There’s plenty to love about New York, L.A., Miami, D.C., but what about all the other bustling albeit smaller cities across the country that don’t get nearly enough love?
I love visiting these less densely populated metropolises – like Detroit, for instance. I took a trip to Motor City for my birthday last year to catch a Tigers game, and I was shocked to see so much development. It’s an area ripe with culture and nightlife and incredible real estate opportunities, especially for limited-budget millennials, and I expect only major improvements to Detroit in the future. Memphis, Tennessee, is another place that thoroughly impressed me a couple years ago with its dedication to musical diversity, delicious food and a noticeable commitment to preserving our environment. (The tight-denimed bros in cowboy boots didn’t hurt either.)
Recently I spent a few days in Columbus, Ohio – never been; didn’t know what to expect – and I was similarly and pleasantly surprised. Located smack in the middle of the state, this capital city is bursting with commerce and entrepreneurship, fine dining, a robust and active LGBT community, and more activities than you’ll be able to do in one visit. (Plus a whole lot of sports-loving, beer-guzzling gay men-folk to feast your eyes on.)
Here are six reasons I’m head over heels for Columbus – and you will be, too.
1. Columbus is home to one of the most stunning new hotels in the United States
Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, Hotel LeVeque, located in the downtown business district, is an elegant, upscale retreat in a freshly renovated art-deco high-rise overlooking the Scioto River. The place feels luxe and extravagant as soon as you turn through the revolving doors to enter the lobby seemingly plucked straight from an Upper East Side “Gossip Girl” set, but it’s the rooms that’ll really wow you. I’m pretty sure I was the first person ever to stay in mine – the joint just opened about two months ago – because there was nary a fingerprint or speck of dust anywhere. The toilet paper hadn’t even been broken.
Gilded in gold, the room included a plush king bed with decadent linens; fully equipped desk; velvety chaise in the corner for lounging; a telescope!; marbled bathroom; and a massive shower, with a convenient bench, that you could pile about 15 Gindr tricks into if you’re feeling frisky. Party at your place! Perhaps the most appreciated aspect of the setup, however, was the intuitive technology system that allowed me to connect my streaming accounts for movie watching, receiving messages, using the Internet, and throwing my personal device screen up on the TV – which is perfect for squeezing in a little bedtime porno action if you bring your boo.
2. If you love hands-on activities with a gay sensibility, this is the place for you
I’m totally a “maker” kinda dude. My guy and I often look for hands-on, take-home activities for date night, and Columbus saw me coming. Not only is its local business/entrepreneur community thick as thieves – the vast amount of cross-branding will restore your faith in the American dream – but there’s an abundance of opportunity to get your hands dirty with something to show for it.
While I was in town I practiced my metal-stamping skills in a jewelry-making class at The Smithery; designed and felted a genuine alpaca-fleece scarf with the help of couture designer Celeste Malvar-Stewart at her studio at Hangar 391 (after a trip to the alpaca farm to meet the animals!); learned the basics of flower arranging and bread making at the aptly named Flowers & Bread (also a working bakery selling morning pastries); and I created my now-signature scent of ginger ale, grapefruit and cilantro to customize a refreshing candle at The Candle Lab. There are lots of other activities you can join – like soap and wine making – which you’ll discover in the Made in CBUS trail guide available at local tourism org Experience Columbus.
3. Drag queen extraordinaire Nina West calls Columbus home
Drag shows usually aren’t my idea of a good time – but hear me out before you lose your mind. I’ve gone to plenty of drag shows, and, frankly, the majority of the time those tired queens haven’t bothered to learn the lyrics of the songs they’re lip-syncing. It’s frustrating when you’ve come to see a show. They’re just up there spinning and flouncing and moving their mouths, then throwing me shade because I won’t tip them.
You gonna have to do your job to get my dolla bills, la-dy.
There have been exceptions, of course, like the incredible drag brunch at Palace on Miami’s South Beach – those gals put the werk in twerk! – and most recently, incomparable Columbus-native Nina West’s full-on drag spectacle “Ohana,” performed at Axis, which takes liberty in rewriting memorable Disney songs, riffs on politics and provides plenty of bare-chested male dancers to keep your eyes peeled. Like you need anything else.
4. The restaurant scene rivals that of any top 10 city
There’s no shortage of celebrated restaurants in Columbus – I cooked my own rock filet on a 500-degree tulikivi firestone at Elevator Brewing Co., and enjoyed some of the best calamari I’ve ever had at Hubbard Grille – but two establishments really stood out.
Pop into to authentic Italian eatery Basi Italia, if only for the impressively tasty zucchini carpaccio, flash sauteed then tossed with lemon juice and slivered almonds and topped with pecorino Romano (this mini-review is coming from someone who isn’t keen on vegetables, by the way), and if you somehow end up with a hangover (there’s plenty of opportunity for that at all the breweries and distilleries in the area), I recommend Katalina’s headache-curing pulled pork tacos, Latina sandwich and life-changing (not an exaggeration!) Original Pancake Balls, for which the place is famous. They’re deep-friend and filled with Nutella, y’all! You’re welcome.
5. Columbus’s LGBT bar scene is on and poppin’
It was about 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday when I arrived at LGBT watering hole Union Cafe, and the joint was already buzzing. Cuties inside, cuties outside on the patio – cuties everywhere, really. Not so packed that I couldn’t move, but there was a healthy, chatty crowd that made my pre-dinner drinks worthwhile. Later, I caught Nina’s show at Axis, which opened its doors to a sold-out crowd. All these LGBT bars that are closing across the country should call Columbus to see what’s up; they’re doing something right.
6. There’s just something about corn-fed Midwest men
From an outsider’s perspective, Columbus is a mecca for college-athletics-loving, rural-raised, city-seeking gay men. With scruffy boy-next-door faces. Who wear dingy backwards ball caps and butt-hugging Levis. Basically everything that makes my pingle tingle. Now if you’ll excuse me…