The vast majority of gay nightspots in metro Los Angeles - there are more than 40 of them - are in the city's gay epicenter, West Hollywood. There's another nearby clutch of LGBT nightlife in Long Beach. In LA proper, there are smatterings of gay bars downtown and in Hollywood, and a few more spots north in the San Fernando Valley, but the city's best overall destination for gay bar-hopping, cafe culture, and resto-lounging is Silver Lake and - to a lesser extent - neighboring Los Feliz.
A hilly, eclectic, and historic neighborhood north of downtown, east of Hollywood, and south of Griffith Park, Silver Lake has long been at the core of LA's gay rights movement. Through the '90s, most of the gay bars in the neighborhood catered strongly either to the leather-bear community or the Latino scene, and although Silver Lake's scene remains decidedly less stand-and-model and more racially diverse than West Hollywood's, it's also more mixed gay-straight and hipster-artsy than it was a decade ago. There are fewer explicitly gay bars, but around Silver Lake's two main commercial hubs - Sunset Boulevard from Vermont to Silver Lake Boulevard, and Hyperion Boulevard from Glendale to Fountain avenues - you'll find a colorful mix of lounges, live-music clubs, dance bars, bistros, java joints, and ethnic eateries that pull in patrons of all persuasions, from gay revelers to hetero hipsters.
Note that you won't find a ton of lodging options right in Silver Lake, but the neighborhood is a relatively easy drive from West Hollywood, with its many gay-friendly hotels, including some good budget-minded options.
Strictly by the numbers, Akbar (4356 W. Sunset Blvd.) may not be the most popular bar in Los Angeles, but you could make a case that it has more devoted fans in the city's gay community than any other place in town. And, for that matter, this laid-back, darkly inviting bar near the junction of Sunset and San Monica boulevards has plenty of straight fans, too. It's the mix - women and guys of all ages and inclinations unified by a shared appreciation of indie music and darkly lighted, cozy lounges. If NYC's East Village is your vibe, this is your best bet in Los Angeles.
On the northern edge of Silver Lake, the retro-futuristic-looking Astro Family Restaurant (2300 Fletcher Dr.) is a handy, welcoming haven for no-frills greasy-spoon diner fare. It's open 24/7, making it a valuable resource after bar-hopping, or when seeking a hangover cure the day after, and it's also equidistant from Griffith Park and Elysian Park/Dodger Stadium - drop by for pancakes and eggs before a game or a hike. As is typical of sprawling family-style diners. Astro has a sprawling menu - omelets and waffles, Cobb salads, chili burgers, fish-and-chips, creampies, plus a few Italian and Mexican specialties. Service ranges from brusque to indifferent, but the late-night people-watching makes up for it.
A fantastic venue for its well-chosen and ginormous wine selection and well-crafted small-plates-driven menu, Barbrix (2442 Hyperion Ave.) is a lovely place to nibble, socialize, and sip. More than 20 wines are poured by the glass, and there's a good mix of stars and up-and-comers (it's an upscale place - nothing much under $10 per glass, but the markup is very fair). There's also a nifty selection of interesting beers, and the atmosphere - a cozy '40s bungalow with a relaxing patio - is wonderfully inviting and unpretentious. The eating is focused on shareable nibbles, some quite substantial - the menu changes quite frequently so be sure to check in on what new delicious things are available. Barbrix would work nicely as a first-date venue or a festive dinner with a longtime friend or partner, and it's easy to carry on a conversation in here. Weekend brunch is popular, too.
