LGBTQ Travel Guide: Washington, D.C.

DC Pride

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The United States' capitol city has been dubbed one of the gayest places in America for quite some time, both statistically and by its denizens. A who's who of important LGBTQ individuals throughout history—publicly out and not—have either lived here or taken part in some of the most significant civil rights and AIDS-related actions, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Had A Dream" speech at the 1963 March on Washington, which was organized by openly gay Black activist Bayard Rustin, displays of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and, most recently, 2017's National Pride March.

These historic landmarks aside, Washington D.C. makes for a perfect LGBTQ traveler's destination almost anytime of year thanks to its iconic, outstanding mix of indoor and outdoor attractions (bad weather? plenty to do! good weather? same!), plus the lively Dupont Circle and Logan Circle gayborhoods, nightlife, and events.

Some of the latter include June's annual Capital Pride Celebration, which sees around 500,000 attendees and features a 1.5 mile parade route and many openly gay members of the government take part. 31 years old in 2022, Memorial Day Weekend's DC Black Pride is the country's second largest event of its kind (just behind Atlanta's). A major stop on the circuit party calendar, D.C.'s Cherry Ball weekend will celebrate its 25th anniversary from April 7-10, 2022, during peak cherry blossom season.

Pride In DC

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D.C.'s international LGBTQ film festival, Reel Affirmations, will see its 29th year in Fall 2022. And, held the Tuesday before October, the 17th Street High Heel Race has entailed a campy, drag-filled (and possibly a sprained ankle or two) spectacle since 1986.

For current news, nightlife, and listings during your visit, check official tourism office Destination DC's robust LGBTQ+ landing page, The Washington Blade, and Metro Weekly (which also covers bordering Maryland and Virginia).

International Spy Museum

Lawrence Ferber

Things To Do

The Smithsonian's array of museums—all free to the public—includes the architecturally stunning, powerful, and absolutely essential National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is very much LGBTQ inclusive in its exhibitions (including sections on representation in media, with trailblazers like the late queer poet, activist, and filmmaker Marlon Riggs). Be sure to book a timed entry ticket well in advance since this continues to be one of DC's most popular attractions. Other must sees include gay Black painter Kehinde Wiley's Obama portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which chronicles the plight of gay citizens—who were forced to wear pink triangles by the Nazis—during that horrific era.

Formerly located in Chinatown, The International Spy Museum moved south of the Mall in 2019 to its own massive, dedicated building at L'Enfant Plaza. Dedicated to all things espionage and intelligence, both real world and in fiction, its tech-forward, interactive exhibitions feature items and artifacts like actual disguises worn by spies, James Bond's iconic Aston Martin DB5 from 1964's Goldfinger, and a car used to smuggle people in and out of East Berlin (you can try to fit into a compartment!). There's even a short feature film dedicated to heroic gay math genius and codebreaker Alan Turing, who helped defeat the Nazis in World War II, but was convicted and punished for his homosexuality at the time. It was only in 2009 that he received a posthumous apology and recognition from the British government.

Alan Turing Merchandise at International Spy Museum

Lawrence Ferber

Fans of live performance should check and see what's playing at DC's adventurous Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, which mounts excellent BIPOC, queer, and socially progressive productions. The 2021-22 season includes Pulitzer Prize winner A Strange Loop, Jasmine-Lee Jones' about a Black woman's viral Twitter nightmare, Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner (Feb 14-March 6, 2022), and Ryan J Haddad's show about a gay man with cerebral palsy's search for sex and romance, Hi, Are You Single? (March 28-April 10, 2022).

For a bit of pampering and/or primping, the Logan 14 Aveda Salon Spa is LGBTQ+ owned and trans-friendly and makes contributions to organizations including DC Coalition for the Homeless. And when it comes to retail therapy, vintage shop Miss Pixie's is a kitsch and retro haven. Under the radar of even many lifetime DC locals, possibly due to its discreet basement-level townhouse location and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. opening hours, G Books is packed with out of print, second hand gay tomes, poppers, lube, and queer paraphernalia.

And if you're feeling naughty, Dupont Circle's Crew Club is D.C.'s hopping gay sauna, with a free entry for 18-24 year-olds policy (it's typical to see guys on Grindr note when they plan to be there, or if already present and waiting).

LGBTQ Bars And Clubs

An 36-year-old D.C. mainstay, opened in 1986, JR's is a buzzing video bar (20 flatscreen monitors) beloved for its packed calendar of happy hour drink specials, Monday night show tune sing-a-longs, live drag entertainment, "RuPaul's Drag Race" viewing parties, and more.

A few blocks away in Logan Circle, Number Nine—which features a second floor video bar, 9 1/2—also mixes things up with drag and comedy nights, viewing parties, drinks specials, and a second Tuesdays LGBTQ+ Entrepreneurs Social Hour. Just around the corner you'll find Trade (from the same owners), a cozier but no less fun bar with a more eclectic vibe and a backyard patio. Endeavoring to combine "the energy of NYC with the laid-back atmosphere of Atlanta," The Dirty Goose Bar has a contemporary glow, full food menu, rooftop bar, and martini-driven cocktail menu.

Nellie's Sports Bar also serves up a food menu, daily $2 Jello shots, drag bingo on Tuesdays, and drag brunch on both Saturday and Sunday. Another LGBTQ sports bar, Pitchers, is located in Adams Morgan, as well as its adjacent sister lesbian bar, A League of Her Own. The two comprise a collective 10,000 square feet offering patios, bar food menus, games, TV screens, and drag shows (on Thursdays).

