11 types of gay bars and why they matter more than ever

Jul 26, 2014

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In today’s scene, brick and mortar is being replaced with GPS proximity as more guys opt out of hitting the streets to instead hit on guys in the virtual hookup bars known as Grindr, Adam4Adam and Scruff.

And there’s no shame in that–except that there is so much more to gay bars than just finding your next bedfellow. The bars have long stood as community hubs, and a bit of that social glue disintegrates with every new Tinder match.

While they’re certainly far from perfect, we should be doing making sure these local businesses stay afloat by drinking cheap well liquor. And yes, you can even find a hot trick if that’s what you’re after. Plus, you’ll be able to judge in person if he’s the real deal rather than on 10 year old photoshopped pictures and exaggerated stats.

Here are the eleven types of gay bars and how to get around them…

Neighborhood Haunt

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This is the gay version of Cheers, where everyone know’s your name (and your fave drink/sexual position), and there’s at least one in every major city. The decor is usually questionable, reflecting the best of early 2000’s poor taste. The beer and liquor selection is fine enough, and the prices are more than fair. And you can’t step inside without seeing someone you know and would rather not know. It’s a cultural vortex, and no matter how often you say you’re over it, you’ll end up right back on that cramped back patio quicker than you can say “make it a double.”

It’s tough to meet anyone new here, since it’s the same ole faces week in week out. But that’s somehow comforting to know.

See: The Lookout, Urban Mo’s

Twink Bar

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If you aren’t between the ages of 21-25 (or look it), you may find yourself overlooked as the children frolic shirtless in their disillusioned bacchanalia. And unless you’re dating one of these guys (or looking to), stepping inside is generally going to be a disappointment. And not because of some sad existential age crisis on your part. You’ll see young people drunk (or high) off their asses pretending to be feeling the cosmic connection to their fellow brethren.

But that’s just the booze talking. If you could see them waking up the next morning in a stranger’s bed with a look of sweaty regret, you’d be happy your 20s are a thing of the past.

See: Badlands

Sexual Innuendo Bar

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These are the bars called The Manhole, The Cock, The Back Door, Ramrod or something else equally and shamelessly phallic. Because, you know, sex and stuff. The interior vibe is usually some combination of cell block D, a locker room and an auto body garage. So lots of chrome. You’ll find all sorts of masculine Marys expressing their gayness by searching for other jacked up dudes to get off with.

Truth be told while these bars (and those who frequent them) can sometime be intimidating, once you get past the hard exterior there’s usually a welcoming, gooey center. Which sounds kind of dirty now that we think about it.

See: The Cock, The Brass Rail

Mega Club

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‘OONCE ‘OONCE ‘OONCE “WHAT??” ‘OONCE ‘OONCE ‘OONCE “I SAID, ‘WHAT’S YOUR NAME?!'” ‘OONCE ‘OONCE “OH. YEAH I LOVE THIS SONG!”

That’s one of the many half-conversations that occur nightly in these palaces of inner ear damage. Circuit queens need somewhere to go in between indulgent trips to Palm Springs and Las Vegas, and the mega clubs (or klerbs) offer that proprietary blend of lasers and fog that really get these girls dancing. Shirts are heavily frowned upon.

Occasionally an event at a massive club will reach that transcendent level where time and space stop and your spirit soars to the heavens, but more often than not you’ll just end up covered in someone else’s sweat while you close out your hundred dollar bar tab.

See: BPM New York, XXL London

Lesbian Bar

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There’s a lot of misinformation floating around the gay (male) community that lesbian bars are unwelcoming, even hostile places for men to step foot. This is simply not the case. I have never felt unwanted at a girl bar or girl party, and it all really comes down to intention. I love me some ladies who love ladies, and while there are surely women out there who would rather be in a women-only space (just as there are gay guys who prefer the company of dudes only), generally people are pretty open to being open.

Just don’t be a dick. Remember that if you’re a gay guy, you aren’t on your own turf. And it’s always important to be on good behavior when you’re on foreign soil.

See: The Lex, Henrietta Hudson

Leather Bar

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These can be a bit like the innuendo bars in their nod to heightened masculinity, but they differ in that they’re less tacky.

Oh and it’s probably called The Eagle.

See: The Eagle (SF), The Eagle (NYC), The Eagle (Seattle)

Backroom Bar

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While these have become few and far between in the United States, the backroom bar is still very much alive and kicking across Europe. There’s something darkly honest about them – an admission of our baser instincts, a collective acceptance of open lust. There’s also something bit off about it, because really, this isn’t the connection we all seek deep down. It’s a fleeting, dimly lit playground of flesh to satisfy your physical body until you’re ready to get your next fix.

And you’d better be damn certain you have access to quality antibiotics on the regs.

See: Schuene

Kitsch Bar

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This is the gay bar you’d take your mom to. The walls are covered with camp, kitsch, nicknacks and trinkets. The atmosphere is welcoming and nonthreatening, and there’s probably some vintage disco playing not-too-loudly in the background. The crowd tends to be a bit older, but that doesn’t mean the kitsch bar is over the hill.

These simultaneously high-energy and low-key hangouts are great places to gather a group of friends to get silly off tequila til the wee hours.

See: Wild Side West, Hamburger Mary’s

Queer Bar

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We throw around the “LGBT” term so loosely these days, yet when it comes to socializing our community goes all sophomore homecoming dance and segregates into our respective corners. Well at the queer bar, all that gets thrown into the blender. Daddies, trans boys, twinks, lipstick lesbians – you name it, they’re here. And they’re definitely out to have a good time.

Queer bars can help you burst out of your bubble. Be yourself to the fullest – you may be surprised how much game you’ve been hiding.

See: El Rio

Piano Bar

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The piano bar is about as classy as it gets for gay bars. The center piece of the space is, you guessed it, the piano and stage, where cabaret-style performances are a nightly offering. You’ll hear standards, showtunes, definitely some Judy Garland and maybe a few surprises sprinkled in there. The crowd can skew older, but that’s not a reason not to visit.

Piano bars make great date spots. You won’t see all your friends, everyone’s drinking strong martinis and you can actually carry on a conversation between songs.

See: Martuni’s

Stripper Bar

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Well what is there to really say about stripper bars? The focus is naturally tuned to the (very) scantily clad “performers” as they gyrate and grind their way to a big collection of George Washington portraits. Touching is usually not only allowed but encouraged, as long as the dollars keep coming. As if gay bars weren’t already sexually charged enough, the stripper bar gets especially in heat.

But this is the world of fantasy; you may want to move your attention to the cutie smoking on the patio if you have hopes of a private show.

See: BJ’s NXS

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