Gay bar and club favorites in L.A.
Akbar’s retro-style lounge has become Silver Lake’s ultimate gay alternative hipster hangout. As such, the crowd tends to be toward the younger side, drawing from L.A.’s burgeoning pockets of cool like Echo Park, Downtown and Elysian Fields. Drink and dance in the front room, or head to the back for comedy, queer history nights, open mics and more.
The Abbey is annually voted one of the world’s best gay bars, which explains the long lines on the weekends to get into this once-humble coffee house that now boasts four full bars and five times the amount of real estate it originally occupied. The drinks at this West Hollywood stalwart are notoriously strong (albeit pricey) and the upscale, Gothic-meets-the-Mediterranean indoor/outdoor spaces, plentiful cabanas and hunky bartenders are all aesthetically satisfying. If there’s a downside to the Abbey it's actually the bar's success. Not so very long ago, it was the nucleus of gay life in West Hollywood, but as its popularity has grown, increasingly the crowd (particularly at night) seems to be made up of tourists. To its credit though, the Abbey banned bachelorette parties in early 2012, which helped to shore up its gay street cred among some of the faithful who felt it had overextended itself in its efforts to be hetero-friendly.
Make no mistake about it: Bar Mattachine is not the place for debauched revelry. There are no half-naked pole dancers and neon intoxicants, but there aren’t long lines and rude bouncers either. This unassuming lounge wedged between a hummus restaurant and an alley boasts dark wood paneling, lighting that makes everyone look fabulous and avant-garde artwork, but it's the well-executed cocktails that make Mattachine worth a stop on your Downtown crawl. Barman Garrett McKechnie brings his 1886 Bar chops, a sense of humor (Bitter Queen, a frozen drink, is deemed “not as bitchy as she looks”), and a touch of LGBT history to the menu—only befitting of a bar that gets its name from a pioneering gay society that arose in the ‘50s. Find your place upstairs or down and bathe in the Edison bulb glow with a stiff Harry Hay (Mattachine Society’s founder and McKechnie’s take on an Old Fashioned), then cruise away.
A favorite among locals, St. Felix is as close to a neighborhood bar as it gets in West Hollywood. The wait staff is memorably friendly, the bartenders are expert mixologists and the bar’s daily Happy Hour is one of the best bargains on the Boulevard. Always buzzing but rarely uncomfortably overcrowded, St. Felix is the perfect place to go when you actually want to have a conversation with friends over a cocktail after work. No dancers here, just good food and great drinks in a bordello-style setting that keeps all the cool kids coming back for more.
If you prefer beer to cocktails and like your strippers hairy and in harnesses (or some form of leather), then the Eagle might top your list of favorite bars in L.A. Formerly known as the Gauntlet II, the Eagle has become the haunt of choice for a cross-section of L.A. leather daddies, bears and sexy alternative Silver Lake types, all of whom play well together in this dark, sweaty no-frills space that really packs in a crowd on the weekend. Popular monthly events include the bearish Cub Scout, produced by Chris Bowen and Victor Rodriguez, and Meat Rack on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month (check the website for exact dates of these and other regular events).
This space for leather, lipstick and bears jettisons WeHo for Downtown, just down the block from the Ace Hotel. The self-dubbed “rock and roll gay bar” serves as a cool update for a turn-of-the-century building that once housed the Department of Corrections by going classic in decor—exposed brick, lots of black and a red arrow above the door to mark the spot. The expansive 8,500-square-foot second-floor space includes a bar, dance floor, performance space and its best feature—a wrap-around terrace with commanding views that feels more Bourbon Street than DTLA, and serves as the perfect place for a Sunday beer bust.
A dive in the truest sense of the word, this no frills DTLA bar boasts the cheapest of drinks, a raucous dance floor, regular drag shows and no cover charge to speak of. The ever-evolving Downtown scene may have no shortage of buzzy new restaurants and upscale coffee shops, but when it comes to gay bars, the New Jalisco is one of the few and the proud. With a largely local and Latin clientele, cash only drinks and music ranging from pop to cumbia and reggaeton, the New Jalisco is a DTLA institution that guarantees an uninhibited good time, no matter who you are or what neighborhood you hail from.
Revolver is a video bar reborn. Several years ago, it went out of business and the space became an upscale gay lounge. But when the lounge folded in 2011, Revolver came roaring back with a new look, better cocktails and, in a nod to the times, strippers on the table tops. The result has been a resounding hit with the West Hollywood crowd, who now pack the relatively small bar to overflowing and often wait in line to get in at peak times. A happy medium between neighborhood bar and megaclub, Revolver strikes just the right note with a simple winning formula that combines good music, familiar videos and an inviting atmosphere.
As the WeHo gay bar residing furthest east on Santa Monica Boulevard, Fubar is the most alternative of the Boystown clan of bars and clubs. Ripped, tattooed and pierced bartenders pour strong drinks in this steamy dark bar that oozes sex seven days a week. Hooking up is always in the air at Fubar thanks to its underground vibe, so don't be confused—this is not the bar you go to for a casual drink, this is the bar you go to looking for casual sex. The most popular night is the Mario Diaz–hosted B.F.D. (Big Fat Dick), which features a contest where patrons agree to have their private parts photographed and be voted on by the crowd at the end of the night (the winning title is obvious).
