The country is wet and dreary, and only decriminalized homosexuality in 1993. It’s unlike the white, sandy beaches of LGBTQ hotspots such as Brazil or the Dominican Republic that we often see on Instagram. Ireland does not scream queer-friendly.
However, after spending a week in the city on the search for the ultimate whiskey cocktail, I was pleasantly surprised to find a thriving queer community that was refusing to hide itself within the busy fabric of Dublin.
Home of the iconic Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, who faced three trials in 1895 based on his “gross indecency with men,” the island in the North Atlantic has a conservative past that’s been less than welcoming to diverse communities. Despite eventually being imprisoned for homosexuality, Wilde represents a transformative moment in Ireland’s vibrant history. He defied what people said about him and basically turned his trials into an unapologetic display of queer slam poetry, which is both badass and inspirational.
“‘Love that dare not speak its name,’ and on account of it I am placed where I am now,” Wilde exclaimed. “It is beautiful; it is fine; it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it.”
Today, walking through the Temple Bar night market or small artisan shops, one will find the poet’s famous quotes, paintings of him dancing in front of rainbow colors, and various celebrations of the writer’s LGBTQ visibility. Not only do the Irish give Wilde his rightful credit, but they’re proud of the legacy he left behind.
And it’s in this spirit that Dublin has established a fairly up-and-coming queer scene, bolstered by the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Republic of Ireland in 2015. In fact, in a moment of social revolution, Ireland was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage according to popular vote. It was a milestone for a historically Catholic country, and a huge step towards becoming more liberal and accepting.
Now, there is a modest array of historic pubs and nightclubs that declare themselves “gay bars,” which is a huge step from the silencing that took place in the 90s. On any given night, these bars are filled with tourists and locals alike, out or not, who are indulging in trendy drinks, art installations, and drag entertainment. When meandering through the crowded streets, I only had to look for the Pride flags proudly waving across storefronts to find which bars catered specifically to the capitol’s queer community.
Here are some of my favorite spots:
Located on Parliament Street, this decades-old building was formerly known as the Front Lounge, but was rechristened as Street 66, and has been known as a queer bar for decades. When you are walking through trendy South Dublin, it is hard to miss the bar’s aesthetic Massive, bright orange doors line the storefront and are paired with a single rainbow flag.
Ducking into the bar, I found myself nestled in a cosmopolitan lounge filled with velvet sofas and quirky, circus-themed art. The owners called it a dive bar. Contrasting with this space of the building, there’s a “Disco Room” at the back where drag shows and DJs take the stage during the weekend.
The bar’s eccentric vibe screams hipster, which is great if you’re into that. But if you’re not, they have a selection of 40 gins and growing (enough to turn even the most devoted whiskey lovers into gin fanatics).
Opened in 1985, it’s one of Ireland’s oldest queer nightclubs and was the largest queer venue in the city until the decriminalization of homosexuality just eight years after its opening. The club dubs itself “the first port of call for young gay people in Ireland … it’s the lynchpin that holds Dublin’s gay scene together.”
Situated on the lively South Great George’s Street, I arrived at The George late on a Saturday night and was greeted with a hefty line winding around the corner and down the street. As I waited, I noticed that although the club declares itself a “queer institution,” the crowd was a diverse mix of LGBTQ folks, allies, and people who just wanted to dance to some house music.
Similar to Street 66, the club is divided into two areas: the front space, “Birdies,” which exists as a quieter area, and “The George” section, the part that has more of a club vibe. Apart from being a cultural flagship of Dublin, the club is known for its variety of events, including a bingo drag night, cabaret, and karaoke.
The bar’s website reads, “Hello! And welcome to my lair. Here at Pantibar we have been serving the LGBTI community and their friends (well, the cute ones anyway) since 2007.”
Named after the country’s supreme drag queen, Pandora Panti Bliss, who’s well-known for her successful campaign for marriage equality in Ireland in 2015, dancing with Cyndi Lauper in Japan, and regularly hosting Dublin’s pride events, the bar sits on the eclectic Capel Street on the capitol’s North Side, mixed in with a multitude of shops, which range from sex shops to charity stores.
True to its diverse neighborhood, Pantibar is funky and it has a staff that is overwhelmingly good looking (questionable hiring methods, but I’m still not over it). Along with this, the notorious red ambiance throughout the building provides perfect lighting for the bar seven days a week, every week.
Self-declared as the country’s “national f*cking treasure,” it was my favorite queer spot in Dublin and easy to find, with its old-school, Hollywood-esque sign shining defiantly down the street.
While these spots aren’t necessarily “locals only,” each space provides an authentic LGBTQ experience, allowing natives and international travelers to mingle, dance, and partake in some good ol’ fashioned drinking.