LGBT DC: Guide to gay and lesbian Washington

Discover Washington, DC’s best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bars, clubs, nightlife and more with our LGBT DC guide

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Despite the fact that just about half of DC’s transient population is conservative (give or take a few percentages depending on whoever’s in the White House), the LGBT community is not only thriving, it’s practically the majority leader. That is, if you live on 17th Street, H Street, in Adams Morgan, Shaw, Dupont Circle, NoMa, Navy Yards… Did we mention gay DC is on the rise? Until about 15 years ago, the most flavor you’d savor in the District came in the form of mumbo sauce. But, as with any city’s gentrification pattern, wherever gays and lesbians move, gay and lesbian bars are sure to follow.

A walk down 17th Street, NW shows the strongest concentration of gay bars and clubs, in just about every variety you can imagine. By day, you can stop by Cobalt’s Level One restaurant for a casual lunch, but fast forward seven hours and you’ll find yourself in the midst of a three-floor, foggy club with DJs spinning house and hip-hop to a mixed LGBT crowd. Moving down the street, you'll run across a slew of old-school gay restaurants, including Annie's Paramount Steak House, Dupont Italian Kitchen and JR's Bar and Grill. Plus, the strip plays host to post-game antics by DC's gay kickball league on Sundays.

Of course, a romp through LGBT DC wouldn't be complete without a stop at Nellie's Sports Bar—a two-floor, three-bar hot spot that also happens to be one of the best places in town to watch the game. Up the street from Nellie's you'll find Town Danceboutique—a gay nightclub that claims to be DC’s largest. Whether or not that’s true, Town definitely has plenty of action on almost every night of the week. Lesbians aren’t left out either. While most spots cater to both guys and gals, some, like Phase One—the oldest continually operating lesbian bar in the country—lean more toward the ladies.

Nellie’s Sports Bar

  • Critics choice

A gay-friendly sports bar? Mais oui, with karaoke on Tuesdays, Smart Ass Trivia Night on Wednesdays, board games galore, and a roof patio; along with ten HD TVs and one giant screen for game days—in the more traditional, sports-bar sense of the word. Nellie’s, named after the owner’s great- and great-great-grandmother, has all the accoutrements of a regular sports bar (wings, nachos, burgers), along with a mixed crowd, a serious take on sports, and Latin-themed arepas and empanadas from the Venezualan co-owner.

  1. 900 U Street, NW, U Street Corridor, (9th Street)
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Phase One

Phase One has done its best to overcome its image of a rough-gurl hangout where fist-flying bar brawls were the norm, though you’re still most likely to find the place packed out when the Redskins game is projected on to a gigantic screen. The bar recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, no mean feat in a business where operations come and go with alarming regularity. Phase One now hosts occasional open mic events, jello wrestling and even the odd dance night. It also stands alone in presenting drag king shows.

  1. 525 8th Street, SE, Capitol Hill, (F & G Streets)
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Ziegfields/Secrets

Resurrected from the dead in 2009—it was closed to make way for construction of the ballpark—Ziegfields is now back to doing what it does best: regular, uproarious drag nights with hostesses Ella Fitzgerald and Destiny B. Childs. Nude male dancers perform Wednesday through Sunday nights after 9pm. Upstairs, Secrets has DJs and occasional amateur dance contests.

  1. 1824 Half Street, SW, Southwest, (T Street)
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L’Enfant Café

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 2/4

L’Enfant does its best to deliver decent French stalwarts, like boeuf bourguignon, at a reasonable price with reasonable speed. Dimly lit but welcoming and warm, it’s an ideal spot to spend a winter afternoon; in spring and summer, its outdoor patio gets lively.

  1. 2000 18th Street, NW, Adams Morgan, (at corner of U Street & Florida Avenue)
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Lace

Linda McAllister arrived in Washington expecting to find a plethora of lesbian bars, but instead encountered a rather barren nightlife scene. She opened Lace in late 2008, as a restaurant and lounge. The clientele is mostly (not entirely) African-American, and if your brother is straight, he’s welcome too. Decor is unmistakeably feminine, though.

  1. 2214 Rhode Island Avenue, NE, Brookland, (South Dakota Avenue)
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DC Eagle

Those familiar with the Eagle standard, set in clubs across the country, will know what to expect. DC’s version of the popular club offers the usual trappings—pool, pinball and a rock/industrial dance mix. However, what the unfamiliar might find most surprising is the lack of pretense and attitude among the bar’s patrons. A great, but dimly lit, club for those who love men in leather (or just the smell of them).

  1. 639 New York Avenue, NW, Downtown, (6th & 7th Streets)
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Fireplace

It’s very much a case of upstairs and downstairs at this place; upstairs is for dance and attracts a younger African-American crowd, while downstairs, where the actual fireplace is, attracts an older, racially mixed clientele. Some say its cliquey and seedy, others love it. In any case, it’s a DC fixture.

  1. 2161 P Street, NW, Dupont Circle, (22nd Street)
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Green Lantern

The Green Lantern still draws the same burly types that it always has, especially on Thursday nights when "shirtless men drink free". HUMP: Live Exotic Dancers on Wednesday and karaoke on Sunday and Monday nights add variety to the regular entertainment provided by pool tables, the dancefloor and video screens. There are special-event dance nights, too, but the real action is the cruising.

  1. 1335 Green Court, NW, behind lot at 1335 L Street, Downtown, (13th & 14th Streets)
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JR's

Bar staff move at lightning speed to serve customers in this tight space. Nightly happy-hour specials and singalongs on Mondays, not to mention occasional seasonal events (such as the annual Easter bonnet contest), keep the crowd entertained. Videos and pool tables are the main entertainment—aside from cruising, that is—as there’s no dancefloor.

  1. 1519 17th Street, NW, Dupont Circle, (P Street)
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MOVA Lounge DC

MOVA is a smart, sleek cocktail bar (its cucumber ginger martini came top in a recent Washington Blade readers’ poll for best cocktail). DJs turn up the volume later in the evening, and weekly events include College Night on Thursdays, and the Curtain Call show tunes night on Saturdays.

  1. 2204 14th Street, NW, Logan Circle, (Florida Avenue & W Street)
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Town Danceboutique

One of the city’s most popular and packed dance clubs, with two floors and multiple rooms, Town also has a performance space hosting drag shows every weekend, plus a comfortable lounge. A "DC Bear Crue" happy hour takes place Fridays 6-11pm. Occasional theme parties (superheroes was a recent one) are a popular draw.

  1. 2009 8th Street, NW, Shaw, (U Street)
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