Sydney’s LGBTQIA+ nightlife
Sydney’s LGBTQIA+ scene is more colourful than ever. Here’s a rundown of where to go and what to do.
Whether you prefer a packed dance floor or an intimate corner booth, Sydney has an LGBTQIA+ venue you’ll love. While some spots cater to specific crowds, the majority of queer clubs and bars draw a diverse array of patrons. It’s also worth familiarising yourself with Sydney’s various rainbow party crews, who take over mainstream venues and outdoor spaces all across the city for occasional events.
Darlinghurst & Surry Hills
If you’re not sure where to begin your exploration of Sydney’s LGBTQIA+ nightlife, the Darlinghurst end of Oxford Street — usually the setting of the annual — is a safe bet. For a low-key start, grab a beer or a cocktail at The Colombian Hotel, a multi-level pub that occupies a prime position on the corner of Oxford and Crown streets in Darlinghurst. Visit during a less busy time and you might be able to snag a stool at the venue’s long open window, which offers views up and down the strip.
Universal, a dual-level space with dancing downstairs and drag and performances upstairs, is a popular spot for catching a show. You’ll find Universal one block back towards the city end of Oxford Street from the Colombian.
The Oxford Hotel is a couple of minutes’ walk up Oxford Street from the Colombian, across the road from Taylor Square. This popular pub spreads across four levels and offers drinking, dancing and dining — the higher you ascend, the fancier the place becomes.
Many long-time residents of Sydney, queer or otherwise, have at some point caught a drag show at Stonewall Hotel, across the road from The Oxford Hotel on Oxford Street. Stonewall’s stage plays host to many of the city’s best-loved queens, and its always-busy bar is a great place to strike up random conversations with strangers.
Then there’s The Beresford Hotel, located on leafy Bourke Street in Surry Hills, a few minutes’ walk away from Taylor Square. The Beresford is arguably Sydney’s most upscale queer haunt, with a slick fit-out and restaurant-quality food. Its weekly Beresford Sundays event is very popular with gay men.
Newtown & surrounds
Sydney’s Inner West, a ring of suburbs around 10 to 20 minutes’ drive from the city centre, is home to many of the city’s bohemian and LGBTQIA+ residents. While there are a number of nightlife pockets, most of the socialising takes place along vibrant King Street in Newtown and adjoining Enmore Road in Enmore. The venues here are generally quite mixed, welcoming queer and non-queer patrons in equal measure, but some, such as the Newtown Hotel and the Bank Hotel, are well known as safe spaces for the rainbow community. Also noteworthy is the Marlborough Hotel, or ‘the Marly’, which hosts regular queer events.
The Inner West’s quintessential LGBTQIA+ venue, The Imperial, is a few minutes’ walk away from Newtown in Erskineville. Operating more-or-less continuously since 1983, ‘the Impy’ in its current incarnation consists of a rooftop bar, a ground-floor restaurant called Priscillas and a cavernous club space downstairs. There’s always something happening here, from drag shows and Bingay (gay bingo) to all-night raves featuring cult DJs.
Be sure to check out what’s happening at The Red Rattler, a quirky non-profit venue in Marrickville, a 10-minute drive from Newtown. ‘The Rat’ is a queer-run space that was established in 2009 to amplify the voices of Sydney’s non-conforming artists and performers, and can function as a theatre, a nightclub or a music hall, depending on how the space is set up. On any given night, you might catch an experimental theatre show, a sweaty rave or a blistering punk gig — and you’re guaranteed to meet some fascinating LGBTQIA+ folk while you’re there.
Events & parties
The biggest event on the LGBTQIA+ calendar is, of course, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. And the biggest party is the post-parade Mardi Gras Party. But there’s plenty happening outside the Mardi Gras festival period in February and March.
Next year, the Mardis Gras festival will be incorporated into Sydney WorldPride 2023 – aka the largest LGBTIQIA+ event globally. Running from 17 February to 5 March, an exciting blockbuster program of more than 300 events will take place over 17 days, including the Live and Proud Opening Concert, Domain Dance Party, Human Rights Conference and Bondi Beach Party.
Queer Sydneysiders are rightly proud of their social groups, which cater to many rainbow niches. Those into leather should head along to an Extra Dirty event, while lesbians and their friends mustn’t miss the sophisticated Lemons With A Twist get-togethers.
One of the best-known gay social groups, Harbour City Bears, runs diverse activities such as gaming nights and group swimming in addition to its massive annual disco, Bear Essentials. If you prefer guitars to glitter balls, connect with the Queer As Fvck crew, which hosts gigs by local independent rock bands along with DJs and drag artists.
Alongside queer Sydney’s specialist social groups, several well-established crews throw parties for the entire rainbow spectrum. Most prominent is Heaps Gay, which seeks out under-utilised indoor and outdoor spaces for fun-filled fiestas. Heaps Gay events are so friendly and inclusive that they’ve become popular with non-LGBTQIA+ patrons, too.
There’s also the House of Mince, whose regular Club Mince events lean slightly more alternative and often feature edgy international DJs and rappers.