by Brian Letendre
I grew up on Staten Island, NY. I went to high school and college in Lincoln Center. My first sublet was on 46th street and I’ve lived in almost every part of New York and some of New Jersey ever since. After spending 10 great years in Hell’s Kitchen, I decided I couldn’t continue with the hustle, the crowd and the commuters. As a gay man, I had to ask myself - where would it be best to move? I certainly couldn’t afford the West Village or Chelsea unless I was willing to get a Murphy bed and rock a mini-fridge, but it had to be somewhere I felt safe and had a sense of community. After tons of research and many long conversations with trusted friends, I had it . . . SOHA! It wasn’t overpriced and overpopulated, yet seemed to be moving in a really promising direction. Could SOHA be the next gayborhood?
What will attract gay men to a neighborhood? Affordable, comfortable apartments, aesthetics, culinary finds, culture and nightlife ranked at the top of my list. But the first thing I needed to find was an apartment. What a breath of fresh air it was to look at spaces throughout Harlem and Morningside Heights. I ended up taking the last place I saw. I was in love! My apartment runs the length of the entire floor and has stainless steel appliances and a dishwasher. It’s a quarter the rent it would be were it in the West Village, Chelsea, or Hell’s Kitchen. The neighborhood is just as pretty with tree-lined streets and Central and Morningside Parks just blocks away.
After walking around the neighborhood to get a feel for what was to be my new home, I was pleasantly surprised. A Food Network junkie, I was delighted to find restaurants like Red Rooster (owned by Top Chef Master’s Marcus Samuelson, on Lenox Ave @ 125th St.) and Melba’s (Winner of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown, on Frederick Douglass Blvd. @ 114th St.) and trendy cafes like Amrita (110th St. and Central Park West.) A java and food snob, I knew I would be satiated.
Throughout my time here I can say I’m perpetually pleased with life in SOHA. Options for activities run the gamut whether it’s an exhibit at an art shop, a new jazz singer at Bill’s (133rd St and 7th Ave,) a sunny day with friends at Morningside Park, or the comforting fact that the guy at the corner deli always knows my name. I would never move back downtown in a million years.
I’m always thrilled to learn that many of my friends are now becoming my neighbors. Just today I ran into a friend I did a show with (I’m also a dancer) that moved into the apartment right next door to mine. I get the sense that the Broadway community is getting tired of crowded midtown life and like me, flying north.
Admittedly, there’s still room for improvement when it comes to gay nightlife. I’ve had some fun times at Suite Bar (Amsterdam and 109th) singing terrible karaoke with friends, but usually end up taking my late nights downtown. Luckily, it’s not a difficult task given the multiple subway lines. As far as I’m concerned, as long as I have a blue or red line close by, I can get anywhere.
When I started to write this blog I was determined to convince everyone that SOHA was the new gayborhood. Is it there yet? Maybe it isn’t, but it certainly met all of my criteria and then some. If other gay men have the same needs as myself, and I assume they do, I guarantee this neighborhood will pink up really quickly. The only downfall: everything will start to get REALLY expensive.