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  • Introduction
  • Cruising: Practice and Concept
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  • 1930s: "Window Shopping"
  • 1963: A Letter to ONE
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Cruising Grounds: Seeking Sex and Claiming Place in Houston, 1960–1980

Brian Riedel explores the role of cruising in queer territorialization and place claiming in Houston, Texas, in the twentieth century. Juxtaposing digital maps of queer businesses with an archive of cruising narratives, Riedel shows that while mapping business data offers one visualization of queer territory in Houston, archival narratives of cruising suggest that cruising areas have more complex relationships to commercialized spaces—sometimes directly connected, at other times peripheral and symbiotic, and at others seemingly divorced. These narratives, in parallel with the maps, point to multiple, contested queer territories spread across Houston in memory and practice.

Queer Intersections / Southern Spaces  is a collection of interdisciplinary, multimedia publications that explore, trouble, and traverse intersections of queer experiences, past, present, and future. From a variety of perspectives, and with an emphasis upon the US South, this series, edited by Eric Solomon, offers critical analysis of LGBTQ+ people, practices, spaces, and places.

All three authors also reference cruising, but offer little detail about how cruising works in their models. Using the city of Houston as an example, this essay attends to cruising as an underdeveloped aspect of those models. As Houston's Montrose neighborhood came to be identified as a "gayborhood" between 1960 and 1980, archival evidence shows that cruising narratives played a powerful role in that identification. At the same time, these narratives also show that queer territorialization in Houston was not a smooth process of collective place claiming and recognition. Rather, dissent and conflict over the practice of cruising in Houston shows queer place claiming to be fractured, contested, and structured in part through a politics of respectability inflected explicitly by class but curiously silent on race. Importantly, that fractured and contested structure is due in part to the converging efforts of a wide array of disparate agents: queer sex-seekers, Houston residents, local politicians, civic groups, queer organizations, national anti-pornography groups, and conservative political movements. These narratives also point to complicated relationships between cruising and other markers frequently used to define queer territory, specifically businesses serving a queer clientele.

Scan of magazine showing a street map with the title "GAY HOUSTON." Clubs are indicated on the map.

Men seeking men for sex has never been the sole determinant of queer territory. For those who know how to read it however, both then and now, cruising marks public and semi-public spaces as at least temporarily queer(ed) territory. This marking is how cruising functions not only as a social practice but also as a concept. Through documenting the disparate networks of people who came to meet on Houston's cruising grounds—intentional sex-seekers, criminals exploiting stigmas attached to gay sex, ambivalent law enforcement officials, area denizens, and perhaps initially naïve passersby—I argue that the social distribution of knowledge about cruising illustrates that queer territories functioned in part because some who do not identify as "queer" also imagined those territories as connected to queer lives.

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I first came to live in Houston in 1997. When I arrived, the Montrose neighborhood was the epicenter of a thriving queer community. It was home to the largest concentration of Houston LGBT bars as well as many non-profit organizations, from the Montrose Counseling Center to Pride Houston. There were two queer bookstores, a free monthly magazine, and several free weekly papers. Soon, I was working for one of those papers, distributing copies all over the city. That labor helped me question and reimagine my first assumptions about the distribution of queer life in Houston. In this car-addicted place, queer bars and businesses were not just in the trendy Montrose neighborhood, but in far-flung suburban strip malls as well. Even so, Montrose remained the symbolic core.

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1930s: "Window Shopping"

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"The 'gay circuit'—they didn't know the word 'gay'—was downtown Houston, between Franklin and McKinney and Main Street east to San Jacinto. You could not tell a queer or a fag (the words they used then) from the straight, which was the way the gays wanted it, being fearful for their lives and jobs." 26 Richard Van Allen, " Houston's Gay Thirties ," Montrose Voice , no. 410, September 2, 1988: 9. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/montrose/item/8166/show/8130. This article has echoed in Houston media since then. See also William Michael Smith, " Looking Back at Some of the Hurdles Houston's Gay Community Had to Overcome (Part 1) ," June 20, 2014, http://www.houstonpress.com/news/looking-back-at-some-of-the-hurdles-houstons-gay-community-had-to-overcome-part-i-6736836; " Houston's Earliest Gay scenes (Part 2) ," Houston Press , June 23, 2014, http://www.houstonpress.com/news/houstons-earliest-gay-scenes-part-2-6748546; " 'The Homosexual Playground of the South' (Part 3) ," June 24, 2014, http://www.houstonpress.com/news/the-homosexual-playground-of-the-south-part-3-6737870. tippy('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_18137_1_26', { content: jQuery('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_18137_1_26').html(), placement: 'bottom', theme: 'sosp', arrow: false, allowHTML: true });
"Of course, we didn't know the word 'cruising' then. We called it 'window shopping' and just like now, you know who was gay and who wasn't without asking. You could feel it, whether they had a limp wrist or not. There was this post down in front of Levy's department store. It had mirrors on four sides, and queers would stop and comb their hair there. Oh, you could spot them. If we did want to trick, we could get a room at the Milby or the Texas State Hotel. More often we went home to our apartments."

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A striking way to situate this "window-shopping" area and the Montrose neighborhood in relation to the rest of 1930s Houston is to superimpose them on a now infamous Home Owners Loan Corporation map from the same era (see map above). The areas shaded red indicate the "hazardous" parts of town, where Black residents tended to live, and where the Home Owners Loan Corporation would not insure mortgage loans. The Montrose neighborhood, some two decades old at the time of this map and mostly shaded green, was the "best" type of neighborhood in which to live. Situated at the city's commercial core, the sixteen-block cruising area Van Allen's article described may well have provided opportunities for same-sex contact across both class and racial lines. And yet, Van Allen's narrators never mark race in their stories. The redlining map suggests at least one explanation for that absence, one that complicates any quick analogy to the kind of racial mixing found in Espinoza's memoir: the opportunistic use of public and semi-public spaces for cruising relied on an appearance of respectability that accounted for the persistence of racial as well as sexual lines in Jim Crow Houston.

Gay life in Houston seems relatively trouble-free as nearly as I can tell from my somewhat aloof perch (I don't patronize bars or attend parties or socialize much). A newly opened bar a few blocks distant is attracting great crowds on the week ends, with cars parked for blocks around, and always police watching especially toward closing time. The gay folks I meet seem delighted, and gloomily prophes[ize] that it is too good to last—I haven't heard of any trouble so far, though. Percentage-wise it seems to me this area has fully as many gay folk as any area in any of the larger cities in the North and West. Don't know of any other part of Houston where gay life is concentrated, though, except for a cheap theater downtown where the rough trade operates in amazing quantity and frankness—but could hardly call that gay life! 30 Craig M. Loftin ed., Letters to ONE: Gay and Lesbian Voices from the 1950s and 1960s (New York: SUNY Press, 2012), 114–5. To his credit, Loftin preserves the privacy of these letter writers by masking their precise addresses and substituting pseudonyms for their names. tippy('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_18137_1_30', { content: jQuery('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_18137_1_30').html(), placement: 'bottom', theme: 'sosp', arrow: false, allowHTML: true });

While the writer's self-described "aloof" lifestyle may constrain our estimation of his version of events, the details he provided remain evocative. He spoke to a consciousness that "gay life" could be concentrated, perhaps even that it should be so organized. He also seemed to see himself as living in that concentrated part of town; he did not "know of any other part of Houston where gay life is concentrated" (emphasis mine). Still, he recognized a larger bar scene, though he did not attend it. (The map below provides a visualization of the bars and other businesses of which the writer might have been aware in 1963.)

gay cruise in houston

The letter also captured the writer's sense that, for its size, queer Houston was not so out of step with the larger cities of the "North and West." New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and perhaps Los Angeles were his likely referents. Given the date of his letter and his description of a recently opened and wildly popular bar, it is also likely that his referent was Bob Eddy's Showboat, opened in 1962 on Tuam Street in present-day Midtown (labeled on the map above). For the writer, cruising was a primary if ambivalent index for whether "gay life" was "concentrated" in a particular location. The "cheap" theater he referenced is challenging to specify today given the lack of detail. I have yet to find an advertisement or mention of such a downtown theater in the queer press archive of the time; perhaps its rough trade reputation circulated only through hearsay. Whatever theater it was, the letter clearly shows that as late as 1963, this author's imagination of queer space in Houston was explicitly linked to present day downtown and Midtown. Montrose did not figure in his letter at all, even though Art Wren's had operated there for about seven years and had in 1962 already appeared in a local publication in California.

