Memphis doesn't have a ton of gay bars for a city its size, but it is home to a two of the largest gay clubs in the country, plus a handful of friendly, welcoming neighborhood bars, most of these clustered around the western edge of Midtown and drawing a mostly local, neighborhood following. It appears that after a couple of years of police raids and other problems, one of the city's longest-running and biggest gay bars, Backstreet, finally closed for good in early 2012.
The biggest players is a relative newcomer, Club Spectrum (616 Marshall Ave.), which occupies a 30,000-square-foot former hetero strip club on the eastern edge of downtown. With two ginormous dance floors and a variety of themed events (drag shows, celebrity appearances, top DJs), this sprawling warehouse-style disco attracts gay guys and lesbians from all over western Tennessee, Arkansas, and northern Mississippi.
Just south of downtown, not far from the South Main neighborhood that's home to the National Civil Rights Museum, you'll find another enormous and very popular gay club, the 901 Complex (136 Webster Ave., 901-522-8459), which draws a primarily African-American crowd, both men and women, and is, in fact, host of the annual Memphis Black Pride celebration each June. The sprawling club is open Friday and Saturday nights.
Another great Memphis hangout among gay locals and visitors is the elegant two-floor lounge Mollie Fontaine (679 Adams Ave., 901-524-1886), which occupies a stunning, historic mansion in the Victorian Village Historic District, on the northern edge of downtown. Owned by beloved local restaurant maven Karen Carrier (who also developed downtown's Automatic Slims and Cooper-Young's Beauty Shop and Do), this atmospheric lounge has several rooms and draws a mixed gay-straight crowd. There's live piano many nights downstairs, and plenty of cozy spots to sit, chat, and sip well-crafted cocktails.
Neighborhood Gay Bars:
You'll find a handful of smaller gay bars, most of them with a local following, in western Midtown around the 1300 and 1400 blocks of Madison and Poplar. One of the most popular of these is the Pumping Station (1382 Poplar Ave., 901-272-7600), a favorite of bears, guys into leather and Levi's, and other cruise-y sorts. It has great drink specials, especially on Sunday, and a lushly landscaped two-level deck behind it (steps lead to the infamous "tree house" section). Quite a few lesbians and their allies frequent Dru's Place (1474 Madison Ave., 901-275-8082), a welcoming, easy-going bar that's known for karaoke (and live music some nights) - it's a real fixture in the community.
Lorenz/Aftershock (1528 Madison Ave., 901/274-8272) spins country-western music. Next door, the down-home and dive-y P & H Cafe (1532 Madison Ave., 901-726-0906) is a great place for drinking pitchers of PBR, eating burgers and pub food, and people-watching. The crowd here is very mixed gay/straight, and the vibe hipster. A sister establishment to Backstreet, the much smaller Metro Nightclub (1349 Autumn St., 901-274-8010) is fun in a cheap-beer-in-a-can kind of way - it's also known to spin country tunes, and it tends to draw a more seasoned bunch. And Crossroads Bar (1278 Jefferson Ave., 901-725-8156) is another Midtown hangout, this one well-known for its drag shows and community fundraising.