Set in a 1940s building that was the site of a gay bar from 1966 until 2012, The Black Cat (3909 W. Sunset Blvd.) has morphed into a restaurant with a still strong nightlife-lounge component. While it's not a gay bar per se, this casually swanky dining spot with a long and attractive bar in front still caters strongly to LGBT folks, and the walls are lined with some fascinatingly wonderful photo displays of the establishment's pivotal role in the city's - and nation's - queer civil rights movement. Back on New Year's night in 1967, the original Black Cat gay bar was raided by undercover cops, its patrons beaten up and arrested by them. The event spawned riots and demonstrations that were a notable precursor to the more famous Stonewall Riots of 1969. It's certainly worth dropping by the new Black Cat to check out the historic exhibits and order a drink from the extensive craft-cocktails, wine, and beer lists. But hey, if you're hungry, grab dinner - food is served late (till midnight), and lunch on weekdays and brunch on weekends are also quite popular. The cooking tends toward regional and contemporary American with some global flourishes: braised pork sopes with green chile and tomatillo salsa, kale salad, Brussels sprouts with bacon, shrimp and grits, Moroccan shepherds pie and steak frites. It's as fancy or comfy as you want it to be - both the food and the vibe.
Among the several very good Mexican restaurants in this part of town with a sizable Hispanic population, Bright-pink Casita del Campo (1920 Hyperion Ave.) has become something of a legendary hangout, and a loyal ally of the gay community. This colorful space opened in 1962, and as pretty and inviting as the art-filled dining room is, try enjoying your meal on the gracious tiled patio. Note the strong and delicious margaritas, and the authentic regional Mexican fare: chile Colorado, carnitas, beef tamales, cochinita pibil, machaca. The staff treat regulars and strangers alike as though they're all old friends, and it's open late - till 12 am on weekends.
You may recognize the Dresden (1760 N. Vermont Ave.), a legitimate institution among Los Feliz night owls, from movies like Swingers and The Two Jakes, and the restaurant's legendary lounge act, Marty and Elayne, have been amusing everyone from blue-haired old ladies to tattooed hipsters since early in the Reagan administration. At some point, this restaurant and lounge that opened in 1954 and retains a meticulous Rat Pack-era aesthetic surpassed cult status - it's more touristy than fashionable these days, but catching live music here is still wonderfully fun and atmospheric. You can eat here, too - prime rib, escargots, sauteed whitefish, veal marsala. It's competently prepared Continental cuisine that fits the scene, but go more for the old-fashioned cocktails and delightful ambiance.
If you thought the neighborhood's turn for the hipster-ish was putting a damper on the longtime gay leather scene, Eagle Silver Lake (4219 Santa Monica Blvd.) is here to show you that Mr. Leather contests, ass-less chaps, and fetish worship are alive and well. This rough-and-tumble cruise bar has been a gay hangout since the late '60s, from the Shed right through its tenure at the Gauntlet II until the mid-'00s. Appropriately, the current incarnation has taken the iconic gay-leather name Eagle, and it's as scruffy, buff, and kink-tastic as ever, with some very hot and sweaty parties on Fridays (Cub Scout, Grunt, etc.) and Saturdays (Ginger, Meat Rack, etc.), plus DJ competitions on Wednesdays, B (as in Bear) Bar on Thursdays, and plenty more to bring the men out of their dens.
It takes a little digging around to find The Faculty (707 N. Heliotrope Dr.), a quirky bar and restaurant that's a cult favorite among fans of craft beer and interesting wine. There's nothing especially gay about this place, but for its proximity to Flex bathhouse and Faultline Bar - it's technically west of Silver Lake and south of Los Feliz, in East Hollywood (right by the 101 Hollywood Freeway), but it's a short drive from the strip of gay-sensible hangouts near the junction of Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards. The space is unfussy and casual with a hip sensibility, and the crowd consists largely of young-ish locals and booze hounds who appreciate the reasonably priced cheese boards, creative salads, and hearty sandwiches - the food is well-prepared if not especially fancy. Beer is poured from a rotating tap and always features some good choices. Just a good solid bar for drinking and hobnobbing.
A short drive from Silver Lake's other gay-leather institution, Faultline Bar (4216 Melrose Ave.) is along Melrose near the 101 freeway (as well as the steamy gay bathhouse, Flex, where plenty of guys end up after the Silver Lake bars close). Known for one of the best Sunday beer busts in LA, Faultline also has great happy hours with ultra-cheap booze, underwear parties on Thursdays, parties like DILF and Spit on Fridays, and further good times on Saturday nights with Brutus, Big Bad Wolf, Dragula, and Inferno, rotating throughout the month. There's a nice patio (with a fireplace) out back, and the crowd is fun, and often pretty raunchy - especially late at night.
