Saturday night in the Irish capital. The streets are so crowded you can barely walk more than a few meters before you have to dodge a group of lads coming in the opposite direction. Friends are hurrying towards their favourite pubs, girls with the skills of tightrope walkers are queuing at the door of the latest clubs swaying on incredibly high heels.
But somehow in this anonymous crowd, I just can’t help notice this gay couple walking towards Parliament Street. How do I know for certain they are a couple? Well, they are carelessly holding hands. In public.
Things have changed drastically in Dublin over the last 20 years. When Ireland was called to the polls in May 2015, it became the first country to overwhelmingly legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. It also sent a message to the Irish youth that it was ok to be gay in 21st century Ireland.
Gay people who have learned to blend in for fear of attracting unwanted attention are now more comfortable expressing their feelings in public. An international survey placed Ireland in ninth position among best places for gay people to live in 2015. Gay Ireland has come a long way since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993.
Dublin’s gay scene is small comparatively to other European capitals but I would also say it is proportionate to Dublin’s overall size. It is best represented by a couple of bars which have become central in the Irish gay community. They have become landmarks that any gay (or straight!) people holidaying in Ireland should visit! Other bars and clubs in Dublin regularly host gay nights, while many others are simply gay-friendly.
The George | Dublin’s Campest Gay Bar
Rainbow flags flying high over the facade; how could you miss it? You have reached The George, an institution in Dublin’s gay scene. No less than 30 years old, it is the longest running and largest gay bar in Dublin. When it opened its doors in 1985, being gay was still illegal and the gay scene mainly underground.
Amid a surge in anti-gay violence in the 80’s when ‘looking gay’ was enough to have you kicked out of a pub, the George offered a safe haven for LGBTQ people. For many, young or older who are coming to terms with who they are, The George has been and still is the first place to find the comforting feeling that you are not alone.
Still standing proudly on the corner of South Great George’s Street, the George is well-known today for its entertaining drag shows and ear-damaging karaokes. Its Sunday bingo, hosted since 1997 by supreme drag-queen Shirley Temple Bar has helped demystify the gay community and open up the establishment to a broader clientele who would never have been inside a gay bar before.
Later in the evening, the crowd takes over the stage and dances to the latest tunes. The George is as cosmopolitan as a European capital bar can be, attracting an international crowd of young gays dancing their heart out, girlfriends on a night out and locals ordering rounds of beers. Even Irish celebrities can sometimes be spotted there! The George doesn’t discriminate.
Pantibar | The Gay Bar At The Heart Of Dublin's Gay Community
Located on the North Side of Dublin in Capel Street, Pantibar opened in 2007 and the business shows no sign of slowing down. Its Brazilian super-fit staff is certainly one of the reasons behind its popularity but its owner, legendary drag queen Panti Bliss can take most of the credit for it.
Rory O’Neil, aka Panti Bliss, a gay rights activist, was propulsed almost accidentally to the forefront of the campaign for same-sex marriage in 2014 after calling ‘homophobic’ on national TV some individuals involved in Irish media, who then threatened O’Neil with legal action.
His Noble Call at the Abbey Theatre was a heart-felt response. The speech which addressed homophobia went viral on social media and attracted international attention from the likes of Stephen Fry and Madonna. Panti Bliss was even awarded an honorary PhD from Trinity College for his commitment to gay rights activism.
With Panti Bliss being considered a national treasure, Pantibar’s edgier look and chill, friendly atmosphere attracts a more local crowd of gays, lesbians and heterosexual women. These ones do know where to have fun! The popular establishment gets quickly packed up on Friday and Saturday night. Miss Panti and her gang take possession of the tiny stage at the back of the bar to entertain you with their show and be your DJs for the evening.
Mother | Gay Club, Home Of Music Lovers
Certainly one of the best clubs in town, Mother, home to electronic music, plays hard to find! Formerly located in Copper Alley, the club has now moved to The Hub in Temple Bar and opens exclusively on Saturday night at 11pm.
Mother has developed its very own identity, keeping things simple and focusing on the music. So no flashing lights or go-go dancers in minimalist uniforms. Originally a gay club, resident DJs Ghostboy and the fantastic Kelly-Anne Byrne have also attracted a straight clientele to the place. The dance floor is just waiting for you, if you can find Mother!
Random Gay Club Nights
Clubs in Dublin city centre are also courting the pink euro and host gay nights with more or less regularity. Surprisingly, these parties can prove difficult to locate with changing venues and word of mouth being more reliable than event listings on the Internet.
A complete renovation and bar food offerings didn’t save boutique gay bar The Front Lounge from closure in 2016. Now operating under the name Street 66, the Parliament Street’s bar doesn’t (or refuse to?) brand itself as a gay bar. But with rainbow flags still flying on the facade and drag queens sighted at the bar, Street 66 can’t seem to veer away from The Front Lounge’s legacy.
The Turks Head also located in Parliament Street has been bold enough to host in recent years a series of fetish and leather nights in its basement room, innocently called Daddi Issue. Who knows when the next event will take place now! Entrance is through the side door via Essex Gate.
More reliable is Bukkake, the longest running gay club night in Dublin, born 10 years ago. Join the party every bank holiday Sunday! If you know where to find it… Traditionally held in 4 Dame Lane, it has now moved to Café en Seine in Dawson Street. Better check their Facebook page before heading into town!
The Hub in Eustace Street, Temple Bar, hosts weekly gay club nights: PrHomo on Thursdays provides students with a dose of pop music as a warmup before the weekend. On Fridays, Sweatbox, a recent addition to Dublin’s gay scene, takes over the place. More music for your ears on Saturdays with Mother. And the Hub is still not a gay club after all that...
With a week long Gay Pride festival and its very own Gay Theatre Festival, Dublin has become a true pink destination. Although small, Dublin’s gay scene has a bit of everything for everyone. And if gay bars aren’t your thing, don’t worry! Dublin has plenty of gay friendly pubs and bars to choose from. Welcome to gay Dublin and hold hands if you feel like it!
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