Eric Leven

50 Best/Worst Gay Bars in America

Filed By Eric Leven | July 07, 2008 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: Arizona, best gay bars, gay bars, gay travel, IBT, Logo

My friend John Polly over at Logo Online sent out a massive email asking people from all over the country to lend a hand in helping him compile the best and worst gay bars across all 50 states.

What he came up can be seen here or at the LogoOnline Travel section of the website. Go and check out the bars. It makes for a great travel resource in addition to one hell of a bar crawl. Hmmm..I'm smelling the next possible documentary: "The Nation Wide Gay Bar Crawl."

I listed my favorite bar: IBT's in Tucson, Arizona where I would venture to during my days at The University of Arizona. Funny- my blog pal This Boy Elroy went to U Of Arizona and IBT's but it's too bad we didn't know each other then.

Peep it:

When I think of the "Best Gay Bars," I think of places where anything can happen, where raucous theme nights are the norm, where the locals are crazy and possibly hot, and where fun, unpredictable, bad behavior abounds. So I sent out emails to a lusty batch of travel writers, hard-partying friends and media folks from around the country, asking them... "What are the best gay bars in the U.S.???"

The results are personal, rather than scientific. And the surprising common theme which evolved was the soft-spot people have in their hearts for kistchy, dive-y, messy bars where a sketchy queen might be found lip-synching to Crystal Waters 'til the wee hours. And interestingly, most of the places tend to draw a mix of people: Old and young, rich and not-so-rich, men and women, high-class and trashy, gay and lesbian and trans and then some. After all, the more things get mixed up, the wilder things get, right?

To add a bit of pomp and circumstance, I've got the Top 3 bars picked. They're the ones that more people chimed in about the most. And after the Top 3, read on for a state-by-state round-up of what scored raves from our contributors. And yes, your favorite bar may be left out, so write me at and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks to my esteemed contributors for their input. And Happy Pride, y'all!

IBT's - Tucson, AZ
616 North 4th Avenue, Tucson; tel. 520-882-3053;
Who even knew Tucson was a city let alone had a gay bar? IBT's is where the drags to the bears to the gay cowboys saddle up to the bar and drink everything from beers to IBT's famous Judy Garland special (which honestly, I think is just a vodka-cranberry, but that's "exotic" in Tucson so it deserves a name). A must-see if going to Tucson!
--Eric Leven

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Paris in Decatur - Decatur, GA - This a a very pleasant lesbian nightclub that has a diverse crowd. They are highly accepting of trans people, they have a dance floor and a free pool table.

Ain't Nobody's Bizness (The Biz) - Tucson, AZ.

Tyrion Lannister Tyrion Lannister | July 7, 2008 2:48 PM

IBT's? Really? It was fine, I guess, but given the number of truly amazing bars along 4th Ave corridor (Buffet, Plush, Surly Wench -- though none are gay bars, I guess), I never it gave it much thought or time. I thought Woody's was much more pleasant than IBT's.

However, it is nice to see that Mary's in Atlanta was #1 overall.

I have fond memories of the Biz in Scottsdale, AZ.

I notice that Indiana isn't even listed. Shocker.

Could it be because all of our bars suck? Let me check the Magic 8 Ball...

"My sources say yes."

It was on 36th St and Indian School Rd., at lest it was when I lived there in 1997 to 2000.

Uhhh... Remington's in DC? Seriously?


Worst bar I've ever been to?
The Cage in Cleveland, Ohio. The people and place were right out of a Fellini movie.

tobyhannabill | July 8, 2008 5:19 AM

Unfortunately, the only Pennsylvania bar on the list was The Silhouette Lounge - Scranton, PA. Although it says it is about to re-open it will not.

I'm just not seeing it... These days, it seems more straight people are dancing on the patio to awful top 40 than the GLBT crowd, and the only time drag queens are around it seems are the drag shows. The main dance floor is nearly deserted even on the weekends.

Worst Gay Bar in Human History: The Kirkwood Bar in Bloomington, Indiana circa 1975.

Finally, Bilerico readers, I have an excuse to tell my story, which I affectionately call, "Who's Afraid of The Kirkwood Bar?" and which is every bit as surreal as a Fellini movie.

