Traveler's Guide to Dallas' Gay Bars

There are few larger and move dynamic concentrations of gay bars and clubs in the world than along the "Strip" in Oak Lawn, the long-time GLBT quadrant of one of the nation's largest cities. You'll find more than a dozen lounges and clubs (along with both casual and trendy restaurants as well as plenty of colorful boutiques) within a few blocks of each other in this bustling neighborhood centered on the fabulous and flirty intersection of Cedar Springs Road and Throckmorton Street.

In fact, nearly all of the city's gay bars are in Oak Lawn, although a handful (the Dallas Eagle, Tin Room, Hidden Door, Brick, Kaliente, etc.) are on the northwest side of the neighborhood - across the Dallas North Tollway in the direction of the Southwestern Medical District and Love Field airport, and an even smaller cluster of them (Zippers, BJ's NXS, Pub Pegasus) are a short drive north and east in Uptown, just outside of Oak Lawn.

Beyond that, you'll find a very fun gay bar, Barbara's Pavillion, over in what's become one of the hippest and quite gay-popular neighborhoods in the city, Oak Cliff, which is home to the arty and trendy Bishop Arts District, which is about a 15-minute drive south of Oak Lawn on the other side of downtown. This formerly modest and more residential neighborhood of small craftsman homes has emerged in recent years into one of the most intriguing districts in Dallas, a pedestrian-friendly, low-keyed antidote to some of the flashier, modern, and sometimes more sprawling areas of the city. It has a bit more of a cool Austin/Brooklyn personality than other parts of Dallas, and in addition to Barbara's Pavillion you'll find a handful of other Bishop Arts District restaurants and cafes listed in this guide - just about anywhere you venture around here, especially around the neighborhood's nexus of North Bishop Avenue and West 7th Street, you'll encounter a mixed crowd and plenty of LGBT patrons. 

Another area with a similarly eclectic and mixed scene is Lower Greenville, which is an easy drive just east-northeast of Oak Lawn, north of downtown, and west of beautiful White Rock Lake and the Dallas Arboretum. Although you won't find gay bars per se, the neighborhood does abound with mixed bars and restaurants, with an especially strong showing of craft-beer parlors, food trucks, and retro-divey hangouts. The main drag of Greenville Avenue is where you'll find many of the best drinkeries and eateries, but also check out North Henderson Avenue (on the southwestern edge of the neighborhood, part of its own sub-neighborhood of Knox-Henderson), and East Mockingbird Lane, which forms the northern edge of the neighborhood. 

Of course, the "D" in Dallas could easily stand for "drinking" - this town loves to party - or "delicious", as it's home to one hell of a food scene. And to that end, you'll find terrific places to partake of both activities throughout downtown, especially in the vibrant Dallas Arts District, which has some of the state's top performing and visual arts venues, but also in near-downtown 'hoods like Victory Park, the South Side, Deep Ellum, and Uptown, and in the fabulously wealthy northern neighborhoods like Highland Park and University Park. These areas may not stand out in terms of specifically gay establishments, but they're all worth checking out for great food and drink, and you'll find a smattering of notable options in these districts listed in this guide. 

Here's an alphabetical list of some of the top LGBT venues in Dallas for socializing, dancing, drinking, and eating. As hinted above, the list includes not just gay-oriented bars and clubs but also a mix of other types of hangouts where you might find a diverse crowd and great food, drinks, or both.

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    photo by Andrew Collins

    A classy and convivial little boite and cabaret right along the heart of the Oak Lawn nightlife strip, Alexandre's Bar (4026 Cedar Springs Rd.) books a steady roster of superbly talented singers and bands. If you're not wanting the crowds and energy and one of the neighborhood's larger clubs, this natty little spot with a friendly staff and both bar and booth seating makes a happy alternative. You can also get some fresh air on the little patio in front, which overlooks busy Cedar Springs Road. Music videos and karaoke are also part of the fun, depending on the evening.

