La Dolce Vita Italian Style
ROBERT ELIAS DEATON
As Italian cities go, Venice is more dramatic than gay. While in America, the two qualities often go hand-inhand, in Venice there is a certain chaotic energy that never really sleeps. Even in the middle of the night, voices can be heard drifting from secret alleys where laundry is hung between buildings and gondolas with tiny silver bells navigate the canals taking reclusive dowagers to bed before sunrise, lest someone actually see them in the daylight.
It is not enough to visit Venice; one has to absorb it. Only then can you appreciate the food, wine, art and architecture, and the little family squabbles that overflow unto the street with the appearance of minor wars. These are actually just discussions in the guise of skirmish, for as we said, drama is everywhere here and continues to rise, right along with the tide in the romantic canals, and the cost of living everywhere else.
There’s nothing in Venice that’s reasonable priced, particularly hotels, which think nothing of charging 400 or 500 dollars a night for a room the size of a walk-in closet. Venice is a city of islands connected by bridges, but there are bargains to be found, if you know which bridge to cross and where to look. Our favorite gay bed and breakfast is the Fujiyama (Calle Lunga San Barnaba 2727A in the Dorsoduro sestieri of Venice. It’s a superb place to unwind from the aforementioned drama of Venice, taking its cue not from Italy, but from Japan where the zen is all about calm, and teas, and things like that.
At the Fujiyama, you can get a room from a low 60 euros during off-season, including AC, a private bath, continental breakfast with fresh cornetti and marmalade spreads, and share a lovely Japanese tea garden, with its fragrant jasmine and wisteria flowers, over which the largest room (The Shanghai) looks. Your hosts are Carlo and Wen-yu, and the boys will make you feel both Italian and Japanese within fifteen minutes of your arrival.
Smaller, but with better views, the gayowned Corte Gherardi (Cannaregio 5558) is in the San Marco sestieri just around the corner from the bridge over the Ponte di Rialto.
Rooms here begin at 90 euros, with free wi-fi, and breakfast in bed. It doesn’t get much more mio amore than this.
You can walk from both the Fujiyama and the Corte Gherardi to all the visual treats that Venice offers including Piazza San Marco, where the throngs go to feed the pigeons and buy their T-shirts. The place is named for the Bysantine confection at the far end of the square—the Basilica di San Marco, where the gold-laidened alter, the Pala d’Oro, is housed.
Of course you’ll do the tourist thing in Piazza San Marco. Feel free to walk the streets in the neighborhood, losing yourself in the ambiance that is Venice and throwing yourself into haggling over prices on everything from bologna to designer knock-offs (which make great presents, but are frowned upon at customs).
At Bacino Orseolo 1192), discover the smallest Hard Rock Café in all of Europe. It’s a photo op waiting to happen since the café is located at a gondola terminal—the blue-tarped boats lined up in show-stopping perfection. The bar/café serves all the menu items Americano style, calories included.
Do not miss a side trip to the Palazzo Ducale (Piazza San Marco 1), the one-time home of the Dogé who was the grand poo-pah of Venice way back when. Now it’s a museum to the excess of Venice when it was the center of all things civil.
For lunch, walk around the corner and find Vinovino (Ponte Delle Veste 2007/A) where gondoliers mix it up with baronesses to fight over the breadsticks and glasses of wines that number in the hundreds.
And do not miss the opportunity to take the Vaporetta 1 (the water taxi that hits the hottest tourist spots) to the Riva di Biasio stop where you’ll find I Due Girasoli (San Stae 1908, Santa Croce), owned by two lesbians and is the only gay bar in town.
Vaporetta 1 will also take you across the lagoon to the Lido di Venezi, which was featured in the film “Death in Venice,” and the closest thing to a gay beach in town.
From the gondola stop, walk to the Adriatic side of this six-mile long sandbar, where you’ll find the Petit Palais Lido di Venezia (Lungomare Marconi 56), a delightful boutique hotel where everyone seems to be either gay, gay-friendly, or gay adjacent. It’s where the boys are, doing their thing surfside.
If you really want to party, pack your bags and head to Padua (locally called Padova) which you can get to by train in less than half-an-hour. This walled city is home to the Scrovegni Chapel with its frescoes by Giotto, and the Basilica di Sant’Antonio where you must not miss the frescoes by Altichiero da Zevio in the St. James Chapel.
The hotel value in the center of Padova is the newly remodeled Hotel Milano (Via Pilade Bronzetti 62), which mixes old and new in a seamless couture. Nearby is the largest café in all of Italy and perhaps the world. The Caffè Pedrocchi (Via VIII Febbraio 15) has a labyrinth of rooms in varying styles, all created in the 19th century by Italian architect Giuseppe Jappelli. At night, the gay scene in Padova thrives.
The closest gay bar to the train station is Anima Drinks & More (Via Vicenza 15), which attracts the students from the University of Padova where being tri-sexual seems to be a major. Head to the western tip of Padua, and discover paradise in the form of The Flexo Club (Via Domenico Turazza 19) with its dance floor, outdoor café, and darkrooms, the adjacent Metro Sauna (popular with students), and the nasty but neat Hot Dog, the leather cruising bar where clothing is optional altogether. La dolce vita.