Gay Nightlife 101
Many people visit Las Vegas to experience the nightlife. This city is filled with dozens of glamorous nightclubs that are known throughout the world. Clubbing is becoming an attraction that may surpass gaming as a major source of revenue for the casino hotels. During spring break, hoards of young people pour in from all around the world to party. Any night one can walk the strip and observe dozens of scantily dressed females scurrying off to places like Pure, Jet, Tryst or XS. Men pay hefty cover fees and outrageous bottle service in hopes of getting lucky. Have you ever wondered what happens to the tourists who prefer people of the same gender?
Las Vegas is not known to be a major gay destination like San Francisco or Palm Springs. Card flappers do not have pictures of men in seductive poses with offers to have them to your room in twenty minutes. The strip clubs, which Las Vegas is known for may be a disappointment for the gay traveler, as only a few feature male strippers. Often men are prohibited from even entering the male section of the strip clubs, so there is not much available for the gay tourist in terms of erotic entertainment. Male show revues such as Thunder From Down Under or American Storm may be the epitome of hell as they are full of drunk screaming obnoxious women. These performances are intended for women as the focus is solely on the muscular body of the performer. If the performance was intended for the gay tourist the show would be much more erotic in nature.
During the past few years, the casinos have grown wise to the fact that the gay population is a multi-billion dollar market. Caesars Corporation seems to pride itself on having the Paris hotel as their gay destination, thus advertising in many gay publications such as Out. Although same sex marriage is illegal in Nevada, the Paris hotel offers same-sex commitment ceremonies, as do many other hotels. Perhaps they have grown wise to the fact if a dollar can be made, then do it! MGM seems to be catching onto this trend, as they have a Sunday gay-themed pool party at the Luxor.
Gay bars can be an excellent destination for anyone looking for an enjoyable evening at a great price. Generally, drinks and cover are less expensive at gay bars. If $500 bottle service for a thirty five dollar bottle of Grey Goose sends you running, try Goodtimes’ $150 bottle service. In gay bars there is usually an acceptance attitude, so everyone is welcome, even straight people. Some people may fear objection from patrons for going in to “their bar” and be surprised to find the lack of territorial attitudes. Gay bars generally play dance remixes of top forty hits so it is a nice break from the hip-hop that seems to be present in the mainstream nightclubs.
To understand what makes an excellent gay bar, one must first have an understanding of the different types of gay bars. Like regular or straight bars, the gay community has a series of small communities within itself. First there is the neighborhood bar. These bars usually cater to a middle-aged crowd and offer nothing more than drinks and music playing out of a jukebox. People here come to socialize and play pool. The atmosphere is friendly at these; it is almost what Cheers would be like. Often these bars have certain themed nights, such as western/country.
One trend that gay bars often have is ethnic nights. Sometimes there are bars that are specific to an ethnicity, but more often that not a neighborhood bar will have an ethnic night. The most common one is Hispanic night. All kinds of people come to these to enjoy the salsa music, even though the nights are marketed to the ethnic specific crowd.
Next there is the leather bar. Middle-aged people who are into the leather/fetish scene usually frequent these bars. People who attend usually dress in leather vests, jeans, and work boots. Usually they are burly men, that enjoy meeting up with other people to socialize with and sometimes finding a partner for their desired fetish scene. Young people never attend these, and are often scorned at if they enter, as the leather crowd prefers to have their own kind in their bars. This is perhaps the one exception to the general rule that gay bars are all inclusive.
One of the most common, and often stereotyped gay bar is the dance club. These are often venues that attract the younger (under forty) crowd and serve a plethora of mixed fruity drinks and play dance remixes of top forty songs. These places often have the highest covers, which are not usually very much (around $20) as most gay clubs do not have covers. These places often have live performances by celebrities, such as Lady GaGa who is known to visit Krave in Las Vegas. Getting into these nightclubs follow similar rules as those that JimMorrison discussed in his Nightclubs 101 article.
Finally there is the dive. These places are not dive in the way one could enjoy an evening in a grunge joint on a budget. Sketchy people attend these bars, drug use can be heavy, and it is often a casual encounter meet up spot where people do not take "no" very well. This dive is similar to what one would call the Western Casino, it is a scary dive, not a pleasant dive like El Cortez.
