Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti: Surprising Gay Spots in Michigan

By @ 07/18/16 in Gay pride, Gay travel, ManAboutWorld, Michael Verdirame, Travel

ann arbor sign low resWhen thinking about Michigan cities, it’s safe to say that Ann Arbor—and the neighboring town of Ypsilanti—would likely not even make the top 5, which is all the more reason it is so surprising to find not only a substantial gay community, but one that has been thriving for several decades thanks in part to the prominence of the University of Michigan. Many in Ann Arbor believe the city of approximately 200,000 to be so open, that dedicated gay venues are almost unnecessary because gays are welcomed everywhere (even though there are still several gay bars and gay-owned businesses).

Ypsilanti even elected an openly gay mayor, Amanda Edmonds, below, who will happily tell you that AmandaEdmonds-228x300being a lesbian had very little effect on her campaign. All of these things make Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti (or Ypsi, as the locals call it) a great place to spend a few days, especially in the summer. Story and photos by By Michael Verdirame. Read on for our top recommendations for when to go and where to play, eat and more. Click here for a FREE three-month offer to subscribe to ManAboutWorld.

When we go: The upcoming annual gay pride celebration, called OutFest (August 5-7) is hosted by the Jim Toy Community Center. Named after one of the most notable figures in the gay community in Michigan, the center promises a weekend that celebrates “queer identities, community, and allyship.” It won’t be the biggest pride celebration you attend this year, but it makes this weekend the perfect time to schedule a trip to Ann Arbor to discover everything it has to offer.

Where we stay: Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti aren’t huge sprawling metropolises, so you won’t be overwhelmed with all the hotel options. Much of the visitor infrastructure centers around the UM campus, so if you are inclined to stay in your favorite chain hotel, we can guarantee you will find it here. There are, however, a few notable choices in the downtown area of Ann Arbor that are worth checking out, if for no other reason than their convenient centralized location.

Weber’s Boutique Hotel is a charming option that includes a full service hotel and restaurant and an low res ivyindoor pool, making this an attractive choice year-round. There are walking and jogging paths in the adjacent park, and it is located only a short Uber ride away from the dining and shopping downtown.

The Graduate is located in the heart of downtown, within walking distance to shopping and the gay nightlife of Ann Arbor. Catering to out-of-towners eager to take in a football game at the University of Michigan’s famous “Big House,” this hotel offers football weekend packages in addition to boasting its authentic, intellectual vibe. The Graduate is probably the best choice for those looking to combine a convenient location with a unique hotel experience.

Click or tap “Click to read more” below for more recommendations for a perfect Ann Arbor stay.

The Residence Inn Ann Arbor DowntownAnn Arbor, Michigan in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazine is also a great choice based on its proximity to all things fun in Ann Arbor. While we know it is a chain, it is a relatively new property, having opened in October 2015. The Residence Inn brand is meant to attract long term visitors, but as each room is equipped with a full kitchen and free wifi, and a free hot breakfast buffet included in your stay, it also makes this hotel a good choice for those just in town for a long weekend.

Where we eat: There is no shortage of places to eat in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and in the summertime the dining moves outside, with the streets lined with tables and chairs, giving diners an opportunity to show off their meals to hungry passers-by. No matter what type of cuisine you are looking for, you will be able to find it in town, guaranteeing that every dining experience you have will be unique.

The Fleetwood Diner http://thefleetwooddiner.com/ is the best place to begin (or end) the day, as this hip little place is open 24 hours and a stone’s throw away from the gay nightlife in Ann Arbor. Breakfast is available around the clock, but we would be remiss if we didn’t recommend the Hippie Hash, the diner’s own version of hash browns topped with vegetables and feta cheese.

Zingerman’s Delicatessen http://www.zingermansdeli.com/ is another staple in Ann Arbor that is a must for visitors. Famously featured in the movie The Five Year Engagement, this is a great place to stop in for a hot sandwich or a big hunk of artisan cheese. Zingerman’s is a name that is common in Ann Arbor, with other places like Zingerman’s Roadhouse http://www.zingermansroadhouse.com/ also worth a visit while touring the city.

