Originally published February 9, 2017
Gay dating in DC has always maintained a unique challenge: there are just too many gays in DC to successfully date. Seriously. Outside of a women’s softball tournament or an Atlantis cruise, Washington has one of the largest populations of queer men and women in the country. That may seem like a benefit, but with such a big population in such a small time, it is easy to get overwhelmed with too many options..
Let’s explain. If you live in a small town like Akron, you might meet a boy (or girl), go on a date, and fall in love because “Oh my god, I’m in Akron and this is the ONE cute boy (or girl) I’ve met this month, and I better appreciate what is right in front of me before I die alone!”
If you are in DC, you meet a boy (or girl) , go on a date, meet three more boys (girls) , get indecisive, and don’t fall in love because “Oh my god, I’m in DC that there are scores of cute queers, and I can’t make up my mind, can’t appreciate what is right in front of me, and now I’m going to die alone!”
A friend once told us that it’s much easier to meet someone in New York than Washington. The reason? “In New York, you’ll see someone cute and you know that you’ll never see them again,” they explained. “So, you tend to be bold, ask them out, and pursue it if it’s worth it. In DC, you’ll eventually see them. So, you just beat around the bush and a lot of times find out you’ve missed your chance.” And suddenly, it.all.made.sense.
But, you know what? We CAN do this. We can beat the system. So, buckle down. Swipe right. Put yourself out there and gussy yourself up. It’s time to hit the town with our BYT DC Gay Date Guide.
Pro Survival Tips
- First off, gays don’t date in DC. They “get a drink”, “grab coffee”, or “hang out sometime”. It can be irritating and a bit infuriating. If you find a someone who actually asks you to dinner take it. That’s a rare occasion. Otherwise, enjoy your high-pressure “hang out” with a complete stranger.
- Second, there’s actually no need to feel high pressure. If someone asks you out (or asks you to “hang out”) they are clearly into you. We all work ourselves up leading up to the date. Relax. You got this.
- Blind dates – There are no more blind dates in modern society. You’ve already Googled everything about them. That being said, RESIST the temptation to Google/FB/Twitter research your date before the date. It will make for a much better time.
- DO NOT tell your friends who you are going on a date with. They’ll only respond with “Ooh girl, let me tell you about her!” (and they will say “her” whether you are a lesbian or a gay man – especially if you are a gay man). Everyone has a past, everyone has hooked up with everyone else, and we all have our own brand of crazy. All of us. Leave your friends out of it up front.
- Talk about something other than what you do for work. It’s a natural point of conversation. But, when asked, feel free to quickly mention it and then brush it aside for something else. You’ve got so many other qualities that make you interesting. Show them off.
- Ask more questions than you are asked. Even if they don’t realize it, people love talking about themselves. Keep asking your date interesting questions that get them to talk about themselves and they will walk away thinking that they had a great time.
- Note that “come over to hang out and watch a movie” means sex. Straight people got wise a couple of years back and started saying “Netflix & Chill” but gays have been in this game a looooonnnng time. It always means sex. Ok, maybe it means 20 minutes of watching an actual movie. But, your date really is just watching your crotch. You might as well make the first move because we all know how this is going to end up.
- Pay up. They great thing about queer dates is that everyone expects to split the check. Go ahead and pay without making a big deal out of it. If your date protests, simply smile and say “you can get the next one”.
- Arrive just a few minutes early for a bar-date, then text your date to ask what drink they’d like. Go ahead and order (and pay for) the drink so that you have it ready for them when they arrive.
- Put the phone away and put your attention on the date. If you feel your phone vibrate and are expecting an important email or text (and only if you are), be clear with your date and say “I normally wouldn’t do this, but I’m expecting an email from my boss/whatever. Do you mind if I check my phone?” Otherwise, bathroom breaks are the appropriate time to check your phone.
- Do NOT check gay social apps while on a date. This means Grindr, Scruff, JDate, Jack’d, Hornet, Christian Mingle, or whatever. There is nothing that kills a date faster than hearing a “bloop bloop” coming from your date’s jacket pocket.
- Do NOT talk about your astrological sign. That is basic. OK?
