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Sydney's LGBTQI clubs and bars

Published November 4th, 2015

Outsiders consider Sydney to be something of a queer mecca: a city that hosts wildly popular events such as the annual Mardi Gras parade, celebrates exhibitionism on dozens of packed beaches, and charms visitors of all stripes with progressive culture and laid-back locals. In many respects, it is one of the best places in the world to be queer, boasting a proud history, a vibrant alternative arts movement, and strong legal protections for minorities. Same-sex marriage is apparently just around the corner.

Preparing for Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade. Picture: Brendon Thorne/ Getty Images

But Sydney’s LGBTQI scene is in the midst of upheaval – and it has left some newcomers bewildered. The introduction of laws that restrict late-night socialising in central Sydney’s party precincts has severely damaged Oxford Street, the city’s traditional gay strip. The edgier queer hub of Newtown, in Sydney’s inner west, has suffered from an influx of mainstream revellers who have been displaced by the same laws that harmed Oxford Street.

As a result, queer culture in Sydney is dispersing and heading underground. Venue operators are seeking spaces in emerging precincts such as Marrickville and Redfern, and some promoters have adopted a nomadic stance, moving their events from club to club as the situation evolves.

Male-focused and mixed

By Patrick Abboud

The biggest challenge for visitors who want to explore Sydney’s LGBTQI scene is that only the old, mainstream options tend to be listed in travel guides. There’s more diversity in the community – and it’s worth seeking out.

Tokyo Sing Song basement bar.

I tend to go to places that celebrate that diversity more, such as Tokyo Sing Song. It’s a basement bar in Newtown that hosts queer parties like Voguey Bear and performances by people like Matt Format, a bearded beauty who does wonderfully strange drag that challenges mainstream drag shows.

The parties at Tokyo Sing Song change frequently but the venue is consistently interesting. It’s a popular hangout for legendary queer DJs, including my favourite duo, Stereogamous.

The Bearded Tit is a fantastic bar that also doubles as a creative space. It’s a great example of a venue in Sydney that’s queer-friendly but not exclusively queer.

The events lineup is diverse, with plenty of LGBTQI content. It’s in Redfern, which is one of the best parts of Sydney for more left-of-centre bars and nightlife. The incredible interior is worth the visit alone: tapestry, taxidermy and wax-fruit-clad walls lead you to an old caravan out the back in the beer garden.

Queer-friendly but not exclusive: The Bearded Tit. Picture: Dean Tirkot Photography

Of the mainstream options, a couple stand out. Palms on Oxford Street is the best place to go for super-fantastic pop every Friday and Saturday night.

It’s known for its karaoke-style vibe and shitty dive-bar sound system. Palms attracts mostly guys, but girls who love trashy pop come along, too. It may not be the most sophisticated venue, but it’s an institution.

Sundays at The Beresford are also legendary among locals. It’s a mixed crowd culturally and age-wise – you’ll find guys who identify as twinks, bears and everything in between.

The main attraction at the Beresford is the expansive beer garden. On Sundays it plays crowd-pleasing house, electro and indie-pop.

Sundays at The Beresford are legendary locally.

The two most mainstream venues for gay guys are Stonewall and Arq. Stonewall has been around for years and is a popular pick-up joint on Oxford Street. It plays chart hits and commercial dance music and hosts regular drag shows.

Arq is definitely a 'shirts-off' kind of venue for Sydney’s muscle boys and their fans. The music here is trance and dance anthems.

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By Georgia Verkuylen

Lesbian-focused venues can be hard to find in Sydney. The community tends not to go out every night – it’s more about monthly club nights and one-off events.

That said, there are some bars and clubs that draw lesbian crowds. The Oxford Hotel on Oxford Street has long been a favourite of the lesbian community and is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon drink.

The Heaps Gay monthly roving queer party.

It’s also where the roving queer party Heaps Gay has been held for the past couple of months. Heaps Gay is a massive event that draws in queer folk of all ages, sexualities and genders. The vibe is charged and the music is reliably fun.

I’ve been going to The Courthouse in Newtown since I was 18 but only in the past few years has it become a lesbian institution. It’s a great fallback for when there are no lesbian club nights taking place.

Newtown has changed recently, and a prime example of that is the Newtown Hotel on King Street. It underwent a renovation a couple of years ago and the management swapped the drag shows that used to take place here for cinema screenings, which gives you an idea of the new vibe.

For something wild, try Unicorns, an under-the-radar lesbian night with a big reputation. The venue changes according to whatever warehouse is available at the time but the wonderfully whimsical vibe is always consistent.

Couches line the room and there are stages for contortionists, pole dancers or whatever else has been found for that particular evening. The crowd is loved-up and quirky, and everyone enjoys stripping off.

Then there’s Lemons With A Twist at Slide Bar. The event is held on the first Friday of every month and is marketed as after-work drinks for lesbian professionals.

It provides a relaxed, safe place to network or hang out with other women. DJs and performers take to the stage later on and the vibe transforms from professional to dancey.

On the margins

By Justin Shoulder

The Red Rattler theatre in Marrickville, also known as The Rat, is the baby of five local queer artists who wanted to create a legal warehouse venue. It is volunteer-run and you really feel how loved the space is as soon as you enter – it has such an aura.

The Red Rattler sees some of Sydney's most avant-garde work.

I have seen some of the most avant-garde work in Sydney within this space, attended surreal and energised parties, including the annual costume ball Monsta Gras, and participated in workshops, forums and film screenings.

Club Kooky is a queer institution that has existed for around 20 years. Going to Kooky when it was at Club 77 (now closed) was a formative experience for me creatively and socially.

It was here that I met future collaborators, the love of my life and a community of very good humans. The best part is the intergenerational nature of the community – I think communities like that are harder to find in other cities in Australia.

Recently, Kooky has been at the Sydney Theatre Company Wharf Bar, at the Opera House Studio and at The Rat. The next Kooky is happening on New Year’s Day 2016.

Club Kooky has been going for at least two decades. Picture: Morgan Carpenter

Bad Dog also moves to different locations. I remember being asked by another promoter why so many people attend these events and my response was that the core of them is family.

Bad Dog is run not for capitalist intention but to draw together queers who love to dance in beautiful spaces – most recently the St George Sailing Club. You jump on a bus with a family of good freaks and head to a ridiculous location with a strong sea breeze. Dancing with the elements – it’s divine.

There are some fantastic LGBTQI events that focus on creating safe spaces for expression, including Troppo Galaktika at The Red Rattler and the Club Ate series, which was recently at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville. Club Ate began with a focus on performances by the Filipino diaspora but has since grown, and now acts as a creative hub for many from the suburbs west of Sydney’s city centre.

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This article was written by Dan F. Stapleton from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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