Get to Know Oak Lawn, Dallas’ Iconic Gayborhood
Discover a place where Pride knows no bounds.
It still surprises many people that Dallas has such a large LGBTQ+ community. After all, Texas continues to make headlines for its conservative one-upmanship in the state capital, often directly taking aim at the rights queer folks have fought so hard to achieve. However, this very adversity may be the reason queer Texans have been forced to band together, becoming an influential force to be reckoned with for survival and instinctively knowing when it’s time to make our voices heard and take a stand. Openly LGBTQ+ leaders occupy several top elected roles in the community and have recently held positions as important as Chief of Police. Queer-owned and allied businesses are strong here, too, evidenced by our own well-established LGBT Chamber of Commerce. And when it’s time to play, watch out—you’ll likely find us partying it up at the Crossroads, AKA the intersection of Throckmorton Street and Cedar Springs Road at the heart of our own Oak Lawn gayborhood.
As a proud gay man (Happy Pride, y’all!), I’ve been part of the Dallas queer community for a long time. Like, a reallllly long time. We’re talking after mobile phones but before smartphones, back when a grinder was just a sub sandwich from Boston and the only “cancel culture” I encountered was desperate attempts to end my Crunch gym membership. Indeed, I was young and naive back in the mid-1990s, but despite being warned that some Dallas gays were snobs, I managed to find a tribe of lifelong friends and chosen family, a partner of two-and-a-half decades, and a running bar tab that’s probably hovering somewhere around $300,000 (and counting). In fact, wherever you find me in the ‘hood, I’m typically accompanied by a healthy dusting of glitter, the latest on-trend cocktail, and a soundtrack fueled by pop divas—and that’s just when visiting my chiropractor or dropping off shirts at the dry cleaner.
Sure, I’ve witnessed first-hand the changes Oak Lawn and the surrounding areas have gone through over the years, but at its core, much has stayed the same. Due to a variety of factors, the number of bars and other LGBTQ+ businesses have decreased. Rent increases, the pandemic, internet dating sites, and smartphone apps have all played a role, but we can’t discount the fact that we’re now able to be our authentic selves almost anywhere in town, thereby reducing the need for exclusively queer spaces. But that doesn’t make places owned by queer people and our allies any less important. Visiting Oak Lawn this past weekend for Dallas Pride, it was abundantly clear by the thousands of people packed into bars, restaurants, shops, and streets that we still need a central meeting place where we feel safe, respected, and loved. So whether you’re a lifelong resident, new to town, or planning an upcoming visit to Big D, here are the fab places you need to go, not only during June but throughout the entire rainbow-hued year.
Toast to the Dallas queer community
At its peak, the Dallas nightlife scene had more than 30 bars and clubs, not including those in Arlington, Fort Worth, Denton, and other metroplex cities. Though we’re probably never going to see that same kind of hey-gurl hay day ever again, we still have 24 watering holes across North Texas with 17 scattered about the gayborhood. And while Oak Lawn’s bars are open to everyone (21 and over, of course), it’s still good to keep their specific niches in mind when picking a place to let loose in the ‘hood.
For dancing, head to Station 4 (also called S4), a large two-story club that includes the Rose Room Theater and Lounge, a world-class, high-tech drag showplace stashed upstairs. Across the street, country western dancing (including lessons) is the claim to fame of Round-Up Saloon & Dance Hall, a sprawling venue with multiple bars and a separate karaoke parlor near the entrance—not to mention once being voted the best gay country western dance hall in the entire US of A. Dallas Eagle, which remains temporarily closed, normally attracts the leather crowd with a high-energy dance floor and various theme nights. Sue Ellen’s two-story setting caters primarily to queer women with a big dance floor and stage for frequent live musical acts. And though they have smaller dance floors, TMC, plus Latin-centric Kaliente and Havana, all play their part.
