You and your friends are making plans for this weekend, when an idea hits. Why not go to a gay bar? You’ve never been before, and not everyone in the group is queer, but they’re all supportive allies. You settle the plans with your group and everyone is excitedly getting ready. But you want to make sure you’re prepared—after all, it is your first time. This is our guide to going to a gay bar for beginners who don’t know exactly what to expect.
1. You can go just to make friends
You don’t have to be on the lookout for a new significant other to go to a gay or lesbian bar. You can go just to make friends.
Bailey Winter, a senior at Columbia University, says that she’s met a few friends at events held at the gay bar she usually goes to. “I’ve talked to people at drag shows, and Halloween parties,” she says. “I’ve also met queer people on campus at QSA events and then we all decided to go to a gay bar after. It’s a great place to bring new friends if you don’t know what else to do.”
It’s worth striking up a conversation with someone at a gay bar who seems cool. Compliment their outfit, or ask what school they’re from, and see where it goes. You never know who will make a great friend down the road.
However, Jonathan Major, a first year graduate student at Bay Path University, says that he’s had trouble in the past with meeting new people at gay bars.
“[Something] I've noticed about the gay bar is how there is no mingling,” he says about the gay bar he usually went to in undergrad. “This is most likely because of everyone just wanting to stay with their friends.”
It may not necessary be the ideal place to meet new people, but it's definitely worth a shot!
2. Your straight/ally friends can come too
Across the board, everyone we have talked to about gay bars echoes one thing: straight friends and allies are definitely welcome, as long as they’re comfortable coming along.
Lucy Hallowell, a writer for AfterEllen, says that allies just need to remember to respect queer spaces. “I think the main thing to remember if you are an ally in a queer space is that this space is not for you,” she says.
Basically, if you're a straight girl and a guy asks you to dance, don't take advantage of the location by pretending to be in a relationship with another girl. Also remember to be respectful of everyone in the bar, because there's a good chance you'll see varying sexualities and gender identities, along with people dressed in drag.
It’s important to also remember that if you’re planning on bringing someone, you should make sure they feel comfortable around queer people.
“I would only bring people you know would be comfortable,” says Sara*, a recent graduate of Westfield State University. “Don't try to bring someone to a gay bar to ‘change their mind’ about or ‘desensitize them’ to LGBTQ+ culture, life or people. Leave the negativity at home.”
As long as your straight ally friends want to go and feel completely comfortable, they are most definitely welcome.
3. You don’t have to flirt with anyone—but you can if you want
Just like at any other bar, it’s up to the individual whether or not to flirt with others. You can go to a gay bar and flirt, but you certainly don’t have to. The benefit, of course, for an LGBTQ+ bar-goer, is that there’s a higher likelihood of finding someone in your dating pool at a gay bar than at your college town favorite.
Matt Richardson, a senior at Westfield State University, says he felt comfortable going to a gay bar with friends without looking to hook up. “There definitely wasn't an expectation to flirt, but it felt like everyone was all over each other,” he says.
Play the evening by ear. If you go out that night and find that you're in the mood to flirt and try to meet someone, go for it! If not, it will still be a super fun night.
4. You can bring your significant other or a date
Just like at other bars, it’s perfectly normal to bring a significant other or a new date with you to a gay bar.
Emily Lee, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, brings her long-term girlfriend with her to a gay bar all the time. “We both like to drink and dance, and so do our friends,” she says. “We never know if we’ll get weird looks for holding hands on any other date, but at a gay or lesbian bar, it’s the norm.”
If you and your SO both like bars, a gay bar is an excellent option that may be more comfortable than traditional date venues if you’re in a same-sex relationship.
“Bring your girlfriend, boyfriend, that person you kind of like but only have weird moments with— moments that you have been dissecting for weeks,” Hallowell says.
Sometimes you don’t know where you stand with someone you’re sort of seeing, and asking them out to a bar can give you the opportunity to figure out where you stand, minus the pressure.
5. You should research the bar you're going to in advance
Gay bars tend to mirror the atmosphere at other bars, which is to say that it varies greatly from bar to bar. Do as much research as possible into the particular bar you’re going to beforehand. Ask others who have gone what it’s like, check the bar out online, look for reviews, and see if they have any special events going on the night you’re planning to attend. Research can help set the expectations before you show up.
Just because it’s labeled a “gay bar” doesn’t automatically mean it’s all-inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. Some bars cater more toward women, while others focus on men. Additionally, plenty of bars host just a “lesbian night” or a “gay guys’ night” and these are obviously more targeted toward a specific gender.
Matt was often one of the only guys when he went to a gay bar's college nights with friends. This made it difficult for him to flirt, as there weren’t really any other guys he could approach.
If your intent in going to a gay bar is to hook up, flirt or meet a new romantic partner, it’s a great idea to do your research and see if the bar caters to one gender. If the bar holds specific ladies’ or guys’ nights as well, that can help you to choose which night to make an appearance.
Going to a gay bar is, overall, very similar to going to any other bar, with the key difference being that LGBTQ+ people are found in much higher numbers at a gay bar. The atmosphere still largely depends on where you go, which friends you bring along, your attitude, and what the scene is like among the crowd in attendance.
“Go with an open mind, don't be afraid to get out there and dance, and remember that the worst thing that might happen is you try it and you hate it,” Hallowell says.
We couldn’t agree more. Whether you’re a gay or bisexual college lady looking to find a new girlfriend or hookup, or an ally attending as a wingman or supportive friend, a gay bar is just another adventure for your next weekend in college.