How to Experience DC Through an LGBTQIA+ Lens
From historic sites to funky shops and must-visit bars.
Though our nation’s capital might not be the first destination to enter your mind when thinking about a major LGBTQIA+ hub, it probably should be. Long before a joyous crowd celebrated the long overdue passage of nationwide marriage equality on the steps of the Supreme Court in 2015, Washington, DC, was at the center of the battle for it.
Even before the Stonewall Riots in New York City, LGBTQIA+ activist Frank Kameny filed the first gay rights appeal to the Supreme Court, and after being denied, dedicated his life to that fight. Visiting the National Mall and its memorials and museums are a great way to learn about certain facets of US history, but the city also has areas dedicated to the remembrance of LGBTQIA+ history in the District.
Politics aside, DC is also a thriving representation of the diverse pattern work that is the LGBTQIA+ community, with bars, dance parties, and drag brunches galore. It doesn’t hurt that the newspaper of record once dubbed it “the gayest place in America'' and nearly 10% of its adult residents identify as LGBTQIA+.
So, from historic sites to funky shops and must-visit bars, here’s how to experience Washington, DC, the gay way.
Get your drink on in Ivy City
Bopping around the now-flourishing distillery scene in Ivy City, it would be a tragedy to not make a stop at Republic Restoratives — a lesbian-owned establishment that produces top-notch vodka and whiskey right here in Washington, DC. They made a national splash when coming out with their signature “Rodham Rye” named after the former First Lady and presidential hopeful, but are also known for their highly drinkable Civic Vodka and chic industrial space.
Shop for your next statement piece on 14th Street
Since 2008, Pixie Windsor has been helping Washingtonians embrace maximalism with her shop Miss Pixie’s Furnishings and Whatnot. The Logan Circle mainstay is loved by all for its quirky, one-of-a-kind vintage finds and distinctive pink walls. Inside the LGBTQIA-owned shop, you can find anything from a new credenza to funky pieces of art, colorful bowls, dramatic glassware, and more.
Get brewing in NoMa
Red Bear arrived in the District just a couple of years ago, in 2019, as the city's first 100% gay-owned brewery. It’s the passion project of three gay men who moved from Seattle to Washington, DC, bringing with them tasty West Coast-style brews to enjoy in a chill, inclusive space in NoMa. On tap you’ll find inventive beers (like a guava raspberry gose and carrot ginger saison), hard seltzers, and ciders and there’s a full kitchen with pub staples like burgers, wings, and waffle fries.
Shake your peach on U Street
The ’90s never ends at Peach Pit, a weekly end-of-the-century-themed dance party at the popular nightclub DC9. One of the longest-running dance parties in the city, Peach Pit has been giving LGBTQIA+ Washingtonians a reason to get down on the dance floor to the Emotions album for over 11 years now. The venue even has a playlist available online to get attendees in the mood all week long as they wait for Saturday to arrive.
Pay respects to a legend in Dupont Circle
We have a lot to thank Dr. Frank Kameny for, a lifelong LGBTQIA+ activist who, among other things, challenged the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder and won. Though he’s no longer with us, in 2010 the city had a prime stretch of 17th Street NW near Dupont Circle named after Kameny. It’s a fitting location, considered by locals as the “gayborhood,” where you can patronize gay bars and LGBTQIA-owned restaurants like Hank’s Oyster Bar and Mikko Nordic Fine Food. Just make sure to raise a glass to Kameny while you’re there.
Whether you’re dreaming of visiting Washington, DC, a tropical locale, or a far-flung city, it starts with making a plan. As an active ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, Orbitz has great tools for LGBTQIA+ travelers to research, book, and feel welcomed wherever they travel — like curated hotel listings for properties that have taken their inclusivity pledge. All you have to do is decide what you’re going to do when you get there.
Indulge your sweet tooth in Capitol Hill
While you can find Capital Candy Jar goodies in gourmet markets around the country, its founder, Dave Burton (and his operation) are based right here in Washington, DC. Growing up, Burton was always entrepreneurial — he started a lollipop business during high school which was eventually shut down by the principal. He’s obviously come a long way since then, now growing a small candy empire that includes much-loved homemade confections such as chocolate dipped pretzel sticks, marshmallows, and truffles. In DC, you can find the goods at their Capitol Hill storefront, or at places like Made in DC and Good Foods Market.
Meet a whole new inclusive community from home
At times it can feel like the LGBTQIA+ bar scene is dominated by a certain age demographic — something As You Are Bar founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike have kept in mind while crafting their vision for a new kind of gay bar. Both queer-identifying women and partners, the two are alums of the lesbian bar A League of Her Own, and were inspired by the pandemic shutdowns to create a truly inclusive space (even if it must remain virtual, for now).
Drag yourself to brunch in Adams Morgan
While other shows might have the spotlight shined on them more frequently, Perry’s is actually the longest-running drag brunch in the city. The restaurant itself, which typically serves Japanese fare except during brunch, has been a fixture in the city for over 30 years. Its drag brunch hit the DC scene back in 1991 and has been delighting tipsy brunchers ever since. You can make reservations in advance for one of their two time slots every Sunday, where you and your friends can hit the buffet table, order a round of cocktails, and settle in for the show.
Learn about lesbian history in Capitol Hill
Another LGBTQIA+ spot in DC to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places is the Furies Collective, which recognizes “the early expression of the character, role, and ideology of the lesbian community as a social and political community in the 1970s,” according to the National Park Service. Composed of 12 women, the Furies were a lesbian feminist separatist collective whose published writing challenged the idea of a woman’s identity in relation to men, women, and society. It’s a great place to visit if you’re a history buff, and only a short walk away from Capital Candy Jar for when you’re in need of something sweet afterwards.