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Image for Gay Melbourne: The best clubs, bars, festivals and culture

Gay Melbourne: The best clubs,bars, festivals and culture

Note: This page was originally created in September 2010, but was extensively updated in March 2013.

Welcome to Gay Melbourne!

Victoria is often referred to as the Garden City and cultural capital of Australia, and with Melbourne voted the most liveable city in the world for many years there’s always plenty to do and see as you explore its varied queer, kitsch and classic haunts.

Not only is Melbourne overflowing with an abundance of interesting and engaging public art and cultural festivals, including a plethora of shows, exhibitions and design from the CBD to outer suburbs, it’s also home to Australia’s first and full time queer radio broadcaster JOY 94.9. An independent voice for the diverse lesbian and gay communities, it’s listened to by 216,000 people in Melbourne and more online, the station provides over 450 free community service announcements on behalf of organisations that serve and support our community. You can also listen live via your computer or Smartphone or access podcasts.

Melbourne has something for every season

No matter the time of year you can never tell what the weather will hold with four seasons in one day; but the same can be said for Melbourne’s arts and culture, that will always keep you on your toes.

Summer is when Melbourne really comes alive. The Midsumma Festival (a 3-week festival from mid January each year) is Melbourne’s queer festival with a huge range of events that take over the city.

Melbourne’s Pride March , usually happens as part of Midsumma and is the city’s big pride event. St Kilda’s Fitzroy Street is closed off to traffic as community groups and organizations march down the street for the event that includes a huge beach party at the end of the march, right on St Kilda Beach.

As we head into Autumn it’s great to head out of the city centre for ChillOut (1st Week of March), Australia’s biggest queer rural festival, taking over the beautiful Daylesford and Hepburn Springs area over four days. It’s the busiest time in Daylesford’s calendar in an explosive queer celebration.

Following that is the amazing Melbourne Queer Film Festival, which is not only Melbourne’s 2nd most successful film fest but in the top five queer film festivals in the world, featuring over 150 films exploring ‘queer’ in its celluloid form for 11 days.

During all this the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, bringing a plethora of food and drink to the city centre with cooking demonstrations, activities and more.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is the third-largest international comedy festival in the world and the largest cultural event in Australia, taking place over four weeks typically opening on or around April Fool’s Day (1 April). The Melbourne Town Hall has served as the festival hub since the early 1990s, but performances are held in venues throughout the city as the MICF plays host to hundreds of local and international artists with hundreds of shows including stand-up, cabaret acts, sketch shows, plays, improvisational theatre, debates, musical shows and art exhibitions.

Things don’t slow down over winter with Hibearnation, one of the biggest bear celebrations in the Southern Hemisphere, kicking off in June. Home to the unmissable Mr Australasia Bear Competition, a bevy of burly, furry fellas descend on Melbourne from all over the world for a week of great sexy bear events. Run by VicBears, activities include Bears on Ice, an underwear party, It’s a Cockout trivia and more in one of the biggest social bear events in the calendar. The internationally renowned Men On Men Art Competition begins during Hibernation – run by The Laird, it’s a chance for artists of all kinds and abilities to explore masculinity through art.

June also sees the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, an annual celebration of the art form, attracting a diverse range of performers and audiences to cabaret venues around Melbourne. The Festival exists to provide opportunities for quality Australian cabaret performers; foster the development of emerging and mid-career cabaret talent and grow audiences and appreciation for the genre in an exciting showcase of cabaret culture.

During August -September, AWOL – A Week Of Leather arrives at The Laird Hotel and is a brilliant mini festival celebrating Leather and Fetish. It includes the notorious Code Black Party, fetish workshops and exhibition and performance events.

Spring Migration (1st week September) is Victoria’s 2nd biggest rural festival and takes over the Yakandanda region for a weekend of fun debauchery. There is also the sensational OzKink Festival (late October – early November) which features parties, a fetish expo and workshop events.

And you can’t forget about the Melbourne Cup, the race that stops the nation is a glamorous international event that’s been celebrated since 1861. Its a chance to get to dress up, drink up and celebrate this iconic horse race as well as fashion taking focus for the month of November. An excellent excuse to get down to Flemington Racecourse in your finest wear, it’s a must do if you’re in town for the event. Getting into one of the sponsor / VIP marquees is fantastic if you can.