Occupying a two-floor carriage house, Green Lantern, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2021, features a dance floor, karaoke several times a week—Mondays are hosted by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence—with over 45,000 songs to choose from, frequent underwear parties, and a whole lot of bare-chested bartenders and patrons (especially on Thursdays when shirtless men drink free).

A long running, two-floor Dupont neighborhood video bar, The Fireplace is currently the only predominantly BIPOC establishment of its kind. For the bear, daddy, and leather crowd, the three-level Uproar Lounge serves a menu of American pub fare and wings as well as drinks, while events include daddy-centric Fridays, a second Saturday Latin and international "Candela" party, Sunday "Roar" rooftop beer busts, fetish parties, viewing parties, and more. Although DC's iconic Eagle closed in 2020 after a nearly 40-year run, the local leather and fetish set still gathers for DC Boys of Leather happy hours at various venues.

A brand new, multi-space LGBTQ club just north of downtown in the Shaw neighborhood, Kiki, debuted late last year, which boasts two dance floors, a sports bar (owner Keaton Fedak, former manager at Dirty Goose, is member of DCGFFL, DC's Gay Flag Football League), lounge, and beer garden.

Where To Eat

Although D.C. has long been known for its wealth of Ethiopian restaurants, even more culinary diversity fills the landscape today. In late 2021, a married lesbian couple, Mexico-born Rosario Guzman and Guatemalan chef Carla Alonzo, turned their buzzy pop-up serving delectable shucos—a delectable, sauce-drizzled street food considered Guatemala's answer to the hot dog—into a brick and mortar stall, Nim Ali, at the new Western Market food hall.

Filipino cuisine has been booming of late, with another food hall, The Block, dedicated to Pinoy vendors like Pogiboy (their signature burger is served on a purple ube bun) while restaurant standouts include brunch-and-dinner venue Purple Patch (the coconut milk braised short rib adobo is brightly flavored transcendence!). And another highlight is DC's first Georgian restaurant, the Shaw district's Supra.

As much a gay bar as greasy spoon, The Duplex Diner is a gay fave serving dinner and weekend brunch menus, and its Madonna-themed bathroom alone is worth a stop. The gay-owned Three Fifty Bakery and Coffee Bar serves fantastic, fresh pastries, while the also gay-headed Knead Hospitality & Design's venues include the revitalized Wharf District's The Grill and Mi Vida.

Speaking of revitalized,an entire district of excellent retail, restaurants, and residences has sprung up around Union Market, a couple of highlights of which are local rum distillery and bar Cotton and Reed and Chef Nicholas Stefanelli's Masseria. The former, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in November 2021, is extremely LGBTQ-inclusive and incredible for its original cocktails—the pandan leaf and coconut cream "Cocomotion" slushie, available all year, is a must—and their line of bottled rums, while the gorgeously appointed latter earned a Michelin star for imaginative yet earthy nouveau Italian cuisine, and is a queer foodie's top destination for romantic and special occasions (and/or expense account meals!).

Eaton DC

Eaton DC

Where To Stay

Downtown's Eaton DC is a fabulously progressive, upscale 209-room boutique property that features an excellent wellness center and program, focus on arts and creativity, a speakeasy, and even its own in-house radio station you can listen to online. November 2021 saw Eaton debut its new, outstanding in-house restaurant Michele's, serving New American and raw bar fare with international accents, while the rooftop's live music venue and bar, Wild Days - boasting a mural that addresses the struggle of Black Americans by local artist Zoe Charlton - also sees comedy and other events.

Opened in 2019 just a couple of blocks away, the 360-room Conrad Washington DC is a curvy, glassy and contemporary affair with cool, minimalist design, floor to ceiling windows, Shanghai Tang bath amenities, a really cool atrium for photo opps, outdoor and indoor dining and cocktail lounges (including a rooftop) and club level private Sakura Club. If you'd like to situate within the nearby Dupont Circle district just several blocks from JR's, Kimpton's Banneker Hotel - formerly the Rouge but renamed, reborn and reopened in 2021 - features 144 rooms, French bistro Le Sel, and chic Lady Bird rooftop craft cocktail bar.

Four Seasons Washington DC

Four Seasons

Over in Georgetown, the Four Seasons Hotel Washington D.C. literally lets its pride flag fly out front in June, and several front of house staff including Concierge Michael Chase are openly gay and happy to share scoop and recommendations. The earthtones-rich, 222-room property boasts a 1,650 piece art collection spread throughout, 20-lane indoor saltwater lap pool, full-service spa, acclaimed modern steakhouse Bourbon Steak (it's not beef, but the signature chicken schnitzel is ultra delish), and an epic must-do Sunday brunch affair with mind-boggling array of delicious buffet stations including dedicated dessert room.

An icon, The Watergate Hotel now glimmers with a contemporary, clubby 2016 revamp of its 348 rooms, most coveted of which is the singular "Scandal Room," which was actually used during the infamous 1972 break-in and, decorated in collaboration with Scandal costume designer Lyn Paolo, boasts retro decor, surveillance equipment, and Watergate memorabilia. Other amenities include a 2,500 bottle whisky bar, and rooftop outdoor Top of the Gate bar with incredible 360 panoramic views of the Potomac river and many DC icons (don't peek into windows though!). And another hotel with a themed suite worth considering is the Hamilton Hotel DC's "Selina Meyer Presidential Suite," decked out with actual props and paraphernalia from HBO's Veep.