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Vancouver's Gay and Lesbian Bars

Licensed, bumpin' pots of gold at the end of the rainbow
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Licensed, bumpin' pots of gold at the end of the rainbow

1181 1181 Davie St., West End. 604-687-3991. The Davie Village is still dominated by low-design, beer-stained institutions, but 1181 (né Tight Lounge) is a shining beacon of finesse. It can feel run over by a set of micro-groomed Abercrombie-zombies, but don’t let that keep you from enjoying the peerless layout: cork-lined walls and polished concrete floors wrap around to a gorgeous unisex bathroom and a cluster of ottomans beneath wall-sized video display. From the glass entrance tunnel (frosted, save for a crotch-level strip) to the purposeful people-funnel of a bar (which makes nabbing a stubby of Red Stripe an exercise in flirty “Excuse me”s) everything about 1181 is designed to ensure keyed-up, and even coquettish, interaction. Station yourself with one of their stellar margaritas on a low-slung couch and eye up both playboys and lipstick ladies (gay and straight).

Celebrities 1022 Davie St., West End, 604-681-6180. Tuesday nights, thanks to the $3 highballs that promoters of Stacked are dishing out, have made Celebrities the straightest gay bar in town. (Most queer folk actively avoid the night.) For the rest of the week, however, Celebs rules as the city’s largest gay dance club, and it’s, not coincidentally, the top site for spotting dewy, waxed youths. A regular string of celebrity guests come by—Ru Paul, Boy George, and a motley set of gyrating porn stars have patrons paying grand cover charges. Voyeurs may retreat to the back of the club, where a pair of staircases ascends to a wreathing balcony—an ideal post for catty commentary.

Davie Village Central 1141 Davie St., West End. THIS VENUE IS NOW CLOSED.

The Fountainhead Pub 1025 Davie St., West End, 604-687-2222. The village’s best burger pub, Fountainhead delivers pool, darts, and exuberant paintings of men with massive genitalia. But it all seems, somehow, tasteful and English. The covered patio is a prime people-watching site, and it’s also ideal for monitoring the lineup at Celebrities across the street—the pre-club crowd often jaywalks when the dance club begins to hit critical mass. Fountainhead attracts gay men and lesbians, and even the occasional straight person, for boozy Sunday brunches that cap the weekend nicely.

Lick 455 Abbott St., Gastown, 604-685-7777. Vancouver has never been known as a haven for lesbian joints—mostly women make do with “women’s night” at gay bars, and the Xanadu that is Chica’s (a Pride party that takes over Ramano’s Macaroni Grill). Lick, however, has stood the test of time and proven to be a hole-in-the-wall primed for sultry, sweaty dancing. Oftentimes, out-of-towners will prefer to cab there and back since the Abbott Street address is at the dodgy end.

Numbers 1042 Davie St., West End, 604-685-4077. Check all attitude at the door as you enter this cruisy, five-level meat market (but first you’ll be swiped by a metal detector wand, a security measure that’s still novel enough to make patrons feel vaguely metropolitan). We say five levels, but each “level” is the size of a generous bedroom. Through strains of disco hits and radio favourites, navigate the maze of stairs and corners with a cheap mug of beer and an open heart; you can’t fail to catch a wandering eye. Amateur Strip (first Monday of the month) is a Vancouver institution that doles out embarrassingly low cash prizes, but otherwise, the lack of bling makes Numbers a welcome respite from high-pressure clubs.

The Oasis Pub 1240 Thurlow St., West End, 604-685-1724. Non-scenesters enjoy this resto-pub, which operates at a slight remove from the Davie Village. Sidle up to an outdoor table, where one can still hear tinkles of live piano performance, and enjoy powerful heat lamps and even more powerful cocktails: patio bliss. Share decent tapas plates on the communal table, or nuzzle in a dim enclave with your date. The Oasis remains a prime (and rare) bar for actual conversation. (Still, we miss the tiny candies that bartenders used to plunk in apple martinis.)

The Odyssey 1251 Howe St., West End, 604-689-5256. As of this writing, the city’s classic gay dance club—complete with naked go-go boys on Thursday nights and drag shows twice weekly—is in turmoil. Given six months to secure a new location after condo developers nudged the Odyssey off the block, owners and management were unsure where (and if) the O would find a new home. Management expects that the old club will be vacated by November 2008, and hopes to entice the same clientele to a new venue within walking distance.

The Pumpjack 1167 Davie St., West End, 604-685-3417. Time was, a newbie at PJ would have his underwear snipped off by a friendly barman—a hallowed rite of initiation. The briefs were then hung, with hundreds of others, from ropes overhead. While that tradition has since ceased, the village’s preferred pub still has a gregarious, guffawing, flirty crowd. Bears and leathermen convene on weekend nights, but PJ also operates as a neighborhood joint where all sorts take their post-work bevvie. Lineups for the Sunday afternoon kegger are infamous—you’ll want to arrive plenty early. And while the peanut-strewn floor typifies the blue-collar vibe that dominates (pool table and pinball machine are at the rear) you’ll find a respectable selection of brews being served by the (occasionally topless) staff.

Score 1262 Davie St., West End, 604-632-1646. Last year saw yet another face-lift (plus an expansion) at this ever-evolving resto-pub. Avocado fencing on the expansive patio is a fresh eyesore, but the jumbo television screens have been maintained, which means Score is still the best spot on the strip for beer-soaked hockey viewing. Plenty of decent pub food and an unpretentious décor round out the easygoing effect. Best employed as a pre-dinner stopover (Caesars and chicken wings).