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

Add a comment

46 Comments

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  4. JJ

    Jesus, as a gay man reading this list, its no wonder why I stopped going to gay bars. Truly sad and the music generally speaking is AWFUL, shitty Top 40 or…oonce oonce oonce. WTF happened since the late 90s/early 2000??

  5. TTTTom

    Not
    that all the bars listed don’t look like loads of laughs. They do. Most also require a lot of effort
    unlike by favorite bar type, The Dive. It’s
    a place where the dregs of society can gather with absolutely no attitude. Dive bars attract people with no pretense and
    no pruderies. Rough and tumble real
    people equals real fun. Like all the
    bars listed, it’s the people there that you’re going for. It’s nice to know what you’re getting into.

  6. Graham

    We still belong in the Twink bar. Still under 30’s and would like to stay that way. I can’t stand the Circuit parties filled with older predatory gentlemen who belong in the leather manhole.
    After growing out the Twink bar, there is always the Neighbourhood Bar / Queer bar to explore, if our mood ever mellows.
    Hate Leather bars! I would never step in another leather bar again. The people who show in those places are downright judgmental, even among their Gaybear brethren. Plus they always talk about Fisting,Felching and other Pig stuff that i just cannot deal with 24/7. But the nice thing is, drinks are somewhat cheaper at the Leather Bar. If theyre not talking about TreasureIslandMedia, then they are sure talking about how to take you home on their Pig sling.

  7. Chadrick

    Exactly! DJs have gotten so lazy! It takes work to keep up with new music! Anyone can DJ a Top 40 snooze fest!

  8. Garrett

    It’s really interesting to see how our preferences change. I’ve gone through most of the phases, and now find myself (at 27) with an inclination towards the leather bars for a few drinks with friends…maybe in gear if the mood strikes, and then at the big parties if there’s a good DJ or two and some…vitamins…around. A partier doesn’t equal a tweaker, but that’s kind of how we’ve lumped things together these days. I have an amazing job, work hard, travel almost too much, and once in a while enjoy an elevated state of mind. I’m not the one picking through the carpet for little rocks of meth at 7:00am to get high before going to my depressing workplace. Been wanting to say that for a while…this seemed like the place.

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  10. Andrew Lord

    You are missing a bar type that has built and grown over the last 8-9 years, and expanded to open the doors to both gay and str8.. The Gay Sports Bar which can be found in Fort Lauderdale, NYC, SF, Chicago, Wash DC, LA, Philly, ATL, etc, etc, etc

  11. Baladus7

    What’s TRULY pathetic is that ALL the Gay bars/dives/clubs in Frisco don’t have any or almost no blacks. Gay club owners no longer want to lure blacks and latinos into their establishments. Remember The Pendulum? That was THE spot to be at on a Friday or Saturday night. Then it got sold and reopened under the name “Toad Hall”. I went there for the first time since the Pendulum closed down, they did a goo job remodeling and the patio is really cool, however – NOTHING BUT TWINKS!!! If I had to see one more clone-twink in clam diggers, spiky over-gelled hair saying “oh my god for real?” I woulda went crazy!! Blacks from L.A., and everywhere else would usually come to The Pendulum, and over to Oakland to Cables and Bench & Bar – but the destination would always be in Frisco. Gay clubs need to wake up and realized that the gay world isn’t just made up of all white people, theres other cultures out there that would love to go to a club and feel welcomed. Sadly – none of them really make you feel that way. I do like The Eagle, because I live in Antioch, I don’t get to Frisco except maybe twice or three times a year. But when i want to go out on a Friday night, there aren’t any good clubs anymore. Blacks stay home, or go do other non-club stuff. We don’t go to any of the places in Frisco, cause there all predominately white.The music is always outdated and tired, and typically “gay” club music. You know the Pendulum was a place for minorities to go and feel accepted amongst there own gay peers. We don’t have that anymore. I wish someone would re-open a NEW Pendulum, or something like it. Even The Bar used to be pretty good, and it moved out of the area.

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  14. Moko Mike

    It’s not that bars in “Frisco” (please, dude, it’s “San Fran” or “SF”) have gotten whiter, it’s that the whole city has gotten whiter.

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  23. Anonymous

    @Baladas&MokoMike, Your’re both right. Baladas I lived in SF for a few years and you are 100% right about Blacks not being and feeling very,very unwelcome in the bars. The Castro,please I don’t want to go to the word racist but if the slipper fits. The Castro and (all gay bars and neighborhoods) in all the cities I’ve lived in are very unwelcoming to any one who are not white. Sad but true. Mako Mike, You also make a good point but still the myth is that in the gay ‘community’ all are welcome with open arms just that a myth no matter the racial make up of the city.

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  26. Anonymous

    I loved the Pendulum back in the 90s. Atl has a bar Bulldog that was my favorite back in the 70s and 80s and it’s 100 percent black. Guess racism still exists even in SF aND atl.

  27. Anonymous

    Lesbian bars ARE hostile to men, and this includes bisexual and gay men, and lesbian bars are extremely hostile towards bisexual women and trans people.

    Leather bars are now a joke and have been for decades. LGBT/gay bars can be fun when you’re young and first coming out or trying to meet and date people or hook up; but most people outgrow them fast.

    Yes, a lot of gay/LGBT bars and dance clubs are pretty much an all white environment but it has been this way for decades. There are bars for bisexual and gay black women and men but you will have to look to find them, and most of the times they are in large cities.

  28. Anonymous

    OK I love the dive bar, kinda like the neighborhood haunt, easy and relaxing place to have a cheap beer. And I would definitely prefer the “sexual innuendo” bars over the Leather bars. The leather bars seem to have Stand-and-model guys showing off their latest harness or cockring and the places seem so cliquish, and do not make a visitor or outsider feel welcome at all. And in the former days leather bars had some “action” on the patio or in a dark corner, etc., which was just fine with me, nothing like having some fun while wearing leather. Nowadays every Eagle is a clone for clean “look at me” types and “nothing dirty going on.” Thankfully there’s New Orleans! And I do resent the author’s putdown of European freedom by assuring a visitor that they’ll get an STD in one of the Backroom bars. You can get that anywhere, depends on who you go home with. We need more of that freedom in “Puritan” USA, especially now with the hate-filled B.S. we’re dealing with by those trying to bring back the 1950s.

  29. Anonymous

    …this Christmas I was thinking about getting to Brighton to visit a gay club. The trains are complete shite in this part of the country and the clubs are getting fewer and fewer–because everyone goes to London.

  30. Anonymous

    I’m in the third largest city in Indiana,and all wehave are 2 crappy drag bars, one so bad it’s like being in a banquet hall at a cheap wedding reception. Last time I was out, there were less than a dozen patrons on a Friday night. Sad. No ‘man bar’.

  31. Anonymous

    @Baladus7 Do you even have to ask or wonder why that is? This more applies to the black bars/club than the hispanic ones but they are always ghetto as hell and people cannot act in a civilized manner. Then the fighting and guns come out. If the black would not continue to prove that the stereotype society has is true then maybe more place would welcome them in more. If you act like animals then dont be shocked when people see you and treat you like the animal you are acting like.

  32. Anonymous

    I have one to add to the list of piano bars. Tavern on Camac in Philly. The fact that it’s kind of hidden on an old and very small street in the Gayborhood just adds to the appeal. It’s one of those places that’s hard to find (without GPS) but the search is so worth it once you step inside and hear the piano going and someone (not always male) belting out half of the songs from Wizard of Oz, some other showtunes, and (at least the night I was there) a sprinkling of classic rock (Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, etc.)

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