This Pride, before diving into a rainbow-frosted cupcake or sipping a rainbow-fruit-skewer-topped rosé cocktail, there's an important question all New York diners should ask themselves: Is this dessert/drink/meal gay? Or is it gay-for-pay?
Sweets by Chloe's rainbow cupcake, which gives 50 percent of the profits from each one sold to an LGBTQ charity, is gay. The rainbow pancakes at Dos Caminos, $18, which give nothing to LGBTQ charities, are gay-for-pay. The entire menu at Big Gay Ice Cream, which is gay-owned and frequently supports LGBTQ nonprofits, is extremely gay. The rainbow layer cake at Bouchon Bakery started out gay, invented to celebrate national marriage equality in 2015. Three years later, it's just a rainbow dessert that the bakery uses in Pride-themed advertising, and as such has become gay-for-pay.
As a gay man who loves gay stuff but has mixed feelings about capitalism, I spend June doing two things: celebrating Pride, and worrying about the commercialization of Pride. First, a little context: June is designated as Pride Month because of the Stonewall riots, which took place at the end of June 1969. As LGBTQ visibility and Pride Parade attendance has increased over decades (even if the current administration refuses to acknowledge Pride), the rainbow motif has become valuable to brands in aid of selling, well, anything.
I understand a swell in mainstream support means Pride — which began as (and continues to be) a protest — muddies the event's message. Straight people who superficially engage with Pride because they love a party is disheartening at best. But it's even worse when businesses use Pride to turn a profit without any acknowledgement of the actual history of the month.
When asked about their Pride pancakes and giving to charity, a PR rep for Mexican food chain Dos Caminos explained via email "they are purely a celebration of the parade." It's hard to tell if they were cognizant of the problems within that statement. If you're muscling in on a party without paying any mind to the reason behind the rainbow, you're gay-for-pay.
Even some restaurants who do donate some profits to charity seem to be half-assing it. Fancy Upper East Side restaurant Regency Bar and Grill is putting out a rosé, sparkling water, and "rainbow fruit skewer" cocktail for $20 and donating just 10 percent of sales to Gay Men's Health Crisis. It's a lazy, theoretically high-margin, expensive cocktail with a meager donation.
There are plenty of LGBTQ people who are unquestioningly appreciative of anything a business does with the veneer of supporting Pride. But queer people don't have to be grateful for scraps, and we certainly don't have to reward a business angling to profit off a queer celebration by mixing some food dye into pancake batter.
Fortunately, the amount of restaurants having fun with Pride-themed dishes and using them to support LGBTQ causes seems to outweigh the shameless cash-grabs. At the Sosta, a fast-casual Italian spot in Little Italy owned by the same company as Sweets by Chloe, the special for June is a sprinkle-studded, rainbow cookie-topped fior de latte gelato sundae. Priced at $8, $3 from each sundae sold will be donated to LGBT homeless youth nonprofit Ali Forney Center — the most generous margin I've seen in looking at Pride specials.
The Sosta chef-co-owner Ali LaRaia, explains it's largely possible through a partnership with Fresco Gelateria and the Awkward Scone, which both donated product to create the sundae.
"Having pride means more than just having a party with rainbow flags," says LaRaia, who identifies as a lesbian. "It's important to know that we're a minority group, and we need to stick together and bring awareness to the minority groups that aren't getting much visibility, like the T in LGBTQ."
For her, the sundae is about having fun while also introducing guests — who may not see much beyond the parade — to issues like queer youth homelessness.
But a special item like the Sosta's requires planning, thoughtfulness, and a desire to make an impact in the spirit of Pride, rather than just a technicolor opportunity for (often mostly straight) diners to feel good while flexing on the 'gram.
If you're really intent on celebrating Pride with your food-buyin' dollars, spend them at an LGBTQ-owned business, or where a worthy queer cause will benefit. Support a business that supports its LGBTQ staff. Find out why a business supports a particular charity for Pride. Get better educated about LGBTQ causes, and don't settle for spending your money at places that are only supporting Pride for the sake of getting paid.
Some restaurants doing Pride well:
- Shake Shack, Pride Shake. $5.99, available all of June. $1 from each shake goes to the Trevor Project
- Sweets by Chloe, Pride Cupcakes. $5 each, available June 18 to 24. 50 percent of profits from each cupcake benefits Happy Hippie Foundation
- &pizza, donating a portion of each pie sold in June to the Trevor Project. Also offering parade-goers free soda.
- Anejo, the Hell's Kitchen Mexican restaurant is offering an option to upgrade all drinks for $3, which adds edible glitter and pea flower extract, turning the drink pink and purple with citrus. The entire $3 goes to the Trevor Project.
- Sweetgreen is not selling a Pride-themed item, but has created rainbow Pride shirts to celebrate gender and sexual diversity among its crew members.
Some restaurants doing Pride poorly:
- Bouchon Bakery, rainbow layer cake. $5.50 for a small cake, $50 for a full-size cake. (While this cake was created in 2015 to celebrate national marriage equality, it's become a regular menu item that profits off Pride)
- Dos Caminos, Pride Parade Pancakes rainbow stack. $18, no benefit to LGBTQ charities
- Just Salad, Pride T-Shirts. $19.99, available all of June. While its salad contributes to NYC Pride and the chain is a sponsor of the NYC parade, selling branded T-shirts with no donated component is embarrassing
- Industry Kitchen, the FiDi waterfront restaurant best known for selling a 24K gold pizza is also doing a "Sweet Pride Martini Cheesecake" for Pride. Four different staffers at the restaurant did not how much it cost, and no charity is mentioned in marketing materials.
- Regency Bar and Grill, 'Park Avenue Pride,' a cocktail of rosé, sparkling water, and rainbow fruit. $20, with a tiny 10 percent of sales going to Gay Men's Health Crisis