Donnie Joe, God rest his soul, was the owner of a redneck country and western straight bar called The Kirkwood. In his fifties, Donnie Joe decided he was gay, and that his bar should be gay. For about a year or two, the straight rednecks who had hung out at The Kirkwood for decades clashed with the new clientèle, mostly young gay students from the Indiana University campus across town, some of whom were drag queens. (Bloomington had no other gay bar at the time.) Many a fight ensued, and it wasn't unusual for a beer bottle to get smashed against the counter and an opponent threatened with the sharded bottle's neck.

In summer 1975 playwright Edward Albee came to Bloomington and gave a lecture open to all students. Afterward he reclused to his hotel room at the student center, but a number of gay guys kept calling up to his room nagging him to go out on the town with them. There was no mistaking that they each fantasized that Mr. Albee would be his next sexual conquest, and they were deaf to my urgings that they should just let Mr. Albee get his rest. (It occurred to me how the developing events of the evening made a particular story in the 19th chapter of Genesis all the more believable.) I hung around watching what would happen ... kind of fascinated at all this, appalled at their raw nerve, like watching a train wreck, and wondering whether I might have to play the part of Lot, eventually rescuing the angel from a sex-crazed mob.

But I should have been confident that a seasoned New Yorker like Albee could take care of himself. After countless phone calls (I have no idea why he didn't take his phone off the hook), about half past midnight Mr. Albee emerged from the hotel elevator, and the men started insisting that the entire entourage walk across town to the Kirkwood Bar. I was the only one with a car, so I offered it up, and they all piled in to my '72 brown Plymouth Duster. Mr. Albee took his tie off and left it on the dashboard.

At the Kirkwood Bar, we served our famous guest a complimentary beer, and the guys all cruised the hell out of him. As I observed from across the room, I remember from time to time Albee's tight little smile would flash across his face, and then just as quickly disappear ... as if someone were turning a switch on and off, and just as it did during his lecture earlier that evening in the huge campus auditorium.

Someone had written "Surrender Dorothy" in large black painted letters on the back wall of the bar, and in a separate booth my friends and I joked whether this bar and this inscription might someday appear in one of Mr. Albee's future plays. (Of course, it never did.) After about an hour, I was informed that the only present winner of the Pulitzer Prize was ready to return to his hotel.

We all piled back in my car, and at the hotel, everyone except me piled back out. I handed Mr. Albee his tie. It was obvious that the assortment of determined gay men were stubbornly undaunted and still attempting to out-cruise each other. Luckily the hotel has a curfew, and only registered hotel guests are allowed in after 2 AM --- and I pointed this out to Mr. Albee before driving away, anticipating that he might find that regulation of advantageous use in persuading his small troupe of relentless wannabee star-fucking admirers to give up and go home.

FYI ... the man you refer to as Donny Joe was actually Donny Ellington was a long time family friend. My dad, Bob Aynes and Donny were co-owners of The Kirkwood. My dad was not a red neck BUT he was in business for a while before he realized his best friend and business partner was gay. My mother who worked in the bar tells a story about a customer asking her “Is everyone in here gay?” and her response was “I sure hope everyone is having a good time.” My dad had a hard time accepting that his best friend was gay and the bar of his dreams was a gay bar. He eventually sold out to Donny and opened the OK Corral in Terre Haute. But his friendship was very important and they were very close until Donny’s death. Donny was even at my birth. Bob and Donny were fierce partiers and my dad’s alcoholism killed him at a young age. I was only 13 when he died. I’m interested in any stories and pictures of 1975 at the Kirkwood bar.


When it comes to the west coast of the US, this is the one that'll make you slap yourself in the forehead to ask yourself WHY? Why did I spend my money in this place, its ridiculous. The facade is totally without any sort of climax. You walk in, and it looks promising. But then you find there really is nothing to do. There is no other bar or restaurant around it, because it sits alone on the side of some railroad tracks. Its like being stuck on a halfway deserted gay island with nowhere to go. The tables and chairs are for the "clicks" alone. The music is jammin, but no on e is dancin. The drinks are plentiful, but expensive for a nothing place. That's because hardly anyone ever goes out there. Its painful just to write about it.