When Los Angeles seemed ready to give up on leather as one leather bar after another closed, Faultline kept its doors open and embraced the growing bear community. Today, the rawness of the crowd at Faultline couldn’t be more different from the trendily coiffed West Hollywood contingent. Ripe with the smell of pheromones and dried sweat rather than the latest Gucci scent, Faultline prides itself in carrying on the tradition of the "men's bar." So if bellies, beards and tattoos make the man for you, then program your GPS for Faultline. If not, steer clear because this is not a place for lookey-loos… that is, of course, unless you enjoy playing with the bears from time to time.
The fun to be had at Fiesta Cantina is no secret. In fact, this festive bar is often packed to the gills with patrons taking advantage of one of WeHo’s best happy hour deals: 2 for 1 drinks from 4pm to 8pm and from 10:30pm to 12:30am. Fiesta Cantina offers a main floor and a rooftop deck for mingling, intermittent dancing, solid Mexican food options and walking bartenders that offer shot specials. Just a stone’s throw from the Abbey and never dull, Fiesta Cantina is a popular spot for a reason—strong drinks for cheap, a lively crowd and an upbeat vibe from noon ‘til close.
Situated alongside the WeHo beheamoth known as the Abbey, Here Lounge doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. A top spot for dancing in the WeHo area, this hidden gem is well known among the neighborhood crowd and has no shortage of drink specials and themed nights—including Wednesday’s Bouncie House (there’s a ball pit) and RIDE Saturdays: no cover and $5 drinks from 8pm to 11pm. Depending on the night and time you visit, Here Lounge can range from rowdy to laidback. Offering ample seating, an outdoor space and a modern ambiance, Here Lounge is a dependably entertaining WeHo club staple.
Micky’s is a West Hollywood institution. A few years ago it literally burned down, but it came back bigger, better and gayer than ever, as if it had never missed a beat. The cavernous club has two notable distinctions: Its various stages, boxes and showers are always filled with an abundance of scantily clad boys in every imaginable shape, size and proportion; and it's the only place on the entire Boulevard with a regular after-hours that goes until 4am on Saturdays. Like other local hot spots that have stood the test of time, Micky’s also has a loyal local fan base, which makes it a premiere spot to get better acquainted with the boys of WeHo.
Boulevard Bar may not be your average gay nightlife destination. A little off the beaten path and far outside WeHo’s party-heavy orbit, this longstanding Pasadena hole-in-the-wall is favored by locals young and old, from hipsters to silver foxes. The Boulevard offers karaoke, a pool table, drag shows and a bar patron’s holy grail: a heavy pour for a cheap price. This northeast L.A. spot may not be the wildest of bars, but it’s perfect for an evening of entertainment where you can make new friends and hang out with old ones. The bartenders and patrons at the Boulevard are friendly and down to earth, and are unafraid to belt it out karaoke-style.
Mother Lode is another one of those West Hollywood staples that has withstood the test of time. In fact, this laid-back bar built around a pool table and stash of video games has been around so long that it has come full circle: from “it” spot to out of favor to “it” spot again. Thanks in no small measure to the fact that it counterbalances its more stylized neighbors with a low-key, dive bar atmosphere, Mother Lode is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment. Elsewhere in Boystown, attitude and preening may best define the current posture of patrons, but not at Mother Lode. Here, the vibe, from the bartenders to the crowd, is casual and the only attitude allowed is "friendly."
The Roosterfish deserves a shout-out if only because it’s one of the far Westside’s only gay bars. Not only that, but this fun little hole in the wall, just a stone’s throw from the ocean, has been serving the gay community for over three decades—long before Abbott Kinney, the street it calls home, was the fashionable address it is today. The staff can be notoriously rude, but still, this gem of a bar attracts a quirky bunch of artsy Venetians and Westsiders of all stripes, making it a refreshing choice for Angelenos in need of a change of scene or who just happen to be hanging at the beach. Hint: The back patio is an excellent option for whiling away a few lazy hours in the sun on the weekends.
Oil Can Harry’s is one of the few destinations that even West Hollywood diehards will, on occasion, intentionally venture over the hill and into the Valley to experience. Oil Can’s is like another world… one that hasn’t changed much since the late ’80s or maybe the early ’90s, judging from the décor. Most of the week the bar is filled with guys in cowboy hats enjoying some pretty serious line dancing, but on Saturdays Harry’s comes alive with Retro Disco Night, where the vibe is pure ’70s and the energy is high. There's also some pretty stellar regular karaoke in the loft upstairs. A welcome diversion from a night of standing and posing in WeHo, Saturdays at Oil Can Harry’s recall a time when going out was more about community and interpersonal communication. More importantly, it’s just freewheeling fun.
More options for the ladies
When you find yourself looking for a lesbian party to break the hetronormative nightclub mold, the women of L.A.'s queer scene have got you covered, from hot dance spots to cool gay bars, poolside shindigs or even a road trip-worthy get-down in Palm Springs.