This guide is written by Molly Stratton, an Autostraddle community member! The Queer Girl City Guides are compiled and written by volunteer community members who are excited to share their favorite places and experiences with you. They cannot be independently verified by Autostraddle. We also recognize that cities change and venues close. Due to team restrictions, these guides may not always be up-to-date as time goes on. Feel free to share your own info about these locations (or others!) in the comments!
Hey there! Welcome to our nation’s capital the the next stop on your queer destination train! DC is big with the gays. It’s so popular in fact, that it was covered in one of our very first queer girl city guides, over seven years ago! But time has changed a bit, so we figured let’s stop in again and give this city a quick update!
Who wrote this guide? As is “Queer Girl City Guide” tradition, this guide was initially compiled by Molly Stratton, an Autostraddle community member. This is what she had to say about her home: The DC queer scene can be very cool, but sometimes it’s hard to tap into. We’re swarming with queer collectives that take over a local venue for a night of dancing or fundraising. We also have an awesome queer women’s bar with the best name ever – A League Of Her Own. We have enough lots of DJs throwing their own events, but the parties are rarely advertised as queer or lesbian. It can take some digging, but there’s a lot of life in DC. Even if you can’t see us, we’ve always been here.
Also Autostraddle has a few writers from the DMV area, so we asked Carrie Wade to volunteer some of her services as well. Let’s go!
Join a Collective, Get a Free Toaster!
The DC dance and dating scene is mostly ruled by collectives: groups that meet once a month, or sometimes only seasonally, at different bars and locations throughout DC. But don’t mistake their roving for lack of staying power – all of these groups have been staples of the DC scene for years.
QREW hosts monthly dance parties and fundraisers for the early 20s set. They tend to stick to crowd favorites like Beyonce and Tina Turner. Don’t worry if baby gay tries to hit on you by offering you a PBR! If you’re new to the DC scene and anxious about it, you’ll find friends here. You can also follow them on instagram.
In DC’s popup queer party scene, The Coven DC has stood out for years. Ambiance is super crowded and sometimes a bit cliquey – their parties tend to be the kind of place where you’d desperately go to meet someone new and then run into your ex. That said, the Coven also has a good track record of fundraising for organizations like the Orlando Pulse Victims Fund, HIPS, and Planned Parenthood.
TASTE was created specifically to bring queer women’s events to DC’s H Street Corridor, a bar and dance-venue heavy stretch of road that’s popular with tourists and mainstream partiers, but hasn’t always been as welcoming to queer women’s events ( Ever heard of the world famous Ben’s Chili Bowl? They’re also here.) They’re “inclusive to all genders, orientations, races, ethnicities, religions and levels of sass.”
Lure DC plans women-centric parties throughout the DMV, including BARE, a ladies’ night at Dupont gay bar Cobalt, and their yearly White Party. They also host an “infamous” wet t-shirt contest.
1639 R St NW
Despite not having it listed anywhere on their website, every 3rd Saturday of the month is BARE, a ladies’ night event created by Lure DC. Perhaps because of this presence (BARE started in 2009), Cobalt has been consistently thought of as queer-women friendly despite their website being explicitly for gay men. Many older DC lesbians I spoke with have fond memories of making out in Cobalt’s bathrooms. This multi-level DC club has the usual mix of drag, drink specials and DJs.
Founded in 2016, this collective has an impressive list of monthly themed queer parties. Queers can let out their inner need to dress up and grind to thumping beats with themes like “MasQUEERade” and “Spring Break”.
Where the Girls Go at Dodge City DC
917 U St NW
This dance party is held monthly through spring and summer at Dodge City, which has both enough room for flirting and people-watching on the outdoor patio and a banging dance party on the second floor. Five rotating ceiling fans do nothing to cool the sweaty dancers, but the bar offers so many delicious queer-themed cocktails that it’s hard to mind. The Tea Dances are a destination event for some of the most fashionable queers in DC, so bring your edgiest haircut and most sickening outfit if you want to stand out.
Starting in October 2017, Bodywork DC is the brainchild of DJ Alex DB and DJ Abby. Billing itself as “your favorite queer dance party’s favorite queer dance party”, they feature local DJs of all genders and lack thereof and are explicitly anti-racist.