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    photo by Andrew Collins

    Spelled with one "l" on the front door of this establishment but two "l"s on the bar's Facebook page, Barbara's Pavillion (325 Centre St.) is one of the quirkier and indeed more endearing little gay nightspots in the Dallas metroplex. It's one of the few LGBT nightlife options outside of Oak Lawn and environs, located instead in Oak Cliff, just a few blocks south of the lively Bishop Arts District and about a 15-minute drive southwest of downtown. Although drawing a predominantly gay and lesbian crowd, the Pavilion pulls in a wide range of patrons with its retro-fabulous Mid-Century Modern decor, pool table, nice-size back patio, tiny show stage (there's karaoke some evenings), and solid drinks selection. There are really no gay bars in Dallas quite like it, hence its considerable appeal with everyone from hipsters to oldsters to collegiate types. 

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    photo by Andrew Collins

    One of the handful of gay spots in Uptown, near Knox-Henderson, BJ's NXS (3215 N. Fitzhugh Ave.) is a must for fans of hot male dancers - it employs a decidedly hunky (and flirty) stable of hunky young guys, who show their wares dancing on the bar and elsewhere in this rambling complex that's right next to the similarly popular Zippers gay bar. Happy hour is a particular drawing card here - it lasts an hour longer (until 9 pm) on "Trashy Tuesdays" (the best night for watching the dancers bump and grind), which are a favorite night out in the city's gay men's community. 

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    photo by Andrew Collins

    It may seem a little odd that the decidedly traditional and - in northern Texas - ubiquitous down-home chain restaurant Black-Eyed Pea (3857 Cedar Springs Rd.) appears in this guide to gay hangouts in Dallas. But despite having conservative baseball icon Nolan Ryan as a partner and pitchman, Black-Eyed Pea has one of the most LGBT eateries in the city, and it's actually the very first outpost in the brand, having opened along Cedar Springs Road in Oak Lawn back in 1975. This casual, economically priced spot specializes in filling stick-to-your-ribs down-home Southern fare - such as fried pickles, chicken-fried steak smothered in jalapeno gravy, slow-cooked pot roast, meatloaf, Southwest chicken casserole, ranch-style pork chops, and the like. Save room for the fruit cobbler or carrot cake. You can work off those calories with dancing just a block away at Station 4 or the Round-Up Saloon. You can read a bit more here about Black-Eyed Pea in Oak Lawn.

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    photo by Andrew Collins

    In a handsome, light-filled space in the trendy Bishop Arts District, bustling Boulevardier (408 N. Bishop Ave.) turns out modern French-American fare and is especially lovely for Saturday and Sunday brunching, when you might dig into a plate of hash Boulevardier (oyster mushrooms, spinach-potato hash. eggs as you like them, maple-sage breakfast sausage, and black-pepper hollandaise sauce) or "legs and eggs" (crispy duck-leg confit with local sunny-side-up farm eggs, stone-ground grits cake, and tart-sweet huckleberry sauce). The brunch cocktail list is noteworthy, too, as is the wine list in the evening. For dinner, the menu offers a nice balance of classic and contemporary victuals, such as poached-beet salad with preserved lemon and chevre, Gulf oysters on the half shell, seared foie gras with strawberry and rhubarb, rabbit cassoulet, and hanger steak frites. 

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    photo by Andrew Collins

    It's just a 10- to 15-minute walk (or two-minute drive) from the Strip to The Brick (2525 Wycliffe Ave.), a pulsing and thumping men's bar that's one of the top picks around the city (along with BJ's NXS and the Tin Roof) for watching male dancers. Beyond the toned and tanned dancing dudes, the Brick brings in some top-notch entertainment on weekends, including well-known drag stars and others, and it's always a fun place for dancing, with a clear following among guys on the make.