There is always something interesting going on regardless of the season and this is especially true of long weekends, which Melbournites take very seriously. After all, this is your last opportunity (until the next long weekend) to either get away and relax or party, party, party and deal with the consequences when your back at wok. Easter Long Weekend (March / April) and Labour Day Weekend (May) are always big party times in Melbourne. However Queens Birthday Weekend (June) and Melbourne Cup (early Nov) are totally the best times to party big in the state.

Melbourne’s diverse gay scenes

Melbourne boasts a diverse and rich gay scene that is bound to entertain and intrigue you, regardless of what your interest or bent is. Basically the city is divided into two gay centres, Northside (Abbotsford, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Northcote, Brunswick, Carlton) and Southside (Windsor, Prahran, South Yarra, Richmond, South Melbourne) divided by the Yarra River. Melbourne’s GLBTIQ scene has clubs and bars spread out all over town but there’s plenty of queer friendly venues spread throughout the city and its surroundings for your enjoyment and comfort.

Southside

While it is really unfair to generalize (let’s be honest though…it’s what we do) the Southside is seen as more twinky, clubbing and fashion orientated area. It boasts a strong gay male population who love their life and want you to know it.

While the gay Southside scene has shifted from Commercial Road, there’s still a bevy of queer friendly bars conveniently located near Chapel Street – Melbourne’s shopping and café mecca.

DnM is keeping the spirit of Commercial road alive (located where Exchange used to be on Commercial Road). They boast a a week of events and themed nights to keep you partying the night away and have become a favorite haunt for the girls who like girls on the south side as well as the boys who like boys. Renovated, revitalized and reworked, DnM has a front bar open from 4pm, a kitchen serving good, honest tucker, and a nightclub-cum-dance bar that is really going off these days. Friday night has the London-inspired G.A.Y. night, and Saturday’s Bounce, an RnB-themed dance night, are the big nights, and the joint really goes off! The crowd is young, but diverse, and that’s a good thing.

There are lots of great bars located in and off the well-known Chapel Street, and a couple of them host regular gay events. Unusual but very fun Sundays happen at the Railway Hotel – normally a very straight club, from 3pm on Sundays it gets taken over by a sea of gays in an unofficial weekly tradition. It’s a Melbourne gay ‘must do’. ICE cafe in Cato st is gay owned and run and is a great place to grab a bite or a drink and check out the local ‘scenery’.

Another place worth checking out is Love Machine, which has drag performers and a fun GLBT atmosphere on Sundays. It’s expensive, has a bit of attitude and will only let you in if you’re a dressed up a bit, but the music is awesome and is fail proof for a good Sunday night out. Just don’t go there on a long weekend, when straights still dominate the venue.

Just 2km down from Commercial Road, you’ll find the GH Hotel , the current palace of Melbourne drag in St Kilda. Hosting weeknight trivia, bingo and karaoke for a fun night out with mates the joint really jumps on Fridays and Saturdays when the reinvested venue packs the crowds who love to party on the dance floor. There is a cover charge but if you get there before 9:30pm your entry is free and they have intimate drag shows to keep you entertained until the main stage erupts with acts like Jason Coleman’s BOYLESQUE and more.

As well as a stack of great cafes and shops in Carlisle Street, Acland Street and Fitzroy Street, also in St Kilda is the notorious Prince Of Wales Hotel. The hotel is itself one of the best designer hotels in the state, and is one of the hippest boutique hotels in the world. The downstairs front bar is gay on Monday nights and the Prince Bandroom hosts some of the world’s greatest music talents and DJs.

St Kilda’s Fitzroy Street is the location of Melbourne’s gay Pride March which happens in February each year, ending in a huge beach party on St Kilda Beach – a perfect place for a bit of eye candy in Summer, though you’d be nuts to actually swim in the murky water.

