The Best Destinations For Gay Bachelor Parties (Passport magazine)
In Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare famously wrote: “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.” The iconic line, written in the late 1500s, has had a lasting impact on young men for centuries. With the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, these inspiring words can truly resonate with gay men who now have the possibility to wed. To bachelor party or not to bachelor party—that is the question.
Marriage is fairly new to the gay couple in a legal capacity, and the accompanying, pre-wedding bachelor party is a pastime to consider when tying the knot. A tradition for the groom, the bachelor party has been celebrated longer than one would believe—thousands of years, to be exact. Records show that ancient Spartans around the fifth century BCE were the first to honor the groom’s last night as an unwed man, usually with a dinner and a toast. Later, “bachelor” appeared in reference to an unmarried man in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the 14th century. Chaucer, speculated by scholars to have been homosexual, was also one of the first authors to use the term “gay” in possible reference to homosexuality in “The Pardoner’s Tale,” so there’s a vague, unexplored link.
It wasn’t until 1922 when the term “bachelor party” was first published (Chamber’s Journal of Literature, Science, and Arts), describing a “jolly old” party in Scotland. Bachelor party is also referenced with a slang term in different countries (“buck” party in Australia, “stag” party in the UK, etc). While these parties for the groom were first experienced with a certain level of decency, bachelor parties in America have proven to be wild, often drunken affairs. A certain stigma surrounds a bachelor party now, where party buses, strippers, shots, maybe blindfolds, and lots of booze anchor a growing tradition, with typical, low-brow behaviors depicted in classic movies (like Bachelor Party with Tom Hanks in 1984 and The Hangover in 2010). The message: the more you don’t remember, the better your bachelor party was. Stag nights can be low-key and intimate, however, and many groom’s best men are known to take the event to a mature level, helping to honor the gay groom-to-be’s last, unmarried nights with a mild, less-boozy affair shortly before he gets hitched.
Whether they go mellow or gangbusters, the whole point is to celebrate one unforgettable night before the groom begins a long, married life. The bachelor party is a rite of passage, generally planned by the best man, though experienced by all groomsmen and other male friends. Gay grooms should consider and accept a bachelor party the way any groom (gay or straight) would. After all, like marriage, which was initially designated for straight partners, bachelor parties are a tradition that gay men have every right to celebrate.
Some destinations are the ultimate stomping grounds for bachelor parties, garnering decades-long attention around the exciting hotels, restaurants, nightlife, and party atmosphere that make this time-honored tradition truly unforgettable. From Las Vegas to Puerto Vallarta, these North American cities have become legendary for destination bachelor parties, creating a buzz and culture around stag-night celebrations, and providing some serious memories for a soon-to-be groom’s last moments before exchanging vows. Whether an intimate, chilled-out party or a big, gay jolly group taking the festivities to the next level, bachelor parties in our five gay-friendly cities will unarguably be wildly (or mildly) epic.
With its vast gay history, party reputation, and festival fever, New Orleans knows how to throw a shindig, especially with the LGBT community. For instance, take Mardi Gras, the most well-known festival dating back to 1730. Records indicate that a Frenchman who spent time at the first festival was a cross-dressing enthusiast: “I had shaved very closely that evening and had a number of beauty marks on my face, and even on my breasts, which I had plumped up. I was also the one out of all my group who was dressed up the most coquettishly… In fact, unless you looked at me very closely, you could not tell that I was a boy,” (A Company Man: The Remarkable French-Atlantic Voyage of a Clerk for the Company of the Indies). Needless to say, public partying and being fab have gone hand in hand for centuries!
Gay bachelor (and bachelorette) parties are as common here as the dozens of annual festivals. Bachelors can famously go out with a bang, hiring a jazz band for a traditional second-line parade that dances through the French Quarter, a pastime for celebrations and a magnet for bachelor parties. To be in the middle of all the gay action, congregating at the intersection of St Anne and famed Bourbon Street is a must (you can legally drink on the streets), and bachelor party groups will certainly spend late hours at Corner Pocket. This no-frills gay strip club is rough around the edges, but packed to the bone on weekends where young go-go dancers amp the atmosphere with naked thrills. For a more low-key, yet still lively, atmosphere, head to Golden Lantern, one of the oldest gay bars in New Orleans and the official bar for the ever-popular Southern Decadence event. It’s a campy, dive-y watering hole for locals, where sweet bartenders serve up cheap, stiff cocktails. You never know what to expect (drag performances, live bands, food buffet) on any given night.
