1409 Playbill Cafe, Washington, DC (closed 2011)
Photos of gay bars, nightclubs, lounges, cabarets, and other nightlife options in the Mid-Atlantic region, including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, and West Virginia
NOTE: The 1409 Playbill Cafe closed in 2011.
An eclecitc neighborhood bar and restaurant with a strong following among local actors and theater types in DC, the humble-looking Playbill Cafe (1409 14th St. NW) packs in some pretty big crowds some evenings. The restaurants and bar just a block west of up-and-coming Logan Circle has karaoke, piano cabaret, and similar such entertainment many evenings, making it a cheery place to unwind with friends. From the kitchen, you can order burgers, Mediterranean dishes, and the like.
Banana Cafe and Piano Bar, Washington, DC
A mainstay of Washington's diverse Capitol Hill neighborhood, Banana Cafe and Piano Bar (500 8th St. SE, 202-543-5906) has long been popular with the city's Latino gays and lesbians, as well as fans of piano cabaret and Latin American cuisine. The kitchen serves quite-tasty Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Mexican fare (try the cod fritters with guava sauce, and note that there's a terrific Sunday brunch), while the piano bar welcomes a mixed gay/straight bunch for live music every night of the week. It's especially popular here at happy hour. It's in the same neighborhood as such popular gay and gay-friendly hangouts as Remington's, Phase 1, and Mr. Henry's.
Be Bar, Washington, DC (closed 2010)
Note: Be Bar has closed (the space is currently occupied by a straight venue called Mood Lounge).
One of Washington's swankiest and sexiest gay lounges, Be Bar (1318 9th St. NW) also stands out for attractive a diverse crowd - a good mix of lesbians, gay guys, and heteros of all ages and races, although the scene definitely skews toward the under-30 set. This long, narrow space with a dance floor in the back is slightly off the beaten path, on an otherwise quiet street a few blocks east of Logan Circle in the city's Shaw neighborhood. The decor is modern and stylish, the club's popularity sometimes uneven. But on weekends, this is a good bet for late-night fun.
DC Eagle, Washington, DC
Washington, DC's long-time hub of the city's gay leather scene, the DC Eagle (3701 Benning Rd NE, 202-455-6500) is one of the nation's most prominent such bars. The bar is open nightly (till 2 am generally, and until 3 on weekends), and it's, of course, popular with guys who wear and admire leather, but as well as other fans of uniforms, rubber, and similar attire. It's in a location that's rather far from other gay bars in town, near Mt. Vernon Square and just north of Chinatown (midway between Logan Circle and Capitol Hill). It's not hard to find, though, and it's very close to the city's huge Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
Phase 1 of Dupont, Washington, DC
In a space known for many years as Badlands gay club and more recently as Apex, Phase 1 of Dupont ((1415 22nd St., 202-974-6832) opened in 2012 - it's a second branch of the city's long-running Phase 1 women's club in Capitol Hill. It's just off P Street, near several other gay bars that have been around for quite a while (Omega, the Fireplace). This lively dance club is open Thursday through Saturday nights, and also for some occasional special events. There are a few spaces inside for mingling - a video bar, dance floor, and some other nooks.
The original Phase 1 (525 8th St. SE, 202-544-6831) nightclub in Capitol Hill is open on the same nights as well as on Sundays, and for some special parties on Wednesdays.
Club 1722, Baltimore, Maryland
Address1722 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21201-5802, USA
For many years, gay and lesbian revelers have been venturing to Club 1722 (1722 N. Charles St., 410-547-8423) on Friday and Saturday nights after the booze-licensed bars and nightclubs around the city have closed (the establishment on the left in this picture). This diminutive but rocking space opens at 1:45, and the dancing (to a wide range of DJ-spun music) lasts for many hours - until the sun has risen, at the very least. For fans of the gay after-hours scene, this place is a must. The club is open to the 18-and-over set, and no alcohol is served. Given the crowd, timing, and tradition of after-hour clubs, rumors abound regarding the use by at least some guests of certain recreational mood enhancers - needless to say, the management has a strict zero-tolerance towards drug use.
Club 1722 is just around the block from Penn Station, just north of the city's main gay nightlife district, Mt. Vernon. It's right next door to Club Charles (410-727-8815), a raffishly endearingly dive bar that has an artsy, alternative following - you'll often see gays and lesbians at this 1940s-style art deco cocktail bar, although it's not a gay bar per se.
