The oversized model railway suspended above the bar is one of the quirkier features of this 1920s-themed bar, whose sumptuous, eccentric decor borrows from Art Deco style and dark-walled Victorian gentlemen’s clubs. Welcoming to men, women, straights and other, Les Garçons opened in late 2013 in the lively, multicultural area around Langstrasse – also the city’s red-light district and no less fun for that – and has been welcomed by younger gay guys in particular as a long overdue rethinking of the Zurich LGBT watering hole, complete with glass-walled fumoir and free wi-fi. Stylish, friendly staff keep the cocktails coming to chic, contemporary sounds and Fridays and Saturdays are busy party nights with live DJs and doors open till 4am.
Polished, preppy, relaxed and friendly, Cranberry has been Zurich’s chief LGBT crowdpleaser for close to 20 years. Mainly male A-gays both young and old flock to this smart, two-storey bar in the heart of the old town for the justly famous cocktails (as everywhere in this town they are far from cheap, but happy hour, currently between 5pm and 7pm, eases the punishment to your purse) and chilled chat, even if the tunes hover at the cheesy end of the spectrum. Upstairs has cosy sofas and pool tables, and in summer the outdoor seating on the street is the hottest LGBT people-watching spot the city has to offer. For visitors to Zurich Cranberry is the perfect first stop, with affable locals the best source of news on what’s on, who’s who and where’s hot.
The closure last year of club T&M marked the end of an era for a generation of Zurich gays. Steps from the Cranberry and the only full-time gay nightclub in town, the friendly venue’s generous space and high-quality sound system could always be relied on to pull a crowd and bring the party. The good news is that new club Heaven is doing a promising job of filling those shoes and working them out til the early hours. A little smaller but just as lively and convivially cruisey as its predecessor, Heaven dishes up a roster of local and international DJs spinning mainly commercial, mainstream sounds that take on a harder techno edge on Friday nights. It’s the destination for several regular touring party nights such as the joyously camp Balkan Gay Night and the hip-hop twinkfest Boyakasha. Occasional Schlager parties also give the perfect opportunity for drag divas to get busy with their dressing-up boxes.
Every Wednesday, live music bar Provitreff, on the edge of Zurich West, is taken over by Heldenbar, somewhere between a mixed alternative bar and an arty gay club night that wouldn’t look out of place in Berlin. With reasonable drinks prices, table football and a terrace overlooking the river Limmat, this place draws a loyal crowd.
Heroically unreconstructed, the Männerzone bar, next door to its leather and fetish shop, is a gay men’s space like Daddy used to make, and draws a more mature crowd. Cloney, beardy and beary with an industrial garage-inspired look that runs to overalls on the bar staff, it’s also laid-back, friendly and utterly unpretentious. The busy Friday and Saturday nights are strictly men-only with occasional stage shows putting lots of the shop’s more out-there fetish items through their paces, and themed parties letting you unleash your inner cowboy, sailor or slave. Lesbians seeking a similarly exclusive environment can find it at the popular, regular Tanz Leila (www.tanzleila.ch) parties, whose longstanding format welcomes women, transgenders, inters and drag kings to dance the first Sunday night of every month away at Club Exil.
Without doubt Switzerland’s LGBT capital, Zurich has its very own stable of slick, sexy, large-scale circuit parties, each of which touches down every couple of months at some or other major venue. And for all their go-go boys’ cartoon muscles and micropants, the formulaic offerings dished up by the likes of We Party, Angels and Aviator could mostly be anywhere in the world. Jack on the other hand brings way more character and class to the table, while still magnetising the city’s dishiest queer clubbers. New York’s Larry Tee, Spanish super-selekta Borja Pena, Germany’s Gloria Viagra and the cuddly compadres of London’s Horse Meat Disco are among regulars behind the decks, while the stylish crowd adds an urbane hipster edge to proceedings. Take the next day off, be ready to dance as well as flirt, and set facial hair to stun.
Outside Zurich, Lausanne is the only Swiss city to have a dedicated gay club, and the unabashedly mainstream 43&10 caters to a young, hedonistic crowd every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Go-go studs with barely enough room in their leather briefs to stuff your CHF10 notes and twinkly trannies ply the intimate space to a soundtrack of pounding, ruthlessly commercial tunes, and the city’s large student population accounts for a big chunk of the happy, sweaty crowd each night. Upstairs is the Love Bar, a cosy space where you can chat over drinks before succumbing to the lure of the dark and delirious dancefloor. The regular bear and lesbian parties that used to happen here have now been dropped for more of the same successful weekend formula but the occasional theme night now and then gives the music policy a minor reshuffle.
