Although the gay scene in Sarasota is less pronounced than in many other coastal communities in Florida, it certainly exists—the city hosts Sarasota Pride each year and there are a few gay bars and happy hours to boot.
Sarasota is a small and friendly city (population around 50,000) along Florida's Gulf Coast. It's just an hour's drive south of St. Petersburg and 75 minutes south of Tampa, but it's more laid back and far less developed.
Despite its smaller size, Sarasota is home to a hefty LGBTQ population. Hefty enough, in fact, to have its own bowling league, drag queen bingo nights, and weekly meditation sessions. The nightlife isn't too bad, either.
Bars & Clubs
Over the years, Sarasota has seen a number of cult-favored gay bars and clubs. After the LGBTQ Throb Nightclub closed down in 2015, the beloved Barrel 87 Saloon also shut its doors, putting an end to the popular theme nights, drink specials, Throwback Thursdays, and karaoke. Still, though, there are places where the gay community convenes after dark.
- Purple Rhino: Places have come and gone, but Sarasota's oldest gay bar is still standing and it's lively as ever. Purple Rhino is a private, nonprofit gay bar that doubles as a community center. The bar staff works on a volunteer basis (so remember to tip them well) and the proceeds go toward Red Ribbon (HIV) services and helping to maintain the lounge as a space for the LGBTQ community.
- Oasis: This place is a drag bar, a strip club, and a dance club all wrapped up in one. On any given night, you can find half-naked (nay, mostly-naked) men gyrating across the bar and after that, the crowd takes to the dance floor. Go on a Friday night for the weekly drag show.
- Pangea Alchemy Lab: This Euro-inspired speakeasy isn't gay-specific, but it has been known to beckon a diverse bunch. If you dig craft cocktails and a sleek environment (as opposed to drag queens and DJs), then this is your place.
Events & Activities
The great thing about Sarasota is that even though there aren't a ton of gay bars, there are ample LGBTQ events, meetups, and activities happening on a weekly (or nightly!) basis to make up for it.
- Gay Group Happy Hours: Even the straight bars in Sarasota turn gay for this happy hour group. Dubbed G2H2, the revelers have been getting together for monthly outings for years now, rotating to different bars and restaurants around the city. It's a perfect opportunity for passersby to mingle with the local crowd. The group is membership-based, but you can buy $10 single tickets for happy hour events.
- Drag Queen Bingo Bonanza at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre: Once a month, Sarasota-favorite Beneva Fruitville (and her fellow drag queens, on occasion) take the stage at McCurdy's for a night of hilarious, sometimes-raunchy bingo. The $48-per-person brunch edition features a cocktail, a meal, and three rounds of bingo.
- LGBTQ+ Meetups at the Clever Cup: On the tamer side of socializing, there's a bi-weekly LGBTQ meetup at the Clever Cup. This coffee social hour, every other Sunday, is meant to be an open space for the Sarasota gay community, but all are welcome.
- Harvey Milk Festival: Harvey Milk was California's first-ever openly-gay elected official. He was assassinated during the '70s and now, he is celebrated across the country as a symbol of pride. Every May, Sarasota hosts an LGBTQ film festival that's named after him. In addition to film, it also features music, speakers, and performance art.
- A League of Our Own Bowling: What makes Sarasota's gay community unique? Gay bowling. A League of Our Own is an LGBTQ bowling group that competes for an AIDS charity at AMF Lanes.
There are things happening in the Sarasota gay community constantly, but the mother of them all is Sarasota Pride. Whereas many pride festivals around the country (even the biggest ones in New York City and San Francisco) take place over only one or two days, Sarasota's occupies an entire week of parties, drag shows, and more. Sarasota Pride typically takes place in October, but in 2020, it's on the calendar for January. The final Saturday calls for the biggest party at J.D. Hamel Park.
Tips for Going Out in Sarasota
- You simply can't go to Sarasota without spending at least one sunny afternoon lounging at the beach. Lucky for you, Sarasota has an official gay beach, North Lido, which has been called one of the best gay beaches in Florida.
- For an updated list of gay happenings, visit the city's designated LGBTQ resource, SarasotaOut.