This Baltimore Gay Nightlife Guide, with listings in alphabetical order, also includes a handful of notably GLBT-popular restaurants and coffeehouses in this friendly, diverse Maryland metropolis. This city of 620,000 just 45 miles from Washington, DC, has some of the longest-running gay clubs on the East Coast, most of them concentrated in the eclectic Mount Vernon neighborhood, but you'll also find increasingly GLBT-popular hangouts throughout the city, from quirky Hampden to historic Fells Point.
Cafe Hon and Hon Bar (mixed bar/restaurant)
Sure, it's touristy, but Cafe Hon (1002 W. 36th St., 410-243-1230) and its adjoining Hon Bar are engagingly campy and amusing hangouts in the "Bawlmer" neighborhood of Hampden, in which many of local queer icon John Waters directed a number of his cult-classic films. A giant pink flamingo on the side of the building beckons fans of retro-kitsch, and there's live music in Hon Bar some evenings (and karaoke on Fridays). The restaurant serves classic Maryland-inspired American chow at dinner and for brunch: cornmeal-crusted oysters, Maryland crab soup, plus burgers, salads, and milkshakes.
City Cafe (restaurant)
Phenomenally popular throughout the day and evening as a hip restaurant, breakfast place, and coffee bar, Mount Vernon's spacious and stylish City Cafe (1001 Cathedral St., 410-539-4252) serves tasty contemporary American fare and is also a fun place to meet friends for a glass of wine or a cocktail. Be prepared for a wait on weekends for brunch, when this high-ceilinged, light-filled space fills up fast.
A long-running mainstay of Baltimore's gay African-American community, Club Bunns (608 W. Lexington St., 410-234-2866) is near Lexington Market on the west edge of Mount Vernon and draws a primarily male crowd for hip-hop and house music, drag shows, go-go dancers. The crowd tends toward all ages.
Club 1722 (gay after-hours club)
The Baltimore GLBT community's favorite after-hours dance club, Club 1722 (1722 N. Charles St., 410-547-8423) is open only on Friday (1:45 am to 5 am) and Saturday (1:45 to 6 am) late nights. On Friday nights, the music tends toward pop dance classics, while Saturdays are more geared to fans of techno, trance, house, and the like. The club has an 18-and-over policy, and alcohol is not sold. The club is just north of Mount Vernon, near Penn Station, and it's next to one of the more historic and bohemian bars and lounges in the city, Club Charles (1724 N. Charles St., 410-727-8815), a glam art-deco space that's still fun for dining and cocktails.
Grand Central (gay bar)
In the heart of Mount Vernon, Grand Central (1001-1003 N. Charles St., 410-752-7133) has been a mainstay in Baltimore's gay bar scene since it opened in the early '90s inside part of an 1865 row house. Over the years, it's expanded from a convivial gay pub to include a full dance floor. Upstairs, part of this complex includes the lesbian bar Sappho's (see below), although this space draws a mixed bunch and is actually part of Grand Central. Grand Central has different events and parties throughout the months, including drag shows, women's nights, and karaoke. The pub is open nightly, and the dance floor is open Wednesday through Sunday.
Jay's on Read (gay bar)
Fans of karaoke and piano cabaret frequent friendly and charming Jay's on Reading (225 W. Read St., 410-225-0188), a relaxed and friendly neighborhood gay bar in Mount Vernon, within a short walk of several other lounges and clubs. Although drawing a mostly gay crowd, Jay's can be very mixed, as it has a following with just about anybody who appreciates show tunes and live piano music (notes the stunningly restored grand piano in the bar).
Tucked behind historic Leon's of Baltimore gay bar (whose main entrance is around the corner at 870 Park Ave.), Leon's Leather Lounge, or the "Triple L" (227 W. Chase St., 410-539-4850) is a fun and cruise-y little haunt catering to guys into leather, Levi's, and such. Space often hosts event led by the Baltimore Shipmates, a gay leather club that's been going strong since 1974.
Serving the city's gay community since the late 1950s, lovably raffish Leon's of Baltimore (870 Park Ave., 410-539-4993) occupies a vintage redbrick building in the heart of Mount Vernon. It's a genuine neighborhood hangout, catering to a somewhat older crowd, but gay men (and more than a few women) of all ages crowd in here for conversation, cruising, and some of the best happy-hour deals in town.
Although it's within Baltimore city limits, Mixers (6037 Belair Rd., 410-483-6011) is a 15- to 20-minute drive northeast of downtown. This easygoing, mixed gay/lesbian neighborhood bar caters primarily to the LGBT community in nearby Towson, Parkville, and Overlea, drawing a diverse bunch - it's especially known for its good-size patio out back.
The Rowan Tree (1633 S. Charles St., 410-468-0550) is a fun, friendly little LGBT neighborhood bar serving the historic Federal Hill area - it's in a steadily gentrifying area with a number of cool restaurants and cafes, and it's just about a dozen blocks southwest of Federal Hill park.
Amid the often touristy singles, bars and clubs in the nevertheless very charming and historic Fells Point neighborhood, intimate and sophisticated Rye (807 S. Broadway, 443-438-3296) earns kudos for its glamorous vibe, superb craft cocktails, and diverse crowd. Grab a seat at the crowded but convivial bar up front or at one of the tables in the dark lounge in back, and consider the menu of tasty comfort fare if you're feeling peckish.
An intimate and classy video and pool bar on the upper level of Grand Central gay club (see above), Sappho's (1001-1003 N. Charles St., 410-752-7133) is a favorite hangout for Baltimore's women's community, although this swank little space is very welcoming of all types. There's dancing on Friday and Saturday nights, and during the week, the moderate decibel level in here makes Sappho's conducive to having a conversation.
The Drinkery (gay bar)
An old-time-y gay dive bar with a friendly staff and a fun, welcoming vibe, The Drinkery (205 W. Read St., 410-225-3100) is a favorite hangout in Mount Vernon for karaoke, affordable cocktails, and conversation. The crowd is very diverse - all ages, men, and women. It's a very fun place to start or end an evening of Mount Vernon revelry.
One of the oldest still-operating gay bars in the city, The Gallery (1735 Maryland Ave., 410-539-6965) is on the north side of Mount Vernon, near Penn Station, and welcomes a mixed male/female crowd. It's a popular spot for casual dining in the evening, too, drawing mostly a local crowd.
It takes a little effort to find this self-styled Prohibition Era-inspired speakeasy tucked away on a side street in the city's Remington neighborhood (about midway between Mount Vernon and Hampden), but W.C. Harlan (400 W. 23rd St., no phone) is worth seeking out if you're into fine craft cocktails and the quirky mystique of hidden hideaways. Efforts on the part of the owners to curtail publicity about this space that formerly housed the Kitty Kat bar have probably only ratcheted up interest on the part of everybody from hipsters and Johns Hopkins students to queer scenesters and occasional tourists. The space is dark and seductive, with a soundtrack of classic blues and jazz. And the drinks are first-rate.
The historic Canton neighborhood, a bit east and farther around the harbor from Fells Point, is one of the city's more interesting neighborhoods, having undergone a bit of a renaissance in recent years. It's home to some terrific restaurants as well as the convivial Walt's Inn (3201 O'Donnell St., 410-327-1495), a wildly popular karaoke bar and all-around-cool neighborhood hangout that's frequented by an eclectic bunch, from gays to hipsters. There's karaoke every night, and great happy hours on weekdays from 6 until 7 pm.