One of the country’s biggest and brashest clubs, MAD is hardly an understated place. Occupying a vast converted warehouse in Lausanne’s trendy Flon district, it proclaims its mission statement with swirls of colour and huge block writing all over the facade. This is a place you go to be seen; wallflowers need not attend. With five levels, four dance floors and one restaurant, it can welcome up to 1,100 clubbers for a variety of club nights featuring local, Swiss and international DJs. Top names such as Armand Van Helden, David Guetta and Eric Morillo have all played here. It’s technically a members club, but members can bring guests and non-members can gain entry for a fee. On Sundays it’s free to get in for gay night Gameboy.
Opened in 2011, the Pin-up Bar is that rarest of LGBT things, a genuinely mixed lesbian and gay bar. It’s also the newest scene success story in what has in recent years become Switzerland’s gay second city. Slightly more female than male oriented, the bright, airy space on an arty shopping street is decorated with kitsch, retro-risqué wall paintings of ‘40s-style foxtresses and there’s a small terrace on the street that’s packed in good weather. The drinks selection is great, free platters of cheese and cold cuts often come out, and you can even puff on a sheesha pipe here. Pin-up regularly joins forces with another local gay lounge bar, GT’s, to put on dance parties under the banner Lausanne LesBiGay Sessions. A trailblazer.
Kitsch-phobics, look away now. The oldest gay bar in Geneva, Le Déclic is a riot of Roman columns, plastic palm trees, fairy lights, animal prints and those horrid wavy mirrors from Ikea. A true original, it’s also a whole lot of camp-as-Christmas fun. The cosy, comfy space serves some 60-plus cocktails adorned with fruit, umbrellas and glow-sticks as per the general more-is-more aesthetic – Pom pom boys and Black-out are two tried and tested house favourites. The occasional themed party takes place here – more regular are the weekly karaoke nights on Fridays, where locals with varying degrees of X factor wrap their tonsils around well-worn diva and disco classics.
Le Phare is where Geneva dabbles in LGBT counterculture. A young, alternative-ish clientele working a Brooklyn via Berlin vibe chat and chill in a casual urban café-lounge space that’s welcoming and stylish, in one of the last central areas to resist the homogenising hand of big-bucks gentrification. The scruffy, street art-adorned exterior is cool, drinks are reasonably priced – a rarity in this wallet-walloping city – and the bar’s rallying cry of ‘respect for everyone’ manifests in a truly mixed crowd who are as interested in swapping Fellini DVDs, art magazines and day-glo wigs as they are in flirting. The decent-sized terrace on the cute, pedestrian Rue Lissignol is a major bonus, and the Le Phare Enchanté party nights more or less every first Saturday of the month rock the place till 5am.
The LGBT party scene in Switzerland offers something for everyone, from relaxed, mixed-queer shindigs to sweaty danceathons. For all their alpenhorn-apotheosizing and minaret-marginalising traditionalism, the Swiss have for many decades taken a world-leading stance on gay and lesbian rights. Same-sex relations were decriminalised here in 1942, and on New Year’s Day 2007 a referendum made Switzerland the first country on Earth where gay civil unions were voted in by the public, not just parliament – and by a massive majority. Today Zurich, which happens to have a chic lesbian mayor in Corine Mauch, is very much Switzerland’s LGBT capital, as well as one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities, with bars, cafes, saunas and clubs adding up to dozens of gay venues. The old town’s Barfüsser is considered Europe’s oldest gay hostelry and the annual Zurich Pride event now draws around 45,000 pink party people. Bern, Geneva and Basel all have bijou scenes, in particular the restaurant Hirscheneck in Basel being a particular influential name, but it’s little Lausanne’s young, student-rich population who have pushed forward a vibrant nightlife culture which has produced a dynamic, international LGBT scene and venues such as 43&10. Free print and online LGBT magazines including 360°, CR and Display are great for getting up to date news on events all over the country. 2014 saw Swiss LGBT culture establish another milestone, one that is bringing its trailblazing history belated credit,
Making good use of the spacious former Warteck brewery building, this cocktail bar, music venue and cultural centre has a wide range of events, from concerts and theatre to DJ nights and LGBT club queerPlanet and even poetry slams. With palm trees and a disco ball, it’s a cheerful sort of place, particularly during happy hour. It also serves delicious tapas and a decent Sunday brunch.
Heroically unreconstructed, the Männerzone bar draws a more mature crowd.
This two-floor establishment has been amongst Zurich's most popular gay bars for a couple of decades, always busy, always bustling.
Kitsch-phobics, look away now. The oldest gay bar in Geneva, Le Déclic is a riot of Roman columns, plastic palm trees, fairy lights, animal prints and those horrid wavy mirrors from Ikea.
This quirky little place with its kitsch interior, somewhere between Hawaii and a Swiss mountain lodge, serves up simple beers just as well as fancy cocktails.