The ultimate LGBTQ guide to Paris

The ultimate LGBTQ guide to Paris

If all of Europe’s capital cities were siblings, Paris would be the gay one. It tends toward extravagance, keeps up with the latest fashion trends, and is a sucker for a good love story. So it’s no surprise that it’s attracted famous LGBTQ people for centuries — think Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, and John Cocteau to name a few. The city has been a safe haven for bohemians and misfits for the better part of the past 150 years, even during trying times.

It remains a major hub for gay culture today and continues to draw LGBTQ travelers from around the globe. Socialites and party-goers can enjoy Paris’s dynamic nightlife, with queer events happening almost every night of the year. For those into cultural happenings, festivals, bookshops, and art installations, there is a wealth to choose from. However you define joie de vivre, the City of Lights has you covered.



LGBTQ history

La Belle Époque, or “the good times,” a period of several decades around the turn of the 19th century, is regarded as the era in which Paris earned its reputation. The beautifully renovated French capital, with its grand boulevards, opulent buildings, and formal gardens, reintroduced itself to the world. Along with the changing landscape of the city, social attitudes began to shift. LGBTQ artists and writers, like Stein and Wilde, came out without fear of societal rejection. They, and many other queer people, achieved prominent positions in artistic and intellectual circles while being openly gay.

The 1920s saw the first gay clubs and drag balls. Gender-bending was the zeitgeist: Women donned tuxedos, and men wore flamboyant frocks to raucous affairs in the neighborhoods of Les Halles and Montmartre. The bohemian spirit of prior decades set the stage for Paris to become one of the major centers for queer life in the world. But the Nazi invasion of 1940 and the establishment of Vichy France ushered in conservative legislation and major setbacks, forcing the LGBTQ community to withdraw underground.

The queer scene reemerged from the shadows in the early 1970s. Paris became a hotbed for gay liberation groups, similar to those forming in the US and Great Britain. Organizations with names like Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action and Red Dykes pushed for LGBTQ recognition and an end to discrimination in France. This volatile time of organization and protest led the way to Paris’s first official pride march at the start of the following decade, in June 1981.

Twenty years later, the city elected its first openly gay mayor whose tenure was defined by contentious protests both for and against the marriage equality movement. But in 2013, same-sex marriage was finally legalized, inspiring hundreds of thousands of Parisians to flood the streets to celebrate. Despite achieving legal equality, LGBTQ people continue to face many unique challenges. It can be said, however, that Paris celebrates this community and honors its rich history now more than ever.

Bars by neighborhood

Le Marais

Photo: designium/Shutterstock

Once characterized by crumbling buildings and a general state of decay, Le Marais of today is almost unrecognizable. Trendy shops, high-end eateries, and rainbow flags galore blanket this gayborhood. Spread out across the third and fourth arrondissements, Le Marais is where you go for a classic night of bar hopping. You’ll meet tourists and locals alike indulging in cocktails and listening to pop beats at one of its many cosmopolitan bars.

RAIDD

Arguably the most famous gay bar in Paris, RAIDD is quintessential Marais. Its two floors are open daily, but weekends bring the crowds. RAIDD is usually the first stop for gay tourists. The atmosphere is spirited, and mingling between strangers is common. A night at RAIDD culminates with the famed “shower” when a burly go-go boy strips down in a glass room and takes a steamy shower as the whole bar stares in awe.

Where: 23 Rue du Temple
Hours: daily from 6:00 PM to 4:00 AM

Freedj

Photo: Freedj/Facebook

DJ Freddy pumps up the volume every night from the back room of this Marais staple. There’s nothing special about the ground level, but the descent to the cellar bar gives the feeling that you’re traveling back in time to a Medieval dungeon. Freedj doesn’t get crowded until later in the evening, but by midnight on a Friday or Saturday, it’s usually jam-packed. The drinks keep flowing until 3:00 AM, and the tight quarters make for a convenient ice-breaker.

Where: 35 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie
Hours: daily from 5:00 PM to 3:00 AM

Café Voulez-Vous

For brunch, dinner, or simply a night of drinks and conversation, Café Voulez-Vous is the right choice. The setting is chic and cosmopolitan. Music is played at a reasonable volume, and groups of friends congregate around tables. Set up like a typical Parisian café, everyone is there to see and be seen, and mingling outside of cliques is rare.

Where: 18 Rue du Temple
Hours: daily, hours vary

3W Kafé

3W is a great place to start the evening or spend the whole night. This lesbian-centric karaoke bar draws a big after-work crowd from Wednesdays onward. The casual atmosphere and the cheap drinks — happy hour lasts until 9:00 PM — are perfect for a night of belting out your favorite tunes with the gal pals.

Where: 8 Rue des Ecouffes
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, hours vary

Cox

Photo: COX/Facebook

Cox is hard to miss: A big red awning wraps around its entire corner storefront, and there’s always a crowd of guys congregating on the terrace. Perfect for a weekday happy hour — this spot plays electronic and pop hits and serves discounted drinks. Unlike many of the other Marais bars, Cox has a strong local vibe.

