Ours was the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage. Yet, somehow, our state’s capital has never managed to pull together a vibrant gay bar scene (though some of the best Boston nightclubs have bumped up the weekly party options, and stalwarts like The Midway offer weekly treats like Queeraoke). Put your ear to the ground, though, and you will learn there are some great after-dark things to do in Boston for the LGBT set. From wild drag shows in Back Bay to a gay sports bar in South End, the possibilities for those seeking a good time in Boston gay bars are more varied than you might expect.
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Best Boston gay bars
It’s a piano bar, a cabaret space, a restaurant and a dance club—which is to say, it will satisfy whatever nightlife craving you need to feed. And as an institution of the city’s LGBTQ scene—it was founded in 1983—its glossy interior has become a place where friends old and new gather weekly, if not more often than that. Regulars spring for a special VIP club membership to waive cover fees on club nights and receive dining discounts. If you hit the club on Saturday night, you get a discount on the hangover brunch the next day. Even if the late-night scene is starting to fade from your view, you can stop in for lunch, now being served Monday through Saturday.
The peaceful little Back Bay neighborhood of Bay Village may be known for its charming, lamp-lit streets and modest brick townhouses, but it’s also home to the wildest drag shows in town. Seven days a week at Jacque’s Cabaret, you can see the most glamorous showgirls from New England and beyond. Watch as they cajole, charm and, if necessary, blackmail dollars from the audience with virtuosic displays of glamour, talent and double-sided tape. You’ll find the crowd equally compelling: on any given night attendees might include Harvard grad students, off-duty strippers and rowdy suburban bachelorettes. It’s an insider’s legend and a helluva good time. Just remember to get there early, because this neighborhood bar closes promptly at midnight.
You’ve probably driven by this spot a million times and never had an inkling as to what cheerful debauchery takes place within. Located just off of Mass Ave in the no-man’s-land between Central Square and MIT, Paradise provides adventurous gays from Cambridge and beyond the kind of raunchy good times you simply cannot find in the city’s classier joints. With sociable go-go boys and televised porn, the first floor bar offers a myriad of titillating visuals (not to mention reasonably priced and unreasonably strong mixed drinks). Meanwhile, the dance floor in the basement provides minimal lighting for maximum scandal. Feeling inspired to join the go-go staff? Dance auditions take place every Thursday night.
This is the grandaddy of the city’s gay bar scene—and some of the patrons are starting to look the part. But what’s old is still charming in its creaky dive-yness. The decor is straight out of Cher’s attic, including Herb Ritts photos on the wall and television screens airing Technicolor missteps from the golden age of Hollywood. Yet underneath these campy trappings, the Eagle retains the lawless spirit of a Wild West saloon. This is largely due to the distinctive brand of hospitality practiced by Jack, the notorious barman who dispenses bracingly fierce commentary along with inexpensive drinks. A favorite last call destination and the site of many a storied evening, The Eagle is the stuff of legend.
When the legendary gay sports bar Fritz closed last year, there was brief panic among the flag football set. Thankfully, the nearby and more spacious Cathedral Station quickly took its place, absorbing a lot of the friendly Fritz staff in the process. The menu makeup is well-executed pub fare all the way, from the wings to the fish ‘n’ chips; hearty brunch dishes are designed to absorb daytime beers and cocktails are far more reasonably priced than other places in the area (spring for the Irish coffee). When halftime comes, retreat to the enormous back patio for a hit of fresh air, or calm your nerves with a quick game of pool or darts.
Less bar than club, the Fenway institution has long held court as the city’s definitive gay dance spot. Live music earlier in the evening gives way to a $10 cover and predictable but crowd-pleasing DJed tunes. The diverse crowd usually skews younger, and don’t expect many teetotalers in the crowd (bar drinks are unremarkable—and cash only—but get the job done). Theme nights in the downstairs space include karaoke; downstairs is where you’ll also find the more chill pool area, with TVs and arcade games. On top of Machine is Ramrod, the iconic leather bar that has gotten a lot more staid in the past few years.
Brian Piccini and Chris Coombs, the owners of Dbar, took over a grubby little Irish pub in a busy city intersection and installed a dark wood interior, a lengthy martini list and an upscale menu that rivals most of its downtown cousins. And behold, an unlikely gay bar in the middle of Dorchester was born. After 10pm on weekends, the smoke machines, lights and rib-shaking subwoofers come on, and suddenly the night belongs to Mariah. The recently overhauled dinner menu gives you more pre-dancing fuel options.
This tiny gem on Tremont Street, which adjoins sister restaurant Tremont 647, is the Swiss army knife of gay bars—compact, well-designed and capable of helping you out with any romantic fix. Looking to meet someone new? Sidle up to the beautiful marble-topped bar; the cozy confines and friendly clientele make conversation between strangers a near certainty. Ready to take your new acquaintance on a relaxed first date? The booths in the back provide just enough distance from the bar to get better acquainted over a few well-prepared cocktails. And when the love affair is over, finish things off like grown-ups over a bottle of wine at one of the more intimate tables up front. From there, it’s just a few steps back to the bar, where you can start the cycle anew.
“Where the bears go” is the forthright tagline—far clearer than the bar’s location, which requires significant sleuthing to nail down. But once you’ve found the deeply tucked away spot, you can settle into a booth for a beer and some brisk/brusque service from the burly bartenders. A recent renovation cleaned up the bathrooms and decor and added a dance floor, though the action doesn’t get going until the wee hours. What hasn’t changed? The cash-only bar transactions.