For the past decade, queer communities around the country have lamented the death of the American gay bar. In 1976, there were 2,500 gay bars nationally; today, there are fewer than 1,400 worldwide. As dating apps become digital meeting places, pop-up circuit parties become modern dance halls, and straight establishments become safe spaces to sip cocktails with queer friends, there isn’t always a need for the bars that once drew LGBTQ communities together. Still, every once in a while, a new gay bar is born, and it’s worth celebrating the arrival. That’s why we’re honoring the latest drag bar to sashay its way into New York‘s West Village.
Boots and Saddles, a glory-hole-in-the-wall drag bar, shuttered over a year ago and left a vacancy in the hearts of downtown’s queer-bar community. Cue Eric Einstein and Justin Buchanan — the brains behind both Pieces and Hardware Bar — who did a gut renovation of the space, slapped on a fresh coat of paint (the 1980s-style street art is by Anthony Pugh), and got the old queen-club up and kicking as if no time has passed.
The space’s newest iteration is Playhouse Bar, a nod to the now-defunct Actors Playhouse that once occupied the block. With a spacious stage and dance floor, Playhouse feels like a throwback to a time when the West Village was still the epicenter of queer life. Be sure to visit for a performance by NYC’s greatest homegrown queens (Pixie Aventura, Sherry Pie, Bootsie Lefaris, and Izzy Uncut are all worth their weight in dollar bills). After watching one of the local drag shows, you may even be convinced that the American gay bar is alive and well after all.
Where: 100A 7th Avenue South, West Village
Bar hopping in New York’s OG gayborhood
While the West Village isn’t precisely the LGBTQ hot spot it once was, the rainbow sidewalks still lead to a bevy of queer watering holes unrivaled by most gayborhoods in the world. Here’s a mini-guide for spending the night in New York’s OG gayborhood after checking out Playhouse.
In 1966, three years before the first brick was thrown as Stonewall, Julius made headlines in the fight for gay rights when activists held a “sip-in” to protest laws against serving alcohol to homosexuals. Today, this unassuming alehouse is one of New York’s oldest gay bars still in operation. Grab a greasy hamburger or plate of fries from the bar’s grill to start your night where the fight for gay rights began.
Where: 159 West 10th Street
This friendly neighborhood gay bar is the ideal meeting place to gather your gaggle and catch a drag performance before hitting up the rest of the ‘hood.
Where: 8 Christopher Street
The only balls you’ll find in this historic lesbian bar are on the pool table. If you’re looking to cut a rug, plan to visit on Friday or Saturday night when ladies heat up the dance floor.
Where: 438 Hudson Street
You’ll find this cozy lady lounge a 10-minute walk from Henrietta Hudson. Even though the jukebox is usually pumping great tunes picked by patrons, don’t expect any dancing — it’s a tight fit. (…That’s what she said.)
Where: 281 West 12th Street
The Village’s gayest sweets shop is open until 11:00 PM Sunday through Wednesday and until midnight for the rest of the week. You can lick a Salty Pimp (vanilla ice cream with dulce de leche, lightly salted and dipped in chocolate), eat out Strawberry Shortcake (a vanilla sundae with strawberry sauce), or grab a fruity Rainbow Paleta and suck it on your way to the next bar.
Where: 61 Grove Street
This bi-level dive is a piano lounge up top and a dance party down below. From show tunes to techno, this is a necessary choose-your-own-adventure pit stop for the quintessential West Village experience.
Where: 80 Grove Street
Famous for its role in the events of 1969, this hallowed hall is more than a bar — it’s an iconic institution. Pay your respects by grabbing a nightcap and sharing some gratitude in the place where Pride began. Because of our ancestors, LGBTQ folks can bar hop around the West Village with impunity. Three cheers for the queers that came before us!
Where: 53 Christopher Street