LGBTQ Travel Guide: Houston, Texas

Gay Pride Houston

Courtesy of Visit Houston

Lady Gaga made Houston the center of the gay universe for 12 minutes in 2017 during her Super Bowl halftime show at the NRG Stadium. Later that year, she returned to the Bayou City, now ravaged from Hurricane Harvey, to assist with recovery efforts and, of course, take the stage again at the Toyota Center.

Gaga aside, this Texas city is pretty darned LGBTQ-friendly these days and has, in fact, been liberal-leaning for quite some time. Annise Parker, an out lesbian, served three terms as Houston's mayor between 2009 and 2016 (her predecessor, Sylvester Turner, the city's first African-American mayor, is also a Democrat and appointed an ethnically diverse Mayor's LGBTQ Advisory Board in June 2016). Official tourism office Visit Houston features an "LGBT" tab on the top of its website which links out to a frequently updated My Gay Houston resources and happenings page.

Festivals

Much of Houston's LGBTQ nightlife is concentrated in the Montrose "gayborhood," although the annual Houston Pride parade and festival, which celebrates its 42nd edition in June 2020 and is Texas' largest, takes place in Downtown Houston these days. Annual African-American and Latino LGBTQ pride event, Houston Splash, aka Black Gay Pride, will see its 25th event in May 2020.

Entering its 24th year, Houston's LGBTQ Film Festival, QFest, takes place in July. Keep an eye out for events and parties hosted by local LGBT fundraising organization Bunnies On The Bayou throughout the year.

Houston, Texas, USA
Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Best Things to Do

Houston is a robust arts and culture city, with a couple of galleries headed up by LGBTQ artists and curators including the Jumper Maybach gallery and boutique (the queer native Texan was also subject of a 2016 documentary) the David Shelton Gallery, where you'll likely see contemporary local work, and Hiram Butler Gallery. The latter represents almost three dozen international artists, including visionary light artist James Turrell, and goes against the grain by hosting opening receptions on Saturday mornings instead of evenings.

Houston's walkable museum district, meanwhile, includes the Holocaust Museum Houston, which reopened following a $34 million expansion and renovation in June 2019. Just north, in Montrose, The Menil Collection is a sprawling, minimalist museum home to a private collection of more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and other works. Its bookstore is certainly worth a visit and stocks some fantastic gay gift cards. From Menil, stroll Westheimer Road for its funky thrift and local-centric gift shops, notably Pavement, Petty Cash, and Leopard Lounge.

Interior of Manready Mercantile with a black leather couch, vintage signs on the walls and tables and shelves stacked with products
Courtesy of Manready Mercantile

The Heights is another fantastic, walkable, and progressive-minded shopping and dining district chock full of independent, ingenious, and supremely curated concept shops. Manready Mercantile is a must, stocking premium clothing, apothecary goods, leather, accessories, and make-your-own-candles (with atypical, "masculine" scents) in whiskey glasses. It's gift heaven, and local owner Travis S. Weaver is a good-hearted and extremely pro-LGBTQ guy.

Treat yourself to a facial or mani-pedi at Paloma Nail Salon, the city's first wellness-centric "non-toxic" salon at the Heights Mercantile urban market complex, populated by other fantastic boutique shops and spots to eat.

Houston Eagle
Lawrence Ferber 

The Best (and Gayest) Bars and Clubs

Many of Houston's LGBTQ bars and clubs are found in the Montrose neighborhood, Houston's de facto "gayborhood" since the 1970s. A buzzy spot for drinking, socializing, and dancing, the multi-level Eagle Houston is like an LGBTQ history museum with a timeline of major events from Mattachine Society to passage of marriage equality above the second-floor bar; a painting depicting regulars at Mary's, an iconic, now-closed bar, that was a sanctuary and place to organize during the worst years of the AIDS crisis; and a collage of vintage, local gay magazine and newspaper covers and advertisements from long-gone Houston gay bars curated by historian and radio producer JD Doyle of Houston LGBT History.org. There's also a great shop, outdoor decks, and plenty of video screens.

