Since the opening of Seattle’s The Double Header in 1933, American gay bars have propelled the country’s LGBTQIA community into the mainstream, nearly singlehandedly removing the stigma and replacing it with a feeling of pride and joy. As opposed to your typical run-of-the-mill bar or club, gay nightlife institutions have long been celebrated for their open-minded approach to fun, welcoming anyone over the age of 21 and encouraging them to express themselves in whatever ways they wish. Not only that, but they’ve managed to cater to crowds that don’t typically get a voice — like the transgender community. Spending a night in a gay bar or nightclub possesses an inherently different ambiance — and therefore must be experienced.
From unforgettable and fun drag performances to themed nights catered to nearly every kind of queer, LGBTQ bars and clubs are designed to create truly memorable nights (and early mornings). With that being said, we’ve gathered the best gay bars and nightclubs in the US — from Seattle’s Pony to New York City’s Gym Sportsbar — that every person on the spectrum can truly enjoy.
1. Velvet Lounge, Santa Ana, California
Centrally located in Santa Ana’s Historic Arts District, the Velvet Lounge is the latest addition to Orange County’s LGBTQ scene. LGBTQ-owned and -operated, the bar and nightclub boasts some of the best drag shows in California — one smartly named “A Queen Is Born” — along with famous signature cocktails like the Red Velvet Cake Martini, modern American comfort food created by locally renowned chefs, and plenty of events to keep you coming back all year long.
2. Bar 1, Phoenix, Arizona
Unlike most bars frequented by everyone on the spectrum, Bar 1 in Phoenix, Arizona, encourages its guests to use their indoor voices. Whether they’re lounging by the cozy fireplace, playing pinball, or enjoying cocktails and conversation on the gorgeous outdoor patio, LGBTQ patrons will revel in the candlelit ambiance of this establishment. If you happen to feel a sort of nostalgia for old school music videos, then Bar 1 will also keep you entertained for hours with its endless reel of diva-esque music videos. Come for the famous Long Island Iced Teas, stay for the candlelit conversation.
3. Akbar, Los Angeles, California
Akbar is located on Los Angeles’s world-famous Sunset Boulevard and is quickly becoming the last of its kind in the city. Featuring a warm and friendly interior, Akbar has steadily become one of the more famous LGBTQ institutions in Los Angeles, complete with plenty of star-studded comedy nights and themed shows.
4. The Stud, San Francisco, California
For over 50 years, The Stud has been a prominent part of San Francisco’s LGBTQ scene — hosting one-of-a-kind parties, serving up delicious cocktails, and presenting some of the best drag and burlesque shows in California. The ambiance is so impressive at this San Francisco bar that RuPaul even made an appearance — along with countless other queer celebrities that have long celebrated The Stud’s important contributions to the LGBTQ community. Whether you’re dancing at one of its parties or making new friends over delectable cocktails, a trip to San Francisco is not complete without stopping for drinks and conversation at The Stud.
5. Gym Sportsbar, New York, New York
Calling all gay sports fans and athletes: Gym Sportsbar in New York City serves up the best of both worlds for gay sports fans, allowing them a place to watch and discuss their favorite sports in a queer-friendly environment. Not only that, but becoming a Gym Sportsbar regular has its perks — whether you decide to join the freestyle wrestling club, Metro Wrestling, or LGBT Bike Club, you’ll finally find the community where you belong. However, if you’re not as athletically inclined (or would rather just drink a cold beer in a comfortable chair) then Gym Sportsbar has you covered with televisions tuned to sports every hour of the day and an intimate lounge downstairs.
6. Cubbyhole, New York, New York
If you ask any lesbian (or straight person, for that matter) about the best lesbian bar in New York City, you’re likely to hear all about Cubbyhole, located in Manhattan’s West Village. Decorated in a multitude of lights and festive decor, Cubbyhole is always a lively and welcoming place for lesbians to meet and drink. Despite being incredibly welcoming to members of the LGBTQ community, what makes Cubbyhole one of New York City’s best bars is that it’s a fun environment for everyone looking for a good time on any night of the week. If you’re looking to save a few dollars, the bar offers a half-priced happy hour from Monday to Friday until 7:00 PM. Though it lacks any kind of special events, Cubbyhole makes up for it with its faithful patrons and West Village backdrop.
