The Best Gay & LGBTQ+ Bars In Chicago
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
When June rolls around, the air near North Halsted and the accompanied LGBTQ+ bars electrifies. The sun feels brighter, those iconic colorful tank tops resurface, and the sense of community is palpable. While there are tons of bars in the neighborhood catering to gay men, queer women (like myself), and other members of the LGBTQ+ community, these are my 13 favorite places to go to in the Northhalsted area (previously known as Boystown).
Want to hear ABBA’’s “Dancing Queen” blasting over the speaker and watch the Strong Man Competition at the same time? This is the place for you. The North End, which is probably the best sports bar on North Halsted, is big and open, filled with mostly gay men, and has lots of friendly staff who will happily pour you a rose cider while you watch the Cubs lose again.
Just next door to The North End, Bobby Love’s has a quieter, cozier feel that’s perfect for grabbing a beer and singing your favorite karaoke songs. Bobby, the owner for over 20 years, opened this bar for people of all orientations to be able to kick back, relax, and sing “Believe” by Cher or “Turn Back Time” by Cher or literally anything by Cher. Order a beer, sing your heart out, and enjoy the breeze coming in from the front bay window.
Wait, where are all those fabulously dressed drag queens going at 1am? Oh, that would be Charlie’s. Just around the corner from Bobby Love’s, Charlie’s is a late-night club that is the perfect place to go if you are a night owl (it stays open till at least 4am). Things don’t really get started here until well into the night, but it’s a great spot to dance and watch stunning performances by their in-house drag queens.
The Cell Block has it all: Darts! A pool table! A leather bar in the back! Coined by regulars as “your neighborhood bar with a fetish,” this spot is a great place to meet your new queer best friends and then subsequently make out with them a few hours later. The main area of the bar is low-key and a nice place to chat with buddies over a heated game of pool, which is also free on Mondays. And the back is open for anyone wanting a more intimate, adult experience. Whether your preference is to be whipped or play a relaxing round of darts, this place caters to all.
Between the music, lighting, and low-hanging chandeliers, not to mention the beer selection and innovative cocktails, this place feels like a high-end hotel bar for queers and is a great spot to end a rowdy bar crawl. I recommend coming here if you want to feel like a rich lesbian who owns a Porsche and a Great Dane (this could just be a me thing, who’s to say?). If you end up at Elixir, please do me a favor and order their homemade pineapple tequila because it’s the best thing I’ve tasted since reemerging post-pandemic.
Sidetrack is massive with multiple levels to enjoy one of their specialty slushies on and sing at the top of your lungs. The staff here is also especially nice - they once let me start an intense slushie flip cup tournament on the roof (and I’m still only a little mad about coming in second). If you happen to be out in the area on a Monday night, Sidetrack has Showtune Sundays, aka a bunch of semi-drunk LGBTQ+ people singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl off-key (except for that one guy in the back who was clearly classically trained).
Sometimes I like to dance, sometimes I like to watch a drag show, but if I want to partake in both, I go to Hydrate. During the early hours of the evening, they host a sit-down drag show in the back of the bar and after 11pm, they open up the space for dancing and loud music. Their sound and light experience is one of the best in Chicago (even if you have sensitive ears like me, you won’t get overwhelmed by their sound system). Check it out if you want to get your blood pumping and get all your pent-up angst out.
See that line down the blocks of Halsted? Condragulations, you’ve found Roscoe’s Tavern, which is one of the most popular places to go if you’re queer and love Drag Race. The large front area is a great place to grab a few drinks while watching the latest cast members lip sync for their lives. After the episode ends in its usual dramatic fashion, head to the dance floor in the back accompanied by wonderful DJs and sometimes old cast members from the show. The clientele tends to be mixed when it comes to gender identity and it’s an open inclusive space for all.
When my M.O. is to dance and dance hard, Scarlet is where I go. This dark-lit, one-room, high-energy club is a great place to let loose like you’re filming your own personal music video about rival dance groups. As a white queer woman, my dance moves are subpar at best, but when I’m at Scarlet, I swear I transform into one of Lizzo’s backup dancers (the low lighting plus alcohol makes it a great place to try out some new moves). Check out their delicious specialty cocktails, like their Scarlet margarita and their espresso martini, to refresh after sweating nine buckets out on the dance floor. This is also a great spot for dancing birthday parties and dancing pride parties, or just a wild dancing Friday night out. Did I mention this place is great for dancing?
Just a block off the main Halsted bar area, The Closet has a dive bar feel and is one of my favorite places to meet other people in the community, without the pressures of trying to look hot while dancing and yelling over other drunk gays wearing speedos. If you accidentally knock over a pitcher here because of your clumsy noodle arms, the bartenders are really nice about it and so helpful—not that this has happened to me, of course. And while most bars in the area are geared towards gay men, The Closet makes sure it’s open for all queer people—including a clumsy lesbian like me.
Much like the Replay in Lincoln Park and Andersonville, this bar has fun video games, like Cruis’n World, and a list of 26 beers they rotate out weekly. While the Lincoln Park location is bigger and filled with more arcade games, this one is specifically made with the queer community in mind by hiring actually queer bartenders and being a safe place to play games without the fear of harassment from anyone outside of the community. It’s also just a great place to stop by if you want to get mad at a Pac-Man machine while chugging a milk stout.
I’m ashamed to say it took me a few years to finally get inside this bar because it turned out I was missing an absolute party right in the heart of Northalsted. With its flashy West Hollywood feel and an incredible group of daily rotating drag queens, I always leave here feeling 100% more fabulous, just by association. This restaurant and bar has been a staple of the area for over two decades and continues to be one of those spots I try to make all of my friends go to with me every weekend. All the drinks come with a little bit of flair, including some with glow sticks, and the food, like their chicken and waffles, is some of the best in the neighborhood. Make sure you make a reservation because this place gets busy.