It’s a bit difficult to talk about the city of Rochester, New York without mentioning photography. After all, this is where the Eastman Kodak Company — the innovative organization largely responsible for convincing the world to start taking pictures — was born. And while that brand’s global profile may be smaller today, it helps to make New York State’s third-largest city an interesting place to visit. Add to this an array of cultural institutions and a small but friendly gay scene, and you’ll find plenty to keep you busy.
If you read about Kodak founder George Eastman, who lived from 1854 to 1932, you might come across speculation that this lifelong bachelor was gay. The truth may never be fully revealed, but you can do some speculation of your own at the George Eastman House, home to the International Museum of Photography and Film. The facility, billed as the world’s oldest photography museum, hosts rotating and permanent photo exhibits and is home to one of just three archival theatres equipped to exhibit nitrate films. Allow enough time to view the museum as well as the Mr Eastman’s home, a gorgeous, beautifully furnished colonial revival mansion that is a National Historic Landmark.
The Eastman House isn’t the only place in Rochester where visitors may wander the home of a legendary American historic figure. At the National Susan B Anthony House, exhibits and furnishings highlight the work of one of the most important activists in the struggle to give women the right to vote (she died in the house in 1906, and appears in the 2002 book The Gay 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present). Other noteworthy cultural attractions in the Rochester area include the Memorial Art Gallery, the National Museum of Play, the Rochester Contemporary Art Center, and the Genesee Country Village and Museum, which features an impressive collection of restored 19th-century homes and other buildings.
With under 300,000 residents, Rochester's gay scene is understandably smaller than New York City or Toronto. But a thriving university and long-established progressive tradition help to keep rainbows flying, with a gay pride celebration known as Roc Pride each July, and October ImageOut Film Festival among the annual events. According to RocWiki, the Eastman Kodak company of the 1950s had a significant population of gay employees. Unable to be "out" in the modern sense, they were not entirely hidden either. Prominent patrons of the arts Earl Kage and his partner, Hamilton Driggs were two such men of their time.
Young Rochesterians are making their own kind of history. The 2000 US census showed Rochester with a population of approximately 60 percent more gay men and lesbians than the national average, and Tim Mains' 1986 election to the Rochester City Council made him the first openly-gay elected official in New York State. Other openly gay politicians have since included Assemblyman Harry Bronson, and City Councilman Matt Haag.
Rochester's Greater Rochester International Airport, has daily scheduled flights by several American and Canadian carriers. The Rochester Transit Service (RTS) has bus links from the airport to downtown throughout the day for a $1 fare. See bus schedules at the Visitors' Information Booth, call RTS at 585 288-1700, or see their website. The bus stop is on the lower level roadway, at the east end of airport. Taxis, limousine services and rental cars are also available.
Amtrak offers rail transportation on their Empire Service route, connecting Rochester with Buffalo and Niagra Falls to the west, and Syracuse, Albany and New York City to the southeast, plus connections throughout North America.
RTS bus services operate throughout the Rochester area. Fares may be paid on the bus. The Bus for a Buck Freedom Pass is $1; a Two Ride Freedom Pass costs $2; and an All-Day Unlimited Freedom Pass goes for $3. See their website for information on routes and schedules.
Media & Resources
The Gay Alliance Library & Archives at Auditorium Center (875 E Main St) is a circulating and reference collection of over 5,000 fiction and non-fiction books, and 800 magazine and journal titles, as well as video and audio recordings related to gay and lesbian, bi-sexual, trans-gendered and queer issues.
The Rochester Rams men's gay motorcycle and leather club provides fraternity, and good times to members, with service both to the gay community and the community-at-large.
VisitRochester, the tourism site of the Rochester Community Convention Sales & Marketing Board, has useful visitor information, including listings of the many events making Rochester known as "Festival City." Something is going on almost every weekend from late spring through the fall.
RocWiki is "the people's guide to Rochester," with a practical guide for visitors; restaurant tips, museums, WiFi hot spots, shopping and events information.
The Rochester City Paper is an alternative weekly newspaper, with news, opinion, restaurants, arts and entertainments reviews and listings. See their website or download issues in pdf format.
Now and Zen (658 South Ave), a New Age shop with books, incense, gifts, festival and hippie clothing, is also is a community center and home to the Desert Rhythms Middle Eastern Dance Troupe, and the Saraswati's Sisters, a tribal fusion group; also with classes and local artists' works, plus events and dance performances..
See our gay Rochester list of bars, restaurants and other places of interest, with map locations, contact information and website links.
The Inn on Broadway ( 26 Broadway; 585-232-3595), 25 rooms and suites, luxury boutique property, Tournedos Steakhouse, bar and lounge.
The Strathallen (550 East Ave; 585-461-5010), Hilton Doubletree boutique hotel, well situated for exploring the city; Tuscan restaurant, B&B packages, Swedish massage services.
Gay-friendly bed-and-breakfast accommodations in the area include:
The Edward Harris House B&B Inn & Cottages (35 Argyle St; 585-473-9752), a serene urban retreat in a restored home that dates to 1896.
The Ellwanger Estate ( 625 Mt Hope Ave; 585-546-5103), set on beautiful grounds of a renowned horticulturalist’s former estate, with elegant suites and gourmet breakfasts.
140 Alex Bar and Grill (140 Alexander St), gay, straight, or somewhere in-between restaurant and weekend party/dance club; with karaoke and impressive drag shows.
