The Northwest Guide to Gay Bars and Nightlife in Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and Victoria
The giant paw print at the door and video monitors with rotating pictures of buff nude men hint at this Capitol Hill standby’s expected clientele, though all are welcome, regardless of age or amount of body hair. Exposed wood and wiring create a decidedly dive-y feel, and a faux alley gives the impression of stepping outside while still being able to peek in at the busy bar area.
One of the few Seattle gay bars outside the Capitol Hill district, this long-running casual bar is in colorful Wallingford, fairly close to some other fun northern neighborhoods like Fremont, the University District, and Green Lake. It’s a mellow lounge with a good jukebox, karaoke nights, potent and fair-priced drinks, and a covered patio.
Beneath festive Asian lanterns and a paper dragon large enough to ingest a family, this midsize venue hosts a spectrum of local and touring acts. Weekly dance parties pulse to appealingly obscure beats, especially the last Friday of every month at Comeback, a gay dance extravaganza that summons many of Seattle’s less scene-driven queers out of the woodwork.
This friendly, relatively new neighborhood bar opened with the aim of luring bears, cubs, and their admirers but actually welcomes a quite diverse mix of Capitol Hill folks, both for drinking and dining. (There’s a nice menu of well-prepared pub victuals.) It’s a cheery place to watch music vids, and the outgoing bartenders are good fun.
This low-key neighborhood retreat acts as a second living room for gay sports fans, becoming especially boisterous on game days. With dive-y tendencies, the bar hosts weekly darts and pool tournaments and trivia and poker games. The self-service jukebox blares everything from Beyoncé to Patsy Cline.
One of Seattle’s largest, longest-running, and most popular nightclubs, this pulsing club attracts revelers from every background for nightly events that range from “Dirty Pop” Thursdays featuring top local DJs to “Hot Flash,” a dance party for seasoned lesbians. Seattle’s only 18-plus gay dance venue, this circuit-style club is open to under-agers on Wednesdays and after the liquor stops flowing at 2 a.m. on weekends. (It stays open until 4.)
Old-school porn, a great patio, and a remarkably eclectic crowd blend happily at this hip little boîte set in a converted gas station. The vibe here is meant to evoke the “great West Village and Castro bars of the 1970s,” and music tends toward vintage punk, disco, and New Wave. Expect a friendly, eclectic, somewhat youthful crowd.
More than a dozen flat screens broadcast music videos all night at this centrally located lounge. The main floor gets crowded on weekends, but two sections with plush couches offer a homey respite. Amateurs polish their vocal talents at popular karaoke nights on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Seattle stepped into the international clubbing arena with the 2012 opening of this glitzy, 12,000-square-foot dance pad in the heart of Capitol Hill. The former auto garage is now lubricating late-night revelers, Wednesday through Sunday. A mixed crowd of gays and straights sweats the night away to up-tempo dance music in a refreshingly design-driven, cosmopolitan setting. A long, winding hallway funnels patrons directly toward a wide, curvy island bar, which leads to the dance floor. Adjacent to that is a sleek yet intimate bourbon bar stocking an extensive selection of rare bottles. You can catch your breath in the plush upstairs lounge, which partly overlooks the action below, offering a prime vantage point for filling your dance card
This beloved venue for debauched, potent drink–fueled dancing comprises two levels for mingling and pub games and a third for dancing and amateur strip shows. Barely dressed go-go boys work the dance floor. The best night: Fridays, which kick off with fabulous drag shows. Get your hand stamped before 9 p.m. to avoid the line and cover charge.
While the monthly last-Saturday party Cherry draws many lesbians to this dimly lit, well-worn, industrial space, gays, straights, and everyone in between show up on other nights for everything from cabarets and plays to poetry slams and house hoedowns. Check in advance what’s on—it could be anything from Fagtastic parties to the World Extreme Pencil Fighting Championships.
A dark, rambling leather-and-bear bar conveniently located near Lower Capitol Hill’s gay bathhouses, the Eagle has more bark than bite—the gruff-looking, chaps-wearing dudes in this dive-y bar with blacked-out windows and vintage gay porn playing on the video screens are typically quite friendly. Leather and uniforms are encouraged but not required.
A longtime favorite of leather daddies, motorcycle dudes, and rugged bears, this bilevel gay club has evolved over the years to cultivate a more diverse following, from college kids to dance-loving lesbians. But you can still count on potent drinks, a come-as-you-are sensibility, and a super-friendly staff. Head for the basement to cut loose on the dance floor, or stay upstairs to shoot pool, play pinball, or chat.
Bright and cheery, this sports bar is known locally as the “gay Cheers.” Complete with sassy bartenders, the space is designed for mingling and cultivating new friendships. Good-looking men congregate around the bar, quaffing beer from frosted mugs and watching Sounders and Mariners games on TV.
