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 and the area has a lot to offer for locals and out-of-towners, alike. 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.
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 is open late and it's a great source of people-watching and hobnobbing. If you're coming for the food, note that the menu goes well beyond steak-house fare, with eggs dishes at breakfast and burgers, sandwiches, and seafood.
Washington, D.C.'s longtime hub of the city's gay leather scene, the DC Eagle 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 popular with guys who wear and admire leather, as well as other fans of uniforms, rubber, and similar attire.
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 minutes from downtown D.C., depending on traffic.
Even among the many long-running gay-popular bars and restaurants on 17th Street near Dupont Circle, the Dupont Italian Kitchen is pretty old-school, it's been around for ages. On the ground floor is the restaurant. It serves 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.
The homey Fireplace is a veritable Dupont Circle institution, having occupies this corner space on P Street for decades, and serving up extremely fun happy hours that last all night 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.
A 15-minute drive southwest of downtown D.C. in the Crystal City section of Arlington, Freddie's Beach Bar makes a fun venue for drinks and dinner if you're staying in 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.
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 is worth seeking out for its welcoming, low-keyed vibe, a 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.
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.
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 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.
1836 18th St. NW
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 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.
2204 14th St. NW
Long before chanteuses Roberta Flack and Tori Amos vaulted to international fame, they performed regularly at Mr. Henry's, 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.
601 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
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 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.
900 U St. NW
Number Nine 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 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.
1435 P St.
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 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 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, 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. The club also opens certain Sunday nights preceding holiday Mondays.
2009 8th St. NW
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 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 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.
1824 Half St. SW