Speaking of food, hungry men head for The Country Club one of the most iconic places in New Orleans. In the emerging Bywater District, this country club (formerly an exclusive, gay men-only establishment though now open to everyone) offers scrumptious brunch and an outdoor pool for hot, lazy days. The club recently unveiled a massive renovation to its gorgeous interiors, hired executive chef Chris Barbato (from famed Commander’s Palace), and now serves up elevated dishes. For something more grubby, Port of Call, a burger institution for half a century, has garnered attention for its big, juicy, messy burgers. There are no reservations, and throngs of groups crowd outside during peak hours, so get there a little earlier to grab a big table. If you’re seeking atypical thrills, Jackson Square is set up with a collection of tarot card readers, paying tribute to New Orleans’ famously psychic past. For the real deal, book a reading with Cari Roy, the most famous psychic in the city who regularly appears on news programs as a celebrated intuitive.
For a sleepy city that never sleeps, New Orleans has the perfect balance of taking it easy or going extreme, and a selection of diverse accommodations helps steer you in either direction.
W French Quarter makes the perfect crashpad for guy groups. The central courtyard (with outdoor pool) is a great place to be seen, and afterhours partying is perfect in the suites, equipped with backyard patio and Jacuzzi. For bachelors with finer tastes, Ritz-Carlton New Orleans in a landmark, 1908 beaux arts Maison Blanche building, recently unveiled a $2 million restoration. Conveniently located on the brim of the French Quarter, the five-star hotel offers spacious rooms, elegant furnishings, a beautiful spa with indoor pool, and a club lounge fancier than you would expect (think chandeliers, antiques, and centuries-old paintings).
Among the many bachelor party-friendly beach towns in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta remains a coastal haven for gay travelers. Groups hardly need to lift a finger with the renowned level of service, and getting wild can go as late (or early) as the sunrise here. Puerto Vallarta is the only Mexico beach getaway that’s chock-full of gay bars, lounges, and clubs, concentrated around Old Town, which makes bar crawls a must for gay men. Anchoring the scene is Mr. Flamingo, a relatively new gay bar right on a busy corner. Completely alfresco, the bar is compact, so patrons spill out onto the streets as pop hits blare on the sound system, handsome servers make rounds, and revelers dance in a tequila-fueled frenzy after hours. On the same block is Paco’s Ranch, a racy, loud, crazy dance club that often features drag shows. It’s as fierce as it gets in Puerto Vallarta, and it gives you good reason to knock back a Jell-O shot or two (yes, really, that’s served here). Naturally, all good things must come to an end, but not before a quick stop at Wet Dreams. The name of the club is exactly what you’d expect inside: go-go dancers and strippers, many showering live behind the bar, get extra friendly in an otherwise seedy (yet very tourist-driven) establishment. In fact, Wet Dreams is primarily marketed to tourists, enabling their vices, so don’t be afraid to dance with the gay devil in see-through underwear.
The bachelor party doesn’t necessarily end when the clubs close. In fact, some people go straight from dancing shoes to Speedos considering the gay beach (located at the south end of famed Playa Los Muertos, the main beach on the coast) gets busy first thing in the morning. Here, throngs of eclectic gays parade in front of Blue Chairs Resort, a gayowned hotel next to Mantamar Beach Club where you’ll find a mix of locals, West Hollywood boys, and everything in-between. It will cost you to rent a beach chair (or use the outdoor, infinity pool) for the day, but it’s well worth the spend (approximately $20). You can order breakfast, bloody marys, and even massages without having to leave your spot. The view of both sea and men is perfection.
Eventually, you’ll have to sleep (or maybe not), so shack up at Casa Kimberly. Elizabeth Taylor’s former home, now an intimate boutique hotel on an unassuming cobblestone street. It’s designed to feel timeless with blue-and-white tiled staircases, courtyards and arched doorways, and mostly spacious rooms with breathtaking views of the bay. The elegant restaurant here, Iguana, is divine. It serves innovative, modern Mexican with the perfect hillside, sea breeze to add atmosphere. Casa Kimberly is not a party hotel, but it’s a short, convenient stroll to all the action.
Nothing beats a place you can call home, and gay-owned Casa Septiembre serves as a luxurious hideaway for gay groups. The nine-bedroom villa on a quiet, beautiful beach is a self-contained private oasis with outdoor, heated pool, personal staff (including bartender, villa manager and housekeeping), and a convenient location to Old Town and Blue Chair Resort (15-minute walk along the coast or five-minute taxi ride). All rooms flaunt their own balconies, bathrooms, and precious views, and there’s no request the staff can’t meet. You can opt to have fresh meals cooked right at home, and you get your own set of keys so no one can see you stumble in after an unforgettable night out.