Another key index for the writer's imagination of gay life comes in the phrase "rough trade," a term still in use today. Then and now, the "rough" of "rough trade" signals men whose affect and physical appearance are both more working-class and more masculine—men who are not just "straight" acting and appearing, but who also might actually be more dangerous to approach, though that risk might itself be part of the thrill of approaching them. "Trade" signals that these men may, in fact, see themselves as straight, and that they could be only "dabbling" in same-sex activity. It also signals that these men might be seeking male clients in exchange for money, regardless of their or their client's sexual preferences. The writer to ONE gestured to this sexual ambiguity of "rough trade" when he divorced the downtown scene from what he called "gay life." At the same time, we might wonder how the writer himself was aware of the theater scene. He may have participated in it, at least enough to know just how abundant and frank the rough trade was. In any event, he does not disclose how he came to have that knowledge, even in the pages of a homophile magazine.

Importantly, the writer is also silent on the subject of race, a silence that suggests Jim Crow culture continued to texture both "gay life" and "rough trade" in the 1960s just as it had "window shopping" in the 1930s. At the same time, respectability politics are both explicit and implicit in his "aloof" observations. He marks the scene around the newly opened bar with cars "parked for blocks" and patrons who presumably have disposable income to spend at a bar, all signs pointing toward respectable middle-class status. By contrast, the "rough trade" scene at the "cheap" theater points to lowbrow entertainment and potentially sex work; their "amazing quantity and frankness" also signals their divergence from middle-class respectability.

1965: The "Phantoms" of Avondale

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By 1965, three bars had also opened near the Avondale area: Numbers on California, the 900 Club on Lovett Boulevard, and the Round Table on Westheimer. Business owners and newspaper editors whose livelihoods depended on steady commerce likely also understood that the safety of their customers ("the good people of our community") was a prerequisite for their reliable patronage: all the more incentive for Bob Eddy—owner of Houston's Showboat and editor of The Albatross — to launch his paper with the "phantoms" as front-page news.

1970–1972: "Risky Crusing" and "The Heat"

Scan of magazine with words "risky crusing don't" cascading down the page.

The round-robin at Lovett Boulevard, Roseland, Hawthorne, Stratford, California, Avondale—well, you know the area better than I. This is not risky but just dangerous as h—. There have been many, many crusy [sic] queens beaten, stabbed, robbed and almost killed from picking up tricks in this area. This bad news area is a definite "No-No."

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1971: "Come and Browse, or Vice Versa"

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of Martinson's letters or the police memos explicitly mention race.

1974: "Rough Trade"

For Davis, not all cruising areas come equally recommended. He specifically evaluates them in terms of their "roughness," with all the gender and class markers animating the 1963 letter to ONE . The cruise area section of Davis' article continues the pattern of past cruising narratives and gives no guidance about the racial mix of men frequenting any specific area. However, the individual bar listings within the article do occasionally reference race and nationality. The clientele of the country/western Golden Spur "includes some tough Latins and blacks"; the Gold Room gets a nod toward the end of the article as "an old established black bar"; the Athens Grill and Bar on the Houston Ship Channel is recommended as "the place to go for Greek sailors who, when a little drunk, swing either way," a variation on the theme of rough trade. None of these three bars are close to any of the cruise areas Davis names, however.

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Of those cruise areas, Davis found the roughest one to be the Midtown corner of Bell and Main that hosts Simpson's Dining Car, the Exile Lounge, and, though he does not mention it in writing, the Woodrow Hotel. One hint toward the hotel's role comes when Davis notes "[o]nce Simpson's was a 24-hour restaurant; now it closes at 1 a.m. to avoid serving some of the hustlers and roughs who settle almost all night on the corner of Main and Bell." On the last page of the article, he also describes the Exile as "probably the most recommended of the rough bars."

To complete the implication, an examination of two accompanying photographs of Simpson's Dining Car and the Exile Lounge reveals the Woodrow Hotel looming in the background of both, boldly advertising "75 Rooms," "75 Baths" and "Air Conditioning" on the wall facing Main Street. Industrious Ciao! readers would also have seen that the Damron Guides for 1971 and 1972 also list the Woodrow Hotel.

For hustlers cruising for a living, that single block provided a ready-to-hand circuit of the necessities: food, drink, a steady stream of potential customers, and a private room and bath when it came to business. For out-of-town and local johns looking for the right place to go, Ciao! pointed the way. At Main and Bell, cruising and commerce commingled in a much more intense and intentional way than the Story Book on Alabama.

Such tactics aside, MCA's flyer campaign clearly required significant planning and volunteer effort, from designing and printing the flyers to the volunteer time of handing them out at multiple intersections on multiple nights. Although attorney Petronella is the sole name listed on the organization record, clearly he was not acting as a lone agent. Other community organizations were involved, perhaps even the Houston Police Department, especially if the new location for the Circuit would not also be subject to a police crackdown. Presumably, MCA also checked with the residents and business owners in the proposed new location to be sure cruising would not present a problem to them as well.

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Other crimes catapulted into the national consciousness. As Montrose residents and cruising men were engaged in their turf wars, Dean Arnold Corll had already begun what would come to be known as the Houston Mass Murders or the Candy Man Murders, in a gruesome nod to Corll's family business. Between 1970 and 1973, he and his accomplices are believed to have abducted, sexually tortured, and killed at least 28 teenage boys. While most of these boys had deep connections to or were taken in the Houston Heights area, the symbolic impact of the murders extended to all of queer Houston when the case was finally exposed in 1973 after one of Corll's accomplices murdered him. At the time, it was the worst serial murder case in United States history. The denouement of the Candy Man Murders played out the same year the American Psychological Association removed its classification of homosexuality as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

The traffic begins increasing at dusk, is heaviest between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. and continues until approximately dawn [… ] Most of the vehicles circle 10 or more times, but some have circled 50 or more times in one night. Depending on the day of the week, there are between 10 and 40 cars circling the block […] It's not unusual for four or more cars to be queued at each stop sign, waiting to turn the corner.

Taken together, these seven narratives of cruising do not describe an uncontested process of place claiming and recognition as Levine's model implies. Instead, they show territorialization through cruising to be temporally bound, conflicted, and structured in part through a politics of respectability explicitly linked to class concerns but uniformly silent on race. Considered alongside the brick-and-mortar locations of commerce and consumption that informed my earlier ArcGIS animation , these cruising narratives show that queer territories often operate on very different scales within and across multiple spaces. In these stories, the most typical scales of urban territory described are specific street corners, a few adjacent blocks, or occasional larger areas. Sometimes, but not always, these cruising grounds are connected to the commercial spaces privileged in the animation.

