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Vancouver: Pretty, Witty & Gay

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The Lion's Gate Bridge

By Rex Wockner

Vancouver -- Canada's third-largest city is stunningly beautiful, impressively cosmopolitan and multicultural, and sufficiently gay for a happy homo visit.

Vancouver has often been called one of the prettiest cities in the world and it's no exaggeration. The mountains, water and high-rises come together to form a gripping visual symphony.

The key sectors of the city -- downtown and the West End -- abut each other and are very pedestrian-friendly. In the summer -- Vancouver's dry season -- downtown's Robson Street and the West End's Denman Street pulsate with life well into the night.

Gay street life is centered on Denman and Davie Streets, which intersect at the southwest corner of the West End.

vancov1.jpg - 10.80 KHappening gay bars include The Royal Hotel pub (especially Fridays after work; bear-friendly), the Dufferin Hotel pub (very mixed crowd with dancing, strippers and drag shows), three bars within the Heritage House Hotel (neighborhood-type; bearish and leathery on weekends) and Numbers, a multi-level cruise and dance bar in the middle of the Davie scene.

All are within walking distance of each other except the Heritage House which is east of downtown in an unsavory neighborhood. (It's about the only unsavory neighborhood in Vancouver which is otherwise quite tidy.)

Other gay options include four bathhouses and two very cruisy parks: beautiful Stanley Park (specifically, Lee's Trail) and Central Park in suburban Burnaby.

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Sun worshipers let it all hang out at Vancouver's Wreck Beach
Lots of locals love gay, nude Wreck Beach, near the University of British Columbia (ask a local for detailed directions), but being from San Diego, where we have a real gay nude beach, I was unimpressed. There's no actual beach to speak of, the water is not swimmable, and the views are among the least interesting in the city. It is, however, a perfect place for virtually unlimited casual "public" sex.

Of course, while there are plenty of spots for cruising, English- speaking Canadians tend to be relatively timid cruisers. Canadian politeness and reserve are wonderful for such things as no one ever cutting you off in traffic but it's a tad frustrating if you're trying to meet a man. My suggestions: Take the initiative. And persistence can pay off.

Another somewhat gay area is up-and-coming Commercial Drive -- which I dubbed "The People's Republic of Commercial Drive." The strip between Parker and Broadway is a wonderful mix of socialists, lesbians, earthy-crunchy fags, slackers, new-agers, ethnic cuisine and much more. It's the heart of counter-cultural Vancouver which, like much of English-speaking Canada, is otherwise peopled by relative conformists -- at least from an American perspective.

But don't get me wrong: I love Canada. I love the politeness, the order and competency, the exchange rate (the gringo dollar is worth $1.53), the food (good & cheap), and ... well, the Canadians.

Canada is more evolved than the U.S. I suppose it's easier to make progress with one-tenth the population and a less socialist-phobic history. British Columbia has one health-care system and thus drastically lower premiums (around $26 a month) than we do in the U.S., one car-insurance company and thus lower rates than we do, etc. When you remove the profit motive from certain necessary services, often they can be provided to more people for less cost than in a free-market environment. Oops, I'm preaching.

Here then is my list of six cool things to do on a quickie visit to Vancouver:

  • Circumnavigate Stanley Park on foot

  • Eat dim sum in Chinatown

  • Stroll Robson Street

  • Go to The Royal pub Friday evening at 6:30
  • vancov3.gif - 15.96 K Stanley Park

  • Drive across the Lion's Gate Bridge

  • Eat sushi on Denman Street.

    A good daytrip, summer or winter, is the drive to the foofy ski resort Whistler. While the pre-fab and annoyingly expensive town itself is completely soul-less, the series of chair lifts to the mountaintops are an awesome journey and the views from the summits are well worth the pricey lift ticket. I even saw two grazing black bears on the way up.

    vancov5.gif - 33.37 K The provincial capital on Victoria Island

    Victoria, the provincial capital on Victoria Island, is a second day-trip option (get an early start). While the city itself is way too touristified, the ferry journey from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay is remarkable as the huge BC Ferries ship winds around scores of scenic islands. Day trips are also possible to various smaller islands.

    All in all, Vancouver makes for a trouble-free, English-language, gastronomically delightful, aesthetically enchanting getaway. I liked it so much I stayed three weeks.

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