The charming, colonial seaside city of Charleston has long been a popular weekend getaway for gay and lesbian couples. Even though the city isn't really known as a major gay nightclub destination, Charleston is an open and accepting city with a growing number of bars, restaurants, and lounges. While most of them don't explicitly cater to LGBTQ+ customers, the crowds are diverse and all are welcome.
It's definitely possible to have a great time dancing, watching drag cabaret, and mingling with locals and tourists in this sophisticated city with a metropolitan area population of over 750,000.
Whether you want to have a quiet drink or dinner with a few close friends or you're looking to dance the night away, Charleston has plenty to offer the LGBTQ+ community with its bars and overall nightlife scene.
Bars and Clubs
Charleston only has one gay bar, but it's one you won't want to miss. In fact, Dudley's on Ann was named one of Yelp's top 50 gay bars in the country. Since it's the only option in the city, Dudley's proclaims itself to be "everybody's bar" and aims to serve the whole community. On weekends, everyone flocks to Dudley's for dancing and their creative original cocktails, but during the week there are plenty of reasons to visit as well such as drag shows, karaoke, and daily happy hour specials, to name a few. Dudley's is open seven days a week from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and is located on Ann Street in the popular King Street district.
The King Street Public House is a popular sports bar that is welcoming to all patrons and also a local sponsor for the Charleston Pride Festival. If you're seeking a change of scenery from the typical gay bar—plus an impressive draught beer menu—look no further.
For sheer elegance, it's hard to top the posh lobby bar adjacent to Grill 225, inside the sumptuous and gay-friendly Market Pavilion Hotel. This ornate space is the perfect spot for a glass of wine or a martini, perhaps before you dine in the excellent restaurant or at one of the many other terrific eateries within a short walk. If the weather's nice, consider having cocktails up on the rooftop bar of the Market Pavilion, where you'll enjoy a panoramic view of the historic Charleston skyline.
If you're looking for a cool place to fill up your stomach before, between, or after drinks, Charleston has a wealth of hip restaurants that serve incredible dishes. Many casual restaurants also offer performances, live music, or other events throughout the week.
- Tabbuli serves all types of Mediterranean dishes—gyros, falafel, pizzas made with pita bread—until 2 a.m. every night. Tabbuli also offers several LGBTQ+ themed events such as drag shows, weekend drag brunch, and Freddie Mercury sing-alongs.
- If you're craving Mexican or Tex-Mex food (or perhaps just a margarita), El Jefe offers tacos, 12-inch burritos, chili con queso, and other mouth-watering dishes until 2 a.m. every night. It's also conveniently located around the corner from Dudley's. If you're in town on a Wednesday, stop by for the weekly Wig Out drag performance.
- Another late-night hot spot is The Griffon located in the French Quarter. This dive bar offers all types of fried snacks, burgers, and sandwiches. The bar and kitchen are both open until 2 a.m., so you can continue drinking without going hungry.
Since the first festival in 2009, Charleston Pride has grown from a humble one-day event into a flourishing week-long celebration. The week is packed with all types of unique LGBTQ+ focused events, including a comedy show, a walking tour highlighting Charleston's gay history, art exhibitions, panel discussions, and more. All of these events culminate with the parade and festival that happen over the weekend, complete with performances by national LGBTQ+ celebrities.
Tips for Going Out in Charleston
- The majority of bars and places to go out are concentrated around the south end of King Street. You can start here and easily barhop on foot.
- When your legs get tired, move around downtown Charleston on the DASH Trolley. All three lines of this tram are free of charge for all riders.
- Spring and fall are the most popular seasons to visit Charleston. Plan well in advance if you come during these months.