Great places to hang out with friends over cocktails include Woody’s sports bar, Hidden Door (with a famous Sunday beer bust), and Pekers Bar, all teeming with super laid-back vibes. For spots with quality eats to match the booze, check out Cedar Springs Tap House, Liquid Zoo Sports Bar & Grille, JR’s Bar & Grill, and Mr. Misster, which also offers a regularly-occurring drag brunch. Alexandre’s features live music and classic cocktails (plus it’s in the process of expanding), while the Tin Room is the top destination to catch male dancers. Two places that aren’t specifically LGBTQ+-focused but end up attracting a pretty even mix of folks from all orientations are the swanky Library Bar at the Warwick Melrose Hotel and the Grapevine Bar, which especially shines during Sunday Funday. Outside Oak Lawn’s boundaries—but well worth a pop-in—are friendly neighborhood joint Barbara’s Pavilion in Oak Cliff and the 1851 Club in Arlington as well as the Urban Cowboy Saloon, Club Changes, and Club Reflection in Fort Worth.
Stuff your face with delicious cuisine
Whether you go before, after, or instead of hitting the bars, there’s never an excuse to go hungry in Oak Lawn. Hunky’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers, dating to 1984, has been more recently joined by Mario’s Mexican and Salvadorian Restaurant, Ai Sushi Sake Grill, Crickles & Co Brunch + Brews, Orno, Taqueria La Ventana, Tacos y Mas, Thai Lotus Kitchen, Amico’s Exotic Pizza, Chef House (Chinese & Thai), Cosmic Cafe (vegetarian and vegan), Italia Express, Union Coffee, and Street’s Fine Chicken, plus relative newcomer Roy G’s, which gets its name from the acronym ROYGBIV that helps people remember the colors of the rainbow. Outside the gayborhood, out gay chef Abraham Salum’s namesake Salum Restaurant offers exquisite fine dining. Time to loosen that belt a notch or two.
Shop ‘til you death-drop
When your credit card’s jonesing for some action, head to one of the boutique shops along the main strip, including thrift store Out of the Closet, which also features free on-site HIV testing and counseling, too. For a variety of queer-focused merch, Tapelenders has shifted from its original business plan of renting videos into a great little gift shop for all your queer trinket needs. Meanwhile, for men’s underwear, swimsuits, and other apparel, make sure to check out Skivvies, Outlines Men’s Wear, and the ES Collection.
Visit the Resource Center
One of the crown jewels of the Dallas queer community has long been Resource Center, which goes above and beyond your average YMCA-style neighborhood drop-in. The main building itself is architecturally impactful, built from the ground up to address the many diverse needs of LGBTQ+ people. With services tailored to everyone from youth to senior citizens, a variety of programs zero in on subgroups within the larger community, and local organizations can rent out space for meetings and other events, too. To learn more about all they do—not to mention how you can get involved—sign up for one of their popular Get Centered tours.
Focus on wellness & wellbeing
The health needs of LGBTQ+ folks can be unique and we’re lucky to have so many different options directly serving us, often with free and accessible services including PrEP and STI testing and treatment. Among the outposts in or very close to Oak Lawn are Nelson Tebedo Clinic, Resource Center's primary care facility, and Prism Health North Texas, which recently partnered with LGBTQ+-focused medical practice, Uptown Physicians Group.
Look great while you’re at it
Throughout the gayborhood, you’ll find a variety of service providers focused on making you look as fantastic on the outside as you do on the inside. Coif your hair at Atelier Barber Co., Salon Aura, and Beauty Box Salon; treat yourself to manicures and pedicures at Onyx Nail Bar, the Nail Spa, and Fab Nail Bar; wink with more confidence after a visit to Dep Lashes; get bronzed at the Tan Bar; and feel better in your bod with help from iFusion Hydration and Aesthetics.
Read up on LGBTQ+ history
Years ago, the Oak Lawn branch of the Dallas Public Library partnered with the Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale to create the second-largest collection of LGBTQ+ literature and reference materials in the world. And to add to the fabulous stockpile, the University of North Texas has created the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual Archive, a vast digital archive for collecting and preserving the history of the LGBTQ+ community.
Stay the weekend on the strip
Whether you’re an out-of-towner visiting Dallas or a local looking for a gay old time with a close-to-home staycation, the Warwick Melrose Hotel and gay-owned bed and breakfast Daisy Polk Inn are both great options that sit steps from all the action. Imagine how nice it would be to stumble out of a bar—or waddle out of a restaurant following a big meal—and realize you’re a mere few minutes from a hot shower and a big, comfy bed.