GOOD RESTAURANTS FOR FIRST DATES:
A great thing about gay dates, as opposed to straight dates, is that there is so much less pressure to impress your date with a fancy restaurant. Gays tend to keep it casual on first dates. You don’t want to treat them to jumbo slice, but no need to try to reserve a prime table at whatever José Andrés just opened. We tend to save those things for a bit further in. What you do want to do is go somewhere comfortable, but memorable.
- Hank’s Oyster Bar – Hank’s is the perfect blend of impressive and casual. The food is always solid, the cocktails delicious, and the atmosphere laid-back yet slightly romantic. And while they have three locations, our favorite remains their original Dupont Circle location. On top of that, it is owned by lesbians who have built out a team of pretty outstanding individuals. Hank’s is always a top choice. Reservations recommended.
- Thai X-ing – Yes, yes, the owner has opened up a new location a few blocks away across from the 930 Club. Everyone was holding their breath to see if it lived up to the expectations, and it does. But, nothing beats the basement original location on Florida Avenue. No alcohol, but great food and a great place to impress a date. Make a reservation. It will come to about $50/person, so agree to split it up front.
Eat the Rich – Another oyster bar, this time in Shaw. Eat the Rich is around the corner from the Howard Theatre and is a great choice if you or your date lives in Bloomingdale or Ledroit Park.
- 1905 – 1905 is one of those places that were built for dating. Intimate but not too intimate (read: cramped), flattering lighting, busy but not overcrowded, strong cocktails, reasonable prices, with an air of relaxed specialness to it. This place is like a friend you wish you could bring along, that’s how much they’ve got your back in the first date arena.
GOOD BARS FOR FIRST DATES:
- Larry’s Lounge – Located on 18th Street across from Loreal Plaza, Larry’s Lounge is a thread-bare, run down dive bar (and, we love it for it). There is no pretension here where the drinks are strong and cheap. What makes it such a great first date spot is the reaction it solicits from your date. If your date gets it and finds it chill, adoringly-tacky, and charming – that is a good sign. That means that you’re going out with a pretty well-rounded, open-minded person. However, if your date turns up their nose and suggests next time you go somewhere “more trendy,” then you need to run. They probably have more drama than an episode of Scandal.
- Trade – (Sunday through Wednesday). Open for a bit over a year, this DC gay bar is one of our favorites. We wouldn’t normally recommend a gay bar for a first date, but Trade (like Larry’s above) is an exception for three reasons. First, its Huge Happy Hour runs until 10:00pm and offers massive drinks for cheap prices. Second, the lights are low. This may not seem like a huge thing, but it goes a long way towards psychologically brushing away the pressure of a first date. Third, the sound is loud enough to get you leaning in towards each other, but not too loud where you can’t hear each other. We’ve seen a good number of dates here. At other gay bars, the gays would be circling your date like sharks. Here, the dark environment works to your favor and keeps them at bay from your bae. BONUS POINTS: Trade seems to be just as welcoming of lesbians as it is with gay men. It tends to get packed on the weekends, so keep this as a date option Sunday through Wednesday.
- Jack Rose Dining Saloon – Great place to see if your date is a whiskey drinker, and if they are then sleep with them. While there are other drinks on the menu, the whiskey selection is extensive and the staff very knowledgeable. The interior is dark and flirty.
- The Gibson – This speakeasy on 14th Street (unmarked door next to Marvin) is still a great place for a first date. Just don’t try to head there on a weekend as it gets crowded and you may not get a space. But, it is perfect for a mid-week drink. Instead of ordering off of the menu, let your waiter know what you are in the mood for (something sweet, something dry, etc.). The bartenders are happy to tailor prohibition era cocktails (so, no vodka) specifically to you and your date’s own tastes. If you’re not drinking, the bartenders will put as much thought into a virgin cocktail for you as they will in one crafted with liquor. The candlelit main room is intimate, with hidden nooks and many tables for just for two. It gets everyone in the mood.