As the narratives attest, the practice of cruising has proponents and detractors. Tension over this practice in Houston largely stemmed from the range of agents involved and the variety of positions these agents took up on cruising. Over the years of analysis, the queer press promoted a number of stances on the behavior: discretely framed warnings, explicit admonitions that conveniently double as instruction manuals, and almost celebratory accounts of where specific kinds of action are to be found, ranked by dangers not limited to the threat of an encounter with the police. Queer and non-queer agents also intervened in a coalition to curb cruising. The Montrose Citizens Association had some degree of cooperation from the Gay Political Caucus and the Metropolitan Community Church. That alliance of respectable, community-oriented organizations built on years of residential complaints of noise and traffic even as Houstonians learned about a murderous gay prostitute in Montrose. The City of Houston directly engaged through policing, constituent messaging, and posting signage. Resilient sex-seekers responding to all of these agents seem to have found other places to pursue the chase, in part through cruising grounds remembered from other times. They had many alternatives available in collective, living memory, from cruising spots in downtown, Midtown, Montrose, Memorial Park, the Galleria, and beyond, to the adult bookstores and video arcades across the Houston landscape. At the same time, sex-seekers persisted in cruising areas like the Montrose Circuit, despite continuous efforts to displace them.

As such, these seven cruising narratives present queer territory in Houston as a fractured and shifting network of sites imagined and contested by multiple populations, some of whom also participate in those scenes. Such an arrangement of queer territory strongly supports Ghaziani's concept of "cultural archipelagos" more than any model of a single, "gayborhood" enclave. Moreover, Gieseking's mental maps offer a well-attuned method to document the multiple social networks imagining those multiple cruising areas, at least for those living today. For the departed, the method of archival research present in works like this one will have to suffice.

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Acknowledgments

In a note of gratitude, more people than I can name here contributed in meaningful ways to this essay. I am thankful for my writing group; Melissa Bailar, Anne Chao, and Robert Werth saw this work in its very first stages. I am indebted to the Rice University Feminist Research Group and Christina Hanhardt for formative feedback on what turned out to be the bones of this essay. I am also grateful to JD Doyle, Martin Sunday, and the editors and anonymous peer reviewers of Southern Spaces for their insights and commentary. All errors and omissions remain my own responsibility.

Many thanks as well to Southern Spaces staff member Stephanie Bryan, who helped create the digital maps published here.

About the Author

Brian Riedel is the associate director of the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice University, where he received his Ph.D. in Anthropology. His work has been published in the Journal of Mediterranean Studies , PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review , Somatechnics , CITE: the Architecture and Design Review of Houston , and in the anthologies AIDS, Culture, and Gay Men (University of Florida Press, 2010) and Homophobias: Lust and Loathing Across Time and Space (Duke University Press, 2009).

Espinoza, Alex. Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime . Los Angeles, CA: Unnamed Press, 2019.

Ghaziani, Amin. There Goes the Gayborhood? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Loftin, Craig M., ed. Letters to ONE: Gay and Lesbian Voices from the 1950s and 1960s. New York: SUNY Press, 2012.

Sears, James Thomas. Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Gieseking, Jen Jack. " LGBTQ Spaces and Places " in LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History , edited by Megan E. Springate. Washington, DC: National Park Foundation, 2016. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/lgbtqheritage/upload/lgbtqtheme-places.pdf.

Houston LGBT History.org . JD. Doyle Archives. Accessed December 4, 2020. http://www.houstonlgbthistory.org.

The Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project . (Houston, TX). Accessed December 4, 2020. https://olohp.org/index.html.

ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives . University of Southern California Libraries. (West Hollywood, CA). Accessed December 4, 2020. https://one.usc.edu.

Riedel, Brian. " CSWGS Where is LGBTQ Houston? " Rice University. Youtube video, 3:56. March 15, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baSgYQtkTSI&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=RiceUniversity.

Stone, Amy L. " The Geography of Research on LGBTQ Life: Why sociologists should study the South, rural queers, and ordinary cities ." Sociology Compass 12, no. 11 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12638.

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Montrose "Gayborhood"

Founded in 1911 by an eccentric oil tycoon, Montrose is Houston’s famous “gayborhood”, home to our rich and vibrant counterculture movement. Montrose housed an estimated 30-40 gay bars by the late 1970s, and even today stays true to its spirited roots. For those seeking a Houstonian adventure with a little more sparkle than most, Montrose provides plenty of exceptional options.

Hotel Zaza lobby and restaurant

Built in 1923 as the palatial private residence for Walter W. Fondren, one of the founders of Humble Oil & Refining Company, La Colombe D’Or on Montrose Blvd. is now a swanky boutique hotel. With its own art gallery and a renowned restaurant to boot, La Colombe is a posh spot and beloved historic landmark that Montrose holds dear. Though its infamous ballroom was recently demolished to make room for a new high-rise, it’s still a coveted destination and highly-sought location that can serve as a weekend getaway or even the perfect venue for a wedding. A little over a mile down the street from La Colombe, where Montrose turns into the Museum District, sits the sumptuous Hotel ZaZa . This Montrose-adjacent luxury hotel has pool villas, concept suites, a high-end day spa, and the Monarch Bistro with its award-winning fare and a gorgeous view of Mecom Fountain and the Museum of Fine Arts. Montrose-area Airbnb options are some of Houston’s most excellent, with ivy-wrapped bungalows and craftsman porches galore. 

Crowd eating and drinking at Boheme restaurant

When day turns to night, Montrose is so much more than meets the eye. Along the leather-beaten path, RIPCORD on Fairview is an iconic kink bar with a laid-back feel and the distinction of being the second oldest gay bar in Texas. Fridays and Saturdays at Etro have some of the best new wave, synth pop, and 80s music the city has to offer. Not to be outdone in the 80s arena, Houston’s most beloved goth venue, Numbers , has some of the finest underground entertainment in the city. The award-winning premier burlesque revue, Dem Damn Dames , holds their acclaimed monthly production at Numbers every last Friday of the month. Wildly captivating and bawdy, Dem Damn Dames is body positive and regularly features both femme AND male “boylesque” performers churning out jaw-dropping acts for packed crowds.  JR's is an H-Town staple among the GLBT crowd, offering cheap drinks, quick services and a good mix of music and videos. Scenesters flock to Montrose’s South Beach club for wild, dance-filled nights and potent drinks. Lastly,  the Eagle is a great mix of a neighborhood bar and fetish/leather hangout.  Check out more Montrose-centric nightlife here .

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The 9 best gay cruises for 2024 (+ planning tips).

Dance parties, drag queen performances and fun destinations await on these LGBTQ voyages.

The Best Gay Cruises

A party on board The Cruise With La Demence

Courtesy of The Cruise with La Demence

Embark on an all-gay or LGBTQ-friendly cruise for excellent entertainment, food and excursions.

Whether you are looking to hop aboard a Pride Week cruise with a major line or sail away with a smaller company that specializes in LGBTQ voyages, the following cruise operators promise a fun, safe and memorable vacation.

(Note: While many of these cruise lines sail to LGBTQ-friendly ports of call, travelers should research destinations to learn more about cultures, customs and safety in each location and determine what's right for them.)

Virgin Voyages

Atlantis events, brand g vacations, celebrity cruises, royal caribbean international, the cruise with la demence, source journeys.

Travelers lounge on a gay cruise with VACAYA

Gabriel Goldberg | Courtesy of VACAYA

Founded by avid travelers Randle Roper, Patrick Gunn and John Finen, VACAYA bills itself as the first all-LGBT travel company in the full-ship charter/resort buyout sector of the travel industry to launch in more than 25 years.

"[VACAYA] was sparked by our own vacations, where we all had encountered two very different experiences," says Gunn. "The all-gay cruises were liberating, empowering and fun, but limited to a small spectrum of people. And while everyone loves a good time, there's more to a memorable vacation than just parties. Mainstream vacations offered more activities and destinations, and were accessible to a diverse set of people, but didn't always feel like a friendly, judgment-free environment."

As such, VACAYA set out to bring LGBTQ travelers from across the spectrum together in a welcoming, inclusive setting, while offering varied onboard activities and immersive itinerary options. Cruisers will enjoy traveling to ports around the world, in the Caribbean , the Galápagos, Europe , Antarctica and more. You can participate in shipwide events ranging from themed deck parties to performances by LGBTQ entertainers to rejuvenating yoga classes. Note that VACAYA's cruises are for adults only.

