Gay bars come and go in the Twin Cities, questioning their own sexuality and “experimenting” as the years go on. Does anyone remember that brief period when Augie’s, now one of Hennepin and 5th’s lovable strip joints, tried to flip their script completely and make a go at M4M clientele? (No? Well, the phase didn’t last long.) For every bar that went straight, there’s another one that just simply vanished. I remember awhile back joking about how Boom in Nordeast was a “way station for Twin Cities gays who were just waiting to make a break for New York.” Apparently they all got there.
And yet, in other cases, the bars pull off a Dorian Gray act, keeping their patrons forever young in a Shangri La of lights, music and rum. Here are some of the best GLBT bars in the Twin Cities.
115 North First Street, Minneapolis
This is, for all intents and purposes, the new Boom, but thankfully without that bar’s undercurrent of social-climbing desperation. Jetset has a cozy feel that can make even a sparse night feel pretty live, a reliably attractive and mixed crowd, and nice big picture windows that say, “Here I am!”
990 Central Avenue Northeast, Minneapolis
Don’t be fooled by the exterior. What looks on the outside like a paper-holding warehouse is in actuality one of the Twin Cities’ most friendly gay bars. It’s spacious and serves some of the stronger drinks I’ve ever had this side of Red Dragon’s wondrous punch.
830 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
This is the one that separates the lifers from the tourists. The Saloon’s unfettered atmosphere of loud house beats, Red Bull-spiked drinks and naked pecs doesn’t exactly lend itself to those who aren’t 100 percent comfortable in their sexuality. (And then there’s that shower stall.) But if eye candy is what you’re looking for, the Saloon is Willy Wonka’s land of pure imagination. One which leaves very little to said imagination.
1415 University Avenue West, St. Paul
Variety is the spice of life at the Town House. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, animal, vegetable, mineral. It all flies here, though it should be noted this is one of the few bars in the Twin Cities that seems to cater more exclusively toward lesbians. In any case, the entertainment options are as diverse as you please. Karaoke, drag shows and even some line dancing.
515 Washington Ave South, Minneapolis
The Eagle is synonymous with one three-syllable phrase: “3-for-1s.” Well, it’s also known for being a cavern for bears of the non-hibernating variety, though I’ve seen bears, otters and bunnies in equal measure there on any given night.
19 West 15th Street, Minneapolis
The 19 Bar is the ultimate low-key gay bar in Minneapolis. Without actually meriting the backhanded (but sincere) compliment “dive,” there’s a distinct lack of polish and glitter at this establishment. Just your standard-issue pool tables and dart boards and a well-stocked jukebox. The no-pressure atmosphere ensures it attracts one of the most diverse crowds in the Cities.
490 Robert Street North, St. Paul
“Old school,” as any bar sporting a painting of Judy Garland as Mary of Nazareth and Liza as her own baby Jesus would be. Simultaneously upscale and down-to-earth.
408 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
Sometimes derisively referred to by the Twin Cities’ GLBT population as the “Bi 90s,” this straight-friendly Disney World-esque theme park of a gay bar sets out to prove that it’s a small world after all.
-Eric Henderson is a web producer at WCCO.COM.