Austin is a lot of things, but it's mostly young, progressive, musical, creative, and gay—all in the best possible way. It's home to a slew of universities, is a magnet for starving artists, has a strong tech presence (hence the youthful populace), and is perhaps the most LGBTQ+-friendly place in Texas.
It's no secret that gays and lesbians are welcomed here more openly and enthusiastically than in most other regions of this primarily conservative state. Austin is a little liberal bubble that sits just southeast of the very center, surrounded by some 200,000 miles of cornfields and cacti. It is renowned for hosting the annual South by Southwest Festival and for its thriving music scene.
For a city of more than 900,000, though, Austin doesn't actually have as many gay bars as you might expect (about a half-dozen, all told). Rather than being concentrated in just one "gayborhood," though, Austin's LGBTQ+ scene is dispersed throughout the entire city. Straights and gays are more apt to socialize together than on their own. In any case, there are a few night spots that are more gay-popular than others.
Austin is quite the party city and for every handful of raucous clubs in this city, there's at least one that's dedicated entirely to the gay community. LGBTQ+ identifiers can turn up to any of Austin's late-night parties and most definitely they will be welcomed and accepted, but only at a few special places will they find that the dance floor is full of fellow queers.
- Cheer Up Charlie's: This bright, jovial (as the name suggests), and inclusive space walks the line between bar and nightclub, but let's call it the latter for the sake of it being the first mentioned. If you only go to one gay bar in Austin, make it this one. Its regular drag acts and live music sets provide endless entertainment for revelers of all sexual orientations. To put it simply: It's the iconic venue you don't want to skip.
- Oilcan Harry's: Additionally, no serious clubber should visit Austin without making an appearance at this always-crowded bar. Inside, you'll find a small dance floor, a stage that seems to always be occupied by a drag queen, and a genial patio for summer evenings. Oilcan Harry's is right in the heart of the hip downtown Warehouse District.
- Rain on 4th: Out-of-towners might do better with making friends at Rain on 4th, neighbor to Oilcan Harry's, because while it boasts a similar club vibe, it does so without all the attitude and scene.
- 'Bout Time II: A bit north of downtown, you'll find an updated version of the original, now-defunct Bout Time. It isn't abnormal to find the latest sporting event being broadcasted in this gay club. It's a popular hangout for Austin's north side crowd and is also more frequented by the over-40 set than some of the youthful downtown clubs. Expect a lengthy beer list, a happy hour crowd, and themed evenings.
Not everyone loves DJs and wild dance floors, though. Sometimes, you're more in the mood for a game of pool and a seat at the bar with a modest Blue Moon and, fortunately for you, Austin has plenty of that, too. There are a slew of unostentatious gay bars to go to whether you're looking for a low-key place to mingle with other queer singles or a hip place to share a bottle of wine with your date.
- Halcyon: Just across the street from Rain is a gay-popular (and hipster-infested) coffeehouse, bar, and lounge that draws a wide mix of folks from all walks of life (gay and straight, that is). It's a nice place to sip wine or cocktails, nurse a vanilla latte while you type on your laptop, make conversation with erudite locals, or relax at a sidewalk table overlooking the colorful street action.
- Highland Lounge: Although it can get quite clubby at night, downtown Austin's Highland Lounge errs more on the side of a cocktail bar. It has more space than any other gay bar in the vicinity and that includes a sprawling dance floor and outdoor patio, too.
- The Iron Bear: If you're a sucker for divey vibes, skip the flashy clubs and head instead to what the locals call the "bears' lair," where you can play pool, shoot darts, and drink cheap beers with the beefy types.
- Sellers Underground: Sandwiched between the two most popular gay clubs in town, Sellers Underground is the perfect place to start the evening with a snazzy cocktail before heading to Oilcan Harry's or Rain.
- The Jackalope: While not specifically queer-leaning, this Warehouse District hotspot is most definitely LGBTQ+-approved, which you can tell by the many same-sex couples and gay singles who mingle here on the weekends. There really is a giant jackalope (among other eccentric statues) in the middle of the floor.
Austin's gay nightlife exists beyond the popular clubs and bars. Inclusive events are happening all over the city nearly every night of the week, thanks to all the LGBTQ+ groups, drag troupes, and comedy queens that call this quirky city home.
- Drag Shows at Elysium: This "alternative"—or gothic, you might call it—dance club regularly hosts drag shows courtesy of the drag troupe Poo Poo Platter.
