Gay Nightlife in Minneapolis: Best Bars, Clubs, & More

Gay '90s, Minneapolis

Andrew Collins 

The larger of Minnesota's Twin Cities, Minneapolis has long been known for being progressive, arts-driven, and especially LGBTQ-friendly. It regularly scores high on the Human Rights Campaign's annual report (earning 100 out of 100 points on occasion), so it's no surprise that its infectious inclusivity has seeped into the nightlife scene. Needless to say, the gay bars are aplenty.

Neighboring St. Paul certainly has a few dedicated gay nightspots to boot, but Minneapolis trumps them in quantity. From strip clubs to saloons to happy hour havens, there's something for just about every reveler around. Most of the queer nightlife is concentrated in the downtown area.

Bars

Minnesota has repeatedly been ranked in the top-10 states that consume the most alcohol, so it's certainly no surprise that the Twin Cities' bar scene flourishes. For the LGBTQ crowd, there's a laidback pub, a theme bar with a busy dance floor, a swanky cocktail lounge, and a progressive bowling alley with a popular happy hour.

  • EagleBOLTBar: On any given weekend, you'll find dozens of gay men in their leather and chaps, their undies, or whatever else the dress code calls for at this gay complex in the Mill City district on the Mississippi River. Formerly known as the Minneapolis Eagle and The Bolt, EagleBOLTBar can be relied upon for DJ acts, a riotous dance floor, and one of the best (heated!) patios in town. There's even a food menu, but don't expect Michelin standards from the burgers and fries. EagleBOLTBar attracts a 30-to-40-year-old crowd of mostly men.
  • 19 Bar: What was a fairly skeevy cruise bar back in the day is now an unpretentious neighborhood pub where locals go to play pool and darts. It's located in the charming Loring Park neighborhood, a block from the convention center, south of downtown. 19 Bar's pinball machines, jukebox, patio, and pints attract gays (and straights) of all ages. Don't be alarmed by the NSFW wall decor.
  • Lush: This Northeast Minneapolis hangout a taxi ride away from the downtown area but if you're a sucker for a drag show, it's worth the jaunt. Not only is it bursting with entertainment (burlesque, comedy, quiz shows, drag queen bingo), but it also serves super-snazzy drinks (totally normal to order your martini) and delicious, chef-made, farm-to-table food.
  • Bryant-Lake Bowl: It's a bowling alley. It's a community theater. It's a groovy dive bar, and a funky cafe. This quirky and extremely gay-popular venue—hosting edgy theatrical productions, comedy, and spoken word—is a fixture near the city's artsy-but-affluent Uptown neighborhood. The bowling alley is a fun place to gather with friends and while away a cheap evening while the bar and restaurant are great for happy hour (held on weeknights both in the early evening and late-night hours).

Clubs

If you feel the need to upgrade to a dance club after downing a few beers at 19 Bar, then there are plenty of opportunities for that, too, including one with regular strip shows, lots of drag parties, DJs, and more.

  • Gay 90's: A massive and rather legendary LGBTQ nightclub in the downtown Minneapolis theater and nightclub district, Gay 90's has become known over the years for its three floors of queer entertainment, from drag shows to go-go strippers to DJ dancing. The club is packed on weekends and draws a genuine mix of patrons—gays, straights, women, men, young, and old, of all races. Be warned: Bachelorette parties have been known to frequent this place when it's not men-only.
  • The Saloon: The Saloon has been a fixture of Hennepin Avenue for more than three decades. The sprawling space includes a dance club, lounge, and a casual restaurant serving short-order pub fare and sandwiches. On weekends, the dance bar becomes a mini gay mecca with go-go boys gyrating on stage under a shower (which has in the past led to amateur shower strip contests).
  • Brass Rail: One of the longest-running gay clubs in the Midwest, the Brass Rail is most famous for its drag shows and go-go boys. The extremely cruise-y club does happy hour to live piano music and you definitely won't want to miss the male strippers that take the stage every Wednesday.

Restaurants

In addition to bars and restaurants, Minneapolis is also home to a few gay restaurants. They welcome everyone, of course, regardless of sexual orientation, but they're gay-owned, gay-popular, and in one case, named after a famous gay poet.

  • Wilde Cafe & Spirits: This gay-owned cafe is named after Oscar Wilde, a playwright who lived in England during the 19th century, when homosexuality was punishable by law. When the state of Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, Wilde Cafe & Spirits was the first place in town to throw a (very big) party. It's housed in a just-lovely Victorian space and serves up all sorts of inventive dishes (from turkey pot pie to veggie strata) daily. It's open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on weekends) and serves a mean booze-optional brunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Hot Indian: "Sexy food for sexy people" is this local Indian food franchise's motto. It was once just a food truck, but now, the gay-owned and -operated eatery has its very own brick-and-mortar space—or five, actually, including the original truck.
  • Wise Acre Eatery: If you're looking for something extremely fresh and served in an extraordinarily pretty setting, this is your place. Scott Endres and Dean Engelmann's fork-to-fork eatery is open, airy, and botanical. The food (breakfast, sandwiches, and small plates) was grown in their own backyard.
  • Muffin Top Cafe: Near Loring Park—home to an expansive green space, cycling trails, and artsy sculptures—is a gay-owned coffee shop where many locals like to have their espresso on Sunday mornings. Muffin Top Cafe prides itself on its roasting abilities and, yes, there are a variety of actual muffin tops on the menu.

Festivals

Minneapolis and St. Paul come together to celebrate a joint Twin Cities Pride event every summer in June. It includes concerts and fireworks on the first day and the annual Rainbow Run and pride parade on the second day, all taking place at Loring Park (which offers great views of Minneapolis, by the way). At least 400 exhibitors and 40 food vendors participate in the LGBTQ celebration each year, attracting about half a million people. During the off-season, the pride committee keeps its fingers on the pulse of area gay happenings with its magazine and podcast.

Tips for Going Out in Minneapolis

  • Minnesota bars are required to stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m., but some bars and clubs (like The Saloon) stay open until 3 a.m. on weekends.
  • Minnesota is also the last U.S. state to do away with notoriously weak 3.2-percent alcohol beers, which are often sold in grocery stores. Keep this in mind when you're purchasing your pregaming beverages.
  • Minneapolis is a spread-out—read: not very walker-friendly—city. Even those who rent a car will need to arrange post-bar transportation with a taxi or via ride-hailing apps.
  • Follow the Twin Cities Gay Scene Facebook page to stay up-to-date on all the latest beer busts, drag shows, and jockstrap parties around Minneapolis and St. Paul.
  • Although most of the gay nightlife is concentrated in the downtown area, visitors should do some exploring in the surrounding neighborhoods: West Broadway is great for arts, parks, and dining; Northeast Minneapolis has pretty riverfront paths; and West Bank has lots of cute, locally-owned shops.
  • And while you're in the area, take the Metro Green Line to St. Paul to check out its bustling gay scene, too.
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