Who says gay bars are over? Even with gay dating apps like Grindr and Scruff, bars are still fun places to meet new people and have a good time. Whether you are looking for someone special, having a night out with friends or just want a safe space to be out and proud, D.C. offers a treasure trove of lesbian-, gay-, bisexual-, and transgender-friendly bars of all shapes and sizes.
NELLIE’S SPORTS BAR: Since opening in summer 2007, Nellie’s has become a crown jewel of D.C.’s gay nightlife scene and as a meeting place for all members of the community. The two-story bar with a large roof deck is known for its dangerously awesome Beat The Clock Happy Hour (when drinks range between $2 and $4), Wednesday’s “Smart Ass” pub quizzes, and Thursday’s Drag Bingo. While the bar is not typically known for dancing, check out the Guil-Tea Dance parties on Sundays this summer for loads of fun. And, true to its name, it’s an easy place to grab a beer and watch a game. Nellie’s is a hot spot for everyday of the week.
Nellie’s Sports Bar is located at 900 U Street NW.
JR’s BAR & GRILL: Twenty-five years is a long time for any bar, but that is ancient in gay years. JR’s Bar and Grill has been serving this area for a long time and has always remained a must-go place. While the “and Grill” bit of the name is a misnomer as the place doesn’t serve food, JR’s is a great place to listen to music and drink the night away. Monday nights, the bar hosts its legendary show tunes night, perfect for any fan of musical theater.
JR’s is located at 1519 17th Street NW.
TOWN DANCEBOUTIQUE: Town is the biggest gay bar in D.C. The dance club, in a converted warehouse, is only open on Friday and Saturday nights (aside from a few special events), and it is the spot for weekend fun. Town boasts the area’s best drag show, hosted by Lena Lett and featuring Miss Tatianna (“the Starlet of Town”), who starred in the second season of Ru-Paul’s Drag Race. Set across two floors, the club features a music video party downstairs and a revolving crew of DJ’s upstairs. The club hosts special guests and programming including winners from Drag Race, WTF?-themed parties around holidays, and Bear Happy Hour every Friday.
Town is located at 2009 Eighth St NW.
PHASE1 / PHASE1 OF DUPONT: Phase1 is not only one of the oldest queer bars in the area, but one of the oldest lesbian bars in entire country. The bar, now in its 43rd year in business, is a true landmark. Though the bar is old, it still thrills younger generations with an calendar chock full of DJ nights and performances from the D.C. Drag Kings. In addition to regularly scheduled programming, Phase1 has hosted its own music and arts festival (PhaseFest) for seven years.
In 2012, Phase1 the space occupied by the now-defunct Apex to create Phase1 of Dupont, a lesbian nightclub that rivals Town in size. While the club has been going through some growing pains, it hosts a wide variety of female-centric events like wet T-shirt contests and 90’s nights.
Phase1 is located at 525 8th Street SE. Phase1 Dupont is located at 1415 22nd Street NW.
COBALT: Cobalt has been keeping things fresh since recovering from a fire in 2001. Though it’s actually three venues sharing one building—Level One, the first-floor restaurant; 30degrees, a second-floor bar and lounge; Cobalt, the namesake third-floor dance club—no one will criticize you if you call it all Cobalt. The club is always introducing and hosting new dance parties, including the white-hot CTRL.
Cobalt is located at 1639 R Street NW.
FREDDIE’S BEACH BAR & RESTAURANT: Never mind the beach theme, the Barbies on the wall, or the pink flamingo that threw up inside, this Arlington bar is a charmer that has been serving patrons for 13 years. Though the bar is not in D.C. proper, Freddie’s is a short walk from the Crystal City metro. With a laid-back vibe, friendly staff, and reasonably priced drinks, Freddie’s is fun any night of the week. Freddie’s hosts karaoke every night of the week, as well as the always amusing Drag Bingo.
Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant is located at 555 23rd Street South, Arlington.
LARRY’S LOUNGE: Inadvertently omitted from our earlier list of places to drink outside, Larry’s Lounge is the perfect place to people-watch. This friendly gay bar has a non-pretentious vibe with cheap drinks and a new food menu. Larry’s remains one of the quietest of all the bars on the list, making it a perfect date spot. Check out the basement level, which can be rented for parties and has a suburban basement feel.
Larry’s Lounge is located at 1840 18th Street NW.
ZIEGFELDS’S/SECRETS: Ziegfeld’s/Secrets is spread across two levels, each offering different experiences depending on your mood. The downstairs club, Ziegfeld’s, features DJs and dancing, and is home to the The Ladies of Illusion, starring D.C. personality Destiny B Child’s. Upstairs at Secrets, every Wednesday through Sunday, nude men dance on podiums and shower behind the bar for your enjoyment. If you are feeling up for a little exhibition, Secrets hosts amateur night on Wednesdays and audition night on Thursdays. While Ziegfeld’s and Secrets are truly in the middle of nowhere, don’t let the location scare you. The clubs have a special car service to take you to and from the venue. Any ladies feeling the urge to see some man meat at Secrets must have a male escort to enter.
Ziegfeld’s and Secrets is located at 1824 Half Street SW.
NUMBER 9: Number 9’s space has gone through many incarnations. First was the super-tacky Halo then even kitschier MOVA. When Ed Bailey and John Guggenmos (formerly of beloved clubs Nation and Tracks, now of Town) opened Number 9 in 2011 they had a lot to prove. By stripping away the neon lights and dated décor, the duo transformed the bar into a speakeasy with dark floors and a solid wood bar. Keeping the buy-one, get-one happy hour of their predecessors, Number 9 is the perfect spot for an after work drink. While the clientele is more suits then shorts, everyone is more than welcome. With the recent renovation of the second floor, cheekily named 9 ½, the bar has grown with the times and proves it isn’t going anywhere.
Number 9 is located at 1435 P Street NW.
THE FAB LOUNGE: FAB Lounge is a secret hot spot that while known for its mixed crowd, has a primarily African-American and lesbian audience. The club is a bit tiny, but the fun had here can be massive. The drinks are always poured strong and the music, a mix of Top 40, rap, and R&B, played loud. Sure, the club can get a little packed, but you will still have room to twerk the night away. With no cover, it is a great place for a fun Saturday night.
The FAB Lounge is located at 1805 Connecticut Avenue NW.
Mova is located at 2204 14th Street NW.
PW’s SPORTS BAR & GRILL: PW’s sits between D.C. and Baltimore in a small strip mall in Laurel, Md. PW’s is a true dive bar, with a large barroom connecting to another space with a stage and pool table. Its food is better than that of the average bar, with its burger voted among the 10 best in the greater Washington area by WTOP listeners. The bar was also one of the the first to bring some Ru-Paul’s Drag Race stars to the area in addition to its regular drag show on the weekend. The laid-back, affordable joint opens every day at 8 a.m. to serve breakfast, making it as perfect place to wax off a hangover as it is to get one.
PW’s Sports Bar and Grill is located at 9855 Washington Boulevard, North Laurel, Md.