Previous cruisers had abundant praise for VACAYA's voyages, highlighting the company's responsiveness when booking and the kindhearted staff, as well as the genuine connections they made with other passengers on board. Many were also impressed by the events and entertainment options throughout their sailings.

In 2024, VACAYA will offer a number of voyages worldwide. The seven-night Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Apex in February will sail round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, with several fun-filled days at sea in addition to stops in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Antigua. In August, VACAYA has a 12-night river cruise in Northern Europe on board Advance by Transcend Cruises; this sailing includes the Amsterdam Pride event. The 11-night Antarctica expedition on Atlas Ocean Voyages' World Navigator in December 2024 is sold out, but you can join the waitlist.

The pool on a Virgin Voyages cruise ship

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

The Virgin brand has long been known for its celebration of the LGBTQ community, and cruise line Virgin Voyages is no different. The strictly adults-only cruise operator aims to provide a unique experience, with onboard tattoo parlors, impressive live entertainment, and dining options that include more than 20 eateries and menus created by Michelin star chefs. This line gets the stamp of approval from previous LGBTQ cruisers, who praise the ships' gender-neutral bathrooms, diverse staff and onboard shows with resident drag queens.

Virgin Voyages offers gay-specific sailings through travel companies like Atlantis Events, but its more mainstream itineraries still offer a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere that attracts LGBTQ cruisers year-round. Virgin hosts a number of events during Pride Month each year, including deck parties and interactive social media campaigns.

"Each June here at Virgin Voyages, we like to go big for Pride Month with larger-than-life events … all monthlong," the cruise line says in a statement on its website. "It's an important time for us – both internally within our crew and for our sailors – to honor and celebrate the LGBTQ community; who for so long has had to continually fight for equality and the right to be seen, heard and included."

Virgin Voyages sails to a variety of LGBTQ-friendly countries, including New Zealand, Greece and Spain. In June 2024, consider a seven-night sailing aboard Scarlet Lady departing from Barcelona with stops in Marseille and Cannes in France as well as Spain's Palma de Mallorca and Ibiza.

Read: The Best Cruise Lines for the Money

The world's largest gay and lesbian travel brand, Atlantis Events was founded in 1991 and welcomes more than 20,000 travelers annually on LGBTQ vacations. For its all-gay cruises, Atlantis charters megaships from popular lines like Royal Caribbean International , Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages in addition to smaller vessels with companies like Oceania Cruises so cruisers will have a fully immersive experience.

On board, travelers can enjoy all the perks these ships have to offer (think: pools, hot tubs, sports courts and plenty of dining choices), plus special events like drag performances, motivational speakers, LGBTQ movies on demand in each cabin and high-energy circuit parties across the ship.

"As an LGBTQ cruiser, you're looking for a ship with lots of entertainment, including dance parties and events," says Marcos Martinez, founder of Men Who Brunch, a Black gay lifestyle blog. "One of the best cruise [lines] for gay cruising is Atlantis, since you'll be able to meet hundreds of attractive men and party all day and night on the ship."

Atlantis hosts primarily gay men; women make up about 5% to 10% of bookings, according to the Atlantis website. Previous cruisers said the atmosphere on board was fun, friendly and welcoming, though some noted that the company's customer service could be better, especially when it comes to details about the cruise.

Due to the company's popularity, its three 2024 cruises are already sold out.

Read: The Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean

Travelers on an all-gay cruise with Brand g Vacations pose in front of the Taj Mahal

Courtesy of Brand G Vacations

Specializing in all-gay river cruises – and now luxury ocean liners – Brand g Vacations was founded in 2011 and explores destinations all over the world. Chartered river cruises typically welcome between 40 and 200 LGBTQ passengers (and their straight allies), which allows cruisers to get to know one another in a smaller setting. Guests tend to skew more mature (think: 40 and older), and the line attracts both men and women.

Onboard entertainment differs slightly from larger ocean voyages: Expect more cabaret-style entertainment than massive all-night dance parties. Cruisers will also enjoy performances by drag queens, gay Broadway stars and more, on top of typical river cruise perks like sightseeing and lavish meals. Past guests recommend choosing Brand g if you're looking for a well-planned, relaxed and luxurious experience over a busier, more party-heavy vacation.

Brand g aims to provide a nearly all-inclusive cruise experience , with Mercedes or small van airport transfers, upscale hotel stays prior to embarkation, and unlimited alcoholic beverages as well as meals included in the fare. As such, prices tend to be on the high end. Plus, cruisers can feel good about their trip knowing that Brand g donates to causes in the U.S. and around the world that assist LGBTQ refugees, AIDS organizations, LGBTQ centers and more.

In 2024, Brand g sails through unique waterways around the world, including the Amazon, the Loire, the Danube, the Mekong, and the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest. The line's small cruise ship charters also take guests to Iceland, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Croatia and other European destinations.

Read: The Top River Cruise Lines

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Tips on Trips and Expert Picks

Travel tips, vacation ideas and more to make your next vacation stellar.

Aerial shot of Celebrity Cruises ship Celebrity Apex at sunset

Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises sets the scene for an excellent vacation for gay travelers, from its extravagant annual Pride parties to its daily LGBTQ programming throughout the year. The mainstream line has received numerous awards for its inclusivity, receiving accolades from the Cruizie Awards, TTG Travel Awards and Travel Weekly's Magellan Awards for being one of the best cruise lines for LGBTQ passengers.

LGBTQ cruisers can start their vacations off on a high note with a special welcome party on the first night of their voyage to meet other travelers on board. After night one, there are other social events for gay cruisers to party and hang out together. Additionally, Celebrity Cruises was the first cruise line to legally marry a couple at sea in 2018, and it continues to perform same-sex marriages on its ships.

Past cruisers enjoyed their voyages with Celebrity, noting that the line was welcoming, the food was delicious, and there were plenty of areas to hang out as a group with fellow LGBTQ passengers or other companions throughout the ship.

Although all itineraries are gay-friendly, consider booking a sailing during Pride Month in June for an extra special experience. Onboard entertainment during this month includes guest entertainers, a flag raising ceremony, Celebrity's signature Pride Party at Sea and more. The Italian Riviera & France cruise will depart from Barcelona on June 8, 2024, on the new Celebrity Ascent; this 10-night Mediterranean sailing stops at ports in France, Italy and Malta. Private travel companies like VACAYA also charter Celebrity ships for all-gay voyages throughout the year.

Read: Cruise Packing List: The Top Essentials for Any Cruise

Young Lesbian Couple on Boat Trip on Summer Vacations.

Getty Images

Specifically marketed toward lesbians and LGBTQ women, Olivia has hosted more than 350,000 travelers by land and sea over five decades. Cruisers can choose between river voyages or ocean sailings to destinations around the world. On the lesbian cruises, expect a mix of nostalgic decade-themed dance parties, folk singers, writing workshops, karaoke and other activities. Cruisers can also relax poolside, spend some time in the onboard spa or take it easy in one of the ships' lounges.

Travelers who are looking to connect with others who share similar backgrounds can do so in one of Olivia's specialized programs. There are group and solo traveler meetups, as well as programs like Sisters, which is for LGBTQ women of color; Gen-O, for cruisers 40 and younger; Women in Uniform gatherings, for veterans and those currently in the armed forces; and events for OWLs (which stands for "older, wiser lesbians"). Past cruisers on Olivia's voyages report feeling a true sense of community and belonging on board, resulting in a fun, carefree trip.

In June 2024, set sail with Olivia from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Dublin on Windstar Cruises' Star Legend. Or, visit the islands of Tahiti on the line's Star Breeze in September. Other cruise itineraries include Alaska, the Greek Isles, Mexico and the Panama Canal.