Honestly? All the drag queens in DC ain’t shit compared to these kings. Run entirely by queer black women and with a majority black cast, these pretty bois can command a room full of drunk brunch-goers with the quirk of an eyebrow – and that’s before they take off their shirts. Come to feel flustered while also marveling that you still know all the words to that one Backstreet Boys song.
A League of Her Own
2319 18th Street NW
A League of Her Own (It also goes by ALOHA, which is adorable) opened in August 2018 and DC’s nightlife scene was forever changed! I wish I could describe to you how amazing this bar and nightclub is, just to be able to be surrounded by your own community at a time when so many other lesbian bars nationwide are sadly dying. A League Her Own is fun and feels like an extension of your living room – if your living room was a party with walls covered in queer women’s paraphernalia! PLEASE COME! You will not regret it!! Not one bit!
Be Your Own Sports Hero
Roller derby is arguably the most lesbian sport in the world, so no DC guide should be complete without our home team, the DC Rollergirls. Any beginner with a mouthguard, an ID, and health insurance can join their Sunday practice sessions at their Warehouse in Edmonton, MD.
Rugby is the other most lesbian sport in the world, so it’s only fitting that DC is home to one of the oldest women’s rugby leagues. The DC Furies are iconic and known throughout the country.
Team DC is a non-profit “established to educate the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community on the benefits of individual and team sports participation.” They work to encourage queer participation in all different kinds of sports across the DMV, provide scholarships for queer athletes, and help fight discrimination. Their newsletter, the Sportsgram, also serves as a one-stop shop for all queer-related sporting events in DC.
A nonprofit with chapters in several major cities, Stonewall Sports has the dual goals of maintaining LGBT-friendly sports leagues and raising money for various community charities. Their leagues are eclectic and feature everything from billiards to bowling, but the one that’s arguably truest to DC’s health-obsessed spirit is Stonewall Yoga (“The gayest yoga class you’ll ever take”).
Restaurants: Because Sometimes a Girl’s Gotta Eat
Timber Pizza Company
809 Upshur St NW
Neapolitan style pizza with seriously creative toppings. I remember when Timber was just a food truck! Now, here we are! It’s got a wood-burning oven and it puts it to work overtime to create beautiful pies like the Green Monster (pesto, feta, and kale) or the Bentley (honey, chorizo, and peppers). DELISH.
Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U Street
I don’t think any guide to DC is complete without Ben’s Chili Bowl, a truly iconic and landmark institution. It’s a bit of a greasy spoon, with old photos of celebrities lining the walls. It’s best known for their chili dogs, half-smokes (spicy sausage made up of beef and pork, served on a hot dog bun), and milkshakes. Open late nights, which makes it perfect for sopping up alcohol before bed and having solid laughs with friends.
2420 18th St NW
Washington has an important and large Ethiopian immigrant community, which means we have a lot of choices when it comes to delicious cuisine. Zenebech stands out as a go-to because of its consistency over the years and all the love that goes into their food. You’ll find injera platters (traditional Ethiopian sourdough flatbread, served with toppings) that will make your mouth water. The family reopened the restaurant after a devastating recent fire. It’s perfect to take your vegetarian and vegan friends.
2309 Mt. Vernon Avenue // Alexandria, VA
Come for the rainbow flag in the window, stay for the biscuits and gravy. This brunch standout in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria just wants to make you feel at home. There’s almost always a (well-deserved) line, but don’t be intimidated — the staff are friendly and efficient, and they’ve got it all worked out. Can confirm that both savory and sweet offerings are stellar here.
Dacha Beer Garden
1600 7th St. NW
Full disclosure that I’ve only ever been here for a Pride brunch — but I normally hate those kinds of things and actually enjoyed it! That’s a glowing endorsement from someone who strongly prefers staying home.
Thomas Sweet Ice Cream Company
3214 P St NW
On one hand Thomas Sweet is a bit of a tourist trap and has a lot of straight preteens on first dates mulling about, which can be a lot to deal with. On the other, it’s hands down some of the best ice cream in DC with chocolate dipped cones, ice cream sandwiches, and — get this! — AN ENTIRE COUNTER DEDICATED TO FUDGE!