An offbeat, quasi-diner that's open 24-7, Fred 62 (1850 N. Vermont Ave.) is in the heart of Los Feliz, within walking distance of the neighborhood's many offbeat vintage shops, bookstores, and boutiques. What separates Fred 62 from the usual diner ilk, apart from the funky vintage-'60s interior, is the farm-to-table food ethic - chef Fred Eric serves creative takes on both classic and contemporary victuals like huevos rancheros and bagels and lox at breakfast, and addictive mac-and-cheese balls, Thai Cobb salads, falafel sandwiches, pork belly banh mi at other times. There's a good selection of beer and wine, and prices are excellent considering the high quality of the food. The late-night "Stoners and Drunkards Menu" is a big hit with clubbers after-hours.
Plenty in Silver Lake's LGBT community mourned the loss of the Other Side, a legendary piano bar that closed a couple of years ago following a 40-year run - like the Black Cat and other historic queer establishments in these parts, its demise indicates both the flagging popularity of gay-exclusive social hangouts and the changing, gentrifying nature of the neighborhood. The upstairs bar and its downstairs neighbor, Flying Leap Cafe, are gone (the longtime owner retired and couldn't find a buyer interested in keeping the operations going in their previous incarnations). In this space, a rather trendy but still quite inviting gastropub called Hyperion Public (2538 Hyperion Ave.) has been humming along, gradually earning kudos for its well-crafted modern American bar fare, solid beer and wine selection, not to mention its sturdy-wood-accent interior and clean lines. The new owners have worked hard to make Hyperion Public an inclusive and welcoming hangout for eclectic Silver Lake so, while its piano-bar life has passed, it's still very much a fun place to eat, drink, and listen to music, which actually does sometimes include cabaret standards and both classic and modern jazz. The food, by the way, has earned consistently excellent reviews - lunch (brunch on weekends) and dinner are served daily, with dishes like pan-seared crab cakes with sriracha aioli, fried green tomato and burrata salad, truffled mac-and-cheese, and jalapeno turkey meatloaf finding plenty of fans.
Like LAMILL, below, Intelligentsia Coffee (3922 W. Sunset Blvd.) caters to a discerning crowd. The Silver Lake branch of the steadily expanding Chicago-based roaster is anchored by a gleaming white-marble bar and has a large outdoor seating area - it's a short distance from several gay-popular hangouts along Sunset Boulevard. Like the other LA Intelligentsia outposts in Venice and Pasadena, this hipster-approved coffee bar is primarily about sipping, although delish pastries are served, too.
Occupying a building whose entire two-story facade has been covered with a funky cityscape mural, The Kitchen (4348 Fountain Ave.) adjoins one of LA's most popular gay lounges, Akbar. Partly because of this, it's not uncommon to see gay couples or groups of friends venturing into this charming space for lunch, dinner, late-night snacking, and early-day brunching (on weekends). The kitchen at The Kitchen is dedicated to cooking from scratch and often sources locally in its efforts to prepare mod comfort fare with a creative flair - consider the crispy fried chicken and eggs with garlic-mashed potatoes at brunch, or dinner options like pistachio-crusted salmon with mango-currant chutney, or Belgian-style beef stew with beer-braised tri-tip. You could also make a tasty meal out of a few sides, such as grilled asparagus with chipotle aioli or goat cheese latkes with applesauce.