Following this discussion of the different types of gay bars a better understanding of the different gay bars in Las Vegas can be made. One interesting thing is that the majority of the bars are open 24/7. Perhaps in Las Vegas the party never stops, although one is probably going to find themselves alone during off peak hours. In Las Vegas, the gay scene can be divided into three geographical locations: Commercial Center, Paradise Fruit Loop, and miscellaneous.
The Commercial Center is off of Sahara between Paradise and Maryland Parkway. It is a large strip mall that has likely seen better days. It is also home to the famous Thai restaurant Lotus of Siam. In the Commercial Center one can find Badlands Saloon, Spotlight Lounge, and Las Vegas Lounge. Badlands would fall under the neighborhood bar category. Inside it is very dark. There is a pool table, a small dance area, and a midsized bar with bar-top video poker. The best offering was 8/5 Jacks or Better. The bartenders and customers here are very friendly. During a recent visit the bartender was playing pool and told me he would take my order whenever I was ready. This bar is a place where one could go regularly and have a good time while enjoying a break from the big club scene.
Steps away from Badlands Saloon is the Spotlight Lounge. This bar is well lit and has a more homely feel. Unlike the disco balls and glitter that decorate other gay bars, Spotlight has a large bar that is stocked with the lousy Gamblers Bonus machines. Off to the side are some picnic tables topped with the traditional red-checkered cloth. Spotlight Lounge seems like a place to hold regular social meet-ups, make new friends, and enjoy a drama-free environment.
Across from the parking lot is the Las Vegas Lounge. This is on Karen Avenue, but parking is much easier in the Commercial Street lot. The large silhouette of a woman out front may make one question if it really a gay bar. This bar caters to the transgender crowd and those who admire them.
Ultimately, visiting the Commercial Center is somewhat of a double-edged sword. There is a ton of parking, the most famous Thai restaurant in Las Vegas, and an excellent Indian restaurant. Once the sun goes down the area becomes very scary. Generally people say to avoid the Commercial Center at night, so it is a definite enter at your own risk. Since the center has other venues that are not gay, assault, robbery, and auto theft/vandalism are common events. The drinks are always strong and cheap and the people are very friendly so it is a place worth visiting early in the evening.
The Paradise Fruit Loop is known as the main gay part of town in Las Vegas. However, it is somewhat unimpressive. It consists of a strip mall with two bars and a bookstore and across the street is another gay bar. Not much else surrounds the area, as it is largely empty space. This is on Paradise road, heading towards the airport on the part of Paradise that is a one-way street. Coming from the strip one could take Harmon and turn right on Paradise to get to the intersection of Naples and Paradise where all the action is.
The Buffalo Lounge is a small bar containing several pool tables, a dart game, several bar top video poker machines, as well as several stand-alone video poker games. It attempts to be the leather bar of the Fruit Loop, but upon visiting the majority of the clients were middle aged regular people. It is a very no frills environment. Drinks are cheap and service is friendly. Later in the evening many people who are headed to Piranha stop by Buffalo to drink as the prices are so low then head across the street to Piranha to dance.
Piranha/ 8½ is the main venue on the Paradise Fruit Loop. It is open from 10:00PM to usually 6:00AM. Early in the evening only the 8½ lounge is open. The place remains fairly empty until midnight. The place caters to locals with several offerings including: free cover before 12:30, free liquor bust, and two free drinks. To redeem these offers one must show a text message after subscribing to their text list. Sometimes they have Facebook check in offers. However Piranha is dishonest about honoring their offers. Upon visiting October 29, 2011 I attempted to redeem the free liquor bust by showing a Facebook check in to which they replied we are not doing that tonight even though I showed the door person the Facebook post from them earlier in the evening offering that. I then showed a text message displaying an offer for two free drinks by showing the text to which they gave me two coupons for $5 off a drink.