Amadeus http://www.amadeusrestaurant.com/ will be your first stop outside of the United States on your culinary world tour of downtown Ann Arbor. Specializing in Eastern European cuisine, this restaurant not only provides a diverse menu, but does so in a setting that makes you feel as though you are eating in your grandma’s dining room. Don’t leave here without ordering the Borsht!

Gratzi http://gratzirestaurant.com/ will be your stop for traditional Italian food with a modern twist. Nestled in a building that once housed a theatre, there is a second level where diners can observe from above the meal selections of the other patrons, as well as providing an eye level view of a fascinating Renaissance era painting that will give diners fodder for hours of conversation.

The Slurping Turtle http://slurpingturtle.com/annarbor/ is the restaurant of choice for those wishing to sample Asian food, serving delicious noodle dishes and sushi as well as sake for the pre-gamers in the group. Don’t leave here without ordering the fried Brussels sprouts and trying at least one of every flavor of cream puff available.

Tea Haus http://teahaus.com/ is the place to go for the tea enthusiast looking to get away from the traditional American style teas that are so readily available. Owner Lisa McDonald, one of the very few European-certified tea sommeliers to be found in the United States, has made sure that the Tea Haus only serves the best of the best, hand-selected specifically by her. If you are so inclined, and if you can pin her down, Lisa is happy to discuss in depth what makes a good tea, and we promise she will be able to teach you many things about tea that you never knew.

Aut Bar http://www.autbar.com/ (pronounced Out Bar) is THE place to go for brunch on the weekend, the perfect place for gays to see and be seen while enjoying delicious food and high quality drinks. In the summer you can even eat outside on their outdoor patio, located on a side street in the middle of what the local college students have dubbed the “Queer Quad.”

The Ypsi Ale House http://ypsialehouse.com/ is the best place to get your drink on in nearby Ypsilanti, specializing in craft beers that are brewed right on the premises. Located in a building that dates back to the 1920s when it served as a hotel, this relatively new establishment (it’s less than a year old) has owners that have taken great care to try something different while still preserving the charm and character of the space. Don’t just try the beer, though, as the food menu includes some really delicious and unique options as well.

Where we play/meet: While the gay community in Ann Arbor and Ypsi is a pretty respectable size, it does not take up a lot of real estate, so the dedicated gay venues are all within a short walking distance of one another. The place to begin any night out is the aforementioned “Queer Quad,” with the nightlife branching out from there. The best nights of the week are on the weekend, with Thursday through Saturday offering the most options.

Ann Arbor, Michigan in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazine

Aut Bar http://www.autbar.com/ is the only gay bar in Ann Arbor that is gay every night of the week, with Saturday being the best option for those looking to get their drink on. The second floor becomes the venue for their “Turn it Aut” club night.

Live Nightclub hosts Candy Bar http://livea2.com/candy-bar/ on Thursday nights, where the mostly college age crowd is welcomed by DJ Selina Style and her wife Luna, who dubs herself the unofficial hostess of the party. The first Thursday of every month is Drag Wars, an amateur drag contest hosted by drag queen Deja Dellataro.

Necto Nightclub hosts its Pride Night https://www.necto.com/pride-friday.html every Friday night, and is by far the biggest gay dance party for miles around. Set in a huge warehouse-like venue, there are several levels and various rooms to explore and dance, with many different types of music available for all tastes. There is even an outdoor patio to hang out during the great Michigan summers.

Where we shop: One of the great surprises of the Ann Arbor shopping experience is its focus on rare and vintage items—from books to furniture to clothes, an intrepid shopper is sure to leave here with more than a few treasures. There are also quite a few gay-owned businesses that are worth checking out.

Kaleidoscope Books and Collectibles http://www.yelp.com/biz/kaleidoscope-books-and-collectibles-ann-arbor-2 is more than just a shop—it’s an experience. Packed floor to ceiling with old and rare books, sheet music, games and hundreds of other things you didn’t even know you wanted, it’s easy to get lost in (or buried under) all of the items in this store. Don’t leave here without checking out the basement, but…don’t go in alone.

