Washington, D.C. Gay Bars Guide - Best Washington, D.C. Gay Nightlife

With a great mix of diverse bars situated in several different neighborhoods, Washington, D.C., has a vibrant and lively gay nightlife scene. Several bars in the nation's capital have been going strong for more than 30 years. Here in Washington you can find pulsing dance clubs, seemingly secret neighborhood bars tucked down alleys, racially and socially diverse clubs, some fun lesbian hangouts - there's pretty much something for every taste and style. Much of the action is centered near or around Dupont Circle and nearby Logan Circle and the U Street Corridor, but you'll find several fun gay bars in other parts of the city, notable Capitol Hill. Keep in mind that D.C. is less than an hour's drive from Baltimore, which has more than a dozen gay bars of its own - it makes a fun bar-hopping excursion if you're seeking a change of pace. 

Be sure to check out our Washington D.C. Gay Hotels and Inns Guides for ideas about where to stay while you're here.

  • 01 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    Along the heavily trod stretch of 17th Street between P and R streets in the city's lively Dupont Circle neighborhood, this retro-fab establishment has been a gay fave for cocktails, old-school steak dinners, mimosa brunches, and steak-and-eggs breakfasts for decades. Annie's (1609 17th St. NW, 202-232-0395) open late (till around 5 am on weekends), and it's a great source of people-watching and hobnobbing. If you're coming for the food, which is fine (though nothing spectacular), note that the menu goes well beyond steak-house fare, with eggs dishes at breakfast, burgers, sandwiches, and seafood.

  • 02 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    One of the country's most prominent and beloved gay bars catering heavily to African-Americans, "The Mill" (1104 8th St. SE, 202-546-5979) welcomes all to its attractive confines inside an elegant townhouse on the eastern edge of Capitol Hill, adjacent to the Navy Yard neighborhood. The dance club is known for great hip-hop and house (there are two different dance areas), very fun karaoke nights and pool tournaments, and several nice outdoor spaces, from roof decks to an expansive garden-level patio. With several large TVs airing football and basketball games, it's also a fun venue on Monday nights. The crowd is mostly male, but quite a few women party here, too.

  • 03 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    A mainstay of Washington's diverse Capitol Hill neighborhood, the long-running Banana Cafe and Piano Bar (500 8th St. SE, 202-543-5906) has long been popular with the city's Latino gays and lesbians, as well as fans of piano cabaret and Latin American cuisine. The kitchen serves quite tasty Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Mexican fare (try the cod fritters with guava sauce, and note that there's a terrific Sunday brunch), while the piano bar welcomes a mixed gay/straight bunch for live music every night of the week. It's especially popular here at happy hour. It's in the same neighborhood as such popular gay and gay-friendly hangouts as Remington's, Phase 1, and Mr. Henry's.

  • 04 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    A favorite of young professionals, twinks, college students, and other see-and-be-seen types (a pretty good mix of men and women) in the District, Cobalt and 30 Degrees (1639 R St. NW, 202-232-4416) - along with the ground-level restaurant Level One is a full-on gay entertainment complex, and a fixture along Dupont Circle's busy 17th Street strip. 30 Degrees is the trendy downstairs lounge, while Cobalt is the dance club - the latter is most popular on weekend nights, but there's pretty much something going on somewhere in this three-part venue any night of the week, from Martini Mondays to Wednesday karaoke to the skewing-young Boy's Life parties on Friday. On Saturdays, there's a rotating party that changes depending on the week - Rumba's Latin party, Just Circuit with house music, Bare Women's Party, and Raw.

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  • 05 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    Washington, D.C.'s longtime hub of the city's gay leather scene, the DC Eagle (3701 Benning Rd. NE, 202-347-6025) is one of the nation's most prominent such bars. The bar is open Thursday through Sunday (till 1 or 2 am)), and it's, of course, popular with guys who wear and admire leather, but as well as other fans of uniforms, rubber, and similar attire. For many years located on New York Avenue in Southeast, the bar (pictured here in its previous location) is now in a new space in Northeast Washington, D.C., just off I-295 - the bar is actually on a service road and not directly on Benning Road; it can be a little confusing to find the new space, so check out the detailed directions on the DC Eagle website. If you're coming from downtown, you can take the Orange line metro to the Minnesota Ave. station (from L'Enfant Plaza in the city center, it's about a 40- to 45-minute trip to the bar). If you're driving or taking a taxi, it takes about 10 to 20...MORE minutes from downtown D.C., depending on traffic.