7. The Phoenix, Las Vegas, Nevada
With a giant phoenix painted over its doors, The Phoenix in Las Vegas, Nevada, immediately creates a unique ambiance for its patrons. Once inside, guests are greeted with a spacious bar — complete with a lounge area that doubles as a dance floor, pool tables, and an outdoor patio that’s inviting and secluded enough for conversation over cocktails. In addition to sipping mixed drinks on the dance floor, guests can play Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart on the massive projected screen located centrally in the bar. At the end of the day, The Phoenix appeals to older audiences in search of a true LGBTQ dive bar — and the younger Grindr generation who would rather dance and play video games all night long.
8. My Sister’s Room, Atlanta, Georgia
For more than 22 years, My Sister’s Room has been the number one lesbian bar in Atlanta, Georgia. Not only that, but the lesbian bar has become famous across the South for its fun atmosphere and local craft beers and wings that have been voted the best in Atlanta. In the days of dating apps, My Sister’s Room has managed to remain one of the best places for lesbians to meet in person in the country, as the drag shows, karaoke, and other special events provide the perfect conversation pieces.
9. Lipstick Lounge, Nashville, Tennessee
Though it is designed with lesbian women in mind, the Lipstick Lounge in Nashville, open since 2002, has become a destination for all humans. Over the years, the lesbian bar has become a place for everyone to come together for a night of karaoke, a calendar full of cheeky burlesque shows, Tex Mex cuisine, and city-famous signature cocktails.
10. Boxers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Located in the heart of the City of Brotherly Love, Boxers is a gay sports bar that’s perfect to head to after a long day at work. Similar to Gym Sportsbar in New York City, Boxers offers a place for LGBTQ sports leagues and fans to meet. From women’s rugby to Spartans Wrestling Club, there is a sports league available for nearly every athletic interest. Or, if you prefer hanging around by the sidelines, Boxers has you covered with drink specials and LGBTQ sports events that don’t require any athletic ability.
11. Divas, San Francisco, California
Serving as the largest gathering place for transgender men and women in the entire country, it’s no secret that Divas in San Francisco has been making waves in the LGBTQ nightlife community. For the past few decades, “transgenders and their admirers” have sought refuge in this safe space, one of only a handful in the entire country. For trans people (and their admirers, I suppose), there are a number of activities to participate in at the bar and club — from drag and burlesque shows to late-night karaoke, dance parties, and stimulating conversation over Bloody Marys. With a no boundaries sort of atmosphere, you never know where your night is going to end at Divas — and that’s just the magic of the boundary-breaking bar.
12. Club Marcella, Buffalo, New York
Specially catered to the queer college crowd in Buffalo, Club Marcella has given itself a prominent place in the nation’s LGBTQ community. Mostly, Club Marcella has gained national attention for its cheeky underwear contests held every Saturday night — when men have the option to hit the dance floor in just their underwear. Especially for drag queens and kings looking to establish themselves in the queer nightlife community, the club seeks to propel these beginners with college drag nights where they have a chance to perfect their lip-syncing skills.
13. Big Chicks, Chicago, Illinois
For the past few decades, Big Chicks has opened its doors (and served its drinks) to anyone on the spectrum — after all, the bar’s motto is “men and men, women and women, and women and men.” Aside from being a revolutionary gay bar in Chicago’s Far North Side, Big Chicks is celebrated for its one-of-a-kind art hanging on nearly every corner of the establishment, depicting prominent divas in large portraits. In a move that speaks to the elegance and celebratory nature of the bar and club, it offers its patrons meals and desserts (like Buck Burger Nights) served up as a side with its signature drinks and world-famous drag events.
14. Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand, Waikiki, Hawaii
Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand has become not just a local favorite for the LGBTQ set but for the nation, as well. For over 44 years, the bar and nightclub has become the epitome of “aloha” to all of its patrons, who can sip a drink while taking in the stunning beauty of nearby Diamond Head State Monument and Waikiki Beach. To get the most out of your venture to Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand, you must come before sunset, as the colors over the beach are one of nature’s best displays. After your romantic sunset adventure, head to the dance floor where local DJs and musicians make every night that much more memorable.
15. Club Cafe, Boston, Massachusetts
Considered to be one of Boston’s best nightclubs for over three decades, Club Cafe features a top-rated restaurant, cabaret performances, and an electric dance floor. Aside from Club Cafe’s dance floor, it also houses the famed Napoleon Room, which provides an intimate setting for some of the best cabaret performers, performing artists, comedians, and musicians in the city. However, if you’re simply looking for the stereotypical LGBTQ nightclub, Club Cafe’s offerings will blow you away. Retro T-dances, drag bingo, RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties, karaoke, and trivia will ensure that every night spent at Club Cafe is one to remember.