Assuming the free drink was well liquor or domestic beer, I ordered a Cape Cod. Unlike every other gay bar that generously free pours their liquor, the bartender measured out an exact show in a jigger of their cheap no name brand liquor and charged me $7. The price was ridiculous for a well drink for a place not even being on the strip. After inquiring about the text offer from the bar tender I was told that well liquor drinks are now $7. A bottle of domestic beer was $6. It was not the price of the drink that was frustrating; it was the dishonesty of the bar in honoring their advertisements. Although Piranha is perhaps the best gay club in terms of venue off the Strip, their dishonest business practices make a return for this Las Vegas local highly unlikely.
With regards to the miscellaneous category, it is interesting that the gay bars seem to form a trapezoid outlining all the other gay venues in Las Vegas. No matter what part of the city one is in a gay bar is nearby. Catering to the locals, these bars are of the neighborhood style and people are generally on a name-to-name basis with the bartender.
Close to the Orleans Hotel, on Arville, is Charlie’s. This bar is a country western themed bar, but upon visiting the theme did not permeate beyond the architecture of the building. Inside the building the dance floor is designed in the fashion of a horse corral complete with wooden fence. The building was packed, mostly with people in their twenties. A drag queen was hosting a show and the performers seemed to do nothing more than walk around the corral and accept tips from the generous patrons. During a break in the show several people danced, but the majority of the people congregated near the bar area and chatted. Unlike other gay bars, the people here did not seem interested in making new friends and did not engage or respond to small conversation. This is a place to go with friends, but not to make new ones.
Heading north one will arrive at Escape Lounge, which is located near Decatur and Sahara. Other than the large Statue of Liberty that advertises the tax service next door, the nearest landmark is the Palace Station, a five-minute drive. Escape Lounge is a neighborhood no frills bar. Several booths, pool tables, a small dance floor, and a decent sized bar make up the lounge which advertises video poker paying no less than 96%, even though I saw a 6/5 Jacks or Better (95%). Parking here is plentiful. To keep the patrons secure everyone is buzzed in. Two-for-one drinks are the happy hour deal and are available 4:00-7:00 PM. A liquor bust is available Thursday from 11:00PM-3:00 AM for $10. The bartenders and patrons here are all very friendly. The drink pours here are some of the most generous in the city. Upon ordering a Jack and Coke I was charged $7, which seemed a bit steep for a local bar but I was happy to comply. The beverage was presented to me in a beer glass, nearly double the amount of beverage served in an average Jack and Coke. With generous pours, friendly staff, and a fair happy hour deal Escape Lounge is a great place to make new friends.
Heading east on Flamingo perhaps ten minutes from the Strip one will arrive at the Garage. This is an interesting concept for a gay bar. The bar has an automotive repair shop theme. Placards of gasoline and oil companies decorate the wall and bartenders serve patrons in mechanics uniforms. Signature drinks have automotive names such as “transmission fluid.” The bartenders are friendly and drink prices are fair. Having such an interesting theme the bar attracts a unique mix of patrons of various ages and interests. Since there is no glitter, no disco balls, and no drag shows the bar lacks many of the stereotypical elements of a gay bar. Perhaps the men who do not enjoy the typical gay scene enjoy socializing in a more masculine environment.
Far east on Tropicana one will arrive at the Eagle. Many cities have an Eagle, however they are not owned by a parent company. The bar has a dive atmosphere. The bartenders are friendly, the drinks are cheap and the shuffleboard game is fun. One feature the bar has is a separate darkroom. Without getting into too much detail, it is a place on can meet others for very short-term relationships. It is not advertised on their website, and may not even be legal. The space is the store next door and to the unsuspecting person it would be an out of business storefront. This does seem a bit sketchy, but it is available for the interested person. Generally Eagle bars have a leather theme, but the Las Vegas Eagle seemed more like a neighborhood bar.
East on Charleston, next to a power substation, is the Back Door Lounge. Although the address is on Charleston, one must turn on 14th St. to get to it. Perhaps the bar is named the Back Door Lounge because one must use the “back door” (since the entrance is not on Charleston) to get inside. Inside it is similar to many of the other gay bars in Las Vegas. A large bar area is in the center of the building. Several lousy bar top video poker machines that would send an intelligent player running line the bar top. A large dance area is in the back and a pool table is in the front. Visiting at 8:00 PM there were only four other people inside. Since this has been a common occurrence one might wonder how the bars can stay in business. As with many other bars it is a very no frills place and is likely a meet up spot for people who live close, but is not worth going out of ones way to visit.
