The East Village has long been Manhattan's alternative enclave, and its array of quirky (and sometimes downright raunchy) gay bars reflect that anti-establishment aesthetic. The fashions and music here are among the most cutting edge in the city, but the vibe is generally relaxed, and all are welcome. Here are some picks for the 5 best gay bars in NYC's East Village.
The Boiler Room
In the mid- to late '90s, this dark but roomy dive reigned supreme on the East Village scene, then fell into a long lean spell in the aughts. Now the Boiler Room is back with a vengeance, often packed to the gills with one of the widest cross-sections of gays imaginable. Drink specials are common, and the crowd's mood is fittingly lively. The jukebox is amazing, but be forewarned: If the bad music you play lacks irony, the otherwise friendly bartenders reserve the right to skip to the next track.
With one of the most eclectic clientele mixes in the city, Nowhere Bar is the closest you'll come to what an East Village bar must've been like in the neighborhood's alternative heyday, drawing a refreshing local hodgepodge of bohos, neo-bears, lesbians, and – gasp – even friendly heteros. Its downstairs low-ceiling setting, and the always-active pool table at the back lend it all the odd but comfy vibes of being in someone's basement. Great local DJs provide the soundtrack, with nightly rotating themes.
The red neon red rooster above the entrance welcomes you to one of the East Village's (and indeed Manhattan's) bawdiest bistros, where cruising is heavy and public displays of great affection are not at all uncommon. It's one of the few neighborhood bars to charge a cover, but you get what you pay for: Its two floors of action include dirty dancing to eclectic DJs, go-go guys galore, and general post-midnight mayhem.
A longtime cornerstone of the East Village gay scene, these days the Phoenix can be a bit hit-or-miss crowd-wise, sometimes packed and sometimes empty, without apparent rhyme or reason. A few things, however, are Phoenix certainties: cheap strong drinks, a typically friendly and low-maintenance crowd, and the city's best jukebox.