Read: The Best Girls Trip Ideas

Aerial shot of Royal Caribbean International cruise ship

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean International provides a welcoming and inclusive experience for LGBTQ travelers. The popular cruise line frequently partners with Atlantis Events to offer all-gay voyages throughout the year, but even the standard sailings earn praise.

Highlights of the sailings are the ships' entertainment options (including the Tony Award-winning musical "Mamma Mia!") and attentive staff, according to past cruisers. Itineraries typically include LGBTQ meetups at the beginning of each cruise for gay travelers to meet like-minded passengers. Outside of the sailing experience, Royal Caribbean has also publicly committed to supporting the LGBTQ community throughout the year, and it was the first cruise line to earn the title "Gay Traveler Approved" from GayTravel in 2016.

In 2024, consider a Royal Caribbean voyage that sails to gay-friendly destinations. "Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, [is] full of gay bars, clubs and gay beaches," says Martinez. Hop aboard Navigator of the Seas in May for a seven-night sailing round-trip from Los Angeles that stops in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Ensenada, Mexico. Navigator of the Seas also hosts a seven-night itinerary throughout the year that calls on Mazatlan, Mexico, as well.

Ready to plan a cruise? Find the best value sailings on  GoToSea , a service of U.S. News.

A party on board The Cruise With La Demence

Courtesy of The Cruise With La Demence

According to past cruisers, if you're looking for one of the best party scenes on the open seas, consider an all-gay cruise with La Demence. Powered by a popular gay nightclub in Brussels with the same name, La Demence – French for "the madness" – primarily caters to a European crowd. Most passengers are male, though women are also welcome.

On board, passengers should expect to dance the night away at massive deck parties that last into the wee hours of the morning. The line prides itself on its top-notch DJs, impressive light setup and electric party atmosphere. Previous cruisers had high praise for the itineraries – which exclusively visit gay-friendly locations – as well as the fruity cocktails, themed nights (costumes strongly encouraged) and glamorous entertainment. Enjoy unique events like drag bingo, high heel runs and more.

La Demence sails every summer to European destinations like Greece, Italy and Malta. The 2023 cruise was chartered on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. Fares include all food and nonalcoholic beverages, plus access to all parties, shows and the onboard gym.

Read: The Top Party Cruises

Source Journeys has been planning luxury vacations for LGBTQ travelers for more than 20 years. The Miami-based company, with the vision of founder and chief executive officer Craig Smith, offers small group land tours and full-charter cruises for like-minded travelers with a focus on giving back to the communities they visit. The company also supports LGBTQ organizations, such as the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign.

Past guests of their tours say their fellow travelers were as fun and interesting as the destinations. They appreciated the excellent personalized planning for the trips by Smith and his life partner, Rafael Rodriguez.

The company's cruises in 2024 include a seven-night Galápagos sailing in late September on a Relais & Chateau luxury yacht: Ecoventura's new ship, Evolve. The intimate ship accommodates just 20 passengers. Source Journeys is also offering a seven-night river cruise through Burgundy and Provence, France, in June on Avalon Waterways' Avalon Poetry II, as well as a seven-night voyage from Venice along the Dalmatian Coast. This ocean cruise scheduled in August is chartered on Star Clippers' masted sailing ship, Royal Clipper.

Frequently Asked Questions

When it comes to gay cruising, gone are the days of discreet "Friends of Dorothy" meetups. The term – a euphemism that dates back to the 1950s – was once used to indicate gay social events on daily cruise line programs, without explicitly calling out members of the community on board. It's a far cry from today's LGBTQ cruising industry, which loudly and proudly celebrates passengers from all walks of life.

According to experts, LGBTQ cruising is a market that will only continue to grow. Travelers can take their pick between cruise operators tailored specifically to queer communities and major cruise lines that offer festive Pride celebrations and inclusive onboard entertainment. As travel on the high seas continues to grow in popularity for vacationers, gay and lesbian travelers should consider setting sail on a fun-filled cruise vacation for their next trip.

When planning a cruise, vacationers should first consider what their ideal sailing looks like.

Gay-friendly vs. all-gay sailings: Cruisers should think about whether they'd like to travel aboard a gay-friendly mainstream line – such as Celebrity Cruises or Virgin Voyages – or opt for an all-gay, full-ship charter with a third-party vacation company.

"Each and every LGBTQIAPK person has a different level of comfortability in their 'outness,' " says Patrick Gunn, co-founder and chief marketing officer of LGBTQ vacation company VACAYA. Of VACAYA's all-gay charters, he adds, "For one magical week, our community gets to be the majority and live life out loud in the blissful utopia VACAYA creates on a gay cruise. That single change from being an always-minority to a sudden majority can have a profoundly positive real-world effect on individuals."

  • Travel style: Some cruise operators (think: Atlantis Events and La Demence) are known for their electrifying all-night parties, which may be perfect for gay groups of friends. Meanwhile, other companies like VACAYA and Olivia look to provide a more diverse selection of activities, ranging from tea dances (LGBTQ parties that, historically, included tea service) to philanthropic service activities to immersive onshore experiences.
  • Ports of call: Some of the most LGBTQ- and gay-friendly destinations for cruises include: Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Sydney; Barcelona, Spain; Taipei (Keelung), Taiwan; Helsinki; Quebec City; Auckland, New Zealand; Mykonos, Greece; Reykjavik, Iceland; Amsterdam; Tel Aviv, Israel; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and San Francisco. Countries that gay travelers may want to avoid include the Maldives, Jamaica, Morocco, Malaysia and Haiti, as homosexuality is illegal in these destinations.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

Gwen Pratesi has been an avid cruiser since her early 20s. She has visited destinations around the globe on nearly every type of ship built, including the newest megaships, luxury yachts, expedition vessels, traditional masted sailing ships and intimate river ships on the Mekong River. Pratesi covers the travel and culinary industries for major publications, including U.S. News & World Report.

You might also be interested in:

  • The Best Cruise Lines
  • The Top Solo Cruises (No Supplement Fare)
  • The Top Themed Cruises
  • The Top 3-Day Cruise Itineraries
  • The Best Cruise Insurance Plans

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Houston’s 18 Essential LGBTQ Bars

Bars like Buddy’s, Kiki Houston, and Ripcord are perfect places to party all Pride-long

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For more than a century, even before Pride Month ’s origin in 1969, gay bars have persevered around the world as a way for the LGBTQ community to connect and celebrate. Houston’s gay bars, in particular, have been a place where people can convene regardless of their identity and have played a key role in Montrose developing its reputation as the city’s “gayborhood.” While more safe spaces exist, gay bars are still a cornerstone in the community, while also being a prime place to enjoy a happy hour cocktail, a drag show, or a night of dancing.

And fortunate for Bayou City, Houston’s diversity, even among the LGBT community, means there’s no shortage of gay hangouts. Grab a beer and relax with friends at Robert’s Lafitte in Galveston, the oldest gay bar in Texas, or hit up the newly reopened South Beach in Montrose for a long night of drinks and dancing. Don’t forget the city’s more unique hotspots, like Michael’s Outpost, a cabaret and piano bar, or Pearl Bar, one of only two lesbian bars in Texas.

Whether you identify as LGBTQ or if you’re just an ally in for a good time, these 18 essential Houston gay bars are sure to be your new favorite neighborhood bar year-round.

Welcome to Houston’s LGBT Pride paradise.

The Room Bar and Lounge

For those located outside of the beltway, this one is for you. This quaint bar and lounge is still standing strong after 15 years of business, with the comforts of home, drinks galore, and friends you haven’t met yet. Come listen to celebrated DJs every Wednesday through Sunday, and enjoy daily drink specials. In the mood for an event? Step in for its drag shows, drag bingo, karaoke, or even professional and amateur strip nights.

