Travel

A Guide to Phoenix's ‘Gayborhood' From the Original Miss Gay Melrose America

Happy pride!

Courtesy of Melrose on 7th Avenue
Courtesy of Melrose on 7th Avenue
Courtesy of Melrose on 7th Avenue

Melrose, known as Phoenix’s ‘gayborhood,’ might only be a mile-long, but its vibrance and cultural significance can’t be underestimated. Located on 7th Avenue between Indian School Road and Camelback Road, this neighborhood brings color, vitality, and a feeling of inclusivity to downtown Phoenix with its iconic Melrose arch, rainbow crosswalk, and LGBTQ+ friendly businesses.

To help you enjoy the very best of this one-of-a-kind neighborhood, we talked Piper M’Shay, the first-ever Miss Gay Melrose America, and a Melrose resident of three years. You can find her at one of the neighborhood’s best-loved bars, Charlie’s, five nights a week performing show-stopping drag shows.

Photo courtesy of Piper M'Shay
Photo courtesy of Piper M’Shay
Photo courtesy of Piper M’Shay

“Serving as Miss Gay Melrose America was nice because I felt like I was representing a title that was true to where I live and the community, I’m a part of,” she said. “I live and work right in this district which felt true and genuine to me.”

M’Shay, who’s been doing drag shows for ten years, has become a local favourite-even making the top five in Miss Gay Arizona America.

“I was in the theatre program at ASU because I thought I wanted to act, but I wasn’t identifying with any of the characters,” she said. “Drag was my way to cheat the system because I could create my own character and it’s been the best thing for me. I’ve met so many people in the community too, which is great.”

Courtesy of Stacy's at Melrose
Courtesy of Stacy’s at Melrose
Courtesy of Stacy’s at Melrose

Bars & Nightlife

When M’Shay isn’t performing or spending time with friends at Charlie’s, you’ll find her at other popular Melrose bars-like the retro, 70s-style arcade bar Thunderbird Lounge, drag show haven Stacy’s @ Melrose, or Pat O’s Bunk House Saloon.

For a night out, we also recommend checking out the newly opened Don Woods’ Say When Rooftop Bar at Rise Uptown Hotel just off 7th Avenue for its stunning city views of Camelback Mountain and Downtown Phoenix, comfortable mid-century modern atmosphere and creative, retro spritzes. During the day, you can also head to LYLO Swim Club downstairs for an Instagrammable poolside drink, like the Dole Whipped.

And while Melrose is largely known for its nightlife, the neighbourhood has more to offer than many realize.

“There’s a lot to be seen here if you just take the time to look,” said M’Shay. “There are a lot of cool businesses, great shops and great people working here. And it’s not just bars-there’s restaurants and vintage shops to check out as well.”

Courtesy of Joe's Diner
Courtesy of Joe’s Diner
Courtesy of Joe’s Diner

Restaurants

For diner-style breakfast you can’t go wrong with a breakfast burrito from Melrose Kitchen or biscuits and gravy at Joe’s Kitchen.

For a delicious, no-frills lunch we recommend the pork carnitas burrito from PHX Burrito House or a gourmet hot dog from Short Leash Hotdogs. We love the all-beef Chicago Dog with bacon fries and classic, old fashioned vanilla doughnut. Plus, we recommend everyone stop by Fry Bread House, a community staple since the 90s, for a plain fry bread-or load yours up with beans, cheese or chorizo.

For dinner, there’s nowhere better than the award-winning Restaurant Progress known for its elevated American fare and unforgettable craft cocktails. Just don’t forget to make a reservation-the restaurant gets busy, fast.

“There’s a lot of local businesses to support, and I hope people do, because there’s a lot of opportunity for growth,” said M’Shay. “Because I’m part of the community I like to go and support other businesses and they really take care of the other residents too-it’s like a big family.”

Courtesy of Melrose on 7th Avenue
Courtesy of Melrose on 7th Avenue
Courtesy of Melrose on 7th Avenue

Shops

If you’re looking to upgrade your space, Melrose is by far one of the best neighbourhoods in town for unique, vintage home décor-especially at spots like Modern on Melrose and Retro Ranch. Sweet Salvage is another great market that opens its doors on the third Thursday of every month for four days of upscale, vintage home goods shopping.

Another fun fact about Melrose? It’s one of the only places in Phoenix where you’ll see a curved street.

“It’s funny because we’re built on a grid, and the only street that isn’t straight is in the gay district,” said M’Shay.

Jamie Killin is a Phoenix native and Arizona State graduate who specializes in lifestyle and features writing. You can usually find her at the spin studio, a concert, or trying new restaurants across the Valley. Follow her at @jamiefayekillin.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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