I get it: Fire Island is historic and means a lot (to some people) that it has its own latest rom-com. I do know some gay individuals who think its bucolic beaches and party atmosphere are paradise.
But I’m not considered one of them. I actually have little interest in schlepping by train, bus and ferry to face within the corner at a gay beach party that I feel I’m imagined to like because I’m gay and live in Recent York. Not interested. We exist.
That’s why earlier this month I headed in the wrong way of Fire Island, geographically and experientially. My destination was Recent Hope, Pa., and Lambertville, N.J., waterside towns separated by a bridge and a state line, but joined by reputations as L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly spots. In March, Time Out named Recent Hope considered one of the country’s “best L.G.B.T.Q.+-friendly small towns.”
A few two-hour automotive ride from Manhattan (you can too get there by bus), Recent Hope has a wealthy history, dating to the early- to mid-Twentieth century, as a welcoming place for visual artists, writers and theater people, including queer folks. In 2020, Bucks County, the house of Recent Hope, welcomed 6.36 million people, based on Paul Bencivengo, the president of Visit Bucks County, the county’s official tourism agency.
His organization doesn’t keep track of the variety of L.G.B.T.Q. visitors. But he told me “the gay community has been a part of the material of Recent Hope for a very long time,” and that irrespective of where I went on the town, I could be welcomed.
However the Pride ornamentation seemingly outnumbered actual queer people — it was like walking the streets of Provincetown when many of the gays decided to remain home. (To be fair, the weekend I visited, there have been also Pride events in Philadelphia and Asbury Park, N.J.) And there are not any gay bars or clubs, and no more Raven, a preferred gay bar-resort that went nevermore in 2019.
Yet during my visit — it was me, my partner and a friend — I discovered Recent Hope and Lambertville to be chill, culture-forward and vibrant towns for 3 gay men who wanted a weekend getaway.
If Recent Hope isn’t as gay “because the hem of Patti LuPone’s skirt,” as Philip Kain told me, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a gay jewel price visiting. He should know: Under the pen name Philip William Stover, he wrote two steamy gay romance novels set in Recent Hope, near where he and his husband live after they’re not at home on the Upper East Side.
Recent Hope “is a spot where, despite the fact that it’s possible you’ll not be surrounded by gay people, there’s a history and a foundation you’re walking on,” said Mr. Kain, as we shared shortbread cookies at Porches on the Towpath, a hidden-away bed-and-breakfast there. “It’s nice to be in places where there’s a felt history of gay culture.”
As more of a cultural tourist than a surf-and-sand one, that suited me. Which is why we took a 20-minute drive from Recent Hope to the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., to see “Keith Haring: A Radiant Legacy,” a career-spanning exhibition of over 100 pieces by the gay painter and street artist who died of AIDS in 1990 at just 31.
The show, which continues through July 31, might be a treat for disciples and newbies to the work of Haring, a Pennsylvania native. (Don’t miss the display with a few of his middle- and high-school yearbooks.) Among the many highlights are pieces featuring the radiant baby, considered one of Haring’s most famous images and his major street tag.
Positioned on the location of a former grist mill, the Bucks County Playhouse has drawn theater fans since 1939 with names like Robert Redford, Liza Minnelli and Audra McDonald. I used to be too early for its production of the Tony Award-winning (and queer) musical “Kinky Boots,” which runs from June 24 through July 30.
But I used to be considered one of about 80 folks who gathered for the Playhouse’s L.G.B.T.Q.+ High Tea, held the primary Sunday of each month on the theater’s deck, with its killer view of the Delaware River. The vibe was equal parts dance club and small-town blissful hour, and the revelers were a combination of men and ladies of all colours.
It was there that I chatted with two friends, each gay: Matthew Robertson, 32, and Barry McAndrews, 25. They told me the standard gay visitor to the world was, like me, a Gen Xer, or older, which explains why the D.J. was keen on CeCe Peniston remixes and classic disco.
“There’s a ton of cash here, and loads of younger individuals are effectively priced out of living in this complete region,” Mr. McAndrews said. Locals prefer private parties, he said, “but they’re super excessive, with ice sculptures and servants, like crazy stuff.”
While neither Recent Hope nor Lambertville offers much in the best way of a Fire Island-style youth culture — fantastic by me — they do have some Fire Island prices, at the least with regards to accommodations. The massive splurge is the River House at Odette’s, a dramatic waterfront hotel in Recent Hope, where this summer nightly rates start at $279 and climb to $1,038 for a collection.
I selected Recent Hope’s Logan Inn, which reopened in 2021 after a surprising renovation and expansion that turned the constructing, a part of which dates back to 1727, right into a boutique hotel infused throughout with daring design that marries butch (Colonial-style wood paneling) and fabulous (my room got here with a framed photo of Freddie Mercury with Elton John). Its outdoor terrace is made for people watching, and the situation, minutes from the Playhouse and Farley’s, a bookstore with a well-curated Pride section, is primo. Rooms range from around $210 to $610 an evening. (VisitBucksCounty.com has an inventory of more cost-effective accommodations.)
At Lambertville’s many vintage and antique shops, the past makes great presents. Standouts were A Touch of the Past, an enormous antiques showroom, and the brand new Form + Matter Modern, where I had my eye on a N.O. Møller teak dining table.
We strolled across the steel-truss Recent Hope-Lambertville Bridge and into Love Saves the Day, a pleasant vintage shop where I rummaged through old copies of Vogue and Playboy. (“Gay Stereotypes: Which One Are You?” asked a 1988 copy of The Advocate that I got here this close to purchasing.) The shop’s popular East Village outpost, seen within the film “Desperately Looking for Susan,” closed in 2009, and far of the merchandise traveled to Recent Hope.
Recent Hope and Lambertville adjoin the Delaware Canal State Park, which has an almost 60-mile towpath that runs along the Delaware River. It provides a level trail for walking, jogging, biking and horseback riding, and there’s access for canoeing and kayaking.
One other outdoor option is the Washington Crossing Historic Park, which extends over 500 acres and preserves the location where George Washington famously crossed the Delaware River. Popular stops include Bowman’s Hill Tower, which rises 125 feet and offers a panoramic view, and the park’s visitor center, where you’ll find a duplicate of Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting of the crossing.
As for dining, the Salt House is an intimate, candlelit gastro pub inside an 18th-century stone constructing, where the four-salt deviled eggs were my appetizer of the weekend. In Lambertville, it’s hard to miss the rainbow-colored tulle that wraps Under the Moon, a Spanish-focused restaurant where I got a fat slice of quiche and a sweet watermelon gazpacho.
But I actually fell for Union Coffee, an enthralling Lambertville cafe where rainbow-colored art within the window complemented the “Trans Rights Are Human Rights!” poster within the quirky little shop within the back. My Sunday got off to a splendid start once I paired a lavender oat milk latte with some ridiculously moist apple-pear bundt cake from Factory Girl Bake Shop in Recent Hope.
Before I left there, I struck up a conversation with Marian Gaestel and Mary Lloyd. The 2 friends, each of their 60s, had just come from mass at St. John the Evangelist, which Ms. Gaestel called “a rather more open Catholic church” than the one in Flemington, the “more country, conservative” Recent Jersey town where she lives.
“Coming down here’s a breath of fresh air,” Ms. Gaestel said. “Even in case you live in Flemington, coming all the way down to Lambertville and Recent Hope is like going away somewhere.”
They got here in search of a spot to feel comfortable with like-minded people and located it. I did, too — not on a packed beach or sweaty dance floor, but in a quiet coffee shop on the corner of Union and Coryell. The Pride colours made it easy to search out.