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La Granja Disco Y Cantina

Open Wednesday through Sunday, La Granja is home to drag shows, DJs, and so much more. Enjoy the spacious areas to dance, socialize with a few bartenders, or try a few of its frozen drinks. Here, partiers can play a game of pool, have a few Latin bar bites, or watch the drag shows that kick off every Sunday at 10 p.m. Special events happen every week, so be sure to check its website for what’s on the schedule.

Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon

Show off a polished pair of boots and a 10-gallon hat at Neon Boots, a country-western dancehall and saloon. Here, patrons will encounter plenty of country music and line dancing, but don’t be surprised to hear pop hits, Latin music, and other eclectic genres. Not ready to go solo? Loosen up during its generous happy hour from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Then, take a dance class or two before stepping onto the dance floor. There’s always a person on standby ready to help anyone master the Texas Two-Step.

Pearl Bar Houston

One of only two lesbian bars in Texas, Pearl Bar has made a name for itself as the only spot in Houston geared toward queer women. Aside from its incredibly special performances, including drag king shows and guest DJs, Pearl has a full events calendar with steak and bingo nights, Queen karaoke, and a crawfish boil every Sunday starting at 3:30 p.m.

Tony's Corner Pocket

All are welcome to enjoy the hilarious drag performances, friendly bartenders, plenty of hot international dancers, and well-mixed cold drinks. Bring enough $1 bills to tip the entertainers and enjoy the amateur strip competitors. With the bar exuding high energy, there is a little something here for everyone.

Crocker Bar

Crocker Bar is a dark, loud, but inviting little bar that serves as the perfect place to grab a drink before venturing out to the rest of the gayborhood. Locals love the chill atmosphere, friendly bartenders, mixed crowds, and stiff drinks. The DJs play a mix of today’s hits and throwbacks to keep party-goers dancing all night long.

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The self-described oldest leather bar in Texas, Ripcord has been a fixture of Houston’s gay bar scene since 1982. Whether or not you’re part of the local leather community, take in Ripcord’s beautiful murals while enjoying a few vodka-flavored drinks at a spacious bar, and be sure to grab a bite from local weekend taco trucks conveniently located a few steps away. Check out its website or Instagram for a rundown of its Pride festivities , which include kink demos, drag shows, DJ sets, scheduled speakers, and more.

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George Country Sports Bar

George is a no-frills, divey country sports bar, complete with a pool table, darts, and a jukebox to keep regulars and newcomers alike entertained. Catch a game on one of the TVs while cheering on your favorite team with the crowd of hometown sports fans, down a specialty rainbow jello shot in one of George’s large novelty syringes, or chill out on the patio and enjoy the local scenery. Hungry? George also offers steak nights.

See the rainbow barcode and flag on the side of this bar, and you’ll know you’re in for an eventful night. At this one-of-a-kind, welcoming Houston bar, you’ll find a host of celebratory performances and events on any given day of the week. From karaoke four times a week to drag shows Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, you’re bound to be entertained. Ask a bartender for Barcode’s specialty drink recommendations, like a classic long Island with a twist of local seasonal flavors, or opt for something more adventurous like its Belvedere concoction.

Buddy’s opened in 2019, making it one of Houston’s newer players, but it made a splash quickly by becoming the first LGBT bars in the country to serve as a polling location in the 2020 presidential election. Enjoy drinks from award-winning bartenders, delicious bar eats, and the latest hits from renowned DJs, plus free entry all night. Be sure to take check out its themed nights, including its Theme Queens drag shows on Mondays, karaoke and trivia on Tuesdays, steak nights on Wednesdays, and Latin Night on Thursdays. And mark your calendars on June 17 for its sixth annual Pride bar crawl .

KIKI Houston

As the name suggests, this Montrose nightclub offers a place for friends to truly unwind. Along with plenty of space to be social and “kiki,” the nightclub offers space for karaoke, lip-sync battles, beauty pageants, RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties, and its Thursday night tradition of Show of Shows, a must-not-miss event where performers and drag queens lay it all on the stage.

ReBar is currently only open Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight as it undergoes interior renovations. Until that’s completed, you can book a table for all-ages drag brunches with a full menu, which ReBar says is a tease for its new look. Check out the po’ boys with shrimp, chicken or roast beef debris; seafood boards; meaty flatbreads and other Cajun-inspired snacks alongside a cocktail — the featured frozen cocktails change regularly.

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Eagle Houston

Open since 1970, this legendary Montrose bar has so much to offer. Take the staircase up to Eagle’s Phoenix room and gaze at a timeline of major historical gay events on the wall. Take a moment to examine a salvaged door from the historic bar Mary’s. Or peruse its selection of products and intimate wear in its in-bar store. No visit is complete without sampling its specialty cocktail drinks, which can be enjoyed on the Eagle’s second-floor patio.

South Beach Houston

South Beach is back. After four long years of renovations, Montrose’s cornerstone gay club re-opened July 2022 for drinking, dancing and partying. The space has been updated with luxury decor and a 450-pound chandelier, but don’t worry, the ice jets have remained to spray cold fog on the dancing crowd during hot Houston nights.

JR's Bar & Grill

JR’s is the neighborhood staple bar with a relaxed atmosphere. The expansive space harbors three events at any given time, meaning a drag show could be going on in one room, while karaoke and a RuPaul’s Drag Race watch party are happening in the others. Outside is a scenic courtyard patio complete with a fountain and water misters for sultry summer days. Shoot some pool, or sip cheap booze with friends. There is always something to enjoy at this bar.

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Michael's Outpost

Open since 1998, this charming piano bar has cultivated a devoted crowd of regulars thanks to its cozy, intimate vibe; its weekend drag shows, and its seemingly neverending lineup of events. During the week, swing by for a live piano performance with classic tunes. Enjoy a few drinks with plenty of seating available, or chat up the bartenders for some good conversation and solid recommendations.

Robert's Lafitte

Tucked away off of 25th Street is Galveston’s best-kept secret. Islanders flock to this bar for the unassuming atmosphere, fabulous drag shows, and ice-cold drinks. The tropical-themed courtyard patio also has a pool for patrons to enjoy, but what might be most remarkable is the history of Robert’s Lafitte. Opened in 1965, long-time owner Robert Mainor owned the spot from 1970 until his death in 2022, making it the oldest LGBTQ bar in Texas.

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Imbibe at These 16 Galveston Dive Bars

Rumors Beach Bar

Set to move to the historic Strand district soon, Rumors Bar is currently calling 31st Street and Seawall Boulevard in Galveston its home. The sleek industrial space is illuminated at night with disco balls and multicolored lights. Enjoy the view of the water from the bar’s upper deck or the view of the drag queens dancing on the stage.

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Inside Bette Midler’s Steamy Rise to Fame at a Gay Bathhouse (Exclusive)

The Oscar-nominated star launched her career performing at the Continental Baths, a gay cruising spot on New York City's Upper West Side, in the '70s

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

In 1970, an openly gay man named David Vass was launching his career as a lighting and tech director when he was hired to oversee the sound and lighting at the Continental Baths, which were housed around the giant swimming pool under the Ansonia Hotel on New York City's Upper West Side.

The 'Baths,' as it was called, was a popular gay men’s sex club and cruising space, and at 48,000 square feet, it was massive.

While it was successful as a (not so) secret sex club, the Baths' owner, Steve Ostrow, decided that on Saturday nights he'd add live entertainment, and hired the then relatively unknown singer Bette Midler, who had been a cast member in the original 1967 Broadway run of Fiddler on the Roof , to perform once a week under a three-month contract at $50 a gig. (She later renegotiated him up to $100 a pop.)  

“It was the most primitive sound and lighting cabaret system in all of N.Y.C., I think,” Vass tells PEOPLE exclusively, of having to figure out how to make the sound work for both Midler, and the Baths' in-house pianist, a then unknown Barry Manilow.