Club Hippo, Baltimore, Maryland
Note: Club Hippo has closed.
A stalwart of the Baltimore gay and lesbian club scene since it opened in the early '70s, right in the heart of the city's hip Mt. Vernon neighborhood, Club Hippo (1 W. Eager St., 410-547-0069, 410-576-0018 for events hotline) continues to be one of the hottest clubs in the Mid-Atlantic region. An expansive spot comprising several sections, including a dance floor, video bar, and cocktail saloon, the Hippo draws a genuine mix of revelers - plenty of folks wander between the club and Grand Central, a similarly fun gay bar nearly across the street.
The Drinkery, Baltimore, Maryland
With its completely endearing name, comfy confines, and location within a short walk of several other fun gay bars in Mt. Vernon (i.e., Jay's on Read, Leon's), The Drinkery (207 W. Read St., 410-225-3100) bills itself "The Cheers" of Baltimore. Indeed, the staff is completely welcoming, and although you'll tend to find a band of merry regulars at this cozy spot, the crowd makes everybody feel quite welcome. This is less a cruise bar and more a spot to chat with friends, listen to the jukebox, and unwind after a long day.
Grand Central, Baltimore, Maryland
Since 1991, Grand Central Station (1001 N. Charles St., 410-752-7133), which was known until 2003 as Central Station, has been a gay-nightlife mainstay of Baltimore, and an anchor of the bar district along North Charles Street in Mt. Vernon. The gay and lesbian entertainment complex consists of several different bars and lounges, including a large dance floor as well as a separate upstairs lesbian bar called Sappho's - although everybody of both genders is welcome throughout the place. Lube wrestling, wet underwear contests, and special events are held frequently - there's pretty much always something interesting going on at this bar. The staff is friendly, and the crowd comprises a pretty good mix of professionals, students, locals, and visitors.
Jay's on Read, Baltimore, Maryland
Baltimore's definitive gay piano cabaret, Jay's on Read (225 W. Read St., 410-225-0188) is a friendly, welcoming little spot that's popular with pretty much anybody who loves singing along - or even just listening - to show tunes and popular jazz standards. Pianists play on the bar's beautifully restored vintage grand piano, and happily take requests from the crowd, which although predominantly gay most nights includes plenty of others who enjoy this kind of entertainment. Jay's is in a section of Mt. Vernon that contains several gay hangouts, from larger clubs like Grand Central and The Hippo to neighborhood spots like Leon's and The Drinkery.
Sappho's at Grand Central, Baltimore, Maryland
Elegant Sappho's is a cozy and beautifully decorated lesbian bar on the upper level of Baltimore's famously fun Grand Central Station (1001 N. Charles St., 410-752-7133) gay entertainment complex. With its leather arm chairs, Oriental rugs, high-end billiards table, soft lighting, and swanky bar, this place doesn't lack for style in the least - it's the best spot in the entire compound for conversation, and there's a nice little deck off to one side, perfect if you need some air. Although definitely geared toward lesbians, this cool little lounge also pulls in plenty of guys. It's in the heart of the city's most gay-friendly neighborhood, Mt. Vernon, close to several other GLBT hangouts.
Oh Bar, Albany, New York
Among the handful of gay bars in New York's capital city, Albany, cheerful Oh Bar (304 Lark St., 508-463-9004) is one of the friendliest and arguably the most popular. It's along Lark Street, in close proximity to most of the city's other gay hangouts as well as some very good restaurants. And the amenities include a pool table and dartboard, and a lovely patio that's open year-round (although the "lovely" part applies mostly to the warmer months). The crowd is a catch-all of characters - a mix of women and men of all ages.
Excelsior, Brooklyn, New York
Park Slope is the center of Brooklyn's albeit limited gay nightlife scene, and one of the better little queer bars in the neighborhood is Excelsior (390 5th Ave., 718-832-1599), a small and generally low-keyed locals' hangout drawing a mix of Outer Borough hipsters, longtime nesting Slope-ians, and the occasional tourist out for a gay Brooklyn booze cruise. The bar is along busy 5th Avenue, near a number of other gay-popular cafes, restaurants, and cocktail bars. Another fun LGBT bar just down the street is Ginger's, which is somewhat more popular with the lesbian set but also mixed-gender. N.B. - when the weather's nice, sip your cocktail on Excelsior's small back deck.
