For most of us queer bars are the places where we go to find ourself, explore our identities freely, or lock eyes (and potentially other body parts) with a romantic interest.
They’re where we have first dates, first kisses and epiphanies on the dance floor.
So how come they’re rarely sung about in songs?
When I set to work on compiling this list there was one song that immediately sprung to mind (and I think you know what song I’m referring to. Yes, that one. Sorry if I got it stuck in your head), but otherwise I drew blanks.
So I took to google (and drew upon the expertise of those kind folks on Twitter), searching high and low for the best of the best.
From the romantic to the ridiculous, these are the best songs about queer bars….
1. Electric Six - Gay Bar
You can’t create a list like this and NOT include the song that soundtracked many a mid-00s indie disco or school yard chant.
But I’ve got to admit that I almost didn’t add it to the list.
I was never really sure about the intention behind the song. Was it celebrating or mocking queer culture? Tapping in to some illicit thrill many straight people feel when they pass through the doors of a queer bar? Or just embracing the fact that it’s the most fun place to be on a Saturday night?
I wasn’t able to find any evidence to confirm or contradict my concerns. And, so, I’m giving the band the benefit of the doubt.
What I DID find, though, was a bunch of strange internet conspiracies about the song’s music video. My favourite relates to the multiple Abraham Lincolns dancing throughout.
Many people seem to believe that the band’s singer, Dick Valentine, dressed as Lincoln in order to represent what right-wing Americans view as the slippery slope from his act of freeing the slaves to the current increase in rights for the LGBTQ community.
And here was me thinking he did it to look cool…..
BONUS – the band recorded Gay Bar Part 2 and on their 2008 album Flashy (alas, it seems to have nothing to do with taking me to a gay bar OR putting things in me).
2. Pansy Division - Rock 'n' Roll Queer Bar (1993)
Unapologetically queer, Pansy Division have long crafted songs about the queer experience since forming in 1991 – from ‘The Cocksucker Club’ to ‘Bill and Ted’s Homosexual Adventure’, the band aren’t afraid to be open and frank about queer life (with a healthy dollop of the absurd).
Taken from their debut album, ‘Rock & Roll Queer Bar’ is a rewrite of ‘Rock & Roll High School’ by The Ramones. And it shares that song’s punky vibe and snarled delivery.
It’s crude as all hell, but it’s hard to deny the fun of chanting lyrics like ‘don’t care about heterosexuality, that’s not what I want to be’, and ‘I just wanna have some kicks, I just wanna get some dicks’.
3. Rosie Tucker - Gay Bar (2019)
Twinkly and dreamy, Rosie Tucker’s ‘Gay Bar’ celebrates the refuge and escapism that queer spaces provide.
The bar in the song makes space for ‘Saint Peter clad in leather’, and ‘the cowboys dipped in glitter’, rubbing elbows with the song’s narrator and ‘singing karaoke in a dive’.
Upon its release they said of the song:
“‘Gay Bar’ celebrates the incredible spectrum of characters dressed to impress at your average regional queer watering hole. I’m aiming for innocence & bliss here — the joy of looking really good and dancing with people who already like you a lot.”
Keep listening until the end of the song to hear a Dusty Springfield sound-bite incorporated into the track. The sample, an interview with Dusty from the 70s where she refuses to put a label on her sexuality (which ultimately had a negative impact on her career), was included in the song as a reminder of how far we’ve come.
4. Geri Halliwell - G-A-Y (1999)
This list needs a bit of camp ridiculousness, and who better than Geri Halliwell to deliver the goods?
A b-side to Geri’s finest solo moment (that’s ‘Mi Chico Latino’, in case you didn’t already know), ‘G-A-Y’ was written about the legendary London club night, and encourages its listeners to ‘get up and go out and get it on’.
Ok, so not the deepest of lyrics, but it does accurately list the actions you should take if you want to have a good night out.
Of the club night and the song Geri said:
“It was one of the first gigs I ever did, and there was just such a brilliant vibe in that club. I had this song kicking around in my mind for ages – it’s sort of just came to life. And also G-A-Y means “Good As You,” good as you want to be. And I love that. There’s something about a gay crowd – liberated and free and warm. I like the attitude”.
5. Scissor Sisters - Take Your Mama (2004)
I took my mum to a queer bar once.