“I made lighting out of tin cans, used my friends who were back-up singers to ‘borrow’ good microphones from their studio sessions. I couldn’t use a spotlight because it was a basement and the ceiling was very low. It was a mess," Vass says. "Barry Manilow could never keep the piano tuned because of all the humidity.”

Still, he'll never forget watching Bette Midler become a superstar after those bathhouse gigs. it was an instant success, but he says some of the patrons, who were there to meet other men, were initially confused.

“Some of the regular guys who frequented the Baths scratched their heads, wondering, ‘What was this woman with wild red hair, in thrift shop clothes and outrageous makeup doing here, standing by the piano and singing tunes from the '40s and cracking bawdy jokes?” he says with a laugh.

However it wasn’t long before the regulars, and then a host of celebrities, became fans of her show.

“Suddenly A-listers and socialites were lining up to get in on Saturday nights,” Vass recalls.

“Alfred Hitchcock, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger , Truman Capote, Liza Minelli, Rita Moreno, Princess Margaret, Valentino, Carol Channing, David Bowie, Lee Radziwill, Bob Fosse and Gwen Vernon, you name it. They loved 'Bathhouse Betty,' and it was the place to be seen on Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight. There were paparazzi lined up outside, trying to get shots of all the famous people who came.”

Vass says that before each show, Midler would sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" a cappella, before launching into her act. “She knew the audience would stand up for it, along with the gay bathhouse patrons, many of whom dropped their towels and mooned the celebrity audiences," he says with a laugh. "Bette had an outrageous sense of humor and always got off on that moment. She knew how to handle her audiences, always with humor and a wink.”

Pierre Venant/WWD/Penske Media via Getty

He says Midler would then launch into her set, most of which were retro tunes from ‘30s female singing groups like The Andrews Sisters. In between songs, she'd let out a stream of salty jokes, and she had two back-up singers named The Harlettes — the original ones were Melissa Manchester and Cissy Houston, Whitney ’s mom.

“Originally there were velvet ropes to envelope the folding chairs for the mostly straight, very trendy, patrons to watch the show from... to keep then ‘contained’ from what was happening in the back rooms,” Vass says.

“But it only took a few weeks and the Saturday night glitterati would sneak off and ‘explore,' and let me tell you, did they get an eyeful. There were candy dispensers filled with small packets of KY, the dispensers at the entrance to the two showers filled with a medication to use to kill lice. The water fountain was filled with mouthwash.”

Vass says by the time Midler's three-month contract was up, she had signed a record deal with Atlantic Records. Her first album, the Divine Miss M, would be released in 1972, and she skyrocketed to stardom from there, winning a Grammy for best new artist in 1974.

When Midler played her final show at the Baths, Vass says at least 500 people showed up.

“You have to remember, this was in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel, with leaking water pipes, cockroaches, a steamy pool and no air-conditioning. That night was so hot, makeup was melting down everyone’s faces,” says Vass of that final, very hot show. "But it was a night to remember."

Soon after Midler left, Vass, who recently published the memoir Liar, Alleged: A Tell-All of Sex, Celebrities, and All the Rest, about working with the biggest names in the cabaret biz at the time, says the Baths started to decline in popularity.  

“Drug dealers started showing up to push angel dust and Quaaludes, and the gay patrons started to feel used during the Saturday night shows,” Vass says. “They felt like monkeys in the zoo, to be gawked at by straight socialites.” He adds, “You must remember, it was illegal to be gay until 1980. In those days, the FBI, the military police — they sent undercover men into the baths and if you were recognized, you lost your job, your family or worse.”

A year after landing the job, Vass got a better gig at a popular cabaret in the Village. “I landed the tech director position at the trendiest, real cabaret in NYC, Reno Sweeney,” he says. It was there that he worked with acts like Peggy Lee and Little Edie Beale.

Courtesy of David Vass

By 1976, he says the Continental Baths had closed. “They tried to put in a disco floor and DJ and lure gays back in, but it was too late,” he says. “Then they tried to turn it into a straight bathhouse but that didn’t work,” he says, of the baths rebranding into a sex club for straight people called Plato’s Revenge.

Though his gig at the Continental Baths lasted only a year, Vass says he’ll never forget that time or having witnessed Midler becoming a star.

“I still think back on those days and laugh,” he says. “Her jokes, her ability to charm all those A-listers. I later worked with Grammy and Tony winners, but the best part of my job was the excitement of new talent like her finding themselves.”

He adds, “Those ‘Bathhouse Betty’ gigs could never happen now. It was a place and time where New Yorkers were looser, more experimental, had a sense of humor,” he says, adding, “I miss those days.”

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  • child abandoned

29-year-old mother who left children alone while on a cruise has done it before, court records show

Mycah Hatfield Image

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A 29-year-old mother who is accused of leaving her two young children home alone while she went on a cruise has allegedly done it before, according to court records.

Lakesha Woods Williams is charged with abandoning a child with intent to return and is being held on a $25,000 bond.

The Harris County Precinct 5 Constable's Office was called out to her luxury high rise in the Memorial City area for a welfare check on April 9. Neighbors had expressed concerns about children being unattended.

"Many of the residents were worried about the children and have said this is not the first time that something like this has occurred," Williams' charging document stated.

There, they found her 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son alone in the apartment, which they noted was in a state of disarray.

The children told deputies they had been alone since April 4 and that their mother was on a cruise. They said they did not know when she was coming home.

PREVIOUS STORY: Mom left her 6- and 8-year-old kids alone at their Memorial home to go on a cruise, records state

Deputies noted that the apartment smelled like urine, and it was apparent the children had attempted to prepare food for themselves. They also found a webcam she used to check in on them and a phone that the 8-year-old was using to communicate with Williams while she was away. It was confiscated by deputies.

Williams had flown to Miami five days prior and boarded a cruise to Puerto Rico, according to deputies.

When deputies contacted Williams, they said she was uncooperative and changed her story about where she was.

On Friday afternoon, Williams appeared before a magistrate, who said that the mother's bond would be set higher than usual on the charge because there are allegations that similar circumstances have occurred before.

If Williams posts her $25,000 bond, she will have to get a GPS ankle monitor and adhere to a curfew.

Her children are now in the custody of her sister, and the magistrate issued a protective order that prevents her from communicating with or being near her daughter and son.

She is due back in court on April 15 at 9 a.m. before Judge Brian Warren.

For more on this story, follow Mycah Hatfield on Facebook , X and Instagram .

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  • CHILD ABANDONED
  • PARENTS CHARGED
  • MOTHER ARRESTED
  • CHILD HOME ALONE
  • CHILD ENDANGERMENT

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Houston Mother Faces Felony for Leaving Children Alone While on Cruise

A Houston mother has been arrested and charged with a felony after allegedly leaving her two young children alone for an extended period while she embarked on a cruise. Lakesha Williams, 29, is facing charges of abandoning a child with intent to return, a serious allegation that underscores the gravity of the situation discovered by authorities.

According to court records, Williams left her 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter in their high-rise apartment on April 4. Neighbors, who had observed Williams depart with luggage, alerted authorities after they did not see her return. A concerned resident of the apartment complex subsequently requested a welfare check on the children, prompting law enforcement to take action.

When deputies arrived for the welfare check five days after Williams’ departure, they encountered an apartment in “complete disarray,” with a “potent smell of urine” and food waste scattered about. The children themselves informed the police that their mother had left to vacation on a cruise and that they were uncertain when she would come back.

The court complaint noted that Williams had made arrangements to supervise the children remotely using a video camera and a cell phone, through which the children could text her. Despite these measures, the authorities determined that the children had not been under proper adult supervision during their mother’s absence. “These children were definitely left unattended for many days and put in serious harm’s way,” said Keegan Childers, the chief prosecutor of the 209th District Court.

