San Francisco has The Castro. Los Angeles has West Hollywood. Manhattan’s got Chelsea and Greenwich Village. Then, of course, there’s Boystown in Chicago, D.C.’s Dupont Circle and Midtown Atlanta. Take a look around the Carolinas and it’s unlikely you’ll see anything even close to the likes of such famous (and, sometimes, fabulously infamous) “gayborhoods” in metro areas like New York City and L.A. But, even the good Ol’ North State has potential and it is sitting smack dab in the middle of Downtown Raleigh.
From Manteo to Murphy, there’s few neighborhoods in the running for the title of North Carolina’s best and brightest gayborhood. The capital city’s Warehouse District is the closest thing we’ve got. Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood, and perhaps NoDa, run in a tight second.
Bordered by Morgan St. to the north, Dawson to the east and Cabarrus to the south, the Warehouse District is home to several LGBT nightlife establishments, friendly restaurants and hangouts and other businesses. While there’s still more room for growth — particularly in residential availability — the Warehouse District is, by and large, the place to be. Hargett St., without question, is Raleigh’s little “Avenue Q.”
In cities across the nation, and in the Carolinas, there’s been a growing trend toward re-centralized residential, business and recreational areas. More than 10 years ago, CNN reported on a reversal of suburban flight and families’ decisions to move back into downtown or other urban areas. Increasing commute times and traffic were just some of many reasons driving the trend. In smaller metro areas in places like the Carolinas, walkability and convenience are some of the luxuries attracting people back to center cities and their surrounding, established neighborhoods.
Gay folks have long been attracted to urban and metro areas, a phenomena that led to the creation of such internationally recognized places like The Castro. In order to have a strong neighborhood, though, mustn’t there be good housing? According to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, center city currently offers about 3,000 residential units and the capacity for downtown living continues to grow.
The Warehouse District is still coming into its own. Already full of gay-owned or gay-friendly businesses, the district has yet to experience any large growth in residential development. For example, the Warehouse District’s northern neighbor, Glenwood South, has about 14 residential developments. The central portion of the Warehouse District has only four such developments, while three others exist in the district’s southern outreaches and near Boylan Heights.
Among the few Warehouse properties is the new Hue, with over 200 condo units for sale. Located at the corner of Hargett St. and Dawson St., White Rabbit was the first retail business to take a spot in the building’s first floor. Across the street sits The CC and Our Place Video. Legends is next door. Recently, the Hue started reaching out to LGBT homebuyers, even placing a series of advertisements in this paper.
Other residential properties in and around the Warehouse District and Downtown include Bloomsbury Estates, The Plaza at RBC Plaza, Quorum Center, 222 Glenwood, WEST on W. North St. and Palladium Plaza.
The Warehouse District is home to several other gay-owned and -friendly nightlife establishments, restaurants, coffee shops and more. For nightlife, there’s Tantra and Flex on West St. The Burrough and the nearby Irregardless Cafe are just two of several eateries in the area.
On the edge of the Warehouse District, the new LGBT Center of Raleigh recently moved into their temporary space, along with long-established Triangle Community Works. They’ll have their grand opening in April. Just a few blocks down from Hargett St., the gay district’s virtual epicenter, sits Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina, the area’s largest AIDS service organization. Soon, N.C. State University College of Design’s Contemporary Art Museum will find its new home on Martin St.
Bars and nightclubs. Check. Restaurants and other eateries. Check. Retail and recreation. Check. Housing. Check, and still growing. While Charlotte might have the gays in numbers (see the article above), it seems Downtown Raleigh has the location. While stiff-necked, conservative legislators are busy writing anti-gay laws (which rarely ever pass these days), LGBT folks are moving into Downtown Raleigh and taking over.
And, while the Warehouse District might not be as glamorous or gay-gentrified as other big city gayborhoods, it could be some day. : :
This article appears in the March 20-April 2 print edition.