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.