Cities across the country are gearing up for Pride season. For travelers, getting there is part of the fun, especially aboard the City of New Orleans, Amtrak’s superliner route between Chicago, Memphis, and New Orleans. The journey covers more than 900 miles of America’s heartland through three of America’s great music cities.
This year train travel is a smart choice for attending Pride events and other summer festivals. A recent IGLTA survey of queer Americans reported that domestic trips and community celebrations like Pride ranked high on the travel to-do list. And with gas prices surging in 2022, Amtrak offers a hassle-free alternative to driving — plus savings of up to 20 percent by booking in advance.
Amtrak serves more than 500 U.S. destinations, but the City of New Orleans route stands out for its one-of-a-kind passage along the Mississippi River. Upon departure from Chicago’s Union Station, you’ll soon roll past Illinois farmland and on through western Kentucky. In Tennessee, the superliner reaches Memphis Central Station near Beale Street and many of the city’s top attractions.
The last leg continues through Mississippi and Louisiana, where New Orleans jazz, food, and local culture welcome Amtrak’s city-namesake train into Union Passenger Terminal.
Pride comes alive in Chicago over two weekends, starting with Pride Fest, June 18-19, and the annual parade on Sunday, June 26. Various musicians, DJs, and other performers take center stage, including Alaska Thunderf*ck, Madison Rose, Netta, The Aces, and more. The action is centered in the Northalsted neighborhood, with Pride events, restaurants, and bars within easy access.
Halsted is the anchor boulevard for culture and nightlife, with longtime favorite club Sidetrack still going strong for cocktails and dancing. Nearby, Roscoe’s Tavern is known for drag shows and splashy weekend brunches.
Top dining choices abound in Northalsted, with upscale drinks, French-inspired dinner, and brunch menus awaiting at the award-winning Wood restaurant. Closer to downtown in River North, the spacious Tree House offers Neapolitan and Detroit-style pizza (head to Bartoli’s Pizzeria for the classic deep dish) and gastropub fare that pairs with seasonal cocktails and craft beers.
For lodging, the Art Deco-inspired City Suites Hotel is a gay-friendly boutique option with affordable rates and easy access to Northalsted and Wrigleyville. Closer to Amtrak’s Union Station, check into the hip Hoxton Hotel in the Fulton Market neighborhood, home to a rooftop pool and popular drinking and dining venues.
Tip: Monitor departure and arrival times, strain status, or modify reservations with the Amtrak app, which also features contactless ticketing for easy boarding.
“The most colorful weekend of the year” takes over Memphis June 2-5 with a Drag N Drive drive-in movie, Friday night dance party, festival, and more. Memphis Pride Fest Weekend attracts around 35,000 participants, many of them joining the big parade on Saturday, June 4. Most of the action is on and around Beale Street, with extra anticipation for special guest Kim Chi of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame.
Midtown is the hub of queer nightlife and close to Memphis Central Station. Don’t miss a stop at DRUS Place, a favorite local tavern for karaoke, live comedy, and drag shows. Weekend dancing at Atomic Rose continues into the wee hours, or opt for Sunday brunch and drag bingo instead.
Sip the best margarita in Memphis at Molly’s La Casita on Madison Avenue, or stroll up to Second Street to sample Memphis barbeque at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, home of famous char-broiled ribs since 1948.
Affordable, centrally located hotels can be found in the entertainment district, like the Hyatt Centric Beale Memphis, just a short walk from the city’s great music venues and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. Closer to the Memphis Zoo and Overton Park, The Memphian — part of Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio of independent boutique hotels — features the vibrantly designed rooftop bar Tiger & Peacock.
Tip: When traveling by train, consider booking a private room for more space to relax and rejuvenate between destinations. Private rooms include a dedicated sleeping-car attendant, complimentary meals, and overnight amenities. Both roomettes and bedrooms are available in Superliner cars.
A visit to New Orleans is a festive occasion any time of year. But in June, the city is especially lively thanks to NOLA Pride, June 9-12. Special events spring up at bars in and around the French Quarter, including Saturday’s day-long Pride Fest outside the Phoenix Bar at Rampart and Elysian Fields. The Pride Parade begins at 6 p.m. in the Marigny, then travels along Decatur to Canal and back into the French Quarter.
Much of the LGBTQ nightlife dots Bourbon and Rampart Streets, so bar-hopping is convenient to spots like Café Lafitte in Exile (said to be the country’s oldest gay bar), the Bourbon Pub & Parade, and GrandPre’s, which occasionally hosts the pop-up NOLA lesbian party GrrlSpot.
New Orleans’s culinary scene also demands attention. The Marigny’s ever-popular Country Club is a good starting point and is open for dinner, poolside drinks, and wild weekend drag brunches. Red Fish Grill is a reliable, all-day restaurant in the Quarter, serving local seafood and bottomless brunch cocktails. Head to Mid-City’s Parkway Bakery and Tavern for some of the city’s best classic sandwiches, including the famous “Poor Boy” with roast beef and gravy.
Distinct hotels offer options for every style of traveler. The Bourbon Orleans Hotel in the heart of the quarter is a classic, with a courtyard pool and corner bar featuring nightly live music. Further east in the Marigny (the city’s de-facto gay neighborhood), don’t miss a stay at the recently renovated Frenchmen Hotel, which occupies a series of converted Creole cottages.