Abilene Bar & Lounge (153 Liberty Pole Way), hip and sophisticated mixed saloon, jukebox, American roots live music, craft beers, wine, patio; old Tara location.
Avenue Pub (522 Monroe Ave), small, popular gathering spot for people of all ages who come to chat and play pool.
Bachelor Forum (670 University Ave), known as a ‘leather and Levi bar’ but also a good old-fashioned neighborhood gay bar, one of the city’s most reliably fillednightspots; chili cook offs, bear nights, Rochester Ram bar nights.
Lux Lounge (666 South Ave, South Wedge), hip/alternative "let your freak flag fly" gay-friendly mixed crowd, eclectic music, art, games, backyard benches and hammock. The Star Alley pocket-park, between Lux and the Now and Zen New Age store, has picnic tables and public art.
Rochester Spa & Body Club (109 Liberty Pole Way), open every day men's sauna, fitness facilities, sun deck, TV lounge.
Tilt Nightclub & Ultralounge (444 Central Ave), lively dance club, mostly young, fun crowd of people who are gay, straight and in-between. Drag shows (queens and kings), go-go-boys and live DJs Thursdays through Saturdays.
Vertex (169 N Chestnut St), dark and cozy Wednesday through Saturday dance club, young 18+ Goth/Industrial and diverse gay-friendly college crowd.
45 Euclid, an events venue where Love gay dance nights took place; now features a variety of nights from various producers.
Eating Out, etc
Rochester is a foodie’s dream, now kitted out with organic, fresh, local and free-range options in every neighborhood. Rochester folks seem fit, healthy and actively embracing the local food revolution, but the "white hot" hot dog or smoked bratwurst is an older favorite, served up by Zweigle's and other companies. It is sometimes seen on the "garbage plate," (at Nick Tahou Hots, 320 W Main) with home fries, mac salad, meat sauce, onions, mustard and a choice of hot dog or hamburger.
Jines Restaurant (658 Park Ave), a long-running hotspot in trendy Park Ave neighborhood where free-range local eggs are breakfast options. To indulge a sweet tooth, their pumpkin pancakes and stuffed French toast are tempting too.
Wegmans (1750 East Ave), with good lunchtime to-go fare, a food complex that includes the Nature's Marketplace, patisserie, bakery, pizzeria, sub shop, Italian restaurant, and a pharmacy.
One of Rochester’s best food options is the Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday Public Market, with dozens of yummy food stalls and restaurants, selling everything from fresh produce and fair-trade coffee, to ethnic delicacies. Cute local farmhands are an added bonus.
See more restaurant/cafe options at our listings/map pages.
Upstate New York is home to the Finger Lakes region of narrow bodies of water just south of Rochester, famous for wine production. More than 100 wineries here produce some of North America’s tastiest chardonnays and rieslings. The New York Wine and Culinary Center in nearby Canandaigua is the best place to sample the region’s grapes.
Visitors should also check out the oils and vinegars at F Oliver’s (129 S Main St) when in Canandaigua. The shop sells more than 30 varieties of locally produced flavoured oils and balsamics, including sage, wild mushroom and ripe fig.
Wickedly Sent (94 South Main St), gay-owned bath and body shop in Canandaigua. Partners Scott Mackey and Don Stevens sell soaps, lotions and candles, with some cheeky products, like their “Dirty Dyke” soap, to a burgeoning gay tourist market.
The Seneca Iroquois peoples who lived here until the American Revolution gave up their lands at the Treaty of Big Tree in 1797 creating new American settlement areas. Four of the major tribes, allied with the British during the war and essentially forced out of New York, were rewarded for their loyalty to the British Crown with a large land grant along the Grand River in Ontario, Canada.
In November, 1803, Colonel Nathaniel Rochester, Major Charles Carroll, and Colonel William Fitzhugh, Jr, all from Hagerstown, Maryland, bought 100 acres along the Genesee River. Rochesterville, as the community became known, was the Monroe County seat by 1821, becoming simply Rochester in 1823, with 2,500 residents. By 1838 the largest flour-producing city in the United States, it was later known for plant nurseries, the most famous of which was founded by German and Irish immigrants Georg Ellwanger and Patrick Barry in the 1840s.
Movements for social change including labor rights, racial equality, and antiwar activism, along with the efforts of prominent activists, played significant roles in local politics. In 1847, Frederick Douglass founded his abolitionist newspaper The North Star in Rochester. Susan B Anthony, another local abolitionist, became most famous for her work in the women's rights movement. Russian-born anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman lived and worked in Rochester for several years at the end of the 19th century, taking up the cause for workers in Rochester sweatshops. Deported from the USA for her work against military conscription, she moved to Spain during their Civil War, and then to Toronto, where she died in 1940.
New industries, founded by inventor and entrepreneur George Eastman (Eastman Kodak), and German immigrants John Jacob Bausch and Henry Lomb, (Bausch & Lomb) brought jobs to the city, and later endowed the University of Rochester, the Eastman School of Music, and other institutions. The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) was founded in 1829. Carriage maker James Cunningham and Sons founded the pioneer automobile company Cunningham here, and Xerox was another local enterprise, beginning in 1906. The city also became important in the garment industry, the base for Bond Clothing Stores, Fashion Park Clothes, Hickey Freeman, and Stein-Bloch & Co. The Genesee Brewing Company calls Rochester home, and Ragú pasta sauces originated here.