Loud and Proud: Washington DC's Best Gay Bars

© White House Press/Flickr
© White House Press/Flickr
Photo of Kate McMahon
9 February 2017

Around 10 per cent of adults in Washington DC identify as LGBTQ+ – the highest percentage in the country. DC shines as the nation’s gayest city, and you can check out these venues to get a taste of the vibrant, proud scene.

Nellie’s Sports Bar

Nellie’s is the quintessential, right-in-your-face gay bar in the bustling U Street corridor. Its size and location make it one of the busiest gay bars in DC. The place is always hopping – whether it’s Saturday night or Sunday morning. Nellie’s most popular feature is its weekend drag brunch. Sip mimosas and dine at a buffet as you watch stellar drag queens strut across the stage in heels that seemingly defy the laws of physics.

Town Dance Boutique

If you want to go wild, Town is the place. It’s the largest gay nightclub in the DMV area. With multiple dance floors and LED lighting, Town is the perfect venue for insane themed parties and international DJs. But be prepared to pay for the experience with a $12 cover charge and expensive drinks.

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Town’s entrance | © Kate McMahon

The Fireplace

For a different change of pace, check out The Fireplace; this dive bar really puts the emphasis on dive and fire (seriously, it’s a fire hazard). Think sticky floors, shabby tables, and drinks that are 90% alcohol. You’ll come to love the rough exterior after a few killer rail drinks that are among the cheapest in DC. There’s no taps to be seen – but there is a moderate range of bottled domestic beers for $4.

JR's Bar & Grill

Restaurant, Gay Bar, LGBTQ Bar, Pub Grub, Wine, Beer, Fast Food
Map View
JR's Bar and Grill
JR's Bar and Grill | © Elvert Barnes/Flickr
JR’s is your average friendly neighborhood bar; it’s been a staple of Dupont Circle for over three decades. The brick exterior and high ceilings provide endless aesthetic appeal and a cozy feel. But be warned – on weekend nights it’s extremely narrow inside, so unless you manage to wiggle your way up to the coveted second floor loft, prepare for lots of rubbing on strangers. But maybe that’s a good thing?


This three-level establishment provides a superb atmosphere for meeting people and chatting up strangers. The first floor, aptly named Level One, is a decent restaurant that offers bottomless mimosas on weekends. At night, eat a meal and play a rousing game of beer pong, but then head upstairs to mingle at the second floor bar and groove on the third floor dance floor! The people and music are diverse – the DJs play a nice blend of hip-hop, reggae and other genres beyond the top 40 hits. While DC seriously lacks lesbian bars, ladies’ night at Cobalt is the third Saturday of every month.


New location, same drag. Ziegfeld’s/Secrets is one of the oldest drag bars in the country and regarded as an important landmark in LGBTQ history. But after 40 years, the dual drag bar and strip club was forced to move from its historical location – don’t worry though, the new venue is almost as good. Unfortunately it’s being forced to move again, but likely not until 2018. Get in while you can! Ziegfeld’s/Secrets is known for being one of the few venues in the country to feature full-frontal male nudity. Catch that upstairs, or head downstairs to watch a fabulous drag show featuring the lovely Ella Fitzgerald, who just celebrated her 34th year there!

By Kate McMahon