5 Of The Oldest Gay Bars In America

We'll drink to that.

With the advent of hookup apps and a more welcoming environment in straight spaces, gay bars find themselves in tough times. But some have stood the test of time—continuing to provide customers with fun, friendship, and community (and maybe love). They also stand as physical landmarks to the advances our community has made.

In honor of LGBT History Month, we’re raising a glass to some of nation’s oldest gay bars.

  1. Cafe Lafitte in Exile, New Orleans

    Cafe Lafitte

    Dating to 1933, Cafe Lafitte bills itself as the oldest continuously-operating gay bar in the U.S. is open 24/7 and offers a casual downstairs bar, and a more upscale lounge with balcony upstairs. Legend has it Cafe Lafitte once served literary luminaries Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

    Wondering where the “exile” part comes from? After a squabble with the landlord, the club’s original owner moved locations. (At its reopening, guests came dressed as their favorite historical figures “in exile.”)

  2. Julius’, New York

    Civilian Global

    The oldest gay bar in New York, Julius’ first opened in the 1860s, and was attracting gay patrons by the 1950s. It’s a stone’s throw from Stonewall—and was actually the site of a “sip in” protest three years before the riots.

    Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

    While Manhattan’s gay scene has moved uptown, Julius’ still draws regulars and NYU students for happy hour, weekends, and the monthly Mattachine party, named for the early gay-rights group.

  3. White Horse Bar, Oakland

    7x7

    Opened in 1933, the same year as Cafe Lafitte, the White Horse also lays claim to being America’s oldest gay bar. Initially, the White Horse was a bit closeted, with no windows and a “no-touching policy.”

    “I was terrified, absolutely terrified, yet at the same time I was drawn to it, overpowered by it,” Bill Jones told the East Bay Express in 2001. “There were all these beautiful guys there–very attractive, clean-cut collegiate types.”

    Offering pinball, pool, karaoke, and drag shows, the White House is the quintessential gay dive bar. Fittingly, it appeared on HBO’s Looking.

  4. Atlantic House, Provincetown

    Yelp

    Constructed as a tavern in 1798, the Atlantic House became a popular queer hangout in the 1950s and ’60s, but it was a discreetly gay friendly establishment long before then. (There’s a tribute to frequent visitor Tennessee Williams.)

    Downstairs in the “Little Bar,” boys crowd the jukebox and dance floor, while upstairs, dubbed the “Macho Room,” caters to leather men and their admirers.

  5. Gangway, San Francisco

    Yelp

    This Tenderloin establishment opened in 1910 and “came out” as a gay watering hole in the early ’60s. (Though, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, police conducted an anti-gay raid at Gangway as far back as 1911.)

    Current owner Jung Lee put it up for sale earlier this year, the second time its been on the market. (One plan is to turn it into a kung-fu-themed laundromat.)

    There’s no timeline for Gangway’s closing, so enjoy this historic spot while you can. And, hey, if you have the money, maybe consider investing in a piece of LGBT history.

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.
@_sammanzella