- Illusions, the Show: Speaking of drag, the famous celebrity impersonation drag show that calls many U.S. cities home has a presence in Austin, too. Head to Divas Men's Club on special nights—check the Illusions calendar on Eventbrite—to see Gaga, Madonna, even Hepburn impersonators in all their glory. Tickets to the show include dinner as well.
- Queer Film Theory 101: Barrel O' Fun, a carnival-themed bar inside the Alamo Drafthouse, is where the gay community gathers regularly for Queer Film Theory 101, a movie night with an LGBTQ+ theme.
- DJ Girlfriend ATX's Queer Nights: DJ Girlfriend ATX is a staple of Austin's thriving music scene. Keep an eye out for his queer nights, held in various venues throughout the city.
- Thee Gay Agenda Comedy Shows: The third Thursday of every month got a lot more funny when Thee Gay Agenda came to town. This queer comedy group hosts not only its monthly show—venues vary—but also special events (such as a Holiday Bazaar on World AIDS Day) throughout the year.
- Lesbutante & The Boss Parties: Lesbutante & The Boss is a group founded by a local lesbian couple that hosts monthly events—dance parties, gay field days, and you-name-it—for queer womxn. Many of them are held at Sellers Underground.
It's no surprise that Austin is a mecca for LGBTQ+ festivals, including—but not limited to—one of the biggest pride events in Texas. In fact, Austin is home to a number of pride festivals (catered to the black community, the leather community, and so-forth), as well as many other annual fetes that are uniquely catered to this funky city.
- Austin Pride: The mother of all LGBTQ+ advocacy events in Austin is, of course, Pride. More than 400,000 people flock to Fiesta Gardens for it every summer. The Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation picks a theme for Austin Pride every year—in the past, they've included "revolution" and "boogie wonderland." The festival encompasses a very colorful parade and festival which features carnival rides and Drag Queen Story Time. There are events happening all Pride Week leading up to the event, too.
- Austin Black Pride: In the spring, the Austin Black Pride organization hosts its own pride festival. Rather than a one-day or weekend celebration, though, this one warrants a whole week of queer-focused events for the black community.
- Leather Pride in Texas: There's Pride, there's Black Pride, and then there's Leather Pride, which is—you guessed it—yet another gay pride gathering but this time with a leather bent. This is a celebration of "leather values, providing leather space for leather people," the website says.
- Austin International Drag Festival: This quirky metropolis also plays host to an international drag festival. The volunteer-run event brings dozens of widely-known drag queens (some you might recognize from RuPaul's Drag Race) to the Red River Cultural District each November.
- Splash Days: Memorial Day weekend in Austin has become almost synonymous with Splash Days, a three-day celebration that takes place at various venues throughout the city each spring. Events vary, but there's always dancing and usually there's also water involved (boats, pool parties, you get the picture). All proceeds from Splash Days goes right back into the gay community.
Tips for Going Out in Austin
- Most of Austin's gay bars are within walking distance of each other (and dozens of other mainstream bars). Plan your nightlife around the hip Warehouse District that's between the Texas Capitol building and the Colorado River (i.e. Town Lake).
- Austin's long-running gay bathhouse, Midtown Spa-Austin, may have closed, but you can get a clothing-optional experience at Hippie Hollow Park, a very popular and scenic gay sunbathing area 30 minutes northwest of downtown on the rocky-but-scenic shore of Lake Travis.
- While some dance clubs stay open until 3 a.m. (like Oilcan Harry's), no bar is permitted to serve alcohol past 2 a.m. in the state of Texas.
- Stay away from Sixth Street—also known as Dirty Sixth—unless you love sticky bar floors and doing shots of fireball with college students. Linger instead around the Warehouse District for clubs or the Red River Cultural District for live music.
- Looking for post-bar grub or a banging breakfast to nurse that hangover? Kerbey Lane Cafe is a gay-popular (and quintessentially Austin) eatery just south of the city—rest assured, it's worth the jaunt.
- And if you're overwhelmed by all the options—because there are a lot in this blissfully LGBTQ+-friendly city—then you can always turn to The Austin Chronicle's very own queer column and blog, dubbed Qmmunity. This is where you'll find all the latest news, listings, and queer happenings around the city. If you don't find anything there, then Do512's event calendar has you covered.