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Photograph: Saroyan HumphreyKevin VandenBergh (left) and Harry Breaux

The best gay clubs in America

Dress up and head out. These are the best gay clubs in America, from drag bars and fetish bars, to leather bars and dives.

Written by
Tolly Wright
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It's Pride month—a time to celebrate the enormous contributions of the LGBTQ community (and especially queer people of color) to American society. But... can we be real for a second? It's never been easy to be gay in this nation and it's only getting harder with recent legislation actively stripping the community of their rights. This month might be complicated, so do whatever you think is best for you. If you want to head to another city to participate in their parade and festivities, you should do it. If you want to resist the capitalist disrespect of the rainbow flag, we fully support you. If you want to dance the night away at one of the best gay clubs in America, we also fully support you! And, that's actually where we can help. The US is home to some of the most stylish, snazzy and significant LGBTQ+ venues in the world. From drag bars and fetish bars to leather bars, dive bars and cabaret lounges, head to these venues when searching for guaranteed full-on night out in June, and any night of the year.

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Best gay clubs in America

Key West is home to many gay establishments but, for over three decades, locals and tourists alike have made 801 Bourbon their preferred destination. When downstairs, take a seat at the bar for top-notch people watching, generous pours and karaoke. You can also opt to head upstairs to the cabaret to enjoy the biggest and best drag shows on the island.

Recognized the world over as one of the best gay bars anywhere, the Abbey keeps its good reputation in check despite the packed rooms. The massive nightlife destination includes a restaurant serving up scrumptious delights, dance floors and an outdoor cocktail lounge for cooling off and conversing under the stars. Keep your eyes open while dancing or dining – celebrities like Lance Bass, Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey have all been known to stop by.

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Despite some chic new cocktail bars and restaurants popping up around the neighborhood, Nellie’s keeps its all-are-welcome inclusive vibe. A young stream of patrons fills the two stories and roof deck to throwback reasonably priced bottles of beer, cocktails and burgers. Local sports games take a backseat for the uproarious trivia night and drag brunch. Power through Saturday’s hangover at the popular Sunday afternoon dance party. 

Twin Peaks Tavern holds the most iconic spot in the Castro neighborhood of SF, just beyond the shadow of a giant rainbow flag and a few doors down from the famed Castro Theater. Almost every LGBTQ+ visitor to San Francisco will roll into this classic tavern at some point, drawn like martini-chasing moths to its rainbow-colored lights. Though it came very close to closing in 2020, a successful fundraising campaign helped the Tavern keep its doors open.

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In Chicago’s Boystown nabe one bar looms larger (literally) than all the rest: Sidetrack. Parties, theme nights and a good-looking group of dudes fill the six rooms and lush roof deck. Slurp down the signature spiked slushies while getting down to divas like Beyoncé, Mariah Carey and Tina Turner or sing along to musicals on Monday nights when the TV screens and floors are taken over by movies like Rent and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Hula’s always welcomes a heavy flow of fun-loving gay, lesbian, queer and transgender visitors from all over the world, as well as straight folks who just want to grab a drink with a view of the waterfront and Waikiki beach. Stop by all day for specialty frozen cocktails with a tropical flair and bites like tacos and sliders. Come nighttime, DJs, drag shows and themed events bring the party to this bar—a local favorite for four decades.

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Every summer, when gay guys and gals descend on Cape Cod’s P-town for a beach vacation, they head to the Crown and Anchor’s Wave Bar to truly kick back. With great views of the harbor and access to the waterfront pool deck, you can sip cocktails and enjoy Provincetown’s allure. Or drop by in the afternoon when the various video screens stream New England teams' games. At night, those TVs turn into ’80s music videos central while everyone shows off their best dance moves.  

Alan Cumming took over the former Eastern Bloc bar in 2017 and reimagined it as a cabaret, comedy and party hub evocative of NYC's golden era of downtown nightlife. Count on Broadway singers belting out favorites by the piano, nostalgie-fueled ’90s dance parties and stellar cabaret and comedy nights just about any time you drop in. Celebrities occasionally pop in—such as Paul McCartney, Emma Stone and Vanessa Williams—but the club is its own star. 

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New York might officially hold the 'city that never sleeps' title, but don’t tell that to Sin City’s 24-hour dance club Piranha. With multiple rooms blasting music on a sound system worthy of the Strip, the shaking, thrusting and thumping never stops here. Considered by many to be the crown gem of the 'Fruit Loop' (a cluster of several high-profile LGBTQ spots), Piranha attracts a fair number of queer celebrities like Adore Delano and other RuPaul’s Drag Race alums for performances and free meet-and-greets. 

Club Café, Boston’s long-standing restaurant, piano bar, cabaret space and dance club, will satisfy whatever nightlife craving you’re dealing with. As an institution of the city’s LGBT scene – it was founded in 1983 – its glossy interior has become a place where friends old and new gather weekly. Regulars spring for a special club membership ($50 annually) to waive cover fees on club nights and get discounts on meals. 

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