Shopping, Bars, and Other DC Businesses That Cater to Our Community
2010 P St NW, 2nd Floor
Fantom doesn’t bill itself as an LGBT bookstore, but between their ongoing displays of graphic novels and comics featuring queer characters, authors, and their full roster of queer-friendly events and book clubs – it’s sometimes hard not to mistake them for one. The store has a sweet mural of a rainbow-winged pegasus, comic art covering every inch of their walls, and a dedicated staff that can help you figure out where to start reading if you’re a bit intimidated. They also host a yearly Pride-viewing party. Unfortunately, they’re also on the second floor of a building with a steep and narrow staircase, making them inaccessible to those with mobility needs.
Nellie’s Sports Bar
900 U St NW
Though arguably a nightlife staple, DC’s queer scene seems to be getting a bit tired of Nellie’s, complaining that it is overrun with bachelorette parties and the clientele tends more towards cis gay and straight men than anything else. (As of this writing, their roster of weekly events doesn’t include a single explicitly queer or lesbian-friendly night.) But the Transmasculine Happy Hour still meets here monthly, and the Drag Brunch is still one of the quintessential queer DC experiences. Nellie’s other major issue is accessibility, with tables too close together for a wheelchair and a steep flight of stairs being the only option to reach the second floor bar.
Port City Brewing Company
3950 Wheeler Avenue // Alexandria, VA
While not specifically a queer venue, Port City is quite queer friendly, and the beers are quite delicious. Optimal Wit is the most famous, but I’m also partial to the the Long Black Veil IPA, a tribute to the local legend of the Female Stranger (Alexandria loves its ghosts). The space itself is also a ton of fun; there’s always somewhere to sit, including a comfy couch under the spiral staircase, and the back room features a canoe suspended from the ceiling. Food trucks on weekends make Port City a strong choice for your next day-long han
Embassy Row Hotel
2015 Massachusetts Ave NW
Embassy Row is a pricey hotel with funky hipster furniture that is located in the heart of Dupont Circle. They advertise themselves as a premier destination for LGBT weddings, but for DC’s pop-up party scene, the real attraction is the rooftop pool. Queer local DJs like Jaq Jill hold trap and EDM events by the pool regularly in the summer months, though if it’s a daytime party you may find yourself sharing the postage-stamp-sized pool with confused straight hotel guests.
The Lady Clipper Barber Shop
1514 U Street NW
If the name alone doesn’t convince you, the results will. Resident barbers Lesley and Jo are both friendly, professional, and efficient; I routinely walk out with a killer cut in less than half an hour. A trusted queer acquaintance recommended Lesley when I moved to the area and I’ve never even thought about looking elsewhere. Be sure to book in advance, because appointments fill up fast. (Bonus: You can go to the 14th Street outpost of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream after you’re done.)
1201 King Street // Alexandria, VA
It is a truth universally acknowledged that queer women love to journal, and Penny Post will happily fuel that habit. They’ve got every kind of notebook, fancy pen, and decorative stamp under the sun here. There’s also a broad selection of greeting cards, including an impressive number devoted to gay wedding/gay-by congrats. Fair warning that the entire place is painfully cute and may distract you for far longer than intended.
Busboys and Poets
2021 14th St NW
How do you even describe this space? Busboys and Poets is part-bookstore, part-restaurant, part-bar, part-coffee shop. It’s named after the poet Langston Hughes and is a haven for writers and thinkers and performers, with a reputation for having progressive politics and an investment in social and political movements. They also believe in lifting up DC’s historic Black community, which is vitally important.
BFB describes itself as a “radical, irreverent, and unapologetic celebration of queer and trans black femmes of all genders.” Each meetup has a theme (such as “UNhumble”, “New Year, Fuck This”, or “Apesh*t”) and features booze along with delectable food. Always remember: “The three commandments of every Black Femme Brunch event are: BE BLACK, BE FEMME, BE FRIENDLY.”
Lez Link holds a monthly happy hour as well as outings to amusement parks, garden parties, and craft nights (one event involves creating a relationship vision board, which is the gayest thing I’ve written today.)
Originally called Women in Their Twenties and now Women in Their Twenties (and Thirties), WiTT is a dinner-and-discussion group for lesbian and bi women that meets monthly at the DC Center. The group also organizes outings to places where they can meet other women, such as picnics and queer dance parties.