Where: 15 Rue des Archives
Hours: daily from 5:00 PM to 2:00 AM

Les Halles

Photo: Romas_Photo/Shutterstock

Most visitors to Paris only associate Les Halles with shopping, but it’s also one of the city’s oldest gay districts. Occupying the first arrondissement, Les Halles is a bit more local and low-key than Le Marais. It’s not on the radar of many gay tourists, so it’s likely you may only encounter real Parisians at some of the bars in this area.

Bear Bar El Hombre

Bears can rejoice in this shaggy sanctuary. All are welcome, of course, but twinks and otters may not even catch a side glance from the guys cruising at this joint. The ground level has the atmosphere of a dive bar with kitschy plush stuffed bears adorning the walls. Head down to the basement on a weekend night, however, and you’ll encounter a bass-pumping club brimming with Paris’s furriest fellows.

Where: 15 Rue de La Reynie
Hours: daily from 4:00 PM to 4:00 AM

Le Labo

Photo: The LABO Bar Club Paris/Facebook

Haughty Parisians call Le Labo a suburban bar, but this lounge-style venue is pretty glamorous in its own right. Locals from all over the Greater Paris area and beyond frequent it on weekends. At night, the bistro tables are pushed out of the way and the whole place transforms into a dance floor. Classics from Beyoncé to Britney, ABBA and the Spice Girls keep the party going until 6:00 AM.

Where: 37 Rue des Lombards
Hours: daily, except Mondays

Mutinerie

More than just a lesbian bar, La Mutinerie is a self-described feminist space for queer and trans women. Activist-minded visitors will fit right in here, as Mutinerie is equally a space for political action and community-building. It has a chill and divey atmosphere, with a billiard table, arcade games, and cheap drinks to boot. Its Feminist Library, open on Sundays, has a vast selection of books that speak to the lesbian, queer, and trans woman experience.

Where: 176 Rue Saint-Martin
Hours: daily from 5:00 PM to 2:00 AM

Pigalle

Photo: Subodh Agnihotri/Shutterstock

Home of the Moulin Rouge, this is Paris’s original red-light district. Today Pigalle is only a shadow of its licentious past, but still a must-visit for LGBTQ travelers. Take a stroll down Boulevard de Clichy and you’ll encounter sex shops and peep shows at almost every storefront. Sexodrome, a multi-level “love store” that claims to be the largest in the world, could be likened to a Walmart for kink. After you’ve satisfied your inner voyeur, walk toward Place de Pigalle to a tiki bar called Dirty Dick. This LGBTQ-friendly staple beckons visitors to bask in its campy Polynesian paradise all while sipping tropical rum cocktails out of phallic mugs.

Parties, events, and festivals

Jeudi Barré

On Thursday evenings, Cookie Kunty, one of Paris’s rising comedy queens, puts on a GLAMazing spectacle at Le Yono. This gay-friendly haunt in Le Marais draws a rambunctious after-work crowd. Jeudi Barré is interactive and the whole audience joins in singing and dancing to the last number. The entrance fee is three euros (about $3,40) at the door.

Where: Le Yono, 37 Rue Vieille du Temple
When: every Thursday at 10:00 PM

Bitch Party Paris

A monthly event hosted out of one of Paris’s mega-club venues, Bitch Party is très cher but worth the cost. Each month the party is dedicated to a different internationally renowned female artist. Whether it’s Rihanna, JLO, Britney, or Shakira, the artist’s style informs the music genre and vibe of the night. The venue, Gibus, is a massive concert-hall-turned-club, conveniently located in the 11th arrondissement, steps away from the République metro station. Doors open at midnight, and the club is packed with young, attractive circuit boys by 1:00 AM. The drink prices will burn a hole in your wallet, so the thrifty partygoer might want to pregame this one. An entrance ticket costs 15 euros ($16.70) online, and 17.50 euros ($19.50) at the door.

Where: Gibus, 18 Rue du Faubourg du Temple
When: monthly

Rosa Bonheur

Photo: Rosa Bonheur/Facebook

Every Sunday there’s a party at Rosa Bonheur, a historic LGBTQ+ venue inside of Buttes Chaumont Park in the 19th arrondissement. This event is so popular among locals that its infamously long entrance queue has a dedicated Facebook group: Comment est la queue du Rosa? [How is the line at Rosa?] Note that queue is also slang for penis in French.

From outside Rosa Bonheur is an unassuming country cottage, but inside flamingo neon lights and head-mounted unicorns plaster the electric pink walls. Glittering disco balls dangle from the ceiling, and a stripper pole at the center of the bar invites daring partygoers to give it a spin. To avoid the queue, arrive at 5:00 PM, before the party, or stroll around the park while you wait. Buttes-Chaumont park looks like a pastoral scene of the French countryside, complete with a lake and waterfall, and is worth a visit in its own right.