The Lobby Barnotapplicable
This snazzy lounge bar suggests a neogothic hotel lobby, with black chandeliers, paisley chairs, and dimly lit booths. Two staircases, which double as stages during frequent drag shows, lead up to a balustraded mezzanine with dozens of cocktail tables. Weekly events include Tuesday trivia nights and Monday-night RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties.
Social Seattle’s already vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood got a bit more fabulous in May 2012 when this much-anticipated, 12,000-square-foot nightclub opened to appreciative crowds, right beside C.C. Attle’s. The slick, smartly designed lounge and gay club occupies two floors and contains multiple bar areas, plus a breezy outdoor space, and an impressive roster of talented DJs is keeping the masses moving and shaking into the wee hours.
Wild Rose Tavernnotapplicable
A stalwart on Capitol Hill since before many of its boisterous regulars first contemplated their first girl crush, the Wild Rose remains the Northwest’s premier lesbian bar. Depending on the night, drag-king shows, live bands, DJs, or karaoke crooners take to the tiny stage to entertain an eclectic crowd in the cavernous side room. Expect a long line to the Rose’s legendary washrooms, which are way too small for the sorts of shenanigans that go on in there.Back to Top
Location: 3356 SE Belmont St., Portland Get Directions
Phone Number: 503-235-6041
On the increasingly trendy Belmont strip, this laid-back, eclectic boite draws an eclectic crowd every night and glows an especially florid shade of pink on Sundays. Grab a seat at the long bar and enjoy a selection from the well-chosen list of wine, beer, and fancy cocktails. There’s a lovely patio out back, too.
The top gay Portland dance club was actually two distinct spaces in one before Red Cap Garage closed in summer 2011. Now the complex consists of one main dance club, Boxxes, a bright and attractive space with numerous video screens, lots of cocktail tables, and a small dance floor. A short hallway connects the club to a popular seafood restaurant, the Fish Grotto, that’s a fun spot for noshing before partying. A variety of weekly events—karaoke, Latin Night—ensure sizable crowds.
Location: 320 SE Second Ave., Portland Get Directions
Phone Number: 503-234-5683
Portland’s delightfully notorious queer party Blow Pony convenes the fourth Saturday of every month at the adjoining Branx and Rotture clubs, in the hipster-haunted Central Eastside. These sweaty, cruise-y, gender-bending soirees draw hundreds and frequently feature celeb guest DJs, like Hedwig’s John Cameron Mitchell. Other nights, this complex hosts live bands and other dance parties, most with a sizable LGBT following.
This low-key “gayborhood” bar is an ideal stop between the city’s two main gay-bar hubs, Stark Street and Old Town. Cheap drinks, super-nice bartenders, and a diverse crowd of men and women make this a great little place to chill. Note the many amusements: pool, darts, Nintendo Wii—there’s even a shuffleboard table.
As one of Portland’s longest-standing gay nightclubs, CC’s pulls in a steady mix of regulars and tourists of all stripes. Great drag shows, top DJs, great drink specials, and fun theme nights, including the new Fetish Fridays party led by talented DJ Jakob Jay, which has quickly become a weekly tradition with a spirited, eclectic crowd. The adjacent Rainbow Room lounge offers a classy, conversation-friendly ambience.
This convivial neighborhood bar and restaurant near the gay-popular Belmont and Hawthorne ’hoods attracts a mixed, younger crowd with its diverse menu of tasty American fare; notable selection of wine, beer, and cocktails; and appealing alternative music not typically heard in other gay bars. It’s ideal if you’d rather avoid the downtown stand-and-model scene but still wish to meet cute, friendly lesbians and gay guys.
The queen of her own court of drag divas, the iconic Darcelle XV entertains legions of fans Wednesday through Saturday nights at this legendary Old Town cabaret. The kitschy palace of fun hosts the longest-running female impersonator show west of the Mississippi. Beware the random bridal party stumbling in here to get tipsy and tippy late at night, when the club presents all-male strip shows.
Dig a Ponynotapplicable
Named after a Beatles song written by John Lennon to his future wife, Yoko Ono, this modishly vintage lounge is anchored by a gorgeous rope-and-wood horseshoe bar and known for its urbane drinks, like the smooth-as-silk Sam Isaacs (bourbon, mint, lime, and blackberry). If it gets too noisy inside, opt for a seat at one of the picnic tables on the sidewalk. The creative food here is first-rate, with an emphasis on veggie items.
