Vancouver would not be the same laidback, anything-goes city without its beloved LGBTQ+ population. This metropolis on the West Coast of Canada is a haven for queers of all kind. They flock to the rainbow-painted crosswalks that have become fixtures and photo opps on Davie Street. They are beckoned by the bubblegum-pink bus stops and neon-lit gay bars serving up umbrella-topped drinks. This West End 'hood is the most colorful thing in Vancouver—even the tables and chairs that line the sidewalk have been bathed in pastels.
On the other side of Vancouver, Commercial Drive—to locals, just "The Drive"—is becoming a major runner-up for the gayest vibes in town. This hip, bohemian hamlet is popular with the lesbian crowd, specifically, and is not nearly as touristy as Davie Village. It even has its very own pride festival, dubbed East Side Pride and recognized by the official Vancouver Pride Society, that's separate from the main Vancouver Pride Parade and Festival held at Sunset Beach. Nightlife is, of course, a key player in Vancouver's rich and prolific pride. There's certainly no shortage of day-drinking establishments, cocktail lounges, and rowdy clubs boasting gay vibes.
There's nothing like drinking an ice-cold beer on the patio of some chilled-out bar on a hot afternoon in Vancouver (rare as they may be). Davie Street has some of the best watering holes for summertime day drinking and people watching. At night, many of them slide their high-tops to the side to make room for a dance floor (naturally). Don't miss:
- Score on Davie: Vancouver's only gay sports bar, Score caters to all those who love to watch the Canucks and other Vancouver teams play on the big screens while noshing on greasy pub fare.
- Pumpjack Pub: A casual pub, Pumpjack is best known for its weekday leather and bear clientele. Weekends attract a more mixed crowd. If you don't mind sharing personal space with a ton of people, then check out the hugely-popular Sunday-afternoon keggers.
- The Fountainhead Pub: Welcoming to a wide range of queer people, The Fountainhead serves up traditional pub fare in a tongue-in-cheek atmosphere (check out the painting of big genitals scattered amongst the pool tables and dart boards). It's a great (adults-only) place for Sunday brunch.
- Junction: Monopolizing Davie Street entertainment with drag shows (and stripteases and comedy) every night of the week. Don't expect much from the bar menu.
- 1181 Lounge: Pronounced "eleven eighty one," 1181 is a sleek and sophisticated city bar where the local young professionals come for weekday happy hours and RuPaul's Drag Race viewing parties. There's a drag show on Sundays, too.
The most famous and largest gay club in Vancouver is Celebrities, a hot spot for dancing, shows, and (relatively) cheap drinks. The crowd here is mixed, but the focus remains on its gay and lesbian clientele. As the name suggests, big-name celebrities drop in from time to time, so keep your eyes peeled for sightings of RuPaul and Boy George. Another gay nightclub that's become an institution is Numbers Cabaret, offering a wide variety of dance and DJs seven nights a week. It's also one of the more notorious cruising spots for men, so be prepared to get ogled at this flirty "meat market."
After spending a few hours on the dance floor at Numbers, you'll be jonesing for 3 a.m. poutine and thanks to all the late-night eateries on Davie Street—the street that truly never sleeps—you certainly will not go hungry. After a night out, head to:
- La Belle Patate: For when you want poutine and you want it now. This no-frills Davie Street fast food joint serves Canada's signature fry-and-gravy specialty along with smoked meats, hot dogs, and other guilty indulgences.
- Fritz: Do not make the mistake of ordering "fries" at this Euro-inspired quick-serve shop. Get your "fritz" topped with just about anything until 4 a.m.
- Donair Dude: Every nightlife hub has an obligatory late-night kebab shop. Donair Dude is Davie Street's and it's open until 3:30 a.m.
- Breka Bakery: There's nothing like a 24-hour bakery to satisfy your sweet tooth after too many whisky sours (or for the nights when you're plagued by insomnia).
- Fire Pizza: Not in Davie Village? No problem. Commercial Drive has plenty late-night fare to choose from, including this popular, unfussy pizza parlor (with super creative toppings to offer) that's open until 4 a.m.
Events & Festivals
If you want to plan your trip to Vancouver around a gay-friendly festival or event, there are plenty to choose from, the biggest being Vancouver Pride, of course. The city's main pride festival takes place in late July or early August at the gay-popular Sunset Beach (just down the hill from Davie Street, appropriately). It's been running since '78 and continues to get bigger year after year—more than 700,000 people come out to watch the parade, alone. The east side, where Commercial Drive is, has a pride event of its own. East Side Pride takes place in June at Grandview Park. It's slightly smaller and a little more bohemian than the big one, but it has plenty in the way of music, food, drag, and more.
Vancouver is home to the longest consecutively-running men's fetish event in North America: RUBBOUT. Every March, men congregate here to geek out over rubber and fetish gear. Also in March is the Coronation Ball, held by the Mother Court of Canada (a legal system for the drag community), to celebrate the crowning of a new set of Monarchs. June marks the annual STRUT walk-a-thon to benefit the Foundation of Hope's LGBTQ+ efforts and August marks the Vancouver Queer Film Festival (the largest queer arts event in Western Canada). Lastly, be sure to check Flygirl Productions' event calendar for ladies' queer dance parties and more.
Tips for Going Out in Vancouver
- There are 30 Travel Alternatives Group (TAG)-approved hotels around Vancouver, including Sandman Suites on Davie Street, The Fairmont Downtown, and Loden Hotel in Coal Harbour (on the scenic waterfront).
- In addition to bars and clubs, there are a couple gay saunas (better known as bathhouses) about: F212 Steam and Steamworks Baths Vancouver, both open 24 hours a day and near Davie Street.
- Don't forget to tip your bartender—18 to 20 percent is the norm for Canada.
- Bars in Vancouver are required to stop serving alcohol at 3 a.m., but many close at 2 a.m. on weekends and as early as midnight or 1 a.m. on weeknights.
- For more events happening throughout the year, check the calendar on Gayvan.com, the Davie Village Post, or What's On Queer BC.