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3 Queer Gen Zers Share Their Tips For Going To A Gay Bar For The First Time

Two words that hold the same meaning as a great time: gay bars. From New York City spots to Texas favorites, gay clubs have been a staple of the queer community for decades; since 1933, to be exact. And while these bars are open to both queer folks and allies, there are a few things you should know before going to a gay bar for the first time.

Ready for a history lesson? The White Horse Inn, located in Oakland, California, opened in 1933 and remains the oldest standing gay bar in the United States. Since then, generations upon generations of queer (and straight!) folk have seen the opening of gay clubs across the country, despite facing significant discrimination along the way.

 In 1969, police officers stormed a local New York City gay bar that is now famously known as The Stonewall Inn. Officers dragged queer clubgoers out of the club, along with its employees, which quickly led to a widespread riot among the local neighborhoods and six days of protests in the city. This event single-handedly pivoted the scope of the gay rights movement, not only in the U.S., but across the globe.

55 years later, there are a total of 803 gay bars spread across the United States (consensus as of 2023). Now, queer Gen Zers are able to find a gay bar near them, no matter where you live in the country. With this (much deserved) freedom comes a bit of fear, especially if you’re a first-timer to gay clubs: what will it be like? What can you expect? Fortunately, I’ve found some answers from your peers — including tips for your first trip to a gay bar.

*Names have been changed for privacy. The following responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Taylor*, 22: “Embrace being surrounded by people in the same community!”

“I’ve been out for a while, so when my friends and I all finally turned 21, we were so ready to go to our first gay bar. We weren’t really sure what to expect, other than what we were told by older friends of friends, but it definitely exceeded whatever we imagined in our heads. Not only did the energy feel different than straight bars, but we felt a lot safer, too, since we were at a women-only bar. Plus, women are much easier to be friendly with, so no matter where we turned, we kept meeting new people. By the end of the night, we had made plans for the following week with some other girls my friends and I met. We had a lot in common, and so much to talk about – it was so refreshing.

My biggest piece of advice is to embrace being surrounded by people in the same communities as you. There’s an endless amount of people to meet and get to know, and that’s a beautiful thing!”

Lyla*, 24: “Go in with an open mind and try not to have too many expectations.”

“My friends and I have been going to lesbian bars for years. My first time at one was so chaotic – in the best way. There was live music and everyone was dancing, having the most amazing time. It wasn’t like any other bar or club I had been to before. For days leading up to our night out, I was overthinking about how it would be and if I would look out of place (I’m not even sure why). After we got there, all of my anxiety washed away, and I realized that the only thing holding me back was me and the (false) expectations I had going in. For first-timers, I recommend going in with an open mind, and not having too many expectations. Chances are, your experience won’t really be what you expected — in the best way.”

Devin*, 22: “Don’t be afraid to be curious.”

“I went to my first gay bar a few weeks ago because, for a while, I wasn’t sure if it was really my vibe. I don’t really go out to begin with, and I’ve heard stories about some of our local bars, but my friends ended up convincing me to tag along one night. I’m not very vocal about my sexuality but it’s also not something I hide, and I’m learning to embrace it more as I get older. I grew up in a religious family and being queer wasn’t really something my parents deemed ‘OK’ — at least for most of my childhood, and there was a lot I didn’t understand about myself and my sexuality. Once I got older and started meeting more queer people (thank you college) I started to get a better idea of who I am. 

That night, I was flooding my friends with questions about what to expect (two of them had been to this bar previously). As much as I was annoying them, they answered every single question that I had throughout the night, even after we got to the bar. The more I understood, the more comfortable I felt, and the more I had fun. One thing I’d tell a first-time gay club-goer: Don’t be afraid to be curious! Ask questions and keep your mind open. You’ll probably find yourself having the best time if you do.”

Whether you and your friends opt for a chill, local gay bar or a local hallmark of fun: make your first-time experience memorable! Most gay bars are pretty similar to “straight” bars, other than the fact that the crowd in gay bars is, obviously, majority queer. Try not to have any crazy expectations; go in with an open mind and have a good time!

Alexis is a Wellness Writer for Her Campus and a recent graduate of Bowling Green State University. Her passions include graphic and digital design, her spirituality, content creation, trying new recipes, writing, and inspiring other women. She enjoys writing about womanhood, life as a 20-something, and relationships. She also has her own blog, her glow, that she started in 2021 and has been building ever since.