This hirsute hangout in North Portland—where gay porn plays in high-def on multiple big-screen TVs—is a fine place to mingle with ursine Oregonians. The fun-loving and civic-minded Oregon Bears club often holds cookouts and cake walks. With video poker, an outdoor deck, and a “Naked Pool, Always Welcome” sign in the bar, it’s anyone’s guess how much the bears at this den of decadence will bare on any given night.
Since the early ’70s, this large club in Old Town has been a fixture of Portland’s LGBT community. These days, it seldom draws the big crowds you see at Boxxes or CC’s, but that’s actually one reason fans like it—it’s a low-keyed, friendly, and affordable option catering to an eclectic, all-ages crowd. The space is divided into the Avenue dance bar in back, which opens only at night, and the Embers show bar, a cozier spot with a pool table, a long bar (a fish tank is built into it!), and a show stage. Friday drag shows with Adrienne Alexander, “the largest white woman in captivity,” are a lot of fun, as are Saturdays with Onyx Lynn.
As LGBT hangouts go, and to be sure, this North Portland neighborhood joint is completely mixed, Foggy Notion is refreshingly different from many of the usual suspects. It’s in an up-and-coming neighborhood well outside of downtown, it has four awesome old-school pinball machines, and it actively welcomes the city’s queer tattooed contingent. (There’s even a “show your ink” 2-for-1 Tuesday night drinks special.) Check out the interesting bar-food menu if you’re feeling peckish.
Amid the industrial environs of this eastside club just across the river from downtown, you’ll encounter a playful mix of DJ dance parties, arty indie bands, movie screenings, and myriad fundraising events. The major LGBT party on Holocene’s eclectic calendar is Gaycation, the third Saturday of every month, but every evening you’re apt to encounter a significant queer quotient.
This aptly named Northeast neighborhood watering hole, where it seems everybody wants to know your name, is the kind of place that makes you feel as welcome in a pair of sweats as you might in just a pair of high heels and pasties. There’s a good drink list, and the kitchen turns out tasty food as well.
This friendly, homey video bar with one of the most popular pool tables of any gay bar in town draws a mostly male crowd of all ages and styles, and is especially appreciated for its stretch of sidewalk seating along colorful Stark Street. The bartenders are welcoming, there’s a fun jukebox, and Tuesday’s karaoke nights are a big hit. It’s next door to the très-gay late-night greasy spoon, the Roxy Diner.
This venerable show bar is famous for its stable of randy male dancers, most of whom strip down to nearly nothing, save maybe a pair of socks, and aren’t shy about cavorting with patrons. The boys in the buff are only part of the draw at this favorite haunt of locals and tourists: drinks are strong and fairly affordable, and the cozy patio connecting the club’s two main sections is a lovely spot to cruise gays and stargaze.
Set inside a vintage dairy building with the grill of a truck forming part of its facade, this endearing slice of retro-’70s nostalgia is a remnant of North Portland’s Albina District, which was significantly paved over in the 1960s to make way for Interstate 5. Hipsters, gays, and old-time locals stop in to this trucker-themed boite for the good selection of drinks, tasty bar food, live bands, and such offbeat events as Goth Bingo. It’s within walking distance of several other fun hangouts on Russell Street (Toro Bravo tapas restaurant, the Wonder Ballroom, Russell Street Bar-B-Que).
Location: 2913 SE Stark St., Portland Get Directions
Phone Number: 503-230-7980
An old-school gay favorite, this neighborhood spot in Southeast is cozy and candlelit, with a lush patio and a kitchen serving reliably good pub fare as well as a well-attended brunch on Sundays. This crowd is eclectic, a mix of gays and straights of all ages, from longtime locals to young hipsters. Held the last Sunday of every month, Stark Raving Queens is a wonderfully campy drag variety and dinner show.
Tiger Lily (Vancouver, WA)notapplicable
In Portland’s cross-the-Columbia neighbor to the north, this attractive downtown restaurant with a thatched-roof Tiki bar is Vancouver’s only LGBT nightspot, offering up live music, drag shows, and pretty tasty comfort food (huge burgers, “Reuben-esk” pastrami sandwiches, Caesar salads). It’s right in the city’s compact but increasingly charming downtown, just a 10- to 15-minute drive from the many chain hotels near Portland International Airport.
Vault Martini Barnotapplicable
Location: 226 NW 12th Ave., Portland Get Directions
Phone Number: 503-224-4909
In the heart of the trendy Pearl District, Vault attracts a sophisticated, mixed gay/straight bunch with its high-end design and impressive selection of swanky cocktails. The talented mixologists make martinis suitable for any mood, from savory versions to chocolate-y elixirs. The 18-foot ice-glass bar and cozy fireplace are nods to Vault’s vaguely Tsarist-Russia theme.Back to Top
In a perfect world, all trendy gay lounges would resemble this one. Set conveniently along the Davie bar strip, 1181 is sleek and modern, teems with hot guys, spins great tunes, and serves well-crafted cocktails, all without a cover charge or any sense of pretention. Top local DJs spin Thursdays and weekends, and there’s a Backdoor Tea Dance the last Sunday of every month.
A fantastic sound system, stiff—although pricey—drinks, and talented DJs pack hot (as in attractive and sweaty) crowds into this long-running dance club. On Thursday and Saturday nights, Vancouver’s beautiful boys make a beeline for this formerly all-gay venue. The rest of the week is considerably straighter. Regulars know to get hand stamps when the club opens at 9, return to other Davie drinking holes, and then sail back in, past the seemingly interminable lines that build after 11.
One of Vancouver’s largest dance venues, downtown’s Five Sixty is always LGBT-friendly. But in 2012, the club launched a full-on-queer dance party, PONI, that’s held on certain Saturdays and has quickly become a hit. Helmed by local homo celeb (and DJ) Adam Dreaddy, PONI brings in other DJs from around the world to spice up the action. The Five Sixty venue has three dance floors, multiple bars, and a fairly ingenious indoor queuing area at the door, which is much appreciated on wet nights.
Among Davie gay bars, the Fountainhead stands out as a classy, relaxed place with music at conversation-friendly levels, a lovely heated patio, and reliably good bar food—from burgers and salads to wings and nachos, plus tasty brunch fare on the weekends. The crowd is eclectic, often with as many women as men, and the easygoing vibe makes this a good spot to knock back a couple of attractively priced beers before clubbing across the street at Numbers or Celebrities.
Equal parts pool hall, karaoke dive, and down-to-earth dance club, Numbers caters to a staunchly gay, mostly male crowd seven days a week, sticking to a straightforward menu of Top 40 tunes and cheesy classics. Regulars demonstrate their dexterity with pool and darts earlier in the evening. The compact dance floor gets crammed after midnight. Hit the ATM first—it’s cash only.
The focal points of this second-floor cocktail lounge and show bar are a well-used baby grand piano and an extensive martini list—200 and counting. Live jazz and show tunes star on weeknights. On Saturday nights, the BPM increases as house DJs get the cheerful crowd going. Unisex bathrooms sometimes surprise first-time visitors.
One of the sexiest gay bars in Vancouver—that is, if you like buff, tattooed men—Pumpjack Pub is dark, a little run-down, and quite cruise-y. (What good leather bar isn’t?) With no cover and cheap drinks, this is a great place to start your evening or end it, depending on what you’re into. The laid-back atmosphere makes it easy for anyone to feel comfortable, whatever your style of dress. Don’t miss the Sunday keggers.
Davie Village’s inviting sports bar is plastered with TVs airing big games and has a wonderfully flirty and festive heated sidewalk patio out front. Popular with a crowd of 20- and 30-something gays and straights, Score kicks things off early. Don’t miss Sunday’s hearty $5 breakfasts, where chorizo bennys and huevos rancheros are featured alongside mimosas and martinis, while NFL games air on TV.
Straddling southeast downtown and southwest Strathcona, the Cobalt is a former den of punk-rock abandon that’s been spruced up of late just enough to make it nice, but (thankfully) not to the point of obliterating its former dive ambience. A hip and friendly crowd, spanning genders and orientations, shows up—don’t miss the regular queer events, like the drag-king party Man Up, the homo hip-hop night Hustla, and weekly dragstravaganza Apocalypstick. Bonus for wizards: free pinball on Tuesdays.
Sometimes super-fun, other nights a bit quiet, this midsize gay dance club stands in the heart of the Davie bar strip. It seems finally to be finding its footing, thanks to some fun theme events: Friday-night dance parties featuring buffed go-go dancers, “Absolutly Dragulous” Saturdays, and monthly Fiesta Latino fêtes on first Thursdays.Back to Top
This conversation-friendly bar on the mezzanine level of the Bedford Regency Hotel (also home to the more mixed Garrick’s Head Pub) is just a block from bustling Bastion Square. Drawing a mostly LGBT but quite mixed crowd, it’s a nice place for happy hour or schmoozing before you hit the dance floor at nearby Paparazzi later in the evening. Diversions include pool, a fireplace, huge video monitors, and an impressive list of microbrews, ciders, and BC wines.
Victoria’s largest gay nightclub, this high-energy downtown dance club occupies a large basement space beneath the Best Western Plus Carlton Plaza and Stone’s Throw restaurant, which provides food service to patrons at Paparazzi. DJs and weekend dance parties have fun themes, including popular Circuit Saturdays. The Monday karaoke nights are always a hit, and the side lounge is a more relaxed spot for shooting pool and conversing.Back to Top