Regarded by java aficionados as arguably the best craft coffeehouse in metro Los Angeles (and one of the best in the country), LAMILL Coffee Boutique (1636 Silver Lake Blvd.) is situated smack in the middle of Silver Lake, in an attractive residential area just a few blocks south of the reservoir for which the neighborhood is named. Grab a cup of coffee (multiple types of extractions are offered, from Chemex to Japanese hand drip), choose your beans (Colombia El Meridiano? Burundi Kayanza?), and sip happily away, perhaps in the compact but lovely, chandelier-lit dining room, or on to go, on the walking path that encircles Silver Lake Reservoir. LAMILL serves espresso drinks, too, as well as fine wines and champagnes by the glass, microbrews, and sake, and the bakery turns out delicious breakfast sandwiches, chocolate croissants, house-made waffles, cheese and charcuterie plates, and gorgeous sandwiches. The vibe is unabashedly precious (hipster alert!), and a meal here doesn't come cheaply, but the ingredients are high-quality, and the coffee high-octane.
A venerable Latin dance club that occupies a building that's been, over the years, an American Legion Hall and one of the city's earliest gay discos, Los Globos (3040 Sunset Blvd.) is a sprawling, neon-streaked building on lower Sunset that has a sizable dance floor and and stage on each of its two floors, multiple bars, a big patio, and a fantastic sound system. Anytime you go, you're likely to see a number of queer revelers, either dancing to DJs or live bands. The Sunday night Latin Quarters parties feature meringue, cumbia, and the like, there are comedy nights midweek, and the after-hours Does Your Mama Know blowouts are de rigueur among plenty of gay night owls. Becoming increasingly popular is the new-ish Gay Night at Los Globos, a monthly fete held on second Thursdays.
With its cheerfully garish, sky-blue, retro-fabulous facade and high-ceilinged dining room festooned with hanging Chianti bottles, Palermo (1858 N. Vermont Ave.) feels like the ironic dining compliment to catching a lounge show at the nearby Dresden Room (see above). But this landmark Los Feliz eatery on lively Vermont Avenue is a genuine winner when it comes to delicious red-sauce Italian fare at reasonable prices (check out the amazing wine deals). You'll find all the classics on the extensive menu: fried mozzarella, linguini with clams, chicken piccata, gnocchi with meatballs, pizza - and yes, entrees come with crusty garlic bread and soup or salad. It's a fun, reasonably priced old-school standby in a part of town that can sometimes feel a bit too trendy.
In a grand building that held an iconic Italian bakery for many decades, Rockwell (1714 N. Vermont Ave.) is a Los Feliz landmark that serves a few different purposes (and crowds), depending on when you go and which part of the space you frequent. There's a gorgeous patio that's fun for cocktails as well as daily brunch. The swell-elegant indoor dining room is a favorite spot for gay dates and delicious food (an eclectic, international menu - salad Nicoise, smoked salmon Benedict, braised short ribs, grilled ahi with coconut-lime relish). But what really earns Rockwell raves are the fantastic shows, including rotating shows that feature everything from actor Jeff Goldblum playing jazz piano (he's impressive, if you weren't aware of this talent of his) to theatrical concerts featuring scenes and music from Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Strictly Ballroom, Great Gatsby) movies. Performers in the soundtrack shows including plenty of nationally accomplished Broadway talents.
A long-popular live-music spot on the main Sunset Boulevard commercial drag, Silverlake Lounge (2906 Sunset Blvd.) draws some pretty fun bands and caters to a fairly mixed crowd, depending on the night - there are Latin drag shows on occasion and other events with more of a queer bent. It's a bit of a dive, in the best sense of the genre, serving cheap drinks and charging a low cover.
Occupying a striking 1940s building that had been home to the last of the full-time gay bars along the once uber-queer Hyperion Avenue corridor, MJ's (which is pictured here), stylish and design-minded Tenants of Trees (2810 Hyperion Ave.) is a mid-century-chic handsome, ambitiously redesigned incarnation of this landmark address. And no, it's definitely not an especially gay hangout any longer, but the artsy, hipster crowd certainly includes plenty of LGBT patrons, as is typical throughout Silver Lake. Tenants of Trees comprises three distinct spaces, including an area called Out of Order that features small live concerts, a main bar with both indoor or outside seating, and an outdoor area out back where a rotating roster of food trucks proffers tasty food.