- Petworth Citizen (On a Weekday) – The weekends in Petworth are becoming sort of like the weekends in places you escaped to Petworth from (read: a little too busy). But, on a weekday (this means pre-Thursday in bar speak) Petworth Citizen is still a great mellow place with strong and delicious drinks and a bookstore RIGHT NEXT DOOR to go hang out in if you’re there early.
- Rock & Roll Hotel Rooftop or the DC9 Rooftop – Both the RNR Hotel and DC9 rooftops are perfect for casual blind date situations. Never too crowded, with great happy hours/drinks, within easy walking distance to any 12,000 other activities around them and just divey enough so it doesn’t seem like you’re trying hard enough but not dirty or “cash only” or featuring nothing to eat but tiny bags of weird nuts or whatever the other issues truly divey bars may present on blind dates. BONUS POINTS for the DC9 Rooftop: It’s right next door to Nellies. It’s a good test. If you’re on your way and your date texts you “Hey, wanna just meet at Nellies?” then RUN.
- The Raven – Most Columbia Heights gays assume that they need to go down the hill for a first date location. Not true. The Raven in Mount Pleasant makes an excellent spot. A true dive bar (although, unfortunately, a bit less divey as it is discovered by more and more folks) it has cheap booze and a jukebox. Your date will most likely remark at one point in the night “Wow, I had no idea this was here!” That’s bonus points for you as you come across as Mr./Ms. Originality.
- Camelot – No, no, hear us out. This straight strip club on K Street actually makes for a great first date spot for gay men. One of our BYGays editors went here with a date after joking with him that he saw a dinner special advertised there. They then went to dinner there on a whim. “Between sets, the dancers would make the rounds to tables for tips. Once they realized that we were gay, they really opened up – gossiping about other dancers and making sure we had a great time. They loved us there.” Just bring singles. Even if a straight strip club is a bit too out there for you, there remains a central truth. You’re most likely to have a second date if you do something unique and interesting together. So, why not make it wacky.
THE ROYAL – A great low key spot that can go more casual or more serious depending on time of day / drinks ordered / food ordered and allows for a mix of more privacy (upstairs) and solid people watching (downstairs).
GOOD RESTAURANTS FOR MORE DATES:
- Secret taqueria – Taqueria Juquilita is an overstuffed living room in a Oaxacan woman’s apartment in Columbia Heights. Located on the second floor, you call the private number (easily found through Google) to see if they have space. If so, they will open a second-story window and throw down a key to the front door. Once inside, a long plastic table seats 12 while a woman cooks in the open kitchen beside it. Go on a Saturday afternoon. There is usually a soccer game on tv, and living room shelves filled with stuffed animals and boxes of perfume (unclear if they are for sale or are just an odd collection). The food is Oaxacan, which means mole and items like pork cheek tacos, squash-blossom quesadillas and huitlacoche (corn fungus – a delicacy which is rarely found in American Mexican restaurants) and lots of horchata and beer. Afternoon crowds are usually a mixture of foodies and Mexican and Central American immigrant workers on lunch break. Prices are reasonable, but not printed on the menu. English is spoken, but if you speak Spanish or are Latino, you can usually get a few dollars knocked off the bill. Bring cash.
- Eden Center – This strip mall in Falls Church is the biggest Vietnamese American commercial center on the East Coast. It is packed with restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, and pho shops. Instead of focusing on one restaurant, go with an open mind and a hungry belly. For newcomers, don’t be overwhelmed by the loud music blaring over the outdoor PAs that echo throughout the shopping plaza, or by the seemingly endless door-to-door jewelry shops neighboring bubble tapioca tea shops neighboring tofu shops. Do get yourself a true banh mi sandwich, and be daring and get whatever the regular patrons get. DON’T ever ask what’s in the sandwich. Just eat it. That’s the best part. The flavors are all there. Taste everything you see. Trust us. It’s all very good.
- Little Serow – Thai can be so overdone, but yes we need to recommend two Thai places in our guide, including Little Serow. Located in an unmarked basement near Komi on 17th Street, it features a set menu for $45/person. Opening each Tuesday through Saturday at 5:30pm, there are no reservations and folks start lining up well before 5:00pm for the first-come-first-serve status. This means its not a good location for a first date, but a must for a couple. The food is amazing and Northern Thai. Leave work early and race there on a weekday afternoon for your best bet at catching a table. Treat it as an adventure date, and not as a chore. Better yet, arrive an hour ahead of your significant other to hold the line for them. It will be as romantic as the decor inside.