16. Purdy Lounge, Miami, Florida
Located in a more remote part of Miami’s South Beach, the Purdy Lounge manages to bring forth a sense of nostalgia with its beer-hall vibe and eclectic mix of people and music in a lounge that’s become so popular that elbow room is a precious commodity during the weekend. On any given night, members of the LGBTQ community can dance and drink alongside local celebrities. The only requirement: that you honor the Miami tradition of dancing until the sun comes up — no matter where you may fall on the spectrum.
17. Darcelle XV, Portland, Oregon
Named after and owned by Portland’s most famous drag queen, Darcelle XV has been busy making drag more mainstream in the city since the 1960s. It’s no surprise that the nation’s oldest performing drag queen would create such an immersive experience for all of her guests — although the atmosphere has changed over the years. From one-man shows to burlesque and drag shows, this club is one of the best in the country for its ability to entertain any audience — and to draw a crowd of regulars intent on celebrating their lives out in the open.
18. The Dallas Eagle, Dallas, Texas
Since 1995, The Dallas Eagle has gained popularity as one of the best leather bars in the country. Since its opening, the bar has garnered the support of some of the most famous leather clubs and organizations in the world, along with the constant patronage of international Mr. Leather winners. Aside from sipping drinks in the inviting bar, guests can stock up on their favorite leather goods at the on-site Shades of Grey store located on the second floor.
19. Ego, Providence, Rhode Island
If you’re looking to dance the night away, head to Ego, Providence’s premiere LGBTQ destination. Whether you’re watching the college drag show on Detention Thursdays or celebrating the art of the twerk on Twerk Fridays, there’s no shortage of fun to be had for those looking to dress up and dance until the wee hours of the morning.
20. Bourbon Pub Parade, New Orleans, Louisiana
Set in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the Bourbon Pub Parade is regularly recognized as one of the country’s most prestigious gay bars and a center for big and bold drag shows. If you’re looking to pay a visit to New Orleans during Mardi Gras or Labor Day weekend, the Southern Decadence festival takes over the bar and surrounding streets in the French Quarter. If you can’t make it there for the festivals hosted by the Bourbon Pub Parade, then be sure to pay a visit on a Friday or Saturday night when the Queens of Illusions show off their performing chops.
21. Pony, Seattle, Washington
Serving as a tribute to the West Village and Castro bars of the 1970s, Pony in Seattle is housed in a 1930s-era gas station — now transformed into a beloved hangout space for hipsters and members of the LGBTQ community alike. Meeting somewhere in the middle, the bar and club blares punk rock, disco, new wave, and indie rock music for the Seattle queer hipsters to shimmy and shake to all night long. If you’re looking for a party in Seattle, put on your dancing shoes and head to the Pony.
22. Camp Bar, St. Paul, Minnesota
Unlike many other bars on the list, guests come to Camp Bar in St. Paul for the intimate atmosphere and queer conversation. Just within the past two years, Minnesota’s Twin Cities have become a destination for the LGBTQ community, drawing national attention for being one of the more gay-friendly Midwestern locations on the map. Whether you’re enjoying a beer on trivia night or singing along to a Cabaret production, a venture to Camp Bar is one that you soon won’t forget.
23. Club One, Savannah, Georgia
Club One brings drag and decadence to Savannah, Georgia. Home of the famous Lady Chablis, the drag queen who eventually garnered national attention for appearing in the book and movie versions of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Much to the enjoyment of guests from every corner of the globe, Lady Chablis makes regular appearances at the club. Aside from catching a glimpse of Lady Chablis, there are many reasons to pay a visit to Club One — whether you’re reveling in the fun and raunchy drag shows, cabaret nights, or laid-back cocktails and bingo.
24. Blackstones, Portland, Maine
Since 1987, Blackstones has been the heartbeat of the LGBTQ community in Portland, Maine. For those looking to wind down after a long day, or even meet singles in the area, Blackstones provides an excellent backdrop with its intimate atmosphere and dive bar aesthetic catering to a leather-and-Levi’s crowd.
25. Rain on 4th, Austin, Texas
Far from a dive bar, Rain on 4th is an upscale lounge and club in a warehouse full of exposed brick and industrial accents. The main bar is connected to the dance floor, which regularly features pop music and grinding crowds eager to enjoy Austin’s nightlife. Outside of enjoying a night of pop music, guests can head to the outdoor patio with its own bar — or even enjoy a night of karaoke or LGBTQ-themed events.