The Best Spots for LGBTQ+ Nightlife in Washington DC
Gay sports bars, karaoke parties, and so much more.
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.
The question of whether every place can now be considered safe in DC for queer people remains, but an ongoing shift is unmistakable as the LGBTQ+ community has begun to stake out their own space within more traditional watering holes, with outdoor beer garden Dacha, the trendy Takoda, and the bumping nightclub Flash as prime examples.
"DC’s LGBTQ+ community is truly remarkable. We have all sorts of people and all sorts of personalities,” says DJ and nightlife entrepreneur, Ed Bailey. “Because our city is such a magnet for people from all over the world, that keeps our community incredibly diverse. Also, DC is a place where people with ambitious career goals come to pursue things seriously. So, our community is not only diverse, but it is also very smart and that makes for a lively, vibrant nightlife. In general, I expect our hopes for our community are the same as many others' hopes—that we are just trying to be a truly better community all the time."
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 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.
New to the DC nightlife scene is a queer DJ collective called Flower Factory, which hosts regular dance parties on the rooftop of the Eaton Hotel. The collective’s self-proclaimed goal is to “create a welcoming, inclusive function with great music and the best in queer and allied talent,” which they do every second Sunday of the month at Wild Days. There’s never a cover charge to enter, just good vibes.
U Street Corridor
Peach Pit, a ‘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.
Dupont Italian Kitchen, also lovingly referred to as DIK Bar, is the premier spot for gay karaoke. 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.
Located side-by-side in the heart of Adams Morgan is Pitchers, a multi-level gay sports bar, and A League of Her Own, an adjoining lesbian bar. “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. A League of Her Own is managed by Jordan “Jo” McDaniel, whose close friend Carlie Steiner says has worked to make the space gender-inclusive, not just for lesbians and those who identify as female. “I think there's a big difference between calling yourself a lesbian bar and when you use [the word] queer,” says Steiner. “You're really being much more inclusive of the whole community.”
Every other Tuesday, make your way over to DC’s only fully LGBTQ+ owned brewery for a raucous night of drag bingo. Each event is hosted by drag queen Desiree Dik, who both calls out numbers during bingo rounds and performs twice throughout the night. Four prizes are also
doled out to winners, and if you’re feeling especially thirsty that night make sure to get there before 6 pm to catch the end of happy hour prices.
Closure of the popular Town Danceboutique has left a gaping hole in the LGBTQ+ nightlife scene, but thankfully there are still regular events to pop your booty to come Saturday evening. One of those is the live DJ series that is Avalon Saturdays, which usually also hosts a drag show with a rotating cast of queens. Sure, the cover is a bit steep at $20 a pop, but the $4 Absolut drinks make up for it.
Casual dive-y bar TallBoy opened back in 2019, taking over the space that formerly housed Smoked & Stacked. They serve up, you guessed it, tallboy cans of beer, as well as satisfying greasy spoon dishes like chicken wings and grilled cheese. On Monday nights, they have Drag Social happy hours hosted by a queen named Logan Stone with $5 shots and jello shots and $7 cocktails.
Skirting the line between a dive and a dance party, Trade is a narrow, no-nonsense 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 10 pm 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—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.”
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 their Bear Happy Hour, a weekly celebration of DC’s bear community on Fridays at 5 pm. Every fourth week you can also look forward to their 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.
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 as 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
This storied music venue has a new dance party that 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 named 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 Audrey Fix Schaefer, Head of Communications for I.M.P. “So it’s exciting and there are always surprises, but it will always be a place where people feel welcome.”
Those who have never visited the Green Lantern may have passed by it a million times without even realizing it. 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 to 11 pm and men in underwear get free drinks for a half-hour after the clock strikes midnight.
Made perfectly for the after-work happy hour crowd is Number Nine, a slightly more upscale gay bar than your norm, with two levels. Make sure to hang onto your receipts for their popular BOGO deal, which happens every day until 9 pm. Nothing is off-limits from the 2-for-1 deal either, from Bud Light to top-shelf mixed drinks.