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Sidetrack
Photograph: Andrew NawrockiSidetrack

The 24 best LGBTQ+ bars in Chicago

Northalsted, aka "Boystown," is the historical center of Chicago’s gay scene, but great gay bars can be found from South Shore to Rogers Park

Written by
Kris Vire
&
Lindsay Eanet
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Chicago has a vibrant LGBTQ+ bar scene, and has for decades. Much of it is clustered around a half-mile stretch of North Halsted Street and Broadway in East Lakeview, long known as Boystown. The North Halsted bar culture started there with Little Jim’s in 1975, and followed over the next decade by many bars now long since gone and others—like Sidetrack and the North End—that have survived for decades. These days, Northalsted is still a prominent gay playground, but long-running queer nightlife spots can be found all over the city, from Andersonville to the Loop to South Shore. From several of the best nightclubs in Chicago to dive bars to sports bars, there’s an LGBTQ-oriented watering hole in Chicago to fit every interest—these are some of our favorites.

RECOMMENDED: Drink at the best bars in Chicago

Best gay bars in Chicago

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Boystown
  • price 2 of 4

If size matters, there’s no better bar than this Northalsted juggernaut. Despite all that space, six big rooms and a gorgeous rooftop deck are packed for weekend dance parties, summer day-drinking and, of course, the legendary "Musical Mondays," where regulars belt along to videos of their favorite showtunes. Grab one of their strong and sweet boozy slushies and join in the fun. 

  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • Uptown
  • price 1 of 4

Not a Boystown fan? Head to this laid-back Uptown saloon, where community matriarch Michelle Fire serves tasty victuals and cocktails to the sunburnt brunch crowd (when the space is known as tweet let's eat), and keeps the rest of the week happening with tons of food and drink specials (like dollar off burgers on Mondays) and all-out dance parties on weekends.

Cash only, ATM on-site.

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Berlin
  • Clubs
  • Lake View
  • price 1 of 4

This late-night come-as-you-are dance destination in Lakeview built its reputation back in the mid-’80s with a mix of German new-wave music, art installations and memorable performance. Now, it's home to choose-your-own-adventure disco, house and techo dance parties and some of the best drag shows in the city. The Saturday Night Drag Show is not to be missed, and you can catch up-and-coming talent at drag competitions like Crash Landing, hosted by Nico and Lucy Stoole. And Berlin is home to one of the city's best trans parties, MOANS, hosted by Irregular Girl and friends. 

This intimate Ravenswood bar has already garnered many fans—including the selection committee for the James Beard Awards, who nominated Nobody’s Darling for Outstanding Bar Program in March. Come for the enticing, creative cocktails like the Tiger Highball (featuring Roku gin and a strawberry peppercorn shrub) and the Darling Old Fashioned (a twist on the classic with cherry bark vanilla and walnut liqueur); stay for the camaraderie and the bustling sidewalk cafe. 

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A popular destination for lesbians and queer women, Farraguts has been serving Andersonville since 1997. Known for their pool table, well-stocked jukebox and cheap Tuesday draft special, Farraguts is perfect for a lively night out or for grabbing a pint and a spot close to the window for a leisurely conversation and watching the world go by. 

This two-story Andersonville complex aims to have a little something for everyone, and with lots of activities, it’s a good choice for an early date or to bring friends. Play skee-ball, shuffleboard, darts or board games like giant Jenga upstairs, or hang out downstairs for theme nights like the lively Thursday karaoke (be warned that some performers can actually sing), the Tuesday “Big Gay Gayme Show” and the Sunday Social drag show. 

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  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • Lake View
  • price 2 of 4

This teeny taproom is a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of the clubs on Halsted, and it's a favorite unpretentious late-night destination for queer partiers of all stripes. Come for lively karaoke the first and third Sundays of the month or their "Movie Mondays" for a chill drinks-and-a-movie kickoff to the week. 

Roscoe’s Tavern
  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Lake View
  • price 2 of 4

This longstanding Boystown destination has multiple bars, a dance floor, an outdoor patio and all the music you want to hear, with theme nights dedicated to Madonna, Britney and more. The drink specials are excellent, most notably $2 premium well cocktails and no cover on Thursdays. And when RuPaul's Drag Race is in season, Roscoe's is the place to be, as queens from the season stop by the bar for rowdy viewing parties where they've been known to spill some behind-the-scenes tea. 

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Andersonville
  • price 2 of 4

The Andersonville outpost of the multi-location beer-and-bourbon arcade bar adds food to the mix, with burgers, brunch and more to fuel your retro gaming. The bar runs down the center of the space, though it's just one-sided—the other side of its rear wall is lined with video game consoles. The extensive beer list (26 rotating drafts listed on a giant chalkboards over the bar) and even bigger collection of bourbons are the reasons to visit—other than getting it on like Donkey Kong, of course.

