thai & Laotian, and coffeehouse culture thrives at Collegetown Bagels up on the hill near Cornell’s campus as well as downtown. Near here, the urbane Just A Taste Wine & Tapas serves stellar Spanish-inspired small plates, the cozy Carriage House Cafe turns out delicious breakfasts and lunches, and iconic Moosewood Restaurant draws devotees of vegetarian cooking. Noteworthy in Corning are cheap-and-cheerful Atlas Brick Over Pizzeria and elegant Three Birds Restaurant.
Gay nightlife is limited in these parts, but Ithaca bars are quite mixed gay/straight—especially Felicia’s Atomic Age and the Oasis – and not too far from the area, you’ll find gay in Elmira (Chill) and Binghamton (Merlins).
An excellent base for wine-touring at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel (watkinsglenharborhotel.com) contains 104 airy and modern rooms, many with water views, as well as the excellent Blue Pointe Grille. In Ithaca, you can enjoy the solicitous service of staffers from the prestigious Cornell School of Hotel Administration at the Statler Hotel (statlerhotel.cornell.edu), and a full resort experience at La Tourelle Resort and Spa (www.latourelle.com), which has a very good spa as well as the excellent Simply Red Bistro and John Thomas Steakhouse.
Quirkier, more distinctive inns proliferate in these parts, including a few romantic gay-owned options: the sumptuous, art-filled Juniper Hill B&B (www.atjuniperhill.com) in Trumansburg; the John Morris Manor (johnmorrismanor.com), overlooking the northern end of Cayuga Lake in Seneca Falls; the Black Walnut B&B (blackwalnutny.com), which dates to 1804; and the Greek Revival Hillcrest Manor (corninghillcrestmanor.com) in Corning. In downtown Ithaca, the gay-friendly, Queen Anne–style William Henry Miller Inn (www.millerinn.com) is another great option.
More than any other city in upstate New York, the urbane educational and business hub of Rochester (visitrochester.com) has long cultivated a progressive bent. It’s the hometown of women’s suffragist Susan B. Anthony, whose home is now a museum, and a strong corporate environment (Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb) continues to support a robust arts scene.
Rochester’s must-see attraction, the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, contains a trove of exhibits related to the history of photography and also presents intriguing rotating shows. Other enjoyable diversions include the Memorial Art Gallery and the Rochester Museum & Science Center.
For a relatively small city, Rochester supports a highly sophisticated dining scene that complements that of the nearby Finger Lakes—wine lists feature plenty of local wines, and many chefs in these parts favor regional ingredients. Foodies shouldn’t miss the Rochester Public Market, which features not only gorgeous produce but also a handful of inexpensive eateries. In the trendy Atlantic-University neighborhood, both Lento and gay-owned Edibles earn acclaim for inventive cooking and lively ambience, as do nearby spots like Mise en Place in the up-and-coming South Wedge district, and Cafe Cibon in the hip Park Avenue area. You’ll also find plenty of GLBT folks sipping java at Equal Grounds in South Wedge and at Java’s Cafe by downtown’s Eastman Theatre.
For gay nightlife, 140 Alexander is popular with college students and younger scene-y sorts, and Tilt Nightclub revs up for dancing on weekends. Elegant and fun mixed venues in South Wedge include Lux Lounge and Solera Wine Bar. More intimate neighborhood haunts include Bachelor Forum and Avenue Pub.
The city has several gay-friendly inns, among them the Edward Harris House (www.edwardharrishouse.com), in the historic East Avenue district, and Ellwanger Estate (ellwangerestate.com), on beautiful grounds in the Mount Hope Preservation Garden neighborhood. Downtown’s old-world Inn on Broadway (innonbroadway.com) is an elegant boutique property with stunning rooms. Close to Eastman House, the Strathallan Hotel (strathallan.com) is a reasonably priced and comfortable option that’s undergoing a top-to-bottom renovation slated for completion in summer 2012. Also keep an eye out for East Avenue Inn & Suites (theeastavenueinn.com) – this formerly dated and dowdy property in a great neighborhood is receiving a major makeover, with new rooms debuting this spring.
Andrew Collins covers gay travel for the New York Times-owned website GayTravel.About.com and is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA. He can be reached at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.