Heading the opposite way up Chapel Street towards the city, you’ll find yourself in the inner-city suburb of Richmond. Swan Street and Bridge Road (off Church Street) are great places to shop. Victoria Street is often called ‘Little Vietnam’ and is heaven for lovers of great Asian cuisine. Richmond is also home to a truly fantastic busy Melbourne gay pub with the cutest beer garden ever, DTs Hotel. DTs is a diamond in the rough with strong ties to the communities and while they may not be the biggest gay pub in Melbourne they know how to pack the pub and keep the punters happy with an atmosphere that keeps you coming back for more.

Melbourne CBD

Melbourne’s CBD has in recent years become home to many of Melbourne’s key queer organisations, thanks to the support of the local city government. Many of them are housed in what has become called the ‘Pink Palace’ (225 Bourke Street). The building houses many arts and cultural festivals, and community organisations including Midsumma, JOY 94.9 , and Melbourne Queer Film Festival. It’s a great place to start if you want to get involved on a community level with gay Melbourne.

There are no full-time gay venues in the CBD aside from saunas, though it is not uncommon for gay parties to take over traditionally straight venues. Most boutique bars and trendy spots are pretty gay friendly, but you need to apply common sense in your selection. It’s important to mention that Victoria’s / Melbourne’s police now have an excellent relationship with the gay community. Bars and clubs worth checking out are The Butterfly Club, Cabinet, The Toff in Town, Madam Brussels and The Bottom End.

On Saturday nights you’ll find POOF DOOF at The Bottom End hosting 3 levels of dance and energy from 11-5am. At POOF DOOF you will find a little bit of everything and everyone and the night is really what you make it. With so many people on so many levels and music to keep you carrying on its best to get your affairs in order and DOOF the night away in this Saturday Night gem.

Incidentally the most beautiful gay sauna is actually located in the Banana Alley Vaults, Subway Sauna though oddly it doesn’t get very busy. You can just enjoy standard entry to the sauna or rent stunning private rooms.

The Northside scene

Melbourne’s Northside is seen as more indie, artsy and alternative. Within it are lots of leather/bear orientated venues, as well as lesbian venues and some of the best sex on site venues in Melbourne. It also boasts a strong lesbian population, though the lesbian scene has died down in recent years you’ll find queer congregations at many of the great queer friendly bars along Smith and Brunswick St like The 86 and Bimbo Deluxe.

If it’s manly men you’re after then look no further than these awesome and very friendly but male only venues: going strong for over 30 years The Laird Hotel is a Melbourne institution. The very friendly bar is home to VicBears (Melbourne’s bear organisation), Melbourne Leather Men and many more. It’s a full time Men Only bar, with the legal right to refuse entry to women and it respectfully enforces this every day. It also has great accommodation, but book early. Events during the week include a pool night, trivia, karaoke and a leather night so there’s something for every fella.

Sircuit Bar arrived a few years ago and has created its very own one stop shop for a gay man, blending club, pub, performance, cruising and sex on site venue into one super hot melting pot for sexy men. Now open every night except Tuesday they welcome guys and girls on Monday, Thursday and their iconic Sunday nights with drag, dancing and cheap drinks its a local favorite and packs out till the wee hours of the morning, the perfect way to forget your Monday-itis. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with a weekly Wednesday night pool comp and dance nights Friday and Saturday. With a cruise area upstairs you’ll also find a barber to give you a trim before you party or pick up.

Ppen from Thursday to Saturday, The Peel Hotel is where everyone heads to finish off their night. Fun music and atmosphere it’s a really fun night out and a melting pot of Melbourne’s gay scene. A word of warning though, the Peel has a enforced an entry policy regarding girls, well anyone who isn’t a ‘gay male regular’ and has the legal right to refuse straights and women. This can make going there with your girl friends and lesbian mates tricky at the best of times. However, if you’re male and with other male buddies, it’s not an issue. Otherwise just patiently wait in the other cue as the annoyance out front is worth it upon entry.

Now if it’s a hot shag you’re after, then you’re certainly on the right side of town. Wet On Wellington is by far the best and busiest sauna in the area, and if you don’t have fun there, you’re just not trying. Club 80 is one of the most cool sex on site venues in the world. With it’s awesome masculine industrial design that is a snapshot of 1980’s fantasy. It’s a must see, even if you don’t actually have sex there. The venue also hosts monthly events for more extreme interests including Gold Edition and NuD. I’m sure you can work out whether or not that interests you. The Gatehouse is Melbourne’s best kept secret and is the perfect gay accommodation for dirty leather boys. Each room boasts a brilliant dungeon play space downstairs with a proper mezzanine bedroom upstairs, all for around $80–$120. It’s all conveniently located within walking distance from the clubs in the area.