Common Language Bookstore http://www.glbtbooks.com/index.htm is one of the last dedicated LGBT bookstores left in the United States, and is located adjacent to the Aut Bar in the “Queer Quad.” Two floors of all types of gay literature from fiction to family friendly can be found here, and there is even some vintage adult material for sale here as well.

The Rocket http://www.shoptherocket.com/ located in Ypsilanti is a fun and quirky shop that specializes in candy and collectibles, with everything from Hillary Clinton action figures to Batman lunchboxes. One of several gay-owned businesses in the area, you will be hard-pressed to find another shop that has more charm or character.

A2 Vintage http://www.a2vintage.com/ is located right up the street from The Rocket in Ypsi, and is owned by a friendly lesbian couple—Kelly and Anne Callison—who have a self-professed love of “upcycling,” or rescuing old and vintage items and repurposing them. It is definitely worth a stop in here for a look around, as well as a chat with the owners.

What we see/do: Outside of shopping and eating, the main attraction in Ann Arbor is the University of Michigan and its football team, with much of the tourist infrastructure catering to visitors in town for the games. But the rich history of Ann Arbor does provide a few sites that are worth seeing that have absolutely nothing to do with football.

The Yankee Air Museum http://yankeeairmuseum.org/ located at the Willow Run Airport just outside of Ann Arbor is a fascinating collection of airplanes and aviation memorabilia dating back to World Wars I and II, and is built on the former site of an assembly plant for WWII bombers, where the patriotic character Rosie the Riveter gained prominence. Here you can learn about and see aircraft of all types, from helicopters and gliders, and see some vintage uniforms from veterans on display. For a few extra bucks you can even take a flight on a vintage WWII B-17 or C-47 transport plane, which we can guarantee is very much worth it.

The Gerald R. Ford Library Presidential Library https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/ is also located in Ann Arbor, and while presidential libraries might not sound like the epitome of excitement, this one definitely warrants a visit, especially for those with an interest in politics, given the current state of affairs in the US. Guided tours are available on request.

Kayaking on the Huron River is available at the Argo Canoe Livery and the Gallup Canoe Livery http://www.a2gov.org/departments/Parks-Recreation/play/Pages/Canoeing.aspx for those that are inclined to spend their time outdoors. Kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards are available for rental, and the experience is fun for everyone, from beginners to those with a little more experience on the water. This is an absolute must-do activity in the summer.

The Ypsi Water Tower http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-ypsilanti-water-tower-ypsilanti is a must-see for visitors to Ypsilanti, if only for the photo op. Referred to as “The Brick D*ck” by locals, and winner of the title of the World’s Most Phallic Building in 2003 by Cabinet Magazine, there is no way to resist a picture next to what was built in 1890 as a water tower but has now become Ypsi’s most notable structure and the town’s reluctant claim to fame.

Get smart: A great resource for all visitors to Ann Arbor is the aptly named Visit Ann Arbor https://www.visitannarbor.org/ , serving as the official tourism board of the city as well as for nearby Ypsilanti. Additionally a great resource for the LGBT community is the Jim Toy Community Center http://www.jimtoycenter.org/ conveniently located in the “Queer Quad” adjacent to the Common Language Bookstore.

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Disclosure: ManAboutWorld coverage is editorial, not advertorial. Like virtually all travel publications, we sometimes accept discounted and sponsored travel, but ManAboutWorld is beholden to no one but you. Our recommendations are based solely on the experience and opinions of our editorial team and trusted network, putting our readers’ interests above all. If you ever have an issue with anything we recommend, please  let us know.  We always have your back, and your travel satisfaction in mind. Read our full disclosure here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One comment


  1. Ypsi-ite

    I can’t believe you guys missed Bona Sera in Ypsi! Great drinks, amazing, fusion-y food, amazing brunch, local art – and a staple in the Ypsi queer culture.

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