Gay Country Rank: 23/50
The LGBTQ nightlife scene has long been the epicenter of culture, community, and camaraderie, especially so in Austin. Gay bars provide safe spaces for queer and trans people to escape and unwind from the pressures of everyday lives, which are constantly threatened by any number of debilitating forces. Sometimes, people just need someplace to dance and drown out all the foolishness.
Thankfully, Austin is abundant with such queer-friendly places as Oilcan Harry’s, which has been in place for decades, or the Iron Bear, which caters to a specific gay audience while remaining open to all. There’s the Fourth Street bar district, which is highly concentrated in rainbow flag-flying establishments, or more spread out hubs like Cheer Up Charlies, where LGBTQ people are not only welcome but centered.
And while a lot of these spaces are at risk of disappearing, they are here now, so if you want to go to a drag show, sing some karaoke, have a cocktail, or dance in a place where you can be yourself, there’s a bar, club, or venue for everyone.
Cheer Up Charlies
Queer dance parties, drag shows, live entertainment, and ballroom culture are at the center of the lively scene at the downtown nightclub and bar. It offers organic juice cocktails and kombucha on tap, and has a spacious patio perfect for social occasions and mingling.
The Iron Bear
Austin’s premier bear bar the Iron Bear moved to its current location on West Sixth Street in 2019, and since, the business has offered a food menu featuring smash burgers, hot dogs, and more. On the first Sunday of the month, the bar offers a bear-friendly brunch from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
More of a goth nightclub than a traditional gay bar, Elysium is a welcoming spot for all sorts of lifestyles. Karaoke, DJ nights, burlesque performances, and frequent drag shows keep this bar’s nightlife calendar booked and busy.
Because Swan Dive shares an outdoor space with adjacent Barbarella, the latter’s TuezGayz crowd (see below) often spills over, filling both bars with LGBTQ patrons and friends. Furthermore, the downtown bar features its own queer-oriented programming, including vogue nights, drag performances, dance parties, and queer comedy open mics.
One of the hottest dance parties in town is Barbarella’s TuezGayz, which has taken place at the Red River video bar since 2010. The Tuesday club nights are often themed after various pop singers, including Ariana Grande, Robyn, and Charli XCX.
Size does matter at Highland Lounge, one of Austin’s largest LGBTQ nightclubs. With multiple levels, a huge dance floor, and tons of colorful lights, Highland is a great place to watch a drag show and dance till the wee hours.
Fourth & Co.
Restaurant and bar Fourth & Co.’s main attractions are drag brunch and drag bingo, both of which happen multiple times a month. The daily kitchen menu includes shareable plates like fried pickles and loaded fries as well as casual entrees like burgers and hot dogs. Fourth & Co. also has a large selection of specialty cocktails like its pornstar martini, which has Absolut Vanilia vodka, passion fruit liqueur, lime juice, simple syrup, and a sidecar of bubbles.
Rain on 4th
Whether it’s scantily clad go-go dancers or drag queens working the floor during a lip sync performance, Rain on 4th has loads of nightly entertainment. The club holds frequent amateaur strip-off competitions for brave fellows who want to strut their own stuff, but it’s just as fun to enjoy the show from the audience with a drink in hand.
Austin’s longest running LGBTQ venue, Oilcan Harry’s has a reputation synonymous with queer entertainment. For over 30 years, the nightclub has hosted countless dance parties and performances from drag royalty and budding drag stars.
With its Instagram-worthy decor and exciting rooftop view, Neon Grotto is an aesthetically pleasing dance party-palooza. With tons of rotating DJs changing up the mix, the sounds are just as fresh as the drinks at this bar, which also hosts drag talent and karaoke nights.
Like sister bars Barbarella and Swan Dive, Coconut Club shares much of its dedicated bar-going audience with its neighbor Neon Grotto. Together, the two Colorado Street establishments have garnered near-cult following status with strong visuals and a seemingly endless supply of quality DJ sets.
Hen House Basement
This EDM-heavy nightclub is very queer-friendly and offers a menu of fruity cocktails with women’s names, including the Solana, which consists of mezcal, green chartreuse, maraschino cherry liqueur, and lime. The overall vibe is very blacklight rave, so lots of dancing is also on the menu.
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