New York Scene: Welcome to the Big Apple

A column about lesbian life and entertainment in Manhattan.

New York: There is no better place to be in the world. Where else can you walk the historical West Village, grab a drink at Henrietta’s, and then see your favorite gay men singing at Rose’s Turn, one of the oldest piano bars in New York City? That’s a lot of gay in one day.

And with so much going on all the time, the New York lesbian scene always has a strong pulse. Whether it’s Friday night at Cubbyhole or Sunday at Orchid Lounge, you can always find bars teeming with lesbians — and, every so often, an L Word actress. In such an exciting city full of unexpected events, seeing Leisha Hailey and Kate Moennig at the Starlight Bar & Lounge last year seemed only natural.

Last month, I knew stepping into the Gray Matters premiere party that it would be one of those nights full of surprises. Sue Kramer, the film’s writer-director-producer, was premiering her movie at the Tribeca Grill’s screening room. (Incidentally, Tribeca Grill, one of New York’s more posh restaurants, is owned by Robert De Niro.)

Cocktails called for six, and as the clock ticked toward seven, cameras and the press arrived. More and more faces seemed familiar. I walked past a woman with dark hair and a face so recognizable I thought that maybe we had grown up next door to one and other. Then I realized it was Molly Shannon of Saturday Night Live fame, who plays Carrie, Heather Graham’s co-worker, in Gray Matters. (She proved to be as hilarious in the movie as she was in her glory days back on SNL.)

As I turned around to watch her in her sexy black skirt and top, I realized I had just stepped into a conversation between Alan Cumming and Sue Kramer’s husband. Cumming, who was adorable in Gray Matters (he plays a cab driver), was not to be missed in his plaid green shirt and heavy Scottish accent (which, admittedly, was hard to understand at times).

A few nights after the Gray Matters premiere, I attended an event at Orchid Lounge co-sponsored by the Pride Network of JP Morgan, the Women’s Network of Out Professionals, and the Financial Services Industry Exchange. Watch out, world: Packed into one room were women from all walks of life and all rungs on the corporate and not-so-corporate ladder.

I knew the night would prove to be interesting. You could tell the lawyers and bankers from the creative types by the way they were dressed. Suits: lawyer or banker. Jeans: creative. As simple as it sounds, it worked every time.

It was a night to network, and that’s what people were doing. I fell into a conversation with a woman who, it turns out, gave my sister and mother golf lessons. She is in the process of starting her own company, which would organize corporate golf events.

I walked toward the bar and was introduced to a woman who is a cancer researcher. Come on, people: She works on cures for cancer. In her job, you can’t say, "Relax, it’s not like you’re curing cancer or anything."

I had no idea how many strong, successful gay women there are in New York City. Enthusiasm, success and motivation were the moods of the night, and it felt great to be around so much of it.

Parties and events are almost a guarantee for an interesting night, but everyday activities can also lead to thrilling occurrences in New York. One day I was in Bergdorf Goodman Men’s with my father trying to help him find a few pairs of jeans when I noticed a woman doing just the same for a friend. She was standing outside the dressing rooms with me, dressed similarly in Seven jeans and sweater. She complimented me on my patience while my father yelled out how "low-cut" the jeans are nowadays.

The conversation turned to what we both did for a living, and I learned that this woman, Allison Schieffelin, sued Morgan Stanley in 2001 for sexual discrimination, alleging that she had been passed over for promotions because she is a woman. In 2004, Morgan Stanley agreed to a $54 million settlement, $12 million of which went to Schieffelin.

Schieffelin was one of the few women willing to put herself at the forefront of this huge case and be very much in the public eye, standing up against a huge company for what she believed. I felt like I was in the presence of a star. She will never work in that industry again, but doesn’t care one bit. She put all her time and energy into making Morgan Stanley and the entire corporate world aware of the fact that in some cases women are not treated the way men are.

Even though my father walked away from Bergdorf’s empty-handed, it was one of my better visits to a department store. It’s almost impossible to have a dull moment in the city that never sleeps.

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