Las Vegas is something of an odd bird when it comes to gay nightlife. On the one hand, it has all the elements of a city that you would think might be teeming with gay clubs: a huge leisure and business following (GLBT and otherwise), a giant contingent of locals who work in the entertainment and hospitality industries, and a round-the-clock passion for revelry (that's right...bars here are generally open 24/7). On the other hand, most visitors to Vegas - whether gay or straight - focus their energy on the Strip.
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With queer-fave entertainers like Elton John, Barry Manilow, Bette Milder, Margaret Cho, Cher, Kathy Griffin, and others performing here regularly (some of them with semi-permanent gigs), and many of the city's top casinos presenting marquee shows and musicals, the city's gay bars have plenty of competition. De rigueur among fans of drag, by the way, is Frank Marino's Divas Las Vegas (Imperial Palace Hotel, 3535 Las Vegas Blvd. S, 702-794-9433), in which world-class female-impersonator Marino portrays a scarily convincing Joan Rivers along with a huge cast of female-impersonator all-stars channeling everyone from Cher to Celine. And don't forget the trendy mainstream clubs and lounges in the Strip's top casinos - they may draw a mostly straight crowd, but plenty of gays and lesbians frequent these spots, too.
All told, Las Vegas has about 15 gay bars, many of them clustered together in a small quadrant along Paradise Road just north of the airport and south of the gay-popular Hard Rock Hotel - an area often dubbed the "Gay Quarter" or "Fruit Loop." A less alluring little posse of neighborhood-y gay bars is situated in a large and rather bland shopping complex called the Commercial Center - it straddles the 900 block of E. Sahara and E. Karen avenues, a short drive east of the northern (icky) section of the Strip, and a bit southeast of (icky-ish) downtown. The Commercial Center should be noted, however, for one wonderful asset - it's home to one of the most legendary Thai restaurants in the West, Lotus of Siam, which happens to be extremely gay-friendly.
So what are the coolest gay nightspots in Vegas? Probably the biggest event to transform the gay scene was the opening of a bona fide gay disco on the Strip, Krave (E. Harmon Ave., 702-836-0830), at the south entrance of the Miracle Mile Shops adjacent to Planet Hollywood casino). Krave has all the verve of a classic Las Vegas Strip nightclub - cool lighting, cushy lounge chairs, a great sound system, a big stage, and steep cover charges. For all its acclaim, the crowd and staff are surprisingly friendly and pleasant, and Krave draws a nice mix of women and men of all ages.
The aforementioned Fruit Loop is home to a bevy of lively gay bars, the most popular being the Gipsy/Piranha Nightclub/8 1/2 Ultra Lounge complex (4633 Paradise Rd., 702-379-9500), a festive, sceney, something-for-everyone establishment. 8 1/2 and Piranha are adjacent to one another, Gipsy is a just north. In the shopping center across the street, you'll find the rough-and-tumble leather-Levi's bar, The Buffalo (702-733-8355), which serves up strong, lovingly prepared, cheap cocktails and beer. Completing the Fruit Loop quadrant, a popular place called Freezone (702-794-2300) pulls in many of the same barflies who frequent Krave, Gipsy, et al - there's more of a lesbian following, here, too.
The previously described Commercial Center has a handful of mostly locals'-oriented spots - Badlands Saloon (702-792-9262) for country-western tunes; the kinda usually empty Spotlight Lounge (702-696-0202); Hawk's Gym (702-731-4295), a rowdy, leather-centric bathhouse; and Entourage (702-650-9191), the former Apollo Spa, which is the more mainstream, buff-boy gay bathhouse in town.
LV has a handful of other notable gay bars around town. Getting plenty of attention for owning its sense of inner kitsch, leather-fetish vibe, and cruisy sensibility, the humorously named Fun Hog Ranch (495 E. Twain Ave., 702-791-7001) draws a good-natured, friendly bunch of guys of all ages and looks. For country-western dancing, by far the most popular draw is Charlie's Las Vegas (5012 Arville St., 702-876-1844), a close relation of the various Charlie's country bars in Denver, Phoenix, and Chicago. This is a festive spot with exceedingly friendly bartenders.
Another good bet is Goodtimes (1775 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-736-9494), a low-keyed neighborhood joint in the same shopping center that used to hold the now sadly shuttered Liberace Museum (there's talk it may eventually reopen - stay tuned). Goodtimes is an especially good time on Monday nights. In the same part of town is LV's newest gay bar, The Garage (1487 E. Flamingo Rd., 702-440-6333), a casual and quite nicely decorated (complete with a vintage-car and sexy-mechanic theme) spot with pool, darts, shuffleboard, and great drink specials (especially during the early-evening happy hour).
That leaves a handful of additional neighborhood joints - places you probably wouldn't take your mother (even if she's a member of PFLAG). This is Vegas, after all, and many of the locals' bars around town possess a certain sleepy (sometimes seedy) countenance. There's Snick's Place (1402 S. 3rd St., 702-385-9298), which has been around since 1976. It's the oldest gay bar in the city, but not exactly a thrill ride. Other neighborhood spots include Flex (4347 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-385-3539), with its touch-friendly stable of randy strippers; the old-school Eagle Las Vegas (3430 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-458-8662) leather bar; and the vaguely Latin-favored Backdoor Lounge (1415 E Charleston Blvd., 702-385-2018).
Finally, although it's not gay bar, the city's only gay men's resort, Blue Moon (2651 Westwood Dr., 866-798-9194), does have a quite frisky and fun social element - there's a clothing-optional pool and Jacuzzi, and a 200-square-foot steam room to, uhhh, warm up in...cuz it's so cold in Vegas. Day passes are available.