It was reported that Williams, upon her return from the cruise that took her to Puerto Rico, initially provided law enforcement with false information about her identity. The children were subjected to a medical examination, deemed to be in good health, and released into the custody of their aunt.

Relevant articles:

– Mom accused of leaving 2 young children home alone for days to go on cruise

– Mom left her 6- and 8-year-old kids alone at their Memorial home to go on a cruise, records state , KTRK-TV, Fri, 12 Apr 2024 03:27:13 GMT

– Texas Woman Charged – Kids Abandoned While She Was on Cruise , News Talk 96.5 KPEL, Fri, 12 Apr 2024 09:17:07 GMT

– Mom left kids home alone for several days while she went on a cruise, deputies say , Arizona’s Family, Fri, 12 Apr 2024 16:30:00 GMT

A Houston mother has been arrested and charged with a f […]

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Live updates, texas mom left young kids, 6 and 8, home alone for nearly a week while she vacationed on a cruise: cops.

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A Texas mother was arrested after she allegedly abandoned her two young kids to go on a cruise — leaving the children home alone for nearly a week, officials said.

Lakesha Woods Williams, 29, was hit with two charges of child endangerment last Thursday after officers found her 8-year-old and 6-year-old alone in their high-rise apartment complex in Houston with no adult supervision, according to the Harris Country Constable- Precinct 5.

Williams left her kids to take her solo vacation on April 4 and returned the night of April 10. She was arrested the following day.

Lakesha Woods Williams mugshot

Concerned neighbors called emergency responders after worrying about the siblings’ welfare, according to the constable.

The neighbors saw Williams leaving the building with luggage on April 4 and noticed she failed to come home after several days, according to court records obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Deputies visited the apartment on April 9 and found the two kids alone in the apartment trashed with garbage and food all around the floor and a “potent smell of urine,” the documents state.

The place was in “complete disarray,” deputies said.

The children said their mother had left to go on a cruise and was communicating with them through a camera in the apartment and via text messages to the 8-year-old.

The kids were checked by paramedics as well as Child Protective Services. They were removed from the apartment and are now in the care of their aunt.

Harris County Constable car with Lakesha Woods Williams in the backseat

Neighbors told deputies it was “not the first time” they had been left at home with no adults.

“We are still putting together the facts and circumstances of how these children were left alone for several days,” Constable Ted Heap said. “But the important thing is they are safe now and those responsible should be held accountable for leaving these kids in an unsafe situation.”

Williams was booked into Harris County Jail on a $40,000 bond, according to jail records.

She is set to be in court Monday.

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Lakesha Woods Williams mugshot

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  14. LGBTQ+ & Gay Cruises

    Celebrity Cruises ® is proud to offer legal same-sex marriages on board. The motion follows a transformative vote in Malta, where a majority of the Celebrity fleet is registered, which passed the country's parliament 66-1. The long-awaited referendum opens the door for Celebrity to legally recognize same-sex marriages performed on board, and ...

  15. The (Not So) Straight Facts About Houston

    Guava Lamp has live entertainment some nights, great martinis, an array of video screens and music at decibels that allow conversation (and, of course, cruising). Regulars at Club 1415, a laid-back dance bar, love to mingle on the spacious patio. Houston's hotel scene has truly blossomed in recent years.

  16. Montrose, Houston's Gayborhood

    Founded in 1911 by an eccentric oil tycoon, Montrose is Houston's famous "gayborhood", home to our rich and vibrant counterculture movement. Montrose housed an estimated 30-40 gay bars by the late 1970s, and even today, stays true to its spirited roots. For those seeking a Houstonian adventure with a little more sparkle than most, Montrose provides plenty of exceptional options.

  17. The 9 Best Gay Cruises for 2024 (+ Planning Tips)

    The Italian Riviera & France cruise will depart from Barcelona on June 8, 2024, on the new Celebrity Ascent; this 10-night Mediterranean sailing stops at ports in France, Italy and Malta. Private ...

  18. The Club Houston

    Located in the Midtown area near Downtown and conveniently located near Montrose, The Club Houston provides a clean and safe haven in the heart of the city. We offer a relaxing environment where men from all over Texas (and beyond) can forget about their hectic lives for a few hours and be able to enjoy themselves. Come sunbathe on the patio, take a dip in the heated pool, heat things up in ...

  19. TOP 10 BEST Cruising Spots in Houston, TX

    Top 10 Best Cruising Spots in Houston, TX - April 2024 - Yelp - Terry Hershey Park, Buffalo Bayou Park, Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, Gerald D Hines Waterwall Park, Clear Lake Park, Pawm Springs Dog Park, Mulberry Park, El Jardin Del Mar, Xtreme Off Road Park And Beach, Armand Bayou Nature Center

  20. BUDDY'S

    Distinctive and Bold. One of our most popular items. Perfect for everyday use. Exceptional quality and choice. Learn more. BUDDY'S: Houston's top LGBTQ+ hotspot. Experience the best gay bar nightlife, events, and vibrant community vibes in town.

  21. The 18 Best Gay Bars in the Houston Area

    Open in Google Maps. 3102 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77550. (409) 497-4617. Visit Website. Celebrate Pride all month long in Houston at places like ReBar, Buddy's, Barcode, The Room Bar and Lounge, Rumors, Ripcord, Pearl Bar, Michael's Outpost, Kiki, and more.

  22. About Gay Cruises & Tours

    About Gay Cruises & Tours / Cruise Center. 800.592.9058. 800.592.9058. Toggle navigation. GAY CRUISES; GAY VACATIONS; GAY ENTERTAINMENT; ABOUT; FAQ; CONTACT; ... A 40-year-old agency located in Houston, Texas! Top award-winning agency from every major cruise line! Tom Baker. President

  23. About Aquafest Cruises

    About Aquafest Cruises - a division of CruiseCenter. 800.592.9058. 800.592.9058. Toggle navigation. GAY VACATIONS; ENTERTAINMENT; ... Is a 17 year industry veteran and former owner of Houston's Gay Advance Damron Vacations; Lori is well traveled and has cruised extensively. ... A 40-year-old agency located in Houston, Texas!

  24. Pride Houston 365 to host Cinco de Mayo celebration at Axelrad

    Pride Houston 365 will host a free Cinco do Mayo celebration at Axlerad on Sunday, May 5, where they will announce their grand marshal vote winners.

  25. 2024 Houston's New Faces of Pride: Community

    HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- With two big LGBTQ+ Pride parades happening downtown in June, Houston's New Faces of Pride knows you have questions. The city's newest Pride organization is hosting a ...

  26. Inside Bette Midler's Steamy Rise to Fame at a Gay Bathhouse

    The Oscar-nominated star launched her career performing at the Continental Baths, a gay cruising spot on New York City's Upper West Side, in the '70s Michael Ochs Archives/Getty In 1970, an openly ...

  27. Houston mom leaves 2 small kids alone at Memorial-area high rise while

    HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A west Houston mother has been arrested on charges she allegedly left her 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter home alone so that she could go on a cruise. Lakesha Woods ...

  28. Lakesha Williams charged: Bond set at $25K for mom ...

    HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A 29-year-old mother who is accused of leaving her two young children home alone while she went on a cruise has allegedly done it before, according to court records.

  29. Houston Mother Faces Felony for Leaving Children Alone While on Cruise

    A Houston mother has been arrested and charged with a felony after allegedly leaving her two young children alone for an extended period while she embarked on a cruise. Lakesha Williams, 29, is ...

  30. Texas mom left kids, 6 and 8, home alone for nearly a week while on a

    A Texas mother was arrested after she allegedly abandoned her two young kids to go on a cruise — leaving the children home alone for nearly a week, officials said. Lakesha Woods Williams, 29 ...