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Gay Bars in Chicago: The Windy City’s Hottest Spots for Fab Fun

Looking to meet and greet some Grade A Midwest meat? Here are some of the best gay bars in Chicago for a cock…tail.
Grindr
&
Editorial team
July 22, 2024
7
min. read
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Welcome to Chicago, home of the mystical Bean and a sizeable population of gays who are ready to flick it. Queer people on vacation here will inevitably enjoy the traditional sights, like the luxurious lifestyle of the Gold Coast or the excitement at Navy Pier. But when they’re done engaging with Chicago’s normcore culture, where can they go to throw back a shot of Malört before throwing it back in a jock strap?

You’ll be pleased to know Chicago is brimming with bars that let you do both — maybe even simultaneously. However, with so many places to be gay and play, you can indeed afford to be picky. Read on as we run you through a tour through some of the best gay bars in Chicago and why they’re worth popping into.

Sidetrack

Sidetrack is arguably the tour-de-force in the Chicago LGBTQ bar scene. First off, it’s huge (not the first time you’ve heard that, huh?) — the largest gay bar in the Midwest, including a stunning rooftop deck that’s just ripe for lazing the Chicago summers away day-drinking. Beyond its impressive girth, Sidetrack also features “Musical Mondays,” where classic musical theater moments featuring enduring gay icons grace the big screen. It’s an eclectic place, perfect for those who want to be in the middle of all the action.

Progress Bar

Progress Bar is located on Halsted, arguably the gayest street in the city, in the heart of Northalsted (formerly Boystown). The trendy spot stands out for a few reasons. One is the astonishing ceiling sculpture made from roughly 19,000 light bulbs. The other is its wide array of craft beer. In a sea of bars with clubby vibes, Progress impresses with something more laid-back and sophisticated.

Meeting House Tavern

Meeting House is an all-vibes-welcome kind of place near another queer-centric part of Chicago, Andersonville. It’s the perfect spot for those who like to play around; while the downstairs features a taproom vibe with long tables and lots of space, the upstairs is where this MHT sets itself apart with everything from giant Jenga to Skee-Ball. It’s the perfect spot to show off your competitive spirit and defuse the awkwardness of those early dates.

The SoFo Tap

Speaking of Andersonville-adjacent watering holes, this friendly bear bar is beloved for its incredible patio, making it a must-visit for travelers who enjoy warm weather but don’t want to shed their winter coats. Speaking of fur, the patio is dog-friendly, and they even host a “Doggy Day” on Saturdays, where you and your pup (two-legged and/or four-) can sniff out a whole herd of new friends. This is truly a place that loves its fuzzy Chicago clientele.

Big Chicks

Uptown is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Andersonville and hosts its fair share of fantastic food and drink. Big Chicks is arguably among the best Uptown has to offer, particularly for us queer folks. Sundays here are phenomenal if you’re a buffet bitch. Spend Saturday nights here tearing up the dance floor and Sunday mornings recovering with tasty sustenance from Tweet, its laid-back sister location.

The Glenwood

The Glenwood, located in Rogers Park, is the ideal all-purpose gay bar; it has everything you could ask for, from daily drink specials to an expansive patio for enjoying the beautiful Chicago summer. It follows the neighborhood bar model to a tee, featuring karaoke and trivia nights for anyone who enjoys an interactive outing. It’s more a pub than a nightclub, but anyone who thrives in a cozy environment should definitely give this place a try.

Dorothy 

Dorothy is the name on everybody’s lips. And frankly, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or not: Chicago is a friend of this Dorothy through and through. It’s a lesbian bar with a funky ’70s basement vibe, serving up cocktails and plenty of queer vibes. They host viewing parties, poetry nights, singles’ mixers, and other events. A prominent example is the monthly Fruit Salad open mic, a place where queer people can go share and express their artistic endeavors through various mediums.

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The Closet 

Ordinarily, we wouldn’t be thrilled about the idea of going back in the closet, but we’ll make an exception for this gay Chicago hotspot. Like other locales on the list, it’s nestled in Northalsted. But unlike other bars in the area, its unassuming and unpretentious demeanor is its strong suit. It’s the perfect place for queer individuals from all walks of life to grab a beverage and reclaim their closet space.

The Baton Show Lounge 

If drag is your desired destination, look no further than The Baton Show Lounge. The lounge has entertained silver foxes and baby gays alike with “old school” and elegant drag performances that will have you waving your finger from the first whip crack. The drag-oriented hotspot is also the home of the Miss Continental Pageant — one of the most prestigious titles in the drag world. But even if you’re not around for pageant season, there’s no shortage of drag and burlesque performances to keep you enraptured!

Hydrate

Thirsty for a high-energy, after-hours gay club in Chicago? Open wide, because Hydrate has it all. Although it’s known as a spot for the 808 gays, this Chi-town locale also features Drag Race viewing parties and Sunday Funday after-brunch soirées, making Hydrate a must for any LGBTQ explorer.

Elixir 

Elixir feels exclusive, and that’s because it kind of is. It’s a cocktail lounge at heart, with a more intimate space, diverse clientele, and everyone on their best behavior. Its second location, Elixir Lounge, is the nearest gay bar to Hydrate. You might assume the vibes are similar, but they couldn’t be more different. In contrast to Hydrate’s raucous energy, Elixir is the perfect place for a low-key evening with a few friends or a date.

Nobody’s Darling

This black woman-owned, queer-friendly staple in Andersonville has something many of the other bars on our list don’t: a nomination for a James Beard award. Their 2022 much-deserved recognition for “Outstanding Bar Program” garnered them even more love and support. It’s the perfect place for the queer cocktail connoisseur to get something they won’t find anywhere else.

Farraguts on Clark

Yet another Andersonville destination — this time with 100% more sapphic satisfaction! Lesbians and queer women flock to Farraguts for the pool table, darts, and jukebox with a vast selection of tunes. The bar perfectly blurs the line between a bustling location for a lively night out and a cozy place to curl up with a beer and watch the world go by. Whichever you’re in the mood for, Farraguts can take you there.

Roscoe’s Tavern

No list of Chicago gay nightlife would be complete without an appearance from Roscoe’s. Its Drag Race viewing parties often feature contestants from the show giving juicy anecdotes (see: tea), making Roscoe’s one of the first places people think of when they picture gay Chicago spaces. Past the star-studded viewing parties, Roscoe’s also boasts a big dance floor, outdoor patio, and drink specials galore. If you happen to be in the Northalsted area, you should probably pop in just to say you did.

Second Story Bar

This bar is a speakeasy in the truest sense of the word; it’s completely unassuming, enshrouded by the surrounding hustle and bustle near Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. There’s no marked door, so you’ll either have to know exactly where you’re headed or have some faith. We promise walking up the carpeted stairways is worth it, eventually leading to an unmarked door with a whole bunch of gays boppin’ around on the other side. It’s a bit cramped on the weekends, but the intimate environment perfectly encapsulates the vintage gay experience.

The winning gay nightlife of the Windy City

Chicago is a perennial queer destination. With such an impressive lineup of gay bars and clubs, it’s easy to see why. Whether you want to wet your whistle at a demure cocktail lounge or get sweaty with strangers up in the club, the Windy City’s got you covered. Capitalize on Chicago’s beautiful summers with a bar crawl through this Midwest metropolis during pride season!

And if you’re ready to see what kind of gorgeous guys hang around all these gay Chicago watering holes, Grindr’s got you covered. Download the Grindr app today to get started!

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