She wasn’t very impressed.
Fortunately Jake Shears, lead singer of Scissor Sisters, had better luck.
‘Take Your Mama’, from the band’s debut album, is about taking your mum queer clubbing to introduce her to your world.
Upon the single’s release Shears shared his experiences of going out with his mum:
“She doesn’t drink or anything but she’ll watch me get pissed and I take her to the sleaziest gay bars imaginable. And she’s always so cute, she’s got blond hair and dresses really nice. She loves being social and meeting all the drag queens and looking at the strippers. It’s really fun and she’s kind of become her own New York character – everyone knows who she is!”
6. Jonathan Richman - I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar
Ok, I know it’s problematic as all hell to include a song by a white-cis-het-man recounting his experiences as an outsider in a lesbian bar, but… have you heard this tune???
Jonathan Richman is a jangly American singer/songwriter who founded the influential proto-punk band The Modern Lovers before going solo in the mid-70s.
The song details his evening’s adventure as he is led to a lesbian bar by a group of kids he meets earlier that evening. He very quickly gets in to the swing of things in the bar where ‘things were way, way bold’, and shakes his hips with the rest of the crowd.
With no mention of a pool table, though, you do have to wonder whether or not Jonathan was REALLY in a lesbian bar, or whether this song is purely a work of his imagination.
7. Bloc Party - On
Set in the real-life Joiner’s Arms (RIP!), as featured on a past episode of Lost Spaces, ‘On’, from Bloc Party’s sophomore album is a song about… well… drugs. Lead singer Kele Okereke said:
“It’s a song about getting f*cked up on a Friday night. In east London you can’t go anywhere without someone having cocaine on them. Suddenly, when we came back from tour it was all around me. But it’s not a moralising song about using cocaine – more an explanation of the appeal and the comedown.”
The exuberance on the way up, and the frantic worthlessness on the way down are captured in both the lyrics and the frenzied percussion of the track, taking Okereke from moments where ‘the dance floor is mine’ to ‘a flatness so bleak’.
8. Chappell Roan - Pink Pony Club (2020)
Written after her first visit to West Hollywood’s world famous queer bar The Abbey, Chappell Roan’s ‘Pink Pony Club’ is a letter to her family, letting them know that she has to follow her own path.
“All of a sudden I realised I could truly be any way I wanted to be, and no one would bat an eye,” says Roan. “It was so different from home, where I always had such a hard time being myself and felt like I’d be judged for being different or being creative. I just felt overwhelmed with complete love and acceptance, and from then on I started writing songs as the real me.”
The song conveys the elation and joy of taking that first tentative step on the dancefloor, self-conscious that people might be watching you, before succumbing to the music and finding yourself under the disco ball.
9. Judas Priest - Raw Deal (1977)
Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford came out in 1998, saying at the time “it’s a wonderful moment when you walk out of the closet. Now I’ve done that and I’ve freed myself. It’s a great feeling for me to finally let go and make this statement”.
But, if anyone had been paying attention to the lyrics of ‘Raw Deal’, a song included on the 1977 album ‘Sin After Sin’, they would have been under no illusion about Rob’s preferences.
There’s very little ambiguity to lines like “the steel and leather dudes were fooling with the denim dudes”, which Halford sings over a quick guitar lick as he recounts a visit to a leather bar in Fire Island.
10. Jim Lowe - Green Door (1956)
This song is almost certainly NOT about a lesbian bar, but I love how ridiculous and persistent the urban legend about it is that I had to include it on this list.
So, no word of a lie, this is how the rumour started:
- ‘The Killing of Sister George’, a film about an ageing lesbian TV actress who loses both her job and her girlfriend, was released in 1968, and included a few scenes that were filmed at Gateways, a real-life lesbian bar in London
- To get in to Gateways you had to go through a green door (see where this is going?)
And, just like that, with nothing more than that one flimsy piece of information a rumour was started and spread that the song was about Gateways.
Nevermind that the song was written more than a decade before the film was made, or that the song’s writers were American and likely would never have even heard of a lesbian bar on the other side of the world.
Still, with the lyrics describing a secret bar hiding behind a green door where ‘a happy crowd’ play piano, smoke and ‘laugh a lot’, I can kind of see why people would imagine the song was about a queer bar.