Although Washington, D.C., is a powerhouse of the gay nightlife scene on the East Coast, its unassuming and quirky next-door neighbor promises gay travelers an equally good time. Baltimore is Maryland's largest city and located just 40 miles northeast of Washington. While the city is a worthwhile destination for any traveler for its long history and trendy neighborhoods, LGBT tourists will find Baltimore to be especially welcoming and open. It's the hometown of iconic gay filmmaker John Waters and his drag queen muse, Divine, and the Mount Vernon neighborhood is one of the longest-established gay districts in the country.
If you're on the lookout for something different from the stereotypical gay bars, then this city will likely appeal to you. After just one night out in Baltimore, you'll quickly fall in love with its uniqueness and peculiarity.
Some of Baltimore's gay bars have been around for decades, and continue to attract patrons both young and old. Mount Vernon is the gay neighborhood in Baltimore, and many of the bars are concentrated around that central area. However, other LGBT spots are scattered throughout the city and even if you don't go to an explicitly gay place, the majority of bars in Baltimore consider themselves gay-friendly.
- The Drinkery: One of Baltimore's oldest gay bars, The Drinkery has a laid-back pub feel with daily drink specials and weekend drag shows. The bar opens every day of the week at 11 a.m., so it's a sure bet to visit when you aren't sure where to go. There's no kitchen at The Drinkery, but they do offer menus for nearby restaurants to order delivery to the bar.
- Mixers: Located about 20 minutes outside of the city center by car, Mixers serves a diverse crowd and hosts regular "Ladies' Nights" for lesbian clientele. In the warmer months, the large outdoor patio is a huge draw for patrons from across Baltimore and nearby suburbs.
- The Rowan Tree: A casual neighborhood bar in South Baltimore, The Rowan Tree caters to a diverse crowd but leans toward gay customers on the weekends. The cocktails are well-known for being affordable and strong, with a constantly changing drink menu depending on the season.
- Leon's of Baltimore: A leather bar that's been serving the gay community in Baltimore since 1957. In the early years, customers were asked if they were a "friend of Dorothy" before entering, a reference to Judy Garland's "The Wizard of Oz" character and common lingo from the era to furtively ask if someone is gay. The adjacent restaurant, Leon's Backroom, was originally purchased by the bar owners so patrons could enter and exit the bar without using the main entrance.
With bars opening as early as 11 a.m. and clubs staying open until sunrise, you can find somewhere to go out in Baltimore at almost all hours of the day. Clubs in the city often have an eccentric, alternative, or even obscene aspect, like stepping into one of John Waters' cult films. Mainstream gay dance clubs are glaringly absent in the Baltimore area, with the largest one shut down in early 2020. Meanwhile, night clubs catering to niche crowds in the LGBT community in Baltimore continue to thrive.
- Factory 17: Previously known—and still sometimes referred to—as Club 1722, Factory 17 is the after-hours gay dance club in Baltimore. When the bars are announcing last calls and beginning to close down, Factory 17 is just opening its doors. DJs play house, electronic, and trance tracks through the night until early morning, for all the night owls who want to keep the party going.
- Baltimore Eagle: A leather and fetish club located just north of the Mount Vernon neighborhood, The Eagle is open daily until 2 a.m. While leather attire isn't required to enter, it is strongly encouraged.
- Club Orpheus: This underground dance spot is technically a self-described "goth club," but the alternative vibe attracts a consistent gay crowd as well. Each night enjoy a different theme, ranging from EDM and rave night to a Japanese dance party. Orpheus also allows guests 18 years and older, making it an ideal spot for those too young for the other bars around Baltimore.
The premier event of the year for LGBT residents and visitors in Baltimore is the annual Pride Festival, hosted by the PRIDE Center of Maryland. The festival is the largest annual fundraiser for the PRIDE Center, which supports LGBT individuals across the state with social services and medical resources.
Baltimore Pride takes place each year in June, squeezing various types of activities for all ages into a weekend of celebrations. The Pride Parade is a lively procession that starts in the Charles Village neighborhood and continues downtown toward Mount Vernon, culminating in a massive block party featuring live music, food trucks, and the annual high heel race.
The day after the parade, the Pride festival continues at Druid Hall Park. The family-friendly festival shows off the best music, food, and drag queens that Baltimore has to offer. Once the sun sets, the Neon Dreams Glow Party is a full-blown dance event under blacklights, so you can close out the celebrations with this otherworldly event.
Tips for Going Out in Baltimore
- Most bars in Baltimore close at 2 a.m. Special after-hours clubs are permitted to stay open later and serve alcohol.
- In all of Baltimore County, you cannot purchase alcohol from a store on Sundays, but sales are permitted for buying drinks in a bar or restaurant.
- To get to Mount Vernon on public transit, you can take the Baltimore Metro to the State Center stop or the Lightrail to the Cultural Center stop.
- The Baltimore Metro stops running at midnight every day.