  • 06 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    Even among the many long-running gay-popular bars and restaurants on 17th Street near Dupont Circle, the Dupont Italian Kitchen (1637 17th St. NW, 202-328-0100) is pretty old-school - it's been around for ages. On the ground floor is the restaurant, serving very traditional, if predictable, Italian classics (mussels in wine sauce, minestrone, eggplant parmigiana, etc.). Upstairs is the so-called DIK Bar, a play on the restaurant's name and its très-gay clientele. The relaxed, friendly space - known formerly as Windows - can feel a bit like a gay cocktail party and tends to draw a lot of regulars, some for pre-dinner drinks, others as part of a bar crawl that includes nearby JR's and Cobalt.

  • 07 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    The homey Fireplace (2161 P St. NW, 202-293-1293) is a veritable Dupont Circle institution, having occupies this corner space on P Street for decades, and serving up extremely fun happy hours (all night long on Mondays and Tuesdays) and all afternoon on weekends. The two-floor bar is a catch-all of locals and more than a few tourists of all ages, but tending toward the 35-and-over set. The crowd is diverse in race and style, and with quite a few women, although it's still predominantly a male scene. Just a good all-around classic gay neighborhood bar.

  • 08 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    A 15-minute drive southwest of downtown D.C. in the Crystal City section of Arlington, Freddie's Beach Bar (555 S. 23rd St., Crystal City, VA, 703-685-0555) makes a fun venue for drinks and dinner if you're staying in the Virginia 'burbs, or you just want a friendly and festive (as in spectacularly garish and campy) change of pace from the usual Dupont Circle and Capitol Hill venues. The glittery-glam bar serves international, often tropical-inspired food, and is a favorite for karaoke, drag shows, and the campy Sunday brunch. You can walk to the bar from the Crystal City metro stop - the bar is just west of Reagan National Airport.

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  • 09 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    It takes a little effort to find this cult-favorite gay neighborhood bar set down an alley off of Thomas Circle, behind the chic Donovan House Hotel, but the Green Lantern (1335 Green Ct. NW, 202-347-4533) is worth seeking out for its welcoming, low-keyed vibe, generally cute crowd of regular guys, and warm and friendly staff. It's also closer to many downtown hotels as well as the convention center than Dupont Circle bars, yet it's still relatively close (a 10- to 15-minute) walk from Logan and Dupont circles. There are two levels, with the ground floor more suited to chatting and happy hour; upstairs is the dance bar. Thursdays, when shirtless guys drink free from 10 until 11 pm, are wildly popular, but there's a pretty good crowd here most nights. The scene is mostly men in their 30s and 40s, with a fair number of bears, cubs, and otters.

  • 10 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    Like the other JR's gay clubs in Houston and DallasJR's (1519 17th St. NW, 202-328-0090) caters to a fairly young and professional crowd - expect plenty of Beltway insiders, especially during the legendarily popular happy hours. It's a classic video bar, with a slightly more intimate loft space overlooking the main bar area. JR's is along the famed 17th Street gay bar corridor, near Annie's Paramount Steak House, DIK, Cobalt, and several other GLBT haunts.

  • 11 of 19

    A casual, cheery neighborhood bar that's a nice option if you're in the nearby Adams Morgan neighborhood, this cozy hangout in the northern edge of the Dupont Circle area has a wonderful street-side patio and is just across from gay-popular Lauriol Plaza Mexican restaurant. Larry's Lounge (1836 18th St. NW, 202-483-1483) is the most fun on weekend afternoons and early in the evening, but it can also be a good spot to wind down a night of bar-hopping. In this sometimes cliquey city, this is a happily laid-back place with a very approachable crowd.

  • 12 of 19

    On the northern edge of the increasingly trendy U Street Corridor (northeast of Dupont Circle, and east of Adams Morgan), this swanky see-and-be-seen bar caters heavily to the 20- to 40-something professionals who live in the vicinity. It's the most recent location of a bar that used to be on P Street near Logan Circle (that space is now the Number Nine bar). MOVA (2204 14th St. NW, 202-629-3958) is open nightly, gets a good crowd going for happy hour, has a fun women's party on Wednesdays, has dancing on the weekends, and is known as well for its Sunday beer garden. This is the sister club to the chic MOVA bars in Miami's South Beach and Brickell neighborhoods.

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  • 13 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    Long before chanteuses Roberta Flack and Tori Amos vaulted to international fame, they performed regularly at Mr. Henry's (601 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-546-8412), a convivial pub and live music venue (the shows take place in the upstairs place) that's been going strong since 1966. It's a mixed gay/straight venue, and it's somewhat less gay than it used to be, but it's a reliable spot for burgers and straightforward comfort food, and a fun place to knock back a few drinks as part of a bar adventure in Capitol Hill. The dark-paneled walls and dark lighting can be either a little dreary or charmingly Victorian, depending on your perspective.