For many travelers, desert is the new beach, and Palm Springs leads the desert-chic movement across the country. This quiet desert retreat two hours from Los Angeles has recently blossomed into a world-class resort town, even if famous gay men like Rock Hudson, have been visiting for close to a century. With the recent, ongoing openings of hip hotels, notable restaurants, trendy bars, and major festivals (like Coachella, Palm Springs Film Festival, Stagecoach) fueling its growth, Palm Springs mostly attracts a slew of millennials that now mix with old-time gay residents who have called it home even before its renaissance. Travelers are obsessed with the desert’s low-key, laid-back, chilled-out vibe, and it’s where most bachelor parties that want to avoid the glitz, glam, stress, and expensive price tags, flock east of LA.
While there are few resorts that haven’t spawned a bachelor party buzz (like Ace Palm Springs, Parker, Colonial Palm, and the new Arrive), Avalon reigns as a gay group homebase. The gay-friendly resort, formerly Viceroy, has inexpensive rooms, as well as larger villas with kitchens and backyards, which is an excellent way to have everyone in your group gather in one private spot for intimate toasts. With two outdoor pools at the resort, there’s no shortage of social activities, and Palm Springs’ most famous chef, Tara Lazar, is spearheading the food scene.
Another option, Sparrows Lodge, is like having your own private pad, as long as you don’t mind sharing it with other hip travelers. The 20-room boutique is intimate, designed to feel more like an al fresco barn than a midcentury modern masterpiece. Think vaulted ceilings and shutters on windows, and most rooms are equipped with their own patios. The rustic appeal is a major draw for the lumber sexual type who like to veg out at the central, saltwater pool. With the resort’s no-children policy, and no staff after hours, it’s as private as an adult would want for late-night soirées.
Eight4Nine is all about the fabulous. This gay-owned restaurant with eclectic menu and colorful interiors right on Palm Canyon Drive is a hit for gay locals and travelers alike. Martinis constantly flow and inventive, California coastal-inspired bites hit the right spot. It’s more about the vibe than the food here, and the buzzing outdoor patio with contemporary art is perfect for pets, if you bring Fido in tow.
Just as casual as Eight4Nine are the gay bars along Arenas Road, where gays in tank tops and flip-flops bar hop from midcentury modern inspired lounges to funky dive bars. Most travelers end up at Hunters Nightclub, known for live DJs, go-go boys, a fun atmosphere, and pretty boys on the prowl. The beats are heavy on techno and gay anthems, but the diverse, shirtless dancers are as unique as they come.
Head to Workshop Kitchen + Bar, a stylish, progressive restaurant with industrial design (it’s in a former cathedral and recently won a James Beard Award for design). Award-winning New American cuisine features stellar bites, from fresh-tossed, wood-fired pizza to honey-lavenderglazed black cod, and no one needs to twist your arm for their perfect, seasonal craft cocktails, including punch bowls perfect for bachelor party groups. If you want to tap into your inner Mad Men, don the suit and head to Melvyn’s, a 1920’s supper club establishment where waiters wear tuxes and the cocktails are reminiscent of a bygone era. With an air of Old Hollywood (and frequent celebrity guests like John Travolta), Melvyn’s is a dashing timewarp where you’ll feel like Frank Sinatra will magically appear to serenade your bachelor party.
The most iconic party city in the world, Las Vegas has been bachelorparty approved since the first casino on the strip opened in 1931 (the building of the Hoover Dam and proximity to Grand Canyon also helped it flourish with tourism). Now, chockfull of luxury resorts, casinos, theater, excellent restaurants, pampering spas, world-class shopping, and unrivaled nightlife, Las Vegas is a fantasy destination for bachelor party groups. Sin City speaks for itself, offering a place where guys can bond during a once-in-a-lifetime weekend. In order to fully live out the unhitched life to the last minute, a groom must not resist the temptations of Vegas but embrace it, the way Vegas was meant to be visited. Before the party, the groom and his friends can also enjoy a leisurely time with casual strolls on the strip, art museums, fine restaurants, and visually engaging performances (like Cirque du Soleil).