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    photo by Andrew Collins

    Open 24/7, since the early '90s Cafe Brazil (3847 Cedar Springs Rd.) has been the top spot in Oak Lawn for coffee, late-night dining, post-bar-hopping breakfast, gay dates, and all-around good times. In addition to fine coffee drinks, Cafe Brazil serves smoothies and teas, and the extensive food menu features huevos rancheros, fruit-filled crepes, BLT sandwiches, coconut-chicken sandwiches, and the like. There are several other locations around the city, including another quite gay-popular branch in the Bishop Arts District (it's not open 24 hours, but it does keep fairly late hours), as well as locations in Deep Ellum (also 24 hours), Lower Greenville (day-time only), University Park (24 hours), Fort Worth (day-time only), and several nearby towns and cities. Here's a bit more on Cafe Brazil in Oak Lawn.

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    A relative newcomer to the Oak Lawn gay bar strip, Cedar Springs Tap House (4123 Cedar Springs Rd.) is a handsome, high-ceilinged space attached to the trendy ilume apartments (just like the excellent restaurant, Dish, below). Part sports bar, and with a notably gay following but really drawing all walks of life, this chatter-filled place with booth and bar-stool seating, a huge patio with covered tables, interesting artwork and framed photos, and large TV monitors airing local and national pro and college games also serves very good, reasonably priced pub food. Consider the extensive burger selection, buffalo shrimp, beer-battered onion rings, and grilled fish tacos. You won't find any surprises on the menu, but everything is fresh and tasty.

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    Dallas Eagle

    photo by Andrew Collins

    You know the drill if you've been to gay "Eagle" bars around the country, and the Dallas Eagle (5740 Maple Ave.) is even more true to its leather-and-Levi's form than many similarly named bars out there that have become more mainstream over the years. This spacious, attractive bar packed with memorabilia related to gay leather culture in the city and providing one of the nicer patios in town doesn't enforce a strict dress but does strongly encourage leather or fetish gear (rubber, uniforms, denim, sportswear, kilts, workboots, latex, and so on). At the northern end of Oak Lawn, it's well away from the Strip and cultivates its own following while still being very much a central part of the city's gay community. Themes (underwear nights, bears, Tuesday "Cher-E-Oke") have some bearing on the crowd from night to night. However, you're dressed, the staff is exceedingly polite - and, hey, you might even pick up a pair of leather chaps or cock-and-ball. The bar is home to a great fetish, leather gear, and sex boutique with an extensive selection of underwear, jocks, toys, clamps, cock rings, caps, workout wear, and more. 

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    Dish

    photo by Andrew Collins

    Among restaurant options on the Oak Lawn Strip, Dish (ilume complex, 4123 Cedar Springs Rd.), which is on the ground-floor of the swanky and gay-popular ilume apartment complex, is one of the best options for sophisticated dining. That said, this attractive, contemporary eatery specializing in modern versions of classic comfort fare is still relatively unfussy and relaxed, and it's a definite hot spot for drag brunch (when you can sample the decadent fried chicken and waffles or short ribs eggs Benedict) and early evening happy hour. For dinner, the lengthy menu features a changing assortment of options, including flatbread starters with several different toppings, ahi tuna ceviche, chorizo-steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, and other apps, several good-size salads, and main dishes like bourbon-marinated pork chops and a vegetarian-friendly grilled cauliflower steak with golden-raisin brown butter. There's another location of the restaurant, albeit one with a far less gay following, in stylish Preston Hollow, up near NorthPark shopping mall - perfect if you're seeking some sustenance after a day of browsing fashion boutiques and trying on clothes.

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    photo by Andrew Collins

    Although it's actually 25 miles west of the nightlife action in Oak Lawn (and just 15 miles east of Fort Worth, which itself has about a half-dozen gay bars), the 1851 Club (931 W. Division St., Arlington) deserves mention in any Dallas gay-bar-going story as it's in the heart of the large DFW-region city of Arlington, which itself has a population of 380,000 and counting. This good-size, centrally located gay club has very popular drag shows on Friday and Saturday evenings, Thursday karaoke, a welcoming staff, and cheap drink specials. It's a great bet if you're looking to socialize a bit while in the vicinity of nearby attractions like Six Flags Over Texas, University of Texas at Arlington, Globe Life Park (home to baseball's Texas Rangers), and AT&T Stadium, the home base of the Dallas Cowboys as well as many big-name concerts.