Anyone who has ever visited Palm Springs is aware that there is a huge LGBT culture in the city. It’s been estimated that the city is one third gay and that it has the “fifth largest percentage of same-sex households in the nation.” It’s a homosexual and queer sanctuary! We’ve never engaged with this culture when visiting and, as gay people, we were way overdue to peek into this world. What do gay bars in Palm Springs look like? What is the culture that is there? Outside of specialty weekends like the White Party and The Dinah, what is there to do for gay people? Let us explain via a gay bar tour.
We spent last Saturday night on an impromptu bar crawl that we jokingly tagged #PSRIPTOUR. We stopped at lots and lots of places and discovered everything from a little gay corridor on Arenas between Indian Canyon and Calle Encilia to a deliciously seedy leather bar. It is mostly geared toward the gay male but there were a few spots that catered to all. Let us break it all down by place, features, environment, specialty drink, and what it is most comparable to in Los Angeles. Feast, everyone! (Keep in mind some media is sNSFW so click lightly, y’all.)
Name: Azul Tapas Lounge & George’s Alibi
Environment: Azul is kind of like a place you would imagine your mom and dad would go to for a “night out” in whatever small town they live in. It isn’t bad but it isn’t great. They do have cheap-ish drinks and live performances, which is exactly what mom and dad or mom and mom or dad and dad types love. George’s Alibi is upstairs of Azul and is technically connected. It is a “video bar.”
Features: There are nightly performances, a large outdoor patio (WITH MISTERS!!), mayonaise at every table, and a few rocking booths. Don’t know what a rocking booth is? Imagine a rocking chair but in restaurant booth form. George’s features videos playing silly music from the early 2000s at all times in addition a patio overlooking Palm Canyon, a tiny dance floor, and bachelorette parties (at least when we were there). There is also lot of “erotic” art and the bathrooms are surprisingly nice.
Specialty Drink: The Mojito. We recommend you ask for a specific rum for it as well seemed to be preference.
LA Counterpart: Like Mother Lode and Trunks but without the awareness of people under thirty.
Environment: This place claims to be the best bar in town and kind of is but kind of isn’t. Everyone here is friendly and everyone here is older. The weird thing? Everyone here is just watching television. This, too, is a video bar which you come to understand after spending ten minutes here: it’s basically a place where someone curates videos that you all sit and watch together. The experience makes it very crowded and hard to move through because people are like trees watching the sun.
Features: Lots and lots of video screens, people ready to sing along with whatever is playing, a small outdoor section, and pool tables.
Specialty Drink: A frozen orange drink whose name escapes me but it was something like the “Southwest Smash.” There was a Three Olives Cherry and Bacardi sign next to it. It gave a lot of brain freezes.
LA Counterpart: Like Mother Lode and Trunks…but with all showtunes all the time.
Environment: This is the brightest and most colorful place in town where everyone is happy and everyone is super nice. The crowd here is the oldest but–of all the “old crowds”–these men are partying the most. There were a lot of characters, i.e. older men dressed in far out outfits. We wanted to buy some of them drinks to hear their stories and learn about our communal gay history but we were too shy (and, honestly, scared of getting picked up).
Features: A big chandelier, a good DJ, “art” photography, wobbly tables, and–you guessed it–video screens.
Specialty Drink: The Rose Kennedy. It’s basically 4/5ths vodka and a splash of cranberry. There may be other things in there but you would never know.
LA Counterpart: The Abbey but without the expanse and without the young folk and without the annoyances. This is an Abbey we would visit a lot!
Name: Gay Mart
Environment: This is not a bar but a gay clothing store and sex shop. It was open so we stopped in. It is bright and empty and people stare at you.
Features: There are a lot of silly tank tops and silly skimpy outfits and even a section of greeting cards and topical gifts. (There was a Mother’s Day section. That is not a lie.) The back room is dedicated to various porn items and the back back room is just cleaning supplies. The door to that room was open and we were disappointed.
Specialty Drink: Gun Oil. If you don’t know what that is, do not Google it until you are at home.
LA Counterpart: Chi Chi La Rue minus the colorful atmosphere.
Name: Hunter’s Palm Springs
Environment: This is the only place that was markedly younger and full of gay men, gay women, and straight men and straight women. It also was the only place with dancers and a dance floor and was huge. It felt like a steroided out suburban gay destination. There are also super tough lady bouncers who insisted on carding anyone who did not have a beard.
Features: There are a lot of go-go dancers, there are lots of girls in bachelorette parties, there is a large dancefloor, there are pretty decent bathrooms, and there was even a raffle for a kiddie pool and dog food.
Specialty Drink: A vodka cranberry. They didn’t “have a special drink” but this is what people ordered most according to a bartender. It was fine.
LA Counterpart: Micky’s in West Hollywood. It’s the same place but without all the “pretty” people.
Name: Tool Shed
Environment: It’s dark, it’s seedy, it’s counter cultural, it’s shitty, it’s brilliant: this is the place you’ve always wanted to go to. Part leather bar and part “I’m scared!,” the Tool Shed is where all the daddy’s daddy’s daddies go to. As Bobby described the place to a friend, “You know that guy who cries when the Rancor dies in Return Of The Jedi? It’s filled with a thousand of him.” All have on harnesses and all wear no shirts. We were hoping to see some bad S&M scandals but nothing happened.
Features: There are pool tables and there is a little video game machine (both are staples in leather bars) in addition to Tom’s Of Finland art pieces like a giant head and a man in a sex swing. (Don’t click that photo if you are at work!)
Specialty Drink: Honestly, I do not remember. It was a drink and probably what threw me over the edge. It could have been Gun Oil.
LA Counterpart: This is what you wish The Eagle was: slightly scary, slightly friendly, and a place that always keeps you on your toes.