5 Essential LGBT Bars
'You don’t have to travel far to find a great LGBT bar in San Francisco. From young, hip lesbian bars to old gay theater hangouts to kinky leather bars, the City by the Bay has LGBT bars for every persuasion. If you’re only in town for a night or a weekend, here are the five must-visit San Francisco LGBT bars. And because the city’s just 7x7 square miles, you can see them all in a night — a long, fun night.
The Cinch (1723 Polk St.)
Polk Street is San Francisco’s original gay district. The first Gay Pride in the country marched, danced and sashayed its way down this street. Little of the LGBT nightlife remains, save The Cinch. This leather bar has been a San Francisco standard since the gay hustler days of the 1970s, and it still remains one of the city’s quintessential gay bars. Walk through the swinging saloon doors, grab a stiff drink, and spend some time perusing their wall of historic photos and one infamous painting. You’ll know it when you see it.
El Rio (3158 Mission St.)
San Francisco lesbians don’t have very many watering holes to call their own. Luckily they don’t need many; they have The El Rio. El Rio is the go-to bar for in- and out-of-town lesbians and the center of SF’s lesbian scene. Always free and usually packed, this Mission District bar is a must-visit for any ladies’ night out during the first Saturday of the month when Hard French, the monthly soul dance party happens. Ask any of the locals for recommendations on the lesbian after-party, or just follow the crowd — everybody starts their night out at El Rio.
The Lookout (3600 16th St.)
No tour of San Francisco’s LGBT bars would be complete without a visit to The Lookout. Most nights this upstairs Castro District spot is filled to the brim with sexy partygoers. But it’s on sunny days that The Lookout becomes the real go-to spot in the city. The large, outdoor deck is perfect for sipping Bloody Mary’s while taking in the all of the “sights” worth seeing.
QBar (456 Castro St.)
Situated in the heart of the Castro, QBar is truly at the center of San Francisco’s LGBT nightlife. But it’s not just its location that brings the girls and boys to the bar. QBar boasts an impressive lineup of LGBT events throughout the week. Swing by on a Wednesday for drag queen Juanita MORE!’s popular party, Booty Call. Or stroll in on a Tuesday for the lesbian night, 13 Licks. And even if there isn’t a special club night, the front patio offers great viewing of the Castro scene (read: good looking partygoers and the occasional nudist).
Aunt Charlie’s Lounge (133 Turk St.)
Definitely not for the faint of heart, this long-standing Tenderloin District hole-in-the-wall specializes in strong, cheap drinks and legendary drag shows. Drop in on disco-gem dance parties hosted by DJ Bus Station John every Thursday, but don’t get caught looking at your cell phone. If it’s Friday or Saturday, be sure to arm yourself with plenty of dollar bills for the Hot Boxx Girls’ shows. This little spot gets full fast, so reservations are recommended if you want to ensure a spot inside.