Best Gay Bar 2023 | Bar1 | Nightlife | Phoenix
Matt Hennie

Off the beaten LGBTQ+ path sits Bar1, an upscale spot with a casual neighborhood feel. Whether you're in the mood for weeknight drink specials or a lively Sunday Funday, Bar1 offers a fun atmosphere and diverse crowd. Husbands Todd Colin and Todd Christensen run the pet-friendly place, which opened in 2008. You'll be greeted by pool tables at the front with darts off to one corner, a bar that runs nearly the entire length of one wall, and a lounge with plush furniture in another corner. Thanks to swamp coolers and well-placed vegetation, the spacious patio is a comfortable escape nearly year-round — and a good spot for smoke breaks. Two windows provide access to bartenders so you're never far from the cocktails. Bar1 is a quick drive from the strip of LGBTQ+ bars in Melrose, yet feels like it's a world away.

Benjamin Leatherman

You know the old adage "Don't judge a book by its cover"? Boycott Bar is the personification of it. Situated between an auto shop and an antique store, the bar's seemingly random location hides the truth — this bar is a ton of fun. From hosting the "Gay Olympics" featuring local sporting teams, to Jell-O shot parties, Boycott's special event game is on point. But even normal Friday and Saturday nights at the bar are magical. As millennials, nothing gets us going like 2000s reggaeton and hip-hop records being spun while go-go dancers shake their groove thing on top of the bar. Of course, Boycott's affordably priced pizza and strong drinks aren't too shabby either.

Lauren Cusimano

Right-wing lawmakers at the Arizona State Capitol spent much of their 2023 session attacking drag queens. Thankfully, Phoenix's vibrant drag scene didn't miss a beat, entertaining us despite the truckload of hate dumped on them. That perseverance to perform is best seen on Fridays at 10 p.m. with 4Some Revue and its cast of queens Gia, Joey, Toothpick, Salem and Mynx. Kobalt, which opened in 2006, is popular for its karaoke. But the show lineup stretches across four nights and 4Some Revue is the highlight. Special guests often join the local performers to spice up the weekly show. The patio offers open seating, but snag a reservation online for seats inside near the stage. It's the perfect way to start your weekend.

Benjamin Leatherman

The oldest gay bar in Phoenix (est. 1971) has the kind of decor that makes it look like a hybrid pop culture curio shop and an antique store. There are old gas pumps and vintage signs, a chandelier made of plastic penises and dripping with naked Ken dolls, stuffed animals, various lights and sirens, an old Coke machine and much more — way more than a few sweeps through this dark and lively bar could ever reveal. We recommend stopping by for a cocktail from the full bar or a game of pool, but make sure to look around when you do. You're bound to stumble upon something you haven't seen before.

Benjamin Leatherman

What Last Exit Live may lack in size, it more than makes up for in reputation. Brannon Kleinlein's South Phoenix venue is known around town for being a great place for musicians and fans. A peek at the calendar shows an eclectic lineup of local, regional and national acts most nights of the week. The audio engineers make sure the acts onstage always sound great and the friendly bartenders keep the drinks flowing. Last Exit Live's impact doesn't stop at the parking lot, either. It's one of the organizers of this fall's inaugural Luna Del Lago Festival, a three-day event happening at Pleasant Harbor at Lake Pleasant. If it's as good as everything else Last Exit does, it'll be a must-see.

Why does The Van Buren deserve to be tops in this category yet again? Simple. The 1,800-capacity live music hub in downtown Phoenix is the gold standard for local midsize music venues with amenities geared toward the concertgoing experience and ambiance to spare. Excellent sightlines, great acoustics and an even better sound system mean you'll see and hear everything perfectly. Classy and historic touches throughout the circa-1930 building, like its glass chandeliers, desert murals and exposed rafters, add to the vibe. The adjacent Ziggy's Magic Pizza Shop and Stardust Pinbar allow both preshow bites and post-show drinks. Even the venue's status as part of Live Nation's empire of owned and operated concert spots could be considered a plus, as it helps populate The Van Buren's varied calendar with a parade of big-time artists and acts — including such names as Bebe Rexha, Killer Mike, Tove Lo, The Drums and Crumb. For this and every other year, The Van Buren deserves the nod as the best in town.

Live Nation

When referring to this beloved downtown venue, it might take a minute to recall its current moniker. Now on its fourth name since opening in 2002, it has formerly been Comerica Theatre, Dodge Theatre and the Arizona Federal Theatre. Despite the multiple name changes, the downtown venue has made quality a consistent component of its operation. A top-notch place to catch touring — and some local — acts, the theater seats 5,000 attendees but maintains an intimate vibe, great acoustics and a convenient location within walking distance of a number of the city's best restaurants and bars. The programming is loaded with a broad mix of musical acts from different genres and comedians, theater show, and circus performers each year.

Massive events require a suitably massive venue, and State Farm Stadium in Glendale not only has the requisite space but a track record for hosting larger-than-life spectacles. Since its debut in 2006, the 64,000-person facility and home to the Arizona Cardinals has been the site of three Super Bowls, a Final Four and even a WrestleMania. But where it really shines is when superstar recording artists bring their stadium-sized concert tours to the venue. Guns 'N Roses, Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney have all staged super-sized shows here; U2, Metallica and the Rolling Stones have each done it twice. In the last year alone, Taylor Swift kicked off her record-breaking Eras tour with two showstopping concerts in March at the stadium while Beyoncé put on a memorable (though glitchy) performance during a stop on her Renaissance tour in August. The enormous size of State Farm Stadium adds to the over-the-top atmosphere of such shows, helping them feel all the more epic for those in attendance.

Charles Barth

The jukebox at Gracie's Tax Bar is a true local legend. It's won this award already on a handful of occasions, and rightfully so. Not only is it cheap — $1 for three plays, 20 songs for $5 — but it's filled with old-school faves in an ever-changing lineup. (At one time, you could play both Prince and Television.) What makes this jukebox a proper institution isn't just the song choices or prices, but what it represents. Owner Grace Perry used to front the local metal outfit Landmine Marathon, and as such a jukebox isn't just another amenity like half-off well drink specials but an integral part of the bar's DNA. It's like an old regular you'd see every time you walk in the door, and that glowing presence reminds you of why you've come here every single time. It's the jukebox that sets the mood and tone for Gracie's, and whatever old-school classic is playing, you can be sure that it fosters an unassuming good time with friends and neighbors alike. So when you're there, drop in at least a $5 bill and you won't just enjoy some tunes, but the very sound of life and art and culture coming together as one.

The basement space at the corner of Fifth Street and Mill Avenue in Tempe has been a piano bar since time immemorial (or at least the last couple of decades). But Beeloe's and The Big Bang have passed off the scene, and Low Key Piano Bar has been occupying the space for nearly a decade. If you're not familiar with the piano bar concept, it's where a small group of musicians perform covers of popular songs on the piano and other instruments. The crowd can make requests and sing along, and the whole vibe is one of pleasant banter and good cheer. It's fun for pretty much everyone, which is why on any given evening you may see a pack of ASU students, some out-of-town businessmen and a 60th birthday party singing along to everything from Cardi B to Elton John. Just remember to tip the musicians.

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