GOOD BARS FOR MORE DATES:
- Dito’s Bar at Floriana’s – While the small space doesn’t offer much privacy on a first date, the intimate setting is perfect for a fourth date. Dito’s is a pocket sized bar tucked underneath the 17th Street Italian restaurant Floriana’s. The proprietor (Dito) makes excellent cocktails and knows everything and everybody in Gay DC, and he is happy to dish on the latest drag queen drama or nosy NIMBY neighbors. There’s a spark of something special in this basement bar and makes for a great date.
- Showtunes Mondays at JRs – We do not recommend taking a first date to a gay bar. And taking someone to a gay bar in general? That is not a date. That is just hanging out with some possible bennies on the side. But, if you are new in a relationship and want to show your new guy/girl off, take them to a Showtunes Monday at JRs. It’s laid back, has cheap drinks, and half of gay DC will be there. It’s a great way to show off what you snagged without worrying too much about other gays pouncing on your new prize.
- Secrets – This is not the place to go on a first date, or to go while a relationship is new. But, if you are an established couple, why not spice it up with DC’s only gay strip bar. Between checking out the go go dancers, and laughing about how ridiculous it all is, you can actually make it a pretty flirty and great time.
- Rock Hard Sundays at the House Nightclub. Former DC Councilmember Jim Graham hosts a weekly Rock Hard Sundays gay night at a strip club in Petworth. If that doesn’t give you a conversation starter, we don’t know what will.
GOOD ACTIVITIES FOR DATES:
- A Trump Protest – Social consciousness is sexy, and with this President there are going to be lots of opportunities this year to show your date how engaged you are. There is the Scientist March, the Taxpayer March, the National Pride March, and more. Take your pick. Don’t believe that protests can be fun? Just take a look at this queer dance party outside of Mike Pence’s house.
- National Museum of African American History and Culture. If you can actually get a ticket for this museum, you are doing something right with your life. Tickets are still nearly impossible to get, and the displays are supposed to be stunning. You’ll definitely impress a date if you are able to take them here. If you can’t get tickets, try the…
- Frederick Douglass House in Anacostia. He’s someone whose work is getting recognized more and more.
- Story District – Whenever there is a show, we always put Story District in our Gay Best Weekend Bets as a “Great Date Option” because IT IS. Story District produces all sorts of hilarious shows featuring real stories from local story tellers. It’s so popular that they’ll sell out the Lincoln Theatre or the 930 Club. We always say that the downside of a movie is that you don’t talk with your date. But, the upside of Story District is that it gives you and your date lots to talk about right after the show. It really is a great option.
- DC Improv – What is sexier that humor? Everyone loves comedy, but no one ever thinks of hitting a comedy club for a date. It’s actually makes for a pretty perfect one. Check out the website to the DC Improv and scan upcoming shows. There is always someone funny whom you like that is on the upcoming events page. Reasonably priced and a creative choice.
- Baltimore – Baltimore has amazing activities, and no we are not talking about heading up for the day to walk around the Inner Harbor and check out the Aquarium. Don’t do that. Baltimore is filled with great restaurants, speakeasy bars, and delicious Bergers cookies. It also has great theater including the sometimes irreverent Stillpointe Theatre. A great night is grabbing something to eat, hitting up a show, and then finding a tucked-away bar that only your Balitmore friends know about. If you are a couple and have friends in Baltimore, stay with them. They always complain that their DC friends don’t visit anyway. Baltimore is easy enough to take the MARC train up on a Friday after work and then back down to DC on a Saturday morning. Additionally, Car2Go has great 24 hour weekend rates while Zipcar will often run great overnight rates on weekdays for around $36. No excuses. Head to Baltimore.
- Harpers Ferry – A cheap-and-quick Zipcar ride from Washington, Harpers Ferry seems to be the quintessential couples thing to do. No need to wait until you make it official, though. Make it an early-ish daytime date. If you think that you can spend the rest of your life with this person, you probably should start within seeing if you can survive an hour and twenty minute car ride first.
