Travelling to America as a gay man you probably think of the usual haunts including New York, South Beach and San Francisco – and they are all fantastic cities, but have you ever thought about small-town America? Well, we recently had a little sojourn to America’s Midwest where we uncovered some gems and found the joy in small-town America.
If you’re a fan of the fly/drive holiday, then you’ll want to check out the Great Lakes Facebook page, where you’ll get lots of ideas for glorious cities, friendly towns and exciting hotspots to visit while you’re in the area. One such find is the ridiculously beautiful town of Galena (main street pictured at the start). Around three hours west of Chicago, you’ll drive through miles and miles of farming land, the Midwest is known as the breadbasket of America because of its wheat production – and you’ll certainly see a lot of it. The roads are easy, wide and once outside the city limits mainly free from traffic. You can forget the M6 or M25 motorways. Galena is a different world altogether and as you enter through the town’s giant floodgates (it sits on the Galena River which feeds into the Mississippi River) you’ll be left wondering if you’ve actually stepped back in time.
Home to just under 3500 people, the town has an incredible friendly laid-back appeal. You must stay in one of the gorgeous, unique suites at the Jail Hill Inn – owned, operated and lovingly restored by the Inn Keeper, Matthew Carroll.
For lunch fill your boots at the wonderfully authentic Vinny Vanucchi’s Italian restaurant. To really get your orientation in this quaint historic town, buy a ticket for the Galena Trolley – which departs from 10 AM until 9 PM. Your guide will take you on a whirlwind stop of this picture perfect town. If you have a head for heights book yourself on to the Balloon flight experience and see how beautiful the Midwest countryside is from the sky. As you float several thousand feet up let yourself drift with the wind – who knows where you’ll end up next.
Driving on the I20 east, just an hours drive from Chicago is Rockford in northern Illinois. Although home to 150,000 people Rockford manages to maintain its small-town heart and friendly folk are all around. There are two friendly gay bars, The Office right in the centre and Dusty Boots Saloon and Eatery. Home to a number of attractions such as the Laurent Home, the Anderson Japanese Gardens and the Burpee Museum (don’t forget to say hello to Homer the T-REX).
However, if you’re looking for a real treat, head over to the jewel of Rockford the Coronado Theatre right in the centre of town and book yourself into the theatre tour with Marty Mangas, who really is a gem of a tour guide. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to see Bob Bates play the 80-year-old original organ before heading off on a backstage experience. Be sure to refresh and replenish the senses with a cool beer down at the Prairie Street Brewhouse nestled on the river’s edge. A perfect look out spot as the sun sets. You’ll find comfortable lodgings at the Fairfield Inn and Suites.
The Quad cities – Moline
As you set off from Rockford, heading south, be sure to stop off and have breakfast at Poopies. You’ll find it on Viaduct Rd, and you should be prepared for a huge plate of homey food at a decent price. Don’t be put off by the name or the restaurant’s seats – which are actually made from toilet seats.
Moline is a cutesy but agricultural town right in the heart of farming country, one hundred and sixty-five miles west of Chicago. Surrounded by miles and miles of farmland, the population is a little over 43,000 and it sits between The Rock and the mighty Mississippi rivers. Moline makes up the Quad Cities along with Davenport, Bettendorf and Rock Island. There’s a small but friendly gay scene in Davenport centred around Connections and Mary’s On 2nd. For lunch, you must take lunch at Lagomarcinos Soda Fountain on 5th Avenue – their milkshakes and deep filled sandwiches are to die for.
Don’t forget to get up early and take in some views of the Mississippi.
Okay, cheating slightly here, because Andersonville is actually a neighbourhood in northern Chicago less than a kilometre from the lake front, but it is an absolute must visit. Chicago offers two incredibly friendly neighbourhoods for the LGBT community – the more youth orientated Boystown and the slightly maturer Andersonville. Of course, there are many gay bars to visit and street festivals throughout the year to try out, but one particularly sensational event to try is the Andersonville Annual Midsoomarfest. If you go a stranger, I promise you won’t leave without making friends as the neighbourhood’s streets are filled with a party atmosphere and music stages provide your evening with a crowd-pleasing soundtrack.
Make sure you grab yourself a slice of original Chicago pizza pie and a chilled Margarita.
TGUK stayed at:
Fairfield Inn and Suits, Rockford
The Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel, Galena
The Carleton of Oak Park, Chicago
TGUK flew into Chicago O’Hare on Icelandair with a layover in Reykjavik. However, there are direct flights with British Airways, Virgin, American Airlines and United.
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The editor and chief of THEGAYUK. All in a previous life wrote and produced songs on multi-platinum records.