The Best Gay Bars in Washington, D.C.

It might come as a surprise to learn that Washington, D.C.—our nation’s capital, if you’ve managed to forget—has been described as “the gayest place in America.” As an epicenter, gay drinkers can find no shortage of options, from sports bars to cocktail bars to dance clubs, many of which are concentrated near Dupont Circle and 17th Street, where gay bar-hopping is prime. Here’s a list of some of the city’s finest. —John Marble

  • 1

    18th & U Duplex Diner

    The 18th & U Duplex Diner, known as “The Diner” to regular patrons, is a proper restaurant by day, serving delicious greasy spoon fare. At night, however, the tables are cleared away for the drinking crowds. Perhaps the most under-the-radar gay bar to outsiders, as well as the most political of Washington's gay bars, the Diner is home to high-profile Democratic and Republican operatives who regularly put aside politics when they arrive for the party. Grab a Lemon Squeeze (the bar's mainstay cocktail), a pile of tater tots and nestle into a booth to see and be seen.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • full menu
    • cheap date
    • bar food
  • 2

    Cobalt

    Cobalt has long been a mainstay on the District's gay-centric 17th Street Corridor. It’s technically three entities: the appropriately titled Level One, a restaurant; 30 Degrees, the second-floor lounge; and Cobalt, a bar on the third floor. But locals simply call it Cobalt. At times it can feel a bit long in the tooth, but it routinely hosts popular parties and remains a top choice for bottomless (drag) brunch in Dupont Circle. The most popular night is Thursday when the long-running Best Body Contest plays to an overflowing crowd, but Cobalt also holds a popular lesbian party once a month and gogo dancers make ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • dancing
    • cheap date
    • full menu
  • 3

    Dacha Beer Garden

    Dacha isn't an official gay bar, but you wouldn’t know it by the crowd. On warm nights, beneath a massive, three-story mural of a young Elizabeth Taylor that looms over the outdoor beer garden, Dacha is the place to be. With its buzzing patio, solid beer-drinking food and eclectic crowd, the leafy oasis is date/family/pet appropriate, and you'll find all of them here on any given evening. In keeping, beware: It can get crowded.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft beer
    • outdoor / patio
    • bar food
  • 4

    Dito's Bar at Floriana

    In the basement of an Italian restaurant off the very-gay 17th Street, in Dupont Circle, is Dito’s Bar. Barely bigger than a king-sized bed and tucked down a flight of stone stairs on the outside patio, Dito's is run by Dito, considered by many the unofficial mayor of 17th Street. He's been serving drinks and hosting at the tiny hideaway for a decade now, and is beloved by the gay and straight crowds alike.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • cheap date
    • full menu
  • 5

    JR's Bar & Grill

    The “grill” part of JR's Bar & Grill is mostly absent. It's rumored that food can be obtained, but if so, it's only by request. Otherwise, JR's mostly acts as a mainstay in the D.C. gay bar scene attracting polished politicos and beefy frat boys. For years, the bar banned dancing but finally relented after a decade of pressure by patrons—not that there's much room to dance; between trivia nights and happy hour, it can be packed cheek-to-cheek most of the time.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • cheap date
    • dancing
    • live music
  • 6

    Larry's Lounge

    You won’t find Larry’s Lounge listed on any gay bar map of Washington, D.C. Not officially a gay bar, not officially a straight bar, Larry’s is just Larry’s. Its big bay windows, threadbare carpet, worn furniture and drab 1980s décor is actually what makes it so appealing, and so beloved by D.C’s gay community. Larry’s basement room is classic, and the staff will let you do whatever you want down there. Impromptu dancing, CNN watching, romance novel reading—Larry’s doesn’t care. They’ll merely check on you from time-to-time to make sure you’re still alive and to bring you free popcorn.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • cheap date
    • bar food
    • outdoor / patio
  • 7

    Nellie's Sports Bar

    When Nellie's first opened in 2007 at the corner of 9th & U Street, NW, some wondered if a gay bar could thrive in a location so far removed from the center of Washington’s gay nightlife scene. But, as the city’s gay community has moved east, Nellie's (named for the owner's grandmothers—yes, multiple grandmothers) now the most popular gay bar in all of D.C. Though it's billed as a sports bar—and serious sports fans definitely come here to catch a game—the TVs rarely factor in on DJ nights when crowds pack Nellie's rooftop bar.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • sports
    • cheap date
    • live music
    • dancing
    • full menu
  • 8

    Number 9

    When the owners of the wildly popular gay nightclub Town Danceboutiqe set out to open a cocktail bar, they named it in honor of their ninth venture together. The space—previously a rather uninspiring gay bar—was reincarnated as a dim, modern lounge with a focus on serious cocktails. Special nights pop up on occasion (the video bar upstairs is Washington’s official location for screening episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race), but it's best for a casual catch-up drink and the bartenders are knowledgeable enough to make just about anything.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • craft beer
  • 9

    Phase 1

    The fact that Phase 1 is the nation’s oldest operating lesbian bar (it opened in 1970) says less about "The Phase," as it's known locally, than it does about the state of lesbian bars in America. Gay women are always hard up for great bars, and recent years have seen the closing of long-established lesbian joints in many cities. Fortunately, Phase 1 seems to be sticking it out. Located in Eastern Market, there was a time when men could enter the bar only when accompanied by a woman. While that rule is gone (it increasingly welcomes gay men, as long as they respect the bar as a space for women) you will still find a ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • cheap date
  • 10

    Town DanceBoutique

    The District's largest gay dance club, Town Danceboutique (known as “Town” to locals) is the place meet someone new. Like a gay-American Moulin Rouge, Town is a glittering maze of cabaret, gogo boys and comedy shows that create a sort of what-could-happen-next circus atmosphere. Despite the frenzy, the good-looking bartenders are always friendly, even on Friday evenings when the crowd swells for “Bear Happy Hour.” While Town's nightclub side is typically only open on Friday and Saturday nights, a recently added outdoor space is now open seven days a week.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • dancing
    • singles scene

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