- Harper Macaw Chocolate Factory. There is a chocolate factory in DC. It is next to a brewery. We should stop right there. The Harper Macaw Chocolate Factory offers multiple tours every Saturday for just $10. It is located next to the DC Brau Brewery, which also provides tours (free) each Saturday. Sounds like a good time to us.
- Union Market – Start off with the gourmet food stalls inside the renovated hall. If the weather’s nice, take it outside for a mid-day lunch. Don’t stop there, though. Many people don’t realize that Union Market is much more than the renovated section. Walk a half a block away among seemingly abandoned buildings in the complex and you’ll stumble upon commercial food vendors. Although they primarily sell to restaurants, they’ll sell to you. Halal butchers, Italian food import suppliers, Mexican fruit sellers, African grocers, and Chinese vegetable vendors sell all types of items. Chances are you’ll see vegetables you never see in Whole Foods or Safeway (including yard-long beans).
- Value Village – DJ Shea Van Horn sent us this tip about the suburban thrift store, and we couldn’t agree more. “My first date with my husband Andy was to Value Village. I recommend it to everyone. Super fun. We went shopping for ceramic animals for a spoof video for our CRACK show at Town. It was a video for ASPCCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ceramic Animals). He didn’t think I was serious. But when we got to the chatchki aisle, he realized I was serious and he got into it – giving them all a bunch of funny voices. That’s when I started to think that I was falling for him.” Folks, this is the magic of Value Village. The District has a shockingly low number of good thrift stores. However, the Value Village chain has several in suburban Maryland and is a long-favorite of DC gays shopping for drag items. You always have a great time here, and we agree that it makes for an excellent date.
- Philips after 5 – This popular event at the Philips Collection happens the first Thursday of the month. The museum opens its doors for a night of visual and performance art, and alcohol. It is cheap, but can often sell out. It features a younger crowd than its daytime hours and is especially lovely on a nice spring or summer night when the museum utilizes its outdoor and alleyway space.
- A midnight screening of The Room at E Street Cinema – E Street screens cult classics at midnight each weekend. At least once a month they screen The Room. Don’t know what the movie is? It is a 2003 comedy horror drama satire trainwreck that is considered the worst movie ever made, or “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”. Out of focus shots, plot lines that don’t go anywhere, scenes that don’t make sense, melodramatic acting – The Room is so bad that it is so good! Attendees get into it by yelling and throwing things at the screen. James Franco is currently working to produce a behind-the-scenes movie about how such a horrible film could possible get made. Pretty much every date you take there will be like “Wait, what is this? Why are we going? I don’t understand.” They will walk out saying “Oh my god, that was amazing!”
- Spanish Steps – Grab a bottle of wine and head to the Spanish Steps in Kalorama. It’s a tucked away staircase that is actually pretty romantic and semi-secluded. On a beautiful evening, it makes for a beautiful date. Check out a video on the steps on Vimeo here.
- Politics & Prose – This upper Northwest book store lands all the big named authors for book talks. There is a talk happening almost every day, and often captured for C-Span. Check out there calendar for something appealing, and then head there for a date. Afterwards, grab a drink at Comet Ping Pong on the same block.
- Comet Ping Pong. We’ve long advocated Comet Ping Pong as an add-on for a date at Politics & Prose (see above). But, with the insanity that is the “Pizzagate” affair, let’s just come out and show them some love. Featuring queer staff and some queer management, the bar has always been welcoming of one-off queer events. Show your date that you are daring and willing to ignore the crazy conspiracy theorists, or impress your date by making them think you yourself are a part of some sinister international conspiracy. Either way, you’re getting laid. AN HELLO TO ALL YOUR CRAZY PIZZAGATE conspiracy trolls who are now reading this article because we said “pizzagate”and “Comic Ping Pong”. We’ve enjoyed all of your harassing tweets and emails this past year since first mentioning Comic Ping Pong as a great date spot. But, we assure you we are not part of an international conspiracy…or, are we?!?!