Where: 2 Avenue de la Cascade
When: every Sunday at 6:00 PM

Doctor Love

Doctor Love is not just a catchy name — the host, Mylène, is actually a medical doctor. This themed party takes place once per month at the impressive Club Haussmann, right off the grand boulevard of the same name. Mylène selects the theme and meticulously curates the space to match it. Whether it’s aliens, superheroes, or a masquerade, the club is transformed into an otherworldly place. Scene queens and circuit boys will not want to miss it. The entrance fee is 20 euros ($22.30) and includes one drink.

Where: 23 Rue Taitbout
When: one Saturday per month

Queer Week

Photo: Gaëlle Matata/Facebook

In April, the Paris LGBT Center and its partner organizations host a week of celebrating queer people. The events are varied — some are professional workshops that seek to improve queer lives, and others are just downright debaucherous parties. This year’s program includes a hackathon: a three-day workshop dedicated to teaching queer folks how to code, roundtable talks focusing on trans issues, a “tarot evening,” a day of mental health, dance parties, and much more. For a detailed program, consult the agenda located on the LGBT Center’s website closer to the time.

Where: Events take place at different locations throughout Paris
When: October 2 to 11, 2020

MercrediX / VendrediX

MecrediX and VendrediX are two weekly after-work gay parties that take place every Wednesday and Friday evening, respectively. The locations change each week, but both events almost always take place at a rooftop bar in central Paris. Check out their content on Facebook.

Where: Events take place at different locations around Paris

PRIDE

Photo: Julien_j/Shutterstock

In June, Paris paints the town rainbow — literally. Two years ago crosswalks in Le Marais were repainted in multicolor to celebrate gay pride. Now permanent, these displays are a precursor to the flamboyant extravaganza that is Paris Pride.

Where: Events take place at different locations around Paris
When: June every year

Existrans

Existrans is a march dedicated to transgender and intersex people. The organization, by the same name, is politically active year-round with the parade being their final showcase. Consult the website for exact dates and locations for the annual event. Allies are also welcome and encouraged to participate.

Where: Various locations around Paris
When: October

Naturism and outdoor activities

Bois de Vincennes

Photo: Mikhail Gnatkovskiy/Shutterstock

From April to October, a section of Bois de Vincennes, a park just on the edge of the eastern city limits, is designated for naturists. Parisian gays flock to this site for nude picnics and day drinking on the weekends. If you’re feeling frisky, there’s an unofficial cruising spot in the forest nearby the naturist area. While still a big taboo in North America, naturism is more mainstream in Europe and is enjoyed by gays and straights alike. Prepare to encounter people of all different ages and body types basking in nude bliss. Please note, photography and film are forbidden inside the limits of the naturist space.

Where: Espace Naturiste de Paris in Bois de Vincennes, Route Daupiné
When: Every day from April 15 to October 15

Tata Beach at the Seine

A former gay cruising spot on the river alongside the Jardin des Tuileries, Tata Beach fell out of use in the 1990s. However, it has remained an area where gay and queer people congregate, and it’s common to catch youngsters vogueing around here. Hang out with a bottle of wine and people watch for a while — rest assured, you’ll see something interesting.

Where: by the Seine alongside the Tuileries Garden Shops

Resources

Centre LGBT

Photo: Elena Dijour/Shutterstock

The LGBT Center is a welcoming place that’s always buzzing with activity. Inside, it has the feel of a gay YMCA. Every day there’s an exhaustive list of events and activities. On Monday evenings, there are several 90-minute yoga classes held in the cellar studio for only six euros ($6.70). All are welcome to hang out in the living room-style entrance area and enjoy a discounted coffee or snack. The LGBT Center is involved in almost every official LGBTQ event in Paris, so it’s a great resource for staying in the know.

Where: 63 Rue Beaubourg
When: Monday-Friday from 3:30 PM to 8:00 PM, Saturday from 1:00 PM to 7:00 PM, closed Sundays

Les Mots à la Bouche

This LGBTQ bookshop has a high-quality selection in both French and English. All of the basics are covered, from gay canon classics to the hottest new LGBTQ novel of the summer. The prices are reasonable, and it’s not uncommon to see an eccentric elderly Marais gentleman with a sparkly cane and a feather in his cap browsing the aisles.

Where: 6 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie
Hours: daily from 1:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Saint-Eustache

Photo: Sodel Vladyslav/Shutterstock

Yes, there’s a church on Paris’s ultimate LGBTQ guide — but it’s not just any church. Saint-Eustache has been a mainstay for gay and lesbian Catholics in Paris for years. Although not documented, many claim that there was a support office housed within this building for the sick and dying during the AIDS crisis. Allegedly the staff at Saint-Eustache remain friendly and open toward LGBTQ parishioners, but, of course, this is not official or sanctioned by the Catholic hierarchy. As if a silent nod to the LGBTQ community, Saint-Eustache is home to a triptych by the famously vocal gay artist, Keith Haring. The triptych portrays the life of Christ but in Haring’s signature contemporary style. Located centrally in Les Halles, this peaceful sanctuary is worth a visit regardless of your religious beliefs.

Where: 2 Impasse Saint-Eustache



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