Go West

Cross the bridge and head to the West and you will find a bevy of queer culture and arts venues scattered throughout Yarraville and its surrounds. Every Saturday westeners head to The Commercial Hotel for Wig Out with a bevy of drag queens from all over Melbourne performing along with food and a relaxed atmosphere.

Exploring Melbourne

If your travelling around Melbourne your going to need a Myki card for public transport. It may seem a bit annoying or confusing but they have temporary day passes for travellers so you can see the sites of Melbourne without getting fined.

The best place to start a visit in Melbourne is at Federation Square , which is just next to Flinders Street Station (The city’s central station), and houses many points of interest including ACMI (Center for The Moving Image) and the National Gallery (Ian Potter Museum). More importantly, it has a great visitor centre which can give you all the latest info.

The National Gallery of Victoria in St Kilda Road, Melbourne Aquarium and Melbourne Museum are also standard tourist fair. Melbourne’s Zoo is one of the best in the world and its Botanical Gardens are one of the most romantic and lush. The original deco design of Melbourne’s War Memorial, the Shrine of Remembrance in St Kilda Road is World Heritage listed and worth checking out.

Melbourne has some of the sexiest and coolest bars and hotels in the world. Finding some of the best ones is pretty tricky and can take a bit of exploration. Every alley tells a story, and unlike most other cities, they are pretty safe to wander around in. Little grungy holes in the wall down some random alley reveal gorgeously designed bars that have to be seen to be believed. If you’re after a great bar then Duckboard place, ACDC Lane, Hosier Lane, and Flinders Lane in the city CBD are great places to start. While they are not gay bars, most are quite queer friendly. While exploring the city you are bound to come across its world renowned amazing public art and graffiti projects.

Fashion rates very highly in Melbourne, and if you want to shop till you drop, then Melbourne’s the city to do it. You’ll find everything from high end fashion labels to cute alternative artsy boutiques. In the city, visit Flinders Lane, Little Collins Street, Melbourne Central Shopping Center (Cnr Swanston and Lonsdale Streets) and QV (Cnr Swanston and Latrobe Streets) and Bourke Street, just for starters. Outside that, check out Chapel Street (Shoppers Mecca with a big ‘M’), Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, Bridge Road in Richmond. Shopping isn’t just limited to the inner city either. Chadstone Shopping Centre is a shoppers paradise in itself, and there are many DFO stores through out the state.

If it’s food you’re after, then you’re truly going to be spoiled for choice of AMAZING restaurants. Chinatown is located in Little Bourke street, and is a great place to start for something of the Asian variety. Victoria Street in Richmond is great for Asian food too. Southbank, beside the Art Centre, is bursting with gorgeous high end restaurants that sever up whatever you’re after. It’s pretty safe to say that if there’s great shopping, then great food can’t be far away, so just keep your eyes open.

Markets are a huge part of Melbourne’s culture. From the most delicious fresh food to gorgeous fashion, Melbourne’s Markets are a great place to shop, especially if you’re watching your dollars. Queen Victoria Market is the biggest and oldest, located at the northern end of Swanston Street, the main street in the city. Following that, check out Prahran Market (right in the heart of the Soutside gay area) and South Melbourne Market in the business district.

Out of the city

Victoria’s rural surrounds boast a rich farming history, a relaxation mecca, and excellent wine. Just an hour out of the CBD is the regions renowned spa and wine country, and lush forest areas (Healsville and the Dandenongs) littered with an abundance of exquisite B+Bs. Healsville Animal Sanctuary and William Rickets Sanctuary are really worth seeing.

Bendigo and Ballarat are huge regional centres, and is home to Victoria’s gold mining and founding history. Australia’s largest rural festival, Chillout and its runner up Spring Migration are in Victoria, around Daylesford and Yakandanda, making these regions relatively gay friendly for regional centres. For those more into sea side get aways, you cant go past towns like Apollo Bay and Inverloch.

Enjoy your time in Melