Be Queer Right Here at DC’s Best LGBTQ Bars and Parties
The DC LGBTQ+ community is no stranger to change. Over the past few decades, countless openings, promising re-openings, and disappointing closings have taught us to expect the unexpected. Dupont Circle, once defined as the city’s gayborhood, is seemingly hanging on by a thread. Is it such a bad thing though? With each closure comes the inevitable, “where to now?” And the new answer seems to be: everywhere.
“There still do need to be places for those who want safety, but I think the bigger thing is that every space should be safe for our community,” says Carlie Steiner, a lesbian, owner of Pom Pom, and co-owner of Dos Mamis. “Everything should be safe for queer people.”
Though that is the ideal, of course not every place in the politically polarizing climate of DC is considered safe for queer people. But an ongoing shift is unmistakable as the LGBTQ+ community has begun to stake their own claim inside more traditional bars -- exemplified by outdoor beer garden Dacha, trendy Takoda, bumping nightclub Flash, or sports bar Nellie’s known for its boozy drag brunches.
“There is such a breadth of style in DC, and I knew that I could try out different aesthetics and still find my people,” says Taylor Portela, who moonlights as a drag queen named Lavender Scare. “The drag scene in DC is tight. Like any artist community, it's full of joy and pain and tension and excitement. Being able to work with performers of all stripes, to hear their ideas and see them come to life, has been exhilarating.”
Despite the rainbow extending to more spaces throughout the District, gay bars will always be the most well-lit beacons for the DC queer community to let their (literal) hair down, perhaps for the first time ever. Here are the best bars and parties for a night of queer debauchery -- from shirtless specials to ’90s dance parties and everything in between. These are the spaces guaranteed not only to make everyone feel safe, but also to have a damn good time.
Three floors (including a rooftop deck!) of bear-loving fun
There’s always a good time to be had at Uproar, with plenty of space to roam thanks to three levels and a large rooftop. Make sure to check out its Bear Happy Hour, a weekly celebration of DC’s bear community on Fridays at 5pm. Every month, you can also look forward to its special BHH: Fetish Fridays, when the second level is transformed into “a dark and dirty Bear Cave” -- the perfect time to let your inner freak flag fly.
U Street/14th Street
Potent, cheap cocktails and dance parties in a divey atmosphere
Skirting the line between a dive and a dance party, Trade is a cozy, no-frills bar with stiff drinks and a backyard patio. If you plan on visiting on a weekend night expect it to be packed, but make sure to arrive before 10pm for their “huge” specials, in which you’ll get your vodka soda (or other mixed beverage) served in a pint glass for the same price. The bar also features an array of drag performances. Ed Bailey, a co-owner of the bar, says his favorite memory there was “probably the time the cast of Schitt’s Creek came for a night to judge a ‘Night of a Thousand Moiras’ event, or maybe the time Kim Petras came in after her concert.”
DJ nights in a huge club with a killer sound system
When the uber popular Town Danceboutique closed in 2018, it left a distinct void in the LGBTQ+ nightlife scene, but thankfully there are still regular, booty-popping events come Saturday night. One of those is the live DJ series that is Avalon Saturdays at Soundcheck, which usually also hosts a drag show with a rotating cast of queens. Sure, cover is a bit steep at $20 a pop, but the $4 Absolut drinks make up for it.
Neighborhood bar with great pub grub and a dog-friendly patio
Larry’s isn’t the kind of place you go to when you want to get down and funky -- it’s a cute neighborhood joint for lively conversation with good friends. A DC institution, Larry’s has maintained its position of a reliable cornerstone in what was once considered DC’s gayborhood. There’s still plenty to love on 17th Street though, also home to the beloved annual High Heel Drag Queen Race.
U Street Corridor
New quarterly dance party with drag performers, go-go dancers, and performance art
This new dance party has taken DC by storm and given the LGBTQ+ community something fun to look forward to following the sad ending of the Mixtape series, halted after a decade of shirtless bumping and grinding. Planned by the 9:30 Club and helmed by a local DJ Lemz, BENT is a quarterly celebration that features themes and drag performances. “We're really working hard to make it different every single time,” says Schaefer. “But it will always be a place where people feel welcome.”
U Street Corridor
Raucous monthly dance party that celebrates all things 1990s
This ’90s dance party at DC9 is a well-loved monthly event “celebrating the decade of Crystal Pepsi, Hypercolor tees, and Doc Martens.” Expect a packed house and be ready to dance all night. DC9 itself is not considered a gay bar and hosts musical acts (mainly indie bands) nearly every night, but don’t let that stop you from checking it out on any ole weekend night -- you’ll almost always be in good company as it continually maintains a healthy mix of LGBTQ+ patrons.
Female-inclusive queer sports bar with games and open mic nights
Located right next to gay sports bar Pitchers, A League of Her Own (ALOHO) is a laid back spot to toss back a few beers and play a game of billiards or foosball. It’s also one of DC’s first female-inclusive queer spaces to open since the closure of Phase I in 2016, once the longest operating lesbian bar in the nation. ALOHO manager Jo McDaniel has worked to make the space gender inclusive, not just for lesbians and those who identify as female, but for any and all in the queer community.
Unassuming dive for burly guys to show off their bods
Those who have never visited the Green Lantern may have passed by it a million times without even realizing. Located in an alley off Thomas Circle, this decades-old dive is a welcome respite from the rest of the city with fun happy hour specials and events all week long. Stonewall Kickballers will know it as a place to unwind after games on Sundays, but it’s perhaps best known for its Thursday specials in which shirtless men drink free from 10-11pm and so do men in underwear from 12-12:30am.
Two-level upscale bar with stellar drink specials
Made perfectly for the after-work happy hour crowd, Number Nine is a slightly more upscale gay bar than your norm. Make sure to hang onto your receipts for their popular BOGO deal, which happens every day until 9pm. Nothing is off-limits from the 2-for-1 deal either, from Bud Light to top-shelf mixed drinks.
Italian joint by day, gay karaoke bar by night
Though you might not realize by the name, Dupont Italian Kitchen is the premiere spot for gay karaoke. Lovingly referred to as DIK Bar, it’s the kind of place you can come on a Saturday night to drunkenly belt out some Whitney Houston and return on Sunday afternoon for bottomless mimosas.
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