Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Scene: Where’s Best and When Should You Go?

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For many gay and lesbian travellers, Sydney stays firmly on the radar. Known the world over for its acceptance, openness and laid back nature, Sydney plays host to a number of LGBTI events, including the well-known Mardi Gras Festival in late February/early March and Sydney Pride in June.

Visit Oxford Street on any given weekend and you’ll find hundreds of gay partygoers. Over on Flinders Street, ARQ hosts regular drag show extravaganzas every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday night. Should you fancy meeting new friends, you’ll be spoilt for choice with social groups such as the Harbour City Bears, Fruits in Suits, and the Sydney Gaymers. And if it’s support you’re after, organisations such as The Gender Centre can help support you on your journey of self discovery. There really is so much to see and do when it comes to the gay and lesbian scene in Sydney!

Let’s start with the heart: Oxford Street.

Once upon a time, the gay community were confined to Oxford Street and its surrounds. Nicknamed “The Gay Golden Mile”, Oxford Street in Darlinghurst still has a large gay community and the best selection of gay nightlife, but the “ghetto” stigma has seen gay communities pop up all around Sydney over the past few years.

Favourite haunts include:

Stonewall Hotel

The Stonewall Hotel is committed to supporting the gay community, and through entertainment, fashion, parties and music, Stonewall enriches the spirit of unity and love for the gay way of life. The ground level features drag shows and themed events throughout the week, and on the weekends the city’s best DJs bring to life the top floors. Malebox is a lot of fun on Wednesday nights, and Sunday’s performance by the petulant Polly Petrie is something not to be missed.

Highlights include:

  • Malebox is a tonne of fun on Wednesday nights.
  • Sunday’s performance by the petulant Polly Petrie is something not to be missed.
  • The food at Dick’s Diner is delicious.
  • There are a number of unique areas within the Stonewall Hotel that serve as function spaces.

The Midnight Shift

Particularly popular with young Asian guys, the Midnight Shift features drag queens, themed nights, and an elaborate new production that entices people to party on upstairs where there’s a second large dance floor. Serving the gay community for more than 30 years, Midnight Shift is a stalwart part of the Sydney scene.

Highlights include:

  • The Thursday night drag talent competition Cash4Queens is always fun, both for the participants and the audience.
  • The divine Sunday Social with Adam George from 9pm Sunday evenings.

Palms on Oxford

You know when the queue is long to get in, it must be a great club. Palms is an underground venue that’s known for it’s fun and couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude, making it a great venue for all ages.

Highlights include:

  • The awesome music stylings, including beloved tracks from the 80’s and 90’s.
  • The low-key, working class style atmosphere.
  • No cover-fee.

Phoenix at the Exchange

When the last thing you want to do is go to bed, the Phoenix at the Exchange helps extend the night’s partying, thanks to their being open until 5am. They play fantastic music from their resident DJs, and refuse to play cheesy music.

Highlights include:

  • Open ‘til late (5am).
  • Great function spaces available, with a lot of variety to choose from.
  • Range of different style bars, including
    • QBar
    • Spectrum
    • Phoenix Bar
    • Nevada Lounge
    • Vegas Lounge.

Sydney Sauna

The city’s newest sauna venue, 357 offers a steam room, dry sauna, a large spa, private rooms, a porn movie lounge, sling rooms, glory holes, cruise areas, cafe’s, restaurants and bars. It truly has everything necessary for a fun and relaxed time with great company.

Highlights include:

  • The comfortable huge screen cinema area on Level 4.
  • Free high-speed Internet for patrons, for those who need to check in with the world every so often.
  • There’s also a professional massage service available in private rooms for those needing to relax stressed muscles.

Next up is: Newtown

Newtown offers a vibrant gay nightlife and is often deemed Australia’s lesbian capital. Take a stroll down King’s Street and you’re sure to see a multitude of lesbian and gay couples holding hands with pets and kids in tow.

Favourite haunts in Newtown include:

The Imperial Hotel

Made famous in the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the Imperial Hotel (the Impy) is home to drag shows, parties, themed nights, and a whole host of fun. On Tuesday nights they hold drag trivia, a must-experience for everyone.

Highlights include:

  • On Tuesday nights they have drag trivia, definitely worth a trip!
  • Wednesday nights buy a drink after 7pm and go in the draw to win a meat or seafood tray.
  • Felicity and Friends perform every Friday night from 9pm.

Newtown Hotel

After closing for a refurbishment, Newtown’s original LGBT pub is back in business and looking better than ever. Offering charity nights, parties, drag bingo and more, there’s always something happening at this amazingly madeover Newtown Hotel.

  • Highlights include:
    • Happy hour is Monday-Friday 4pm to 7pm for cheap, delicious drinks.
    • The Animal restaurant menu within the hotel will satisfy even the fussiest of eaters with their scrumptious dishes.
    • Fantastic venue for functions of all sizes.

When is the best time to visit?

Summer in Sydney is unbeatable, especially towards the end. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (held in late February) is the jewel in what is an incredible party season, and is when the Sydney gay scene is at its best.

Mardi Gras began as a street demonstration in 1978 and has risen to be one of the world’s premier gay and lesbian events. For three whole weeks, the city is awash with theatre, painting, opera, cabaret, comedy, music, parties, and performing art.

Some dates to include in your itinerary are:

Sunday 22 February – Fair Day

Fair Day is the official kick off to Mardi Gras, and each year attracts thousands of LGBTQI locals and international visitors. Stalls line Victoria Park, containing businesses, social groups and advocacy organisations. A dance tent keeps everybody dancing, the kids enjoy free entertainment, there’s live music, and even a dog show!

Friday 27 February – Women Say Something

Women Say Something is a gala event celebrating the achievements of women with diverse backgrounds. Cirque Du Femme combine a carnival and side show, tantalising your senses and emotions through spectacle, speech, and a picnicking feast. Speakers include Magna Szubanski, Dorothy McCrae-McMahon, and Professor Kerryn Phelps.

Saturday 28 February – Harbour Party

Nestled in the heart of the lush Royal Botanical Gardens, the Mardi Gras Harbour Party is one of the greatest outdoor parties in the world. Sip on cocktails as the sun sets over the city, and then dance the night away with 3,000 of your peers. Cut loose to some of the country’s best DJs, and enjoy a special performance by Canadian songstress Kiesza.

Saturday 7 March – Parade Day

Join hundreds of thousands of spectators in what is one of the most colourful and vibrant parades in the world. Watch as 10,000 people proudly march the streets, or take part and express your LGBTQI identity. The parade can be found on Oxford and Flinders Street, and will be broadcast on SBS on Sunday 8 March.