Louisiana's capital city, Baton Rouge (population 230,000) is just an hour-and-a-half drive from New Orleans, which has a far more substantial gay nightlife scene. But as a busy destination for business travel and government and the home of Louisiana State University (LSU), Baton Rouge does have an impressive selection of bars and clubs in its own right, with a handful of gay-specific hangouts. It's a more conservative city than New Orleans, but gays and lesbians should feel fairly comfortable in any of the main downtown restaurants and lounges.
Whatever the politics of Louisiana, it's a pretty friendly state
Baton Rouge has three fun gay bars, all of them in or near the downtown area, where you'll find most of the city's main attractions, hotels, and government buildings. A few blocks southeast of the iconic Louisiana Capitol tower, Hound Dogs (668 Main St., 225-344-0807) is a friendly neighborhood gay bar with fun karaoke and trivia nights, an eclectic and unpretentious crowd (men, women, all ages), a fun juke box, a pool table, and cheap booze.
On the south edge of downtown, a few blocks from the river in the shadows of the Horace Wilkinson Bridge (which carries I-10 across the Mississippi River), George's Place (860 St. Louis St., 225-387-9798) is much appreciated for its hunky go-go dancers, entertaining drag performances, and fun dancing. It's a pretty male-centric crowd, but women quite welcome, if in the minority. There's no cover (except for the 18-20 set), karaoke on Wednesday and Thursday, and a Music Video Madness Mondays.
The patio is a good spot to cool off on a hot evening and chat-up new friends. You'll often see LSU students and faculty hanging out here, and the legendary and historic Pastime Restaurant (252 South Blvd., 225-343-5490) is across the street and makes a nice pre-clubbing dinner option (serving pizzas, roast beef and seafood po'boys, burgers, and the like).
The largest gay dance club in the city, Splash Baton Rouge (2183 Highland Rd., 225-242-9491) is just up the street from LSU campus and is, as expected, very popular with students. It's and 18-and-over club with four different bars, a good-size dance floor and excellent DJs, and top-notch drag shows; there is usually a cover charge, and drinks are a bit spendier here, but it's an impressive venue, even compared with New Orleans clubs. As it's one of the best dance clubs in the state, Splash draws a fair share of hetero clubbers, but the vibe is always quite friendly, and everybody seems to get along well here. The club is open Thursday through Saturday nights.
Beyond the gay venues, Baton Rouge is a fun city for live music - you can catch some great bands at the Varsity Theatre (3353 Highland Rd., 225-383-7018), which is right at the north entrance to LSU campus, books nationally known bands and gay-popular acts. Downtown's eclectic and fun River Room Bar (222 Laurel St., 225-400-9627) is one of the more gay-friendly hipster hangouts in the city, known for their great whisky, wine, and beer selection and somewhat artsy ambience. On the river, the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino & Hotel (103 France St., 225-242-2600) has been a hosting venue of Baton Rouge Gay Pride and is a popular spot for gaming, eating (at Shucks on the Levee restaurant), and drinking (at Bar 102).
A sponsor of Baton Rouge Gay Pride, Louisiana's popular chain CC's Coffee House has popular locations downtown at 327 North Boulevard (225-389-0511), which is near local museums and a 10-minute walk south of the Louisiana Capitol Building, and two other popular branches on LSU campus (one right in the center of things at Boyd Hall, 225-368-3900, and the other at the south end of campus at 3930 Burbank Drive, 225-767-6203); there are several other branches of this excellent purveyor of espresso drinks, teas, and baked goods elsewhere in town in Mid-City (4161 Perkins Rd., 225-381-8187) and farther east.