Check in at W Las Vegas, the newest resort on the strip. The 289-room party pad (taking over one of the towers of SLS Las Vegas) opened to much fanfare for the gay traveler, and with good reason. It’s stylish (rooms and public spaces are designed by popular firm AvroKO; E-Wow Suites designed by Lenny Kravitz); there’s a concentration of lively, high-end restaurants (Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, Katsuya, Cleo, Umami Burger); swank cabanas at the buzzing rooftop pool; and even party bus transportation for a wild night out. If you need more room to sprawl and splurge, book a room at The Palazzo. The Palazzo now allows the public to book their most high-end inventory, accommodations that, up until last year, were only reserved for high rollers. Now, these exceptional suites (from Chairmans to Penthouses) are open for anyone to book. Equipped with butler service, private massage rooms, steam rooms, electronic toilets, private theaters, massive outdoor balconies, and multiple bedrooms, these suites (starting at $4,000 a night when available) are highly sought-after accommodations for intimate bachelor party groups.
The night is always young in Vegas, and groups head to Beauty & Essex, Tao Group’s latest offering at Cosmopolitan. Half pawn shop, half restaurant/bar, Beauty & Essex (second location after NYC’s Lower East Side) has a very Vegas vibe with swank interiors, late-night DJs, decorative and intricate cocktails, diners dressed to the nines, and celebrities like Ciara and Madonna dining in.
Even if you’re not obsessed with Britney Spears, the pop icon continues her dramatic, theatrical performances at Planet Hollywood, where everyone ends up having a blast. The performance sets the stage for wild shenanigans later in the night, pumping up gay groups with the infectious high you’ll experience during the show. End the night at Flair, the newest gay nightclub that opened this past New Year’s. While gay venues historically have short lifespans in Vegas, Flair (ten minutes from the Strip) has shown promise with two dance floors, three bars, hot bartenders, a stage, and an expansive outdoor patio. Sure, the name may be cliche, the cocktails steeply priced, and the entrance fee unnecessary, but it’s a gay club in Vegas. Thanks to the intimate dance floors (rather than large spaces, which can make crowds look slim), Flair is already one step ahead, and live DJs prove they can get crowds moving.
If you’re coming from Los Angeles, JetSuite, a private jet company, launched JetsuiteX, a public charter with daily direct flights from Burbank. It feels like you’re taking a private jet (and some resorts pick you up straight from the runway) for a fraction of the private jet price (it starts at $129 one-way on weekdays).
As the southernmost city in the United States, Key West likes being off the radar, yet it’s not completely removed from the world. In fact, here, you would think they perfected life. The low-key pace is perfect during the day, and the nights are as wild as a gay scene gets. With its far-left liberal attitude, Key West doesn’t bat an eye to nudity (there are clothing optional resorts, bars, and even boat charters), embraces gay culture (it’s been thriving here since the 1970s), and beer is comsumed like water (a strong beer culture makes life easy). Every night there’s a party thanks to the iconic sunset party at Mallory Square where hordes of locals and tourists alike congregate and enjoy fun street performances to boot.
Check in at Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort that sits on one of the best beaches along the shore. There’s a variety of room types, but the best ones are the suites with patios facing the beach. The 1920 hotel offers a stylish pool, beach bar, and even massages right on the golden sand. They also rent cruiser bikes to all guests, which is the best way to get your bearings of the bite-size city. If you’re feeling adventurous, round the boys up and rent mopeds at The Moped Hospital, a historic scooter rental company that’s been renting out a variety of wheels (including their famous mopeds) since 1979.
For a stay that won’t burn a hole in your wallet, Hyatt Centric Key West recently unveiled a multi-million renovation with 120 guest rooms that all have patios, with the majority touting ocean views. It’s become a hot spot for celebration trips (like birthdays, wedding parties, etc), and it’s already one step ahead with champagne at checkin. The location is ideal, right in Old Town and two blocks from Duval Street, so it may feel like a bohemian flash back with the centuries-old attractions nearby like Audubon House & Tropical Gardens (a stunning, well preserved 19th-century home and garden of famed naturalist John James Audubon), and Curry Mansion, the home of Florida’s first millionaire, William Curry, which displays exquisite antiques and ornate furnishings (though it’s not uncommon to just awe at the exterior).
When the commanding sun sets, make a beeline to Aqua, a legendary venue for drag performances, including the house girls, the Aquanettes, and perhaps one of the most “modern” bars on the island (no thatch roofs here). They even offer karaoke two nights a week if you want to belt your favorite show tunes, as a full bachelor party group of course. It’s called bachelor “party” for a reason, and not one of the boys should be left off the hook, especially the groom-to-be.
Creating lasting memories and sharing experiences before the big day is the priority, and there’s no better bonding experience like a destination bachelor party.
This story was originally published in PassportMagazine.com.