Texas' second oldest gay bar, Ripcord caters to the leather, daddies, bears, and their pals, while the unpretentious, spacious George Country Sports Bar states the obvious, with a largely country-western crowd and giant monitor to catch the games on. Crocker serves up a poppier vibe, tunes, and drink specials for its local, all-sorts audience. Those thirsty for top shelf, labor-intensive craft cocktails can sidle themselves up to the bar at Anvil. If all you want to do is dance, nightclubs ReBar, South Beach, and the predominantly Latino Club Crystal will turn it, and you, out.

Although "RuPaul's Drag Race" hasn't yet seen a contestant from Houston, there's some drag talent worth catching. The bearded, zaftig Blackberri is a whole lot of fun and performs weekly at Hamburger Mary's—to, frankly, a largely straight, rowdy bachelorette/birthday party-ish crowd—and "Thursgays" at colorful gay bar Guava Lamp. Guava Lamp's line-up also includes a Monday open mic, Wednesday and Sunday karaoke, a splashy drag show on Saturdays. and plenty of dancing and drinking action. You can also get a dose of drag, and some hot Latino men both on and offstage, at downtown's Tony's Corner Pocket.

Attracting a crowd of older show tune lovers, cozy piano bar Michael's Outpost is a friendly, musical oasis with two weekly revues: Friday's Cabernet at the Cabaret and Saturday's Eye Cons, the latter with drag queens impersonating pop divas like Bette Midler, Tina Turner, and (of course) Madonna.

Opened in summer 2019 just near Anvil, in the former space of an LGBTQ bookstore, the sleek Penny Quarter is a coffee shop by day and wine bar by night (technically, you can have beer and wine all day except Sundays "when Texas laws are weird in the morning," reads the menu). Penny Quarter is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends.

Postino
Jenn Duncan

The Best Places to Eat

2016 saw an explosion of Houston James Beard Award semifinalists and winners, and the city has continued to be a foodie's delight (11 chefs and restaurants attained semifinalist status in 2019), with a pleasing breadth of cuisines thanks to a substantial multicultural populace.

Start your day in Montrose with a delicious, plant-rich, gluten-free, and dairy-free breakfast or lunch at Vibrant. Vibrant also offers a CBD-enhanced cold brew and a menu of tonics and elixirs. Other Montrose district faves include Mexican venue Hugo's, from James Beard Award-winning chef Hugo Ortega, and One Fifth, a restaurant that changes its concept every year from James Beard Award-winner Chef Chris Shepherd.

If you're into vino, Montrose wine bar Postino is a great first stop before hitting the bars (or for brunch on weekends when softening a hangover), with a menu of panini, salads, and sharable plates. It all comes with a side order of LGBTQ history: Postino occupies the former home of a succession of gay bars including Montrose Mining Company, which opened in 1978 and was Houston's longest-running gay bar until closing in 2016. A wall in the restaurant pays tribute to these venues with archival posters, photos, and advertisements, some of which you can see on Houston's LGBT history website.

C. Baldwin
C. Baldwin 

The Best Places to Stay

With an October 2019 grand opening bash featuring disco diva Gloria Gaynor ("I Will Survive"), downtown's 354-room C. Baldwin hotel (part of Hilton's Curio Collection) arrived in style. Formerly the DoubleTree, and taking its new name from Charlotte Baldwin Allen aka "Mother of Houston," the completely renovated property combines millennial modern and retro-chic design, features a super cool lobby cocktail lounge, and Top Chef Master Chris Consetino's Rosie Italian Soul restaurant, while tan and latte-toned guestrooms boast floor to ceiling views.

Sports fans should strongly consider downtown's 328-room JW Marriott, opened during 2014 in the historic Samuel F. Carter Building: it's a favorite of visiting teams and players. Superior rooms include freestanding bathtubs, while there's also a full-service in-house spa.

The arty, eclectic, pop culture-centric, and way-gay-friendly Hotel ZaZa, meanwhile, is a celebrity haven (guests have included Christina Aguilera and Justin Bieber) with two Houston properties, including a fabulous 315-room location that anchors the Museum District and boasts a swimming pool and gorgeously designed concept suites. The chic, retro "Houston We Have A Problem" suite pays tribute to the Apollo moon landing era.

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