West on Charleston near Decatur is Flex. When one imagined just how bad a bar could be this spot will give the dumpiest bar a run for its money. One could forgive the rundown building in the tiny dilapidated strip mall. What is unforgivable is the bar was out of most of their liquor and only had a small mixture of bottled beers. Nothing was available on draft. The bartender said someone was going on a liquor run soon. This is suspicious, as establishments use a distributor. One could suspect the person was headed to the grocery store and the patrons would be at the mercy of what was on sale. Another problem for Flex is their bartenders. Unprofessional would be a bit of an understatement. Upon arriving it seemed as if my presence was a nuisance. The bartenders seemed more interested in conversing amongst themselves rather than make money for the establishment or any tips for themselves. With the weak beer offerings (Bud Light was the best they had), an almost nonexistent liquor supply and the lousy bartenders Flex is a location to avoid.
On a more positive note, Freezone near the Fruit Loop is one of the best gay bars in Las Vegas. The dollar happy hour drinks are a steal as they contain very generous pours. The space is huge containing several dance poles that are reserved for performers only. A pizza restaurant is also inside so one can get both food and beverage in the same location. The bartender seemed interested in conversing, telling us about the times when the location is busiest and events that occur. Several gaming machines decorate the top of the bar but offered at best a 7/5 Jacks or Better. Bar gaming seems to have the worst offerings.
The oldest gay bar in Las Vegas is Snicks Place. The bartender told me they have been around for over thirty-five years. Snicks is closer to downtown, right near the area where Las Vegas Boulevard splits into two different directions. The bar is easily recognized by a pink elephant outside the door. The bar is smaller than many of the other ones and parking is more difficult due to a limited amount of street spots. The crowd is mostly middle to older age men. The atmosphere is very relaxed. The bar is well lit and stocked with the usual lousy bar-top video poker machines. The bartender invited me to stay for the nine o’clock liquor bust. Although it was less than ten dollars for all the hard liquor one wishes to drink, I declined as these events are dangerous for drinking too much. Like many other bars the prices are inexpensive and the crowd is friendly. Snicks is worth visiting to enjoy the historical atmosphere of a gay bar than can stay in business for so long.
About five minutes heading east on Flamingo is the Goodtimes bar. This is located in the same shopping center as the old Liberace museum. As mentioned earlier, they have the most inexpensive bottle service I have seen on any nightclub menu. The bar has two sections: a regular bar area and a large dance area that opens later in the evening. Although the bar is open twenty-four hours a day, upon visiting late in the afternoon there were no other patrons in the bar. The bartender spoke of each night having a different theme and suggested I come back later that night for their “goth” party. The bar area of Goodtimes seemed nicer than many other bars and was well lit which is always a plus.
After completing this three-month project of visiting and revisiting the various bars and nightclubs it is my opinion that Krave is the best dance club. With plenty of parking in the Planet Hollywood garage and the entire strip outside the door the location could not be any better for one looking for an evening out. Krave consistently honors all their locals offers and is now focusing on bringing in well-known musicians to perform live on Sundays. For regular bars the Garage is an excellent choice. The atmosphere is so different than the other bars in the city it is nice to get away from the stereotypical disco balls and other shiny objects that many of the other bars decorate with. The absence of a dance area there also is a plus as one can converse without shouting over blaring music.
For the gay traveler in Las Vegas there is an enormous amount of entertainment and nightlife available. The only frustration one might find is the majority of the gay bars are far from the casino/hotels where many people usually stay. The bars on the Fruit Loop are a long walk or a moderately priced cab ride. Visiting any of the other bars would require renting a car or navigating the bus system. The other bars are not marketed to tourists anyway. Las Vegas is an excellent gay destination and the city truly has something for everyone.
Here is a Google Map showing the location of every spot mentioned in this article.
View Las Vegas Gay Bars in a larger map
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