Potomac Riverboat Company
I assume the sightseeing tours are nightmarish tourist traps, but recommend the Water Taxi as a charmingly over-the-top way to get somewhere.
Alexandria’s Original Ghost and Graveyard Tour
Look, I can’t help it: I love kitschy things, and this is some grade A kitsch. I’ve never seen a city take such pride in its hauntings.
Health Services and Other Resources
FemX is a 15-16 week course on feminism and women’s health that happens twice a year and is driven by donations. If you’re an academically-minded person who wishes they could major in WGS or LGBTQ+ studies or just want to take a deep dive into topics like menstruation and relationship health, FemX is for you.
906 H St NE
HIPS works to provide harm reductive and non-judgemental services for those involved in the DC sex trade, sex work, or drug use.
Locations across the city
Whitman-Walker is DC’s only trans-friendly hospital. Unfortunately, many people I’ve spoken to dislike it based on the fact that they make obvious oversights like deadnaming people, but for now it’s all we’ve got.
DC’s only homeless shelter for trans and non-binary people, Casa Ruby was started by local trans woman Ruby Jade Corado. Casa Ruby provides clothing, internet access, support groups, counseling, legal aid and housing referrals to their clients.
WERK for Peace
Remember that dance party protest at Mike Pence’s house? That was these guys. WERK for Peace doesn’t have a set event schedule, so look for Facebook announcements within hours of the next top news story about whatever the GOP wants to take from us next. Those wanting to join in are typically asked to meetup at a metro stop before going to a secret location (i.e. the target’s house) so don’t be late.
“No pride for some of us without justice for all of us!” is the rallying cry of this DC-based collective working to bring better trans and POC representation to the queer scene.
BLM has a strong presence in the DC area. Organized as “a collective of organizers, activists, and artists in DC who work to combat anti-blackness and racialized oppression in all of its manifestations as experienced by Black and African diasporic people,” BLM hosts weekly and monthly events, along with opportunities to network and movement build for future actions.
Founded in 2012, Tagg Magazine has its offices in DC, but covers “everything queer, lesbian, and under the rainbow”, both locally and internationally. Their website is thorough, having a little bit of everything from celebrity to political news. They also have a podcast called Tagg Nation. You can subscribe and have a paper copy of the magazine mailed to you, or pick one up at a few businesses throughout DC and VA.
Queer culture has a long history of making its own media, so it’s no surprise that DC’s DIY/punk/activist/queer undergrounds are keeping zines alive. DC’s Zinefest brings together 60+ self-published artists and writers together in the (unfortunately un-air conditioned) basement of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church. Zines are available on almost every topic, from queer sex to funny comics to DC’s homegrown food zine, The Runcible Spoon. Be sure to bring cash (most zines are around $3.) DC Zinefest is also wheelchair accessible.
The DC Center hosts the main OUTWrite festival yearly, a two-day celebration of LGBT literature, authors, writers, and poets. Highlights include live readings, panels, writer’s workshops, and book sales. OUTWrite also sponsors related programs throughout the year to support DC queer writers.
More of What You Need to Know to Live Here
The DC Center for the LGBT community hosts everything from queer-friendly ASL events to a coffee drop-in for LGBT seniors. They have extensive healthcare outreach that touches on anything from HIV support to helping people quit smoking. They also host a number of peer support groups, including The Center Black LGBT – which supports black queer and trans DC residents. Finally, this powerhouse of a LGBT center has no less than five events focused on queer film, queer books, and the spoken word going on at any given time.
DC’s historic gayborhood has always been Dupont Circle, but unfortunately its bars and (until recently) bookstores were majority for gay men. The rent is also astronomical, forcing the new generation of queers into Takoma and other far-flung DC suburbs.
While DC was historically a predominantly Black city, gentrification has caused the city to attract more wealthy white people. A 2017 Gallup poll found a whopping 8.6% of people self-reported as being some form of LGBT, prompting the New York Times to name us the “gayest city in America.”
Cost of Living
While the overall cost of living isn’t as inflated as it is in New York or San Francisco, we’re definitely in the national top ten most expensive cities to live in and rent prices are continuing to rise. In my opinion, visiting (or living) in the DMV area is not a cheap, easy, or accessible enterprise.
Hopefully this guide helps to make queer DC easier to follow or understand! There’s a lot to love here, and I want you to be a part of it.