steven tamayo at sellers
Austin, Gay Bars

Guide to Gay Bars Austin, TX


Austin, Texas has a big reputation for “keeping it weird.” This aligns with my values because I too “keep it weird.” So, I made a point of finding a cheap flight over to the 11th-largest city in the United States and doing a survey of the Austin gay bars, dance clubs, and night life. For a good time, read the list below.

The Iron Bear

121 W 8th Street

Making no secret of their audience, The Iron Bear is “proudly bear owned and operated”. Those who know me, know I’m not a bear – probably something closer to a raccoon with rabies. But that didn’t stop me, nor should it stop you from visiting this lower-key space a few blocks south of the Texas Capitol.

For cubs, otters, bears etc. there’s really no choice but The Iron Bear. Which isn’t a bad thing, because despite the sometimes intimidating reputation of a bear bar, this place was open and friendly. It’s far and away the most relaxed and accessible of all gay bars in Austin. The crowd is older, but I didn’t feel the slightest bit uncomfortable (i.e. no staring, unwanted touching). If anything, they’re straight laced and politely flirty.

The first Thursday of the month is a drag show, the aptly named Unbearable. Two days later, the first Saturday is gear night – which brings a large crowd and age range. But unless it’s gear night (and even if it isn’t) you don’t have to get primped up to make an appearance at The Iron Bear. Chill, have a drink, and you’re good. You can also shoot pool or play darts if you’re into that.

Hours of Operation
Monday – Friday: 3 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Saturday, Sunday: 2 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Drink Specials
Monday: $3.50 Bloodys, $3 domestics and wells
Tuesday: $3 domestics and wells 
Wednesday, Thursday: TBD
Friday: $4 Jager shots
Saturday, Sunday: $2 domestic drafts, $5 pitchers 

Go to The Iron Bear for a relaxed, friendly, no-bullshit drink.

drag queen performs at Highland Lounge in Austin, Texas
Main stage performance at Highland Lounge

Sellers Underground

213 W 4th Street

The sleek Sellers has the best drag show in town. While technically underground, it’s really just a few steps below street level. Yet, it retains the swanky feel of an almost prohibition-era speakeasy with a single, centrally located bar and cushy seating around the perimeter.

This article’s feature picture is of Steven Tamayo, something of a staple in the Austin drag community. His old-lady getup was awesome, clever, and unexpected. Maeve Haven ran the show and did some crowd work, which I always enjoy. When the drag isn’t running, this is a good place to grab a drink and talk. Cool people, friendly staff, young crowd, and a variety of drag and go-go dancing at 11:00 on Fridays.

Hours of Operation
Daily: 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Happy Hour
Monday and Tuesday: $3.50 bloodys
Wednesday – Sunday: 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.
$3 domestic beers & well liquor
$4 import beers & wine by the glass

Go to Sellers for drag or if you have a larger group that needs a chill place.

Oil Can Harry’s

211 W 4th St

Oilcans? Oil can? OCH? Oilcan Harry’s? The spelling is TBD – and so is the status of this place, Austin’s oldest gay bar, circa 1900. It abruptly closed in October of 2018.  Then it reopened, apparently bought by Rain next door. 

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All that aside, OCH is split into a few different sections. There’s a standard dance floor, a sports-centric side room and a patio. The music is loud but not as loud as Highland. The crowd is a little bit older and more inclusive of women.

Hours of Operation
Monday – Wednesday: closed
Thursday, Friday: 2 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Saturday, Sunday: 12 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Go to OCH while hopping between the other nearby bars.

The floor at Rain in Austin, a gay dance club
Main dance floor at Rain

Rain

217 W 4th St

Rain is in the Warehouse District, right next to Sellers, Highland and OCH. As you can imagine, you’ll be seeing some familiar faces after a couple hours on the town. The biggest draw is the electronic and trance music with loud bass and a light-up dance floor. 

There’s a more quiet, sit-down area in the front where you can talk, but it wouldn’t be my first place for a chat. Instead, check out the very long outdoor space. It’s open and pleasant out back, but gets crowded in the later hours. 

Hours of Operation
Monday – Thursday: 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Friday – Sunday: 3 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Go to Rain for the best dancing, a lesbian-friendly space and a big-ass patio.

Two men in the BDSM basement of Highland Lounge in Austin, TX
The basement of Highland Lounge

Highland Lounge

404 Colorado Street

The three-story, jack-of-all-trades Highland Lounge features three distinct bars in one space. You’ll be drawn there by either the siren song of car alarms, or the ear-shattering sound system that’s setting off the car alarms. So, it’s either the best – or worst – sound system in town depending on your taste in music, and the proximity of your car. The main stage with light and smoke plays host to drag shows, but didn’t hold up to the Sellers performance (in my humble opinion). 

Stepping outside into the large, quiet, open patio space, there’s another bar, which means there are five bars in the building: two on the main floor, two on the floor upstairs, and one outback. But wait – there’s more! Walk past the bathroom and you’ll almost miss the curtain-draped door leading downstairs. To my amazement, there’s a dungeon-like space in the basement with yet another bar. Perhaps, even more amazing – I can’t hear the music from upstairs. 

There’s no coat check downstairs, but there is a clothes check. 

Hours of Operation
Monday – Wednesday: closed
Thursday: 9:30 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Friday: 9:30 p.m. – 3:30 a.m.
Saturday: 9:30 p.m. – 3:30 a.m.
Sunday: 7:30 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.

Happy Hour
Monday and Tuesday: all day
Wednesday – Sunday: 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.
$3 domestic beers & well liquor
$4 import beers & wine by the glass

Go to Highland Lounge for loud music, an open patio or a kinky leather bar.

Cheer up Charlies

900 Red River St

Cheer up Charlies is in a category all its own. Far and away the most “Austin” of Austin gay clubs. There’s kombucha on tap, local bands, and a 100% vegan bar. With its progressive nature, Charlies is a queer bar with no qualms about age, orientation or sex.

For a “dive bar”, this place puts every other hole-in-the-wall to shame. There’s cushy sofas, moss-toped seats outside, and the kind of furniture you’d find in a bohemian dorm room. The trappings of the patio are the best part with a stage and a big canopy overhead, framed by natural rock formations.

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Hours of Operation
Monday: 6 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Tuesday – Sunday: 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Happy Hour
Daily, 4–6 p.m: $2 tall boys, rotating drink specials

Go to Cheer up Charlies for vegan food and a funky space.

Bout Time II a.k.a. “BT2”

6607 N Interstate 35 Frontage Rd

As the address implies, BT2 is farther from the main strip. But if you’re at one of nearby hotels, it’s an easy place to drop in on. Given its North Austin location, the crowd is mostly local and older – but friendly and welcoming. 

It’s a big mix of genders, orientations and ages in a big space. Doesn’t get much love from the visiting LGBT crowd, but if you’re in the area it’s worth a look. Depending on the time of day, it could be a hit or miss.

Hours of Operation
Monday – Thursday: 2 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Friday – Sunday: 12 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Not convinced on an Austin trip? Keep going south with my guide to Mexico City.

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Austin Gay bar guide