  • 14 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    Near Town Danceboutique at the far east end of the lively U Street Corridor (actually a bit closer to the Shaw Metro than the U Street one), Nellie's (900 U St. NW, 202-332-6355) is one of a few establishments during the early 2000s that helped move D.C.'s gay scene a bit farther east and north from Dupont Circle, as the community, too, has begun moving into neighborhoods like Logan Circle and Shaw. Set in a handsome Victorian townhouse with a beautiful interior, this friendly gay sports bar is happily eclectic and unpretentious, popular with men and women and drawing a racially mixed crowd. The kitchen serves quite tasty international food (empanadas, burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, plantain-filled arepas), pro and college games are aired on several different TV screens, and there's a very fun drag brunch on Sundays. The staff couldn't be more welcome, too - just a great all-around gay bar.

  • 15 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    Number Nine (1435 P St., 202-986-0999) occupies the same handsome space just west of Logan Circle that began as the home of Halo, later became MOVA Lounge (until that moved to the nearby U Street Corridor), and then morphed into its current incarnation in 2011. The photo here is from its Halo Lounge days, so keep in mind that Number Nine opened following a major style redo, replacing the rainbow color palette with a more sophisticated and sexy look of dark lighting, chocolate-and-caramel colors, and comfy booths. The bartenders here are great cocktail mixers, though the drinks aren't cheap - you can join the nightly parade of twinks, gym daddies, and suits during two for one happy hour, from 5 until 9 pm, and save a nice chunk of change.

  • 16 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    The venerable Phase 1 (525 8th St. SE, 202-544-6831) opened in 1970 and underwent a renovation in 2015, making it one of the oldest continuously operated lesbian bars in the world. This lively spot near a few other longtime gay bars in the neighborhood keeps things interesting with drag-king shows, great music, pool, live performances, and - yes - jello wrestling. Open Wednesday through Sunday, Phase 1 opened a Dupont Circle branch a few years ago.

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  • 17 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    In a space known for many years as Badlands gay club and then as Apex, Phase 1 of Dupont (1415 22nd St. NW, 202-974-6832) opened in 2012 - it's a second branch of the city's long-running Phase 1 women's club in Capitol Hill. It's just off P Street, near several other gay bars that have been around for quite a while. This lively dance club is open Thursday through Saturday nights, and also for some occasional special events. There are a few spaces inside for mingling - a video bar, dance floor, and some other nooks.

  • 18 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    The latest in a long line of mega-dance clubs that have catered to DC's fervent circuit-party crowd over the years, massive Town (2009 8th St. NW, 202-234-8696) is in the Shaw/U Street Corridor neighborhood, several blocks northeast of Dupont Circle (it's best to cab it late at night, although the club is also pretty close to the U Street and Shaw metro stops). With two big dance floors and multiple bars and seating areas, Town pulses into the wee hours (around 4 am) and has great drag shows both evenings. It's open only on weekends, starting at 10 pm: Fridays are 18-and-over and draw a younger bunch, although early in the evening - from 6 until 11 pm, the club hosts a very popular "Bear Happy Hour" (21 and over) that caters to the city's considerable Woof set. Saturdays, it's 21-and-over, and you'll typically find a more eclectic crowd - all ages, and more women (although they're in the minority both nights). The club also opens certain Sunday...MORE nights preceding holiday Mondays.

  • 19 of 19
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    Washington, D.C. is one of the few cities in the country that allows fully nude dancing, and that's one reason it's always been infamous for its gay go-go clubs. The Navy Yard neighborhood, several blocks south of Capitol Hill, has long been the heart of the action, and the Ziegfeld's/Secrets complex (1824 Half St. SW, 202-863-0670) is a must if you're a fan - and not just of nude male dancers, but also if you love drag shows. The first floor of the club is Ziegfeld's, where the drag shows featuring the likes of Patti Lovelace, Ella Fitzgerald, and Gigi-Paris Couture take place on Friday and Saturday nights. Upstairs, every night but Monday and Tuesday, the hot dancers strut their stuff (typically with their flags flying at full-staff). Amateur contests sometimes take place on Wednesdays. Some grumble that Ziegfeld's/Secrets draws too many bachelorette parties (a complaint at many gay strip clubs); the club does have a policy of permitting women only if...MORE they're escorted by a male guest. Regardless, most people seem to have a great time at both clubs. It's best to take a taxi to this out-of-the-way neighborhood; the club also contracts with a reliable and competitively priced car service, Black Car Services (703-625-9003).