  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Lake View
  • price 2 of 4

A favored Northalsted destination in the summer for its spacious covered patio and generous pitchers of margs in a host of flavors, D.S. Tequila is one of the best spots on Halsted for leisurely day-drinking. But the food specials, like 75-cent wings on Thursdays and $19.95 bottomless tacos on Thursdays, also deserve a mention here. 

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Progress Bar
  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Boystown

Progress, located in the former Cocktail space, features a cloud-like overhead sculpture installation made up of 19,000 twinkling light bulbs. It also boasts a better selection of craft beers on tap than most bars on the Halsted strip.

Elixir
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Lake View
  • price 3 of 4

At this shoebox of a cocktail bar, the drinks are skillfully prepared, the crowd is kept to a minimum by the doorman, and the music never gets so loud that it drowns out your insights on Jean Genet. The clientele is of a diverse age range, and everyone is on their best behavior, which makes it an altogether more sophisticated and adult experience than Elixir’s next-door sister, Hydrate.

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  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • Streeterville
  • price 1 of 4

You wouldn’t believe the brand of tie-loosened debauchery that happens at this fantastic dive on a nightly basis. Unless, of course, you climb the carpeted stairway—following the thumping bass and uninhibited laughter coming from behind the heavy, unmarked door—and step inside. Once you see this place, you’ll believe anything.

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Andersonville
  • price 3 of 4

This upscale Andersonville martini lounge burns through olives and vermouth faster than a steakhouse. Marty's is truly a bar for all seasons, with festive, elegant holiday decorations around Christmastime, and a lush, inviting patio perfect for a fancy evening cocktail in the summer months. 

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  • Bars
  • Sports Bars
  • Boystown
  • price 1 of 4

So named for its spot at the north end of Halsted's nightlife strip, this laid-back gay sports bar is the perfect spot to cheer on the Cubs, Blackhawks, Bulls, Sky or any other local team you're passionate about. And with plentiful pool tables and dartboards, you can have a friendly competition of your own. 

  • LGBTQ+
  • South Shore

Thanks in part to an ebullient drag show hosted every Thursday and Saturday by the legendary Mz. Ruff ’n’ Stuff, this club wins the blue ribbon among South Side queer bars. The drinks are cheap and stiff and the live acts are off the charts. DJ Tiger spins iconic Chicago house records on Friday nights, or swing by Infused Thursday for R&B, hip-hop and throwback jams. 

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Hydrate
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Lake View
  • price 1 of 4

Hot and sweaty boys pack themselves in like sardines for all-night dancing at this popular after-hours club. A rotating menu of shenanigans includes the Dragilicious Saturday night drag revue, RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties (hosted by RPDR alumna DiDa Ritz) and the Sunday Funday after-brunch day party.

 

  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • South Shore
  • price 2 of 4

Chicago's only Black-owned and operated LGBTQ bar is known for strong drinks poured by beloved long-standing bartenders, a.k.a. "startenders." The Jeffery Pub has been serving South Shore and beyond since the 1960s, and while times change, the party continues, with regular nights like variety show Hot Spot and "Blame it on the Alcohol," featuring $4 Henny shots. 

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  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • Uptown
  • price 1 of 4

Andersonville’s friendly bear bar is fun in all weathers with weekly activities like karaoke and trivia, but really shines in the summer with its cozy back patio. Your four-legged pal can even make new friends as dogs are welcome to roam free during “doggy days” on Saturdays from noon to 3pm. 

Kit Kat Lounge
  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Lake View
  • price 2 of 4

If you don’t know who Marilyn and Joan are, don’t bother. This slick nightspot only gets campier with age, so prepare to be entertained by black-and-white Hollywood glamour movies and performances by female impersonators of Hollywood icons. The cheeky, colorful drink list is a draw, and chef Nate Hamilton puts the focus on dishes like the biscuits-and-gravy "Big Hot Mess" and strawberry waffle breakfast. But you didn’t actually come here for the food, did you?

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@mosphere
  • LGBTQ+
  • Andersonville
  • price 2 of 4

Boy bar @tmosphere put Andersonville on the gay male map when it opened its door in 2002. These days, it’s mostly a low-key place to have a beer with one of your mates, although on weekends the thump-thump of the DJ keeps the go-go boys shakin’ and the crowds stirring.

  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Rogers Park
  • price 2 of 4

This Rogers Park neighborhood staple, steps away from the Morse Red Line station, is the perfect place for a casual evening catch-up, especially with free pizza and drink specials on Tuesdays and $5 Tullamore Dew shots and Revolution drafts on Fridays. If you're looking for something a little more interactive, try their weekly bingo night or trivia, the neighbor's table art market or quirky one-offs like Hooper Day, a marathon of all the Jaws movies with marine-themed snacks and guests in scuba gear. 

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