Cherry's Pit, Fire Island, New York
With a breezy deck strung with hundreds of festive, little red lights, Cherry's Pit (631-597-6820) is one of The Grove's great little hangouts, its back deck overlooking the Great South Bay and the community's main dock. The bar attached to the complex that includes the Cherry Lane restaurant and Bay Gulls cafe. Cherry's receives a steady flow of traffic from morning well into the evening, and it's a bit more guy-oriented than the other nightlife options in Cherry Grove.
Ice Palace Nightclub (at Grove Hotel), Fire Island, New York
Cherry Grove's definitive gay and lesbian bar, the venerable, campy, and always-fabulous Ice Palace Nightclub (off Bayview Walk, near ferry dock) is part of the Grove Hotel complex, its indoor dance floor and outdoor bar overlooking the property's expansion pool. The Ice Palace is always a fun bet for cocktails and dancing, but it also hosts numerous weekly parties and events and also hosts comedy and music acts, weekend pool parties, and plenty of other special theme nights and parties. As is typical of Cherry Grove establishments, the Ice Palace draws a very eclectic mix - lesbians, gays, and straights, of all ages.
Island Breeze, Fire Island, New York
A laid-back hangout near the dock in Cherry Grove, Island Breeze (631-597-6570) serves reliable and inexpensive -if predictable - American food but has lovely views of Great South Bay and is a fun spot to meet for drinks, especially during the afternoon and early evening.
Tides Cozy Bar, Fire Island, New York
An intimate, two-floor cabaret and cocktail bar in Cherry Grove, the Tides Cozy Bar (631-597-3744 is a great spot for early evening drinks on the deck (especially if there's a breeze), or late-night drinks or watching cabaret and piano in the small theater area. The Tides is at 177 Ocean Walk, a short stretch of boardwalk behind (south of) the Grove Hotel, and just north of Jumping Jacks Seafood Shack. Pictured here, from the air, you can identify the Tides from the blue rectangular canopy roof (which is over the open-air bar).
Barracuda, New York, New York
Address275 W 22nd St, New York, NY 10011-2754, USA
Since it opened well over a decade ago, the groovy and gracious Barracuda (275 W. 22nd St., 212-645-8613) has always felt a bit like an East Village bar that slipped across town when nobody was looking. It's dark, narrow, and with a stylish, slightly arty vibe, and the crowd is more eclectic and generally with less attitude than at most of Chelsea's more uppity gay hangouts. Barracuda has earned a reputation over the years for its lively cabaret and drag shows held in the small stage-bar in the back. The cozy layout, dim lighting, and great music make it a relativley easy place to mingle and meet friends - it's cruisy without feeling overwhelming like a pick-up joint. The staff is fairly nice. The late Tammy Faye Bakker Messner appeared here to promote The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and numerous gay celebs have been spotted here over the years (including Lance Bass, whom the gossip rags claimed had a fight here with a friend in October 2007). Ultimately, this cocktail bar next to the infamous Unicorn blue-movie shop works because its friendly enough to feel like a laid-back neighborhood bar but hip and stylish enough to draw a steady flow of attractive, intelligent guys.
Boiler Room, New York, New York
Address86 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003-9041, USA
One of the longest-running gay bars in the East Village, the Boiler Room (86 E. 4th St., 212-254-7536) has seen booms and busts over the years, its popularity waxing and waning for any number of reasons. Lately, this unfussy cruise bar drawing a mixed-age crowd seems to be doing quite well, drawing consistent crowds who appreciate its pool table, a cozy bar with nice selection of beers and cocktails, and comfy sofas, and awesomely eclectic juke box. More guys than girls come here, but it's still definitely a mixed-gender spot overall. It's also pretty close to New York University (NYU), and has always been popular with students and staffs from there, as well as with all the gay kids in Brooklyn who come over on the F train (the subway stop is fairly close).
Club 82/Bijou Cinema, New York, New York
Address82 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003, USA
This basement space set very discreetly behind a simple, unmarked door has quite a history with New York's gay community. From 1958 until 1978, Club 82 (82 E. 4th St.) was a beloved drag cabaret and glam-rock venue made famous by the likes of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Harvey Fierstein, Blondie, and the New York Dolls - in this sense, it's one of the more important sites of gay history in the East Village, and it even has its own fan site, which celebrates its colorful past. It then became an indie-film theater, and in the early 1990s, the dark, underground (figuratively and literally - it's in a basement) space became a quite popular gay adult theater and sex club called the Bijou Cinema (although still known by many as Club 82). More recently, it's been closed at different times, but it was spruced up at one point and now continues to be a gay sex club. (If you're having trouble finding it, it's just off 2nd Avenue, its doorway behind the incongruously dapper and lovely French bistro, Belcourt).
