Bisbee Gay-Friendly Bars and Restaurants Guide

photo by Andrew Collins

This historic mining town of Bisbee, which lies on the Mexico border about 95 miles southeast of Tucson and 280 miles west of El Paso, has long been a popular place to live and visit among free spirits, artsy sorts, hippies, gays and lesbians, and other who appreciate the town's seclusion, stunning natural setting, and rich mix of Victorian and Art Deco architecture. In the downtown (aka "Old Town") of this community of about 6,000 residents, you'll find a bunch of offbeat shops, cafés, and saloons - no gay bars per se, but just about every establishment in town is welcoming of GLBT folks. Bisbee has a surprisingly well-attended ​Gay Pride Festival each June, too.​

The historic Copper Queen Hotel is a great place to stay and also to stop in for a drink at the bustling Saloon, where musicians play certain evenings (and some afternoons), and the margaritas flow freely. This is sort of an unofficial ground central for socializing in Bisbee. Just down the block, one of the livelier and more festive spots for both dining and drinking is Santiago's Mexican Restaurant, where the kitchen serves big plates of table-side guacamole, green-corn tamales, Rocky Point (battered-cod) fish tacos, molcajete (steak and shrimp with an ancho-chipotle sauce), chimichangas, and other staples of Sonoran and Southwestern cuisine.

For gourmet groceries and foods to go as well as dining indoor or out in a completely charming space, head for High Desert Market & Cafe, which has a juice/smoothie bar, fantastic salads and sandwiches (like the one filled with smoked chicken, blue cheese, and sliced apple), and dinners that rotate daily, always with a main feature dish (maybe cornmeal-crusted catfish with Cajun remoulade sauce, cole slaw, and potato salad; or vegetarian Indian curry with butternut squash, coconut, and roasted cashews over rice).

Another atmospheric spot for drinking is St. Elmo Bar, a quirky place with live bands many evenings - it's an active supporter of the annual Bisbee Gay Pride celebration. And Bisbee Royale is a cool cinema and pub set inside the town's big blue former Baptist Church, serving dinner, wine, and beer and presenting both mostly second-run movies.

Bisbee has a fantastic, and very GLBT-supportive, pizza place, Screaming Banshee , a funky place where you can order hefty salads, build-your-own calzones, roasted-veggie pizzas, and more. The gay-friendly Inn at Castle Rock has a couple of interesting dining venues.

A truly stellar venue for dinner, probably the top choice in town for a special occasion, is Cafe Roka, which presents the contemporary American and Mediterranean cuisine of chef-owner Rod Kass. Dishes like warm piquillo peppers filled with local goat cheese and drizzled with balsamic; roast half duck with rosemary potatoes, cranberry, and a honey-Merlot sauce; and langostino and blue crab cakes with couscous, black beans, and a chipotle-lime aioli show plenty of talent in this kitchen, and although it's upscale for Bisbee, prices are still pretty reasonable, and the atmosphere casual. There's jazz some evenings, and the wine list is one of the more interesting ones in town (also served is Bisbee's own Dave's Electric Ale & IPA).

A bit southeast of town in the village of Lowell, the Bisbee Breakfast Club has long garnered a loyal following for its hearty morning meals (it's open until 3, so lunch is available also); try chicken-fried steak with eggs, Blue Wally pancakes (buttermilk cakes with blueberries, walnuts, and powdered sugar), and the Sonoran burger topped with guac, chiles, and pepper-Jack cheese at lunch. There's a Bisbee Breakfast Club in Tucson, too.

Head 12 miles south of town to tiny Naco, Arizona if you're interested in making a quick foray across the border into the like-named town of Naco, Mexico - both communities are tiny, and there isn't a ton to see or do in either, although on the drive down to Naco, you'll pass what remains of some of the enormous copper mines that gave Bisbee its economic reason for being in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Just keep in mind that the little dive lounge in Naco (on the U.S. side) called the Gay 90s Bar is most definitely not a gay bar - it is a fun little spot for a beer, though. In Naco, Mexico - part of the state of Sonora - Americans often visit to buy cheap legal drugs (for which you'd need a prescription in the U.S.), pottery, arts and crafts, and such, and there are a few simple cafés on this side of the border. Naco has experienced some crime, some of it violent, although conditions have improved in recent years, and U.S. citizens have not been targets.

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