The all-night clubs and glamorous beaches of Miami have nothing on Jacksonville when it comes to winning over Florida's gay community. This coastal city hasn't been much of an LGBTQ+ hangout historically, but it's become somewhat of a hub for the gay demographic recently. It isn't a party reputation that reels in same-sex couples and travelers, either (leave that to Fort Lauderdale and Florida's other night-rich cities). Jacksonville has its share of gay bars and clubs, but none of them are quite as wild as the discos you'll find in Miami. Instead, come to this surf town to dance in a less crowded venue or have a low-key drink on the beach. Concentrate your itinerary on the gay-popular neighborhoods of San Marco, Riverside, and Avondale, specifically.
If you're looking for one of those quintessential guys-who-cruise-guys bar, head a couple miles northwest of Riverside to the Boot Rack Saloon, Jacksonville's definitive bearish and leather-popular watering hole. Its dim-lit bar was made for serious cruising, its spacious patio for a sunny Florida afternoon. The vibe here is typically low-key save Saturday Beer Busts, which beckons a rowdy crowd. Park Place Lounge is another neighborhood gay bar frequented by LGBTQ+ locals. The clientele is mixed—a hodgepodge of gay men, lesbians, and allied heteros—and so is the entertainment. One night, you'll find beer-drinkers playing pool with a football game playing on the monitors and the next, you'll find every single person in the room dancing to whatever track the DJ happens to be spinning.
Later in the night, LGBTQ+ partygoers migrate to The Metro, a spacious club at the northern end of the historic Riverside neighborhood that houses several different bars and dance floors all under one roof. This place certainly earns its reputation as Jacksonville's biggest and most popular gay nightclub (in fact, it's one of the largest in Florida). The Metro draws a spectrum of local LGBTQ-ers, from hunky club kids to chic lesbians. The crowd is slightly more age-varied here than at InCahoots, another gay club downtown. Within this multilevel club, there's Club Shadows (a drag cabaret), the Boom Boom Room disco, Sappho's Lounge lesbian bar, the Game Room (a big ol' gay arcade and pool hall), the very cruisy Boiler Room, and the mellow Rainbow Room piano bar. Oh, and Metro has a festive outdoor space, too, called the Tiki Bar. The entire complex pulses into the wee hours of the morning on weekends. The aforementioned InCahoots, on the other hand, is smaller and beckons a younger crowd. It's more centrally located than its rival (closer to the uber-queer Historic Five Points in Riverside, too), which makes it easy for out-of-towners, too.
No gay-popular city would be complete without an outpost of Hamburger Mary's. This bar and grille—sports-themed in Jacksonville—serves up its renowned, named-after-divas beef patties with a side of sassy drag queen (and, occasionally, bingo). This Beach Boulevard haunt is a fun eat-and-be-entertained option for the whole family. At night, though, its themed parties can get slightly rowdy. Bistro Aix, brainchild of hotshot chef Tom Gray, is not technically branded as an LGBTQ+ establishment, unlike rainbow flag-flying Hamburger Mary's, but it's been known to attract foodies of all sexual orientations. Its spacious and elegant patio makes for a perfect date-night destination. Moreover, it's open later than most restaurants in Jacksonville (11 p.m. on weekends).
You can find events catered to the LGBTQ+ community happening in Jacksonville year-round, but the biggest of them all is River City Pride. A weekend-long celebration of all things gay (certainly not excluding a parade and subsequent street fair), River City Pride occupies the ultra-hip Five Points area of Riverside for two days each October. With some 3,000 people walking proudly, the annual parade refuses to be dull, and so does the block party, which remains lively well after dark.
Tips for Going Out in Jacksonville
- While the gay hangouts are pretty evenly dispersed throughout Jacksonville, most of the bars and clubs are concentrated around the Riverside neighborhood. It might be best to book your hotel on the Downtown side of the bridge (as opposed to the Southbank side) if nightlife is a priority.
- If you must cross the river to get to your destination, you can take the Jacksonville River Taxi, which runs until 9 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Uber might be a better option for late-night traveling.
- Bars and clubs in Jacksonville typically close at 2 a.m., when they're legally obliged to stop selling alcohol.
- After a night of drinking, nurse your Sunday morning hangover at the gay section of the beach (just north of the middle parking lot) at Guana River State Park, 15 miles south of the city center.