This is a quirky and happily sleazy little spot that's especially popular after the bars closed - it used to be open 24/7, but more recent reports suggest it now closes by 5 or 6 in the morning (I last stopped by around 1 am in May 2011, and it was open and still charging a $10 admission). You enter through the ominous unmarked door, descend the brightly lit stairs. Inside there's a 48-seat cinema that used to show gay porn and more recently has played conventional movies, some with an arty bent. Forming an L-shape behind the cinema area is a corridor lined with private booths that contain monitors showing gay porn. These are basically walk-in-closet-size booths - no beds or facilities to speak of. Guys hang out in these rooms, cruise the corridors, etc., etc. Off the main corridor and theater, there's also a TV lounge, some rental lockers, and a bar no longer serving drinks. There's something strangely and endearingly retro about the entire set-up. That being said, it's sometimes hard to confirm this place is open, so if anyone gets word it's shuttered again, please let me know.
By all accounts, there's often more of a crowd at the East Village's more above-board gay porn cinema, Blue Door Video, which is nearby at 87 1st Avenue. Note that some controversy has arisen concerning prostitution-solicitation arrests, which many in the GLBT community are calling false and baseless - an article in Gay City News explores charges of entrapment related to these arrests.
The Cock Bar, New York, New York
Along a tiny row of unsavory and thoroughly enjoyable gay bars on 2nd Avenue in the East Village, The Cock (29 2nd Ave.) had actually been located on Avenue A for quite a few years, where it earned a reputation for embracing the fine art of cruising (and dark-room hand jobs among strangers). In its current locale, this late-night, rooster-themed bar with voyeuristic bathrooms and a dark, sweaty, panting vibe continues to celebrate the virtues of good old-fashioned sleaze. Bars along the same strip include Urge and, owned by the same peeps, DTox. And around the corner, there's more fun to be had at the Boiler Room gay bar.
Dick's Bar, New York, New York (closed fall 2007)
Sadly, the venerable neighborhood hangout Dick's Bar closed toward the end of 2007, after many years serving the East Village gay community. Few gay bars in this part of the city enjoyed a longer run than this cozy, offbeat establishment known for its kick-ass juke box. It stood at the corner of E. 12th Street and 2nd Avenue.
Eastern Bloc, New York, New York
Note: Eastern Bloc is now closed.
I'm not sure if Eastern Bloc (505 E. 6th St.) is genuinely smaller than the other gay bars in the East Village, but it sure feels tiny, although not in a bad way (unless you're claustrophobic...). The super-dark, ultra-narrow space just off Avenue A is done up with decorative kitsch and happens to be the neighborhood bar of talented actor Alan Cumming - in fact, I had a brief but very nice chat with him here (he was clad in a leather kilt) not long ago. DJs here spin alt rock, there's reliably interesting beer on tap, and the bathroom walls are festooned with retro-camp magazine covers. Eastern Bloc is nearly always packed with erudite to artsy boys, yet it's every bit as cruisy as the more unabashedly sleazy meet-and-greets in the East Village. What's not to love?
Elmo Lounge, New York, New York
With a faintly retro, unmistakeably swank look - mirrored walls, curvy periwinkle chairs, candy-striped banquettes - recalls the lounge of a Latin American airport circa 1966, Elmo (156 7th Ave., 212-337-8000) is as sure a sign as any that Chelsea's more see-and-be-seen gay dining scene has shifted steadily in recent years east from 8th to 7th Avenue. To be sure, there are plenty of queer-date restaurant possibilities on both of these avenues, but 7th is a bit more serious, food-wise, with the likes of Elmo and others along the stretch, ranging from breezy bistro Le Singe Vert to contemporary sushi favorite Momoya.
Elmo is both a restaurant - serving lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch - and, at the basement level, a decadent lounge-cabaret that hosts live music, theater, parties, and assorted merry celebrations. The food is consistently well-prepared and tending toward contemporary-comfort fare: watermelon and mozzarella salad with pine nuts and yellow tomatoes, grilled yellowfin tuna sandwiches with wasabi mayo, home-style meatloaf with scallion-mashed potatoes - plus burgers, fish tacos, and a few pastas. With most entrees priced well under $20, and service surprisingly attentive and down-to-earth for such a scene-y spot, Elmo effectively fits the bill for all sorts of occasions, from brunch with a loose-knit posse of friends to dinner before a show at the nearby Joyce Theater or Dance Theater Workshop.
G Lounge, New York, New York
Note: G Lounge has closed.
The dapper, slick, and unabashedly upscale G Lounge (223 W. 19th St., 212-929-1085) was the first NYC gay bar - and one of the first in the country - to go all out in style and design. It opened in 1997, offering Chelsea boys an alternative to the usual dark-walled, black-plywood, dimly lighted, windowless cells that had been the norm for years. G paved the way for the many swanky gay bars that have opened since, and it remains true to its origins, packed nightly with well-dressed men of all ages. Compared with other popular Chelsea hangouts like Barracuda, Splash (well, to an extent - Splash can be rather uppity, too), and Gym sports bar, G can feel a bit stuffy at times, but the staff is generally genial and the crowd surprisingly friendly if you just give it a chance. The same owners run the trendy Here Lounge in West Hollywood, California. G is next to Dance Theater Workshop.
Gym Bar, New York, New York
"Join the Gym," proclaims the website for Chelsea's friendly and immensely popular gay sports bar, aptly called, Gym (167 8th Ave., 212-337-2439). The spacious, well-lighted, and relatively low-keyed bar with a terrace (used primarily by smokers) overlooking busy 8th Avenue is sandwiched between the Joyce Theater and Pride NYC gay DVD and sex shop. It's refreshing that New York City has a gay sports bar after many years without one. That being said, the sports theme is always especially apparent - it feels just like a pleasant and nicely laid-out gym and has a very nice pool table, exposed-brick walls, wood floors, and large TV screens that do sometimes air sporting events. But you're not going to find the space festooned with trophies, banners, and sports memorabilia, which is just fine with its regulars, who appreciate the relaxed yet still somewhat sophisticated look of the place. In addition to hosting members of various gay New York sports teams, the bar draws a diverse bunch, especially in terms of age - you'll see all generations here, including plenty of butch men in jeans and T-shirts (it's not dressy at all, even after work). And the scene is quite friendly by Chelsea standards. One nice thing about Gym is that it draws decent-size early in the evening, and even during afternoons on weekends. The staff is very friendly, too.
The Hose, New York, New York (closed 2010)
Note: The Hose bar closed in 2010
A newcomer to the East Village gay-bar scene, The Hose (225 Ave. B, 212-979-8506), opened in the space formerly occupied by Uncle Mings (a hetero bar with something of a queer following). Like many gay spots in the neighborhood, The Hose has the anti-slick appearance of a dive bar, complete with loud (often rock) music. It's an upstairs space with a stage at the front (I shot this photo from the edge of the stage, looking back toward the bar). But for a few irreverent posters and bits of art, it's low on decor.
The Hose is in the northern part of the EV, not far from Nowhere, Phoenix, and Section 8.
Lucky Cheng's, New York, New York
Longtime drag cabaret and dinner theater Lucky Cheng's (605 W 48th St., 212-995-5500) isn't a gay bar per se, but rather a flamboyant, campy Pan-Asian restaurant with a comical drag cabaret show and smashingly costumed drag queens serving the food. The restaurant-club is very popular with straight tourists (and bachelorette parties) seeking a quirky and outlandish night on the town, but most nights you'll see some GLBT patrons, too. Of course, Lucky Cheng's is friendly and fun toward everybody, and the food is reasonably good.
Dinner is served nightly, and drag shows are once nightly Sunday through Thursday and then with some a longer show and some additional shows during the weekend evenings. Three-course prix-fixe dinner menus are available (it's a good value), and tables of friends can also order a bunch of larger platters to feast on family-style - goodies like Chinese-spiced duck confit salad, Mandarin orange-glazed pork tenderloin skewers, and seared guava-yuzu scallops.
Lucky Cheng's has an interesting reputation in NYC's gay community - on the one hand, it's fun and kind of silly, and the glamorous and high-camp aspects of the place make it a favorite of people from all over the city, including more than a few celebs. On the other hand, the gay scene in the East Village tends toward young, hipster-ish, and anti-commercial, so if you chat with neighborhood queers, many of them will claim never to have been to Lucky Cheng's, and some may refer to it with a certain sense of reverse-snobbery or derision. I actually lived directly across the street from Lucky Cheng's for two years and never happened to go inside, but if since had drinks there and thought it quite fun, if nothing like other gay hangouts in the neighborhood.
There's a second Lucky Cheng's located adjacent to Planet Hollywood Casino, next to Krave gay nightclub, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nowhere Bar, New York, New York
Although prominently located along busy East 14th Street, the northern border of the East Village, Nowhere (322 E. 14th St., 212-477-4744) has sort of steadily mozied along beneath the downtown gay-bar radar since it opened in 2006 or so. Some (tall) boys lament the low ceilings and find it cramped, and the crowd - by most reports - varies a lot from night to night, from cute and sexy in that East Village ironic-hipster way to dour and aloof (which kind of works in this part of town anyway). You'll generally find a mix of lesbians and gay guys, but as with most NYC queer bars, it's mostly guys. There's also a pool table.
I liked it very much during my visit and found the staff easygoing and pleasant, the drinks affordable, and the location handy. It's the closest gay bar in the East Village to Union Square and Gramercy Park, and because it's near subway stations and numerous bus lines, it's a good place to begin or end an East Village bar crawl.
Music is supplied via a pretty cool juke box or DJs, and there's a strange and freakishly dwarfy "back room" lounge in, well, the back room, that's enticing if you just want to have a quiet conversation or size up a potential trick in very bad lighting. The venerable Artichoke pizza joint is practically next door, in case you get the munchies. Nearby gay bars include Phoenix, Section 8, and The Hose.
Phoenix Bar, New York, New York
If the East Village has an all-around, much-loved, go-to gay bar, it's the Phoenix (447 E. 13th St., 212-477-9979), which opened a few years back and takes its name from the long-ago Phoenix gay bar that used to be a few blocks away and was never anywhere near as popular. Part of the bar's lure is that it's relatively large as EV gay bars go, with a main bar area (pictured here, late on a midweek-night, hence the uncrowded appearance), a pool table with small seating area in back, decent-size bathrooms down a flight of stairs, and a small conversation nook around the corner from the main bar. The bartenders are efficient and friendly here, the bar typically packed with pretty good-looking guys of all ages (the median age skews slightly older here than elsewhere in the East Village).
Some say that as Phoenix has gained in popularity over the years, it's become the one gay hangout in the East Village that feels a bit more like the meat-market-y and rather preppier haunts of Chelsea, but this is still very much a down-home, low-attitude hangout where the guys (it's mostly a male crowd, but very female-friendly) dress chiefly in jeans, black shoes, and T-shirts. There's still nothing at all fancy or upscale about Phoenix - it's just an inviting gay bar with excellent music (from the juke) and plenty of fellow queer-scenesters to gab with and gawk at.
Rawhide, New York, New York
Note: Rawhide has closed.
One of the very few businesses along Chelsea's 8th Avenue that has been around since long before the neighborhood gentrified, rough-and-tumble Rawhide (212 8th Ave., 212-242-9332) still feels a bit like a time-warp - it's a dark, low-frills place that has long catered to the leather-and-Levi's crowd but that more recently has begun to pull in more of a mix of gay guys of all ages and styles. Still, lest anyone think Rawhide has gone soft, the bartenders here remain aloof and beefy, and the drinks potent and rather cheap. Rawhide will, happily, always be a somewhat seedy cruise bar. It's near a cluster of Chelsea gay bars that include Barracuda and The View, and it's also close to the Unicorn and Rainbow Station gay porn and sex shops.
Section 8, New York, New York
Note: Section 8 has closed.
If the crowds are too much and the lines at the bar are too long across the street at Phoenix and down Avenue A at Eastern Bloc, you can always drop by the low-keyed Section 8 (218 Ave. A), a gay neighborhood bar with the usual ingredients for East Village conviviality: decent beers on tap, a pool table, and a rockin' juke box. This is a good bet if you're hanging out with a group of friends and want a space suitable for conversation and gathering. Hard to say why it's not more popular - there's nothing at all wrong with Section 8, but it somehow hasn't quite developed much more than a local following.
On the plus side, the bar has decent lighting, which is a rarity in this part of town, where lounges tend to be unbelievably dark and/or with the tawdry pink glare you'd expect of a cheap whore house.
Splash Bar, New York, New York
Note: Splash Bar has closed.
Splash Bar (50 W. 17th St., 212-691-0073) is barely in Chelsea, just a few doors in from 5th Avenue and closer to Union Square than the neighborhood's main drags, 7th and 8th avenues. However, it's been the quintessential Chelsea club since it opened in 1992, and it remains one of the first bars most gay visitors to New York City make a serious point of visiting. Good DJs, hunky strippers and go-go boys (famous for their on-stage shower performances), and simple but popular weekly theme parties (Campus Thursdays, Sexxx Saturdays) make up for the bilevel club's drawbacks, namely big crowds, pricey drinks, and - in the eyes of many - too many tourists. To be sure, there's nothing insider-y about Splash, but it is most definitely a classic gay nightspot, and its central location also makes it the easiest to reach of Chelsea bars if you're coming from anywhere east of 5th Avenue.
Stonewall Inn, New York, New York
New York City's iconic Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher St., 212-488-2705) is where the legendary Stonewall Rebellion took place on June 28, 1969 - an event that became the impetus for Gay Pride parades and festivals now held all over the world. The once dive-y gay bar is in the heart of the colorful Christopher Street section of Greenwich Village, just opposite Sheridan Square and within a short stroll of several other gay hangouts. The bar's popularity has waxed and waned over the years, but new owners have given it a major makeover, and the Stonewall is now enjoying a resurgence.
Following New York's passage of Gay Marriage, hundreds of GLBT New Yorkers and their allies gathered outside the bar to celebrate on the eve of New York City Gay Pride. And following the tragic attack on Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, the bar once again became a gathering point for the community to express its support, unity, and determination to stand together in the face of violence against LGBT persons.
Therapy, New York, New York
One of the first bars to solidify NYC's Hells Kitchen neighborhood as a bona fide gay-nightlife destination, Therapy (348 W. 52nd St., 212-397-1700) remains of Manhattan's trendier GLBT cocktail lounges. The bi-level space with elegant wood-slat walls and chic furniture is well-regarded for its creative drinks (try the Oral Fixation, with Stoli Orange, mint, fresh lime, and orange juice), slick music, attractive crowds, and extremely popular happy hour. The kitchen turns out light bar snacks, too - from calamari to hummus platters.
Urge, New York, New York
Note: Urge has closed.
A couple of doors down from the ultra-pervy Cock gay bar, and right next door to DTox, Urge (33 2nd Ave.) carries out this raffish block along 2nd Avenue's reputation for no-nonsense gay cruising but has a more slightly more elegant decorative scheme than Cock - you'll find some nooks with low-slung lounge seating, and the lighting is considerably better. This makes it easier to ogle Urge's chief attraction, a stable of generally well-endowed go-go dancers. Just around the corner, you'll find another popular gay hangout, the Boiler Room.
View Bar, New York, New York (closed July 2010)
Note: The View Bar closed in summer 2010.
Woody's Bar, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Woody's Bar, in Philadelphia's so-called "gayborhood", is one of the city's long-standing gay hangouts. The bilevel space has a series of lounges and rooms, plus a decent-size upstairs dance floor - the entire space received a major makeover recently.
Images, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Address965 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-3701, USA
A classic gay video lounge and happy hour bar in downtown Pittsburgh, Images (965 Liberty Ave., 412-391-9990) has developed a reputation over the years as one of the city's leading places to mingle, knock back beer and cocktails, sing karaoke on certain evenings, and hobnob with locals and visitors. The bar opened in 1994 but underwent an impressive renovation in 2006 - it's along a strip of fun gay hangouts that also include 941 Saloon, Club Hot, There Video Lounge, and Pegasus. The crowd at Images is mostly male but quite welcoming of women, and tending toward the young professional and collegiate set but with plenty of exceptions.
O-Zone, Wheeling, West Virginia
In downtown Wheeling, West Virginia, you'll find the city's most prominent gay bar, a friendly and attitude-free gay dance club called The O-Zone (1107 Main St., 304-232-0068). The bar is right along the main drag of this city situated on a narrow strip of West Virginia land between Pennsylvania and Ohio (it's a short drive from I-70, the main route from Pittsburgh to Columbus). There's karaoke several nights per week, and drinks are reasonably priced. The crowd is mixed lesbian and gay men.