Holiday Favorites from around the US
Going My Way: Hometowns and Holidays
Columnist Dennis Hensley shares his fave things about spending the holidays in L.A. and reaches out to friends in Dallas, New York, Chicago, Portland, and Atlanta for their yuletide picks
One of my favorite holiday traditions has nothing to do with Santa, Jesus or the decking of halls. It’s about enjoying tasty, warm liquids with good friends, while wearing layers, which you rarely get to do in Los Angeles. Yes, I love it when the Starbucks cups turn red.
I know that doesn’t exactly scream “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men” but oh well. It makes me feel Christmassy. As does going to see the yearly production of Bob’s Holiday Office Party, an uproarious play about a gaggle of small town boozers, one of whom takes a dump on stage — sort of.
I also cherish my yearly visit to Candy Cane Lane with my friends Brett and Danny. Candy Cane Lane is a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley where the local edict seems to be, Decorate your house like crazy or move the f#@% out! So we get fajita-ed up at Mexicali restaurant in Studio City, grab a Starbucks, then pile in Brett’s SUV and head to CCL. Each year, we forget which freeway exit to get off on, so we call our friend Jerry, a Valley boy from way back who claims he’s now too cool for CCL, to remind us. We’ve already set a date for this year’s outing but frankly, I’m worried about the toll our tanking economy will have on Candy Cane Lane. This year, it may consist of a couple of flashlights pointed at a cardboard Shrek. It’ll still be fun though, because it always is.
We all have our holiday rituals; some offbeat, some traditional. So in the spirit of sharing, I’ve reached out to some friends in different cities to find out what they love about the holidays in their hometowns.
Paul J. Williams’s Dallas:
Though his stand-up comedy can sometimes be sly and biting, Paul J. Williams has nothing but love in his heart for his hometown of Dallas at Christmastime. “It’s one of my favorite times of the year,” says Williams, who is a regular emcee for RSVP Vacations and produces the comedy show at Aspen Gay Ski Week. “Couple that with the incredible affection I have for my city and you get a perfect combination.” Awesome, so where do we start? “NorthPark Center. This mall is a gay man’s fantasy anytime of the year. Christmas just kicks it up a notch. There are always cute boys to look at there and the lavish decorations turn it into a holiday wonderland.”
And if it’s outdoor pleasures you’re after, Williams recommends a carriage ride through Highland Park. “Seeing all the decorated mansions always gets me in the holiday spirit. I have a hilarious memory of taking a carriage ride with a dear friend who is one of Dallas’s many lipstick lesbians. We were sharing the carriage with another couple and they wanted to know if our kids were in the Highland Park Schools! Sure, my girlfriend could pass for straight, but me? That was a real Christmas miracle.”
Melissa Carter’s Alanta:
For Melissa Carter, who co-hosts Atlanta’s popular morning radio program The Bert Show, Atlanta during the holidays isn’t so much a feast for the senses as a buffet. “Atlanta’s made out of suburbs so I think the beauty of Christmastime is to go to each neighborhood and see what they have to offer. Whether it’s Buckhead, Dunwoody, Decatur, or Roswell, each town has its own tree-lighting ceremony and it’s fun to see plays like A Christmas Carol because each neighborhood playhouse has their own twist on things.”
And if all that ‘hood-hopping makes you hungry for a little country cookin’, Carter knows just the place: the Swallow at the Hollow restaurant. “It’s basically a simple cabin with wooden tables and chairs but they have the best food. If you want to feel the Southern part of Atlanta, it’s a great place to have some cocoa and dessert and listen to some live music.” You had us at swallow, Melissa.
“Call me Scrooge, but Christmas irks me,” admits Marc Acito, the writer behind the hilariously un-irksome novels How I Paid for College and Attack of the Theater People. “I’m not opposed to peace on earth and goodwill toward men, particularly if they’re cute, but I resent being told I have to feel holly jolly if I don’t friggin’ want to.”
For those of us who wish to join Marc in escaping the forced cheeriness of the season, Portland offers plenty of diversions, like Powell’s City of Books for example. “You can wander through a block’s worth of new and used tomes 365 days a year, including Christmas. Or you can spend a whole week watching the Northwest Film Center’s “Black Christmas” festival of film noir classics, including Sunset Boulevard, The Asphalt Jungle, and Strangers on a Train.”
If you’d rather get your subversive X-mas kicks from a live performance, Acito has just the ticket. His play Holidazed is currently packing them in at the Artists Repertory Theatre. “It’s a twisted comedy that features a frustrated soccer mom, a pagan street kid, a bossy ghost, and two gay guys who play everybody else,” explains Acito. “It’s part of my campaign to bring Christmas back to its raucous Bacchanalian roots, putting the fruit in fruitcake, the soul in solstice and the dick in Dickensian.” Wow, I might just have to hop a plane.
Amy Methany’s Chicago
“Nothing like the holidays in Chicago,” asserts Amy Methany, a radio veteran turned podcaster who currently helms the popular Windy City Queercast. “I like the lights on Michigan Avenue, shopping in the gayborhood of Andersonville, ice skating downtown…but for me, it is all about the holiday shows.”
An actor and lifelong theater junkie, Methany is looking forward such holiday offerings as David Sedaris’s comedy The Santaland Diaries starring fellow Queercaster Mitchell Fain at the Theatre Building, the Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker, which this year is giving a sexy spin to the classic with Land Of the Sweets: a Burlesque Nutcracker, and The Windy City Gay Chorus‘s 30th annual holiday concert at the Gay and Lesbian Center on Halsted Street. “You can grab a bite to eat in the lobby at the Whole Foods, check your email at the computer center, and there’s lots of good people watching at the Center.”
Speaking of good people-watching, one of Methany’s favorite nights out in Chicago is a year-round tradition that is particularly festive at Christmastime: Show Tune Mondays at the Boystown bar Sidetrack. “It’s a great chance for gays to sing along to musicals and enjoy holiday cheer and cocktails. Perfect after a busy day of shopping.”
Jack Mackenroth’s New York City
Jack Mackenroth makes his living in fashion so it’s no surprise that his favorite things about the holidays in Manhattan are fabulous and fashion-forward. “I absolutely love to go see the holiday window displays at Barney’s,” gushes the Season 4 Project Runway designer. “They’re always brilliantly over-designed, grotesque, and fabulous at the same time. Barney’s Creative Director Simon Doonan is a genius.”
An accomplished swimmer, Mackenroth likes to stay active in the wintertime by ice skating at the temporary rink in Bryant Park, which, coincidentally is where Project Runway‘s Fashion Week finales are held. “I like to pretend I’m Diane Von Furstenberg in skates while I practice my triple-axles,” he quips. “Then it’s off to Starbucks for an eggnog latte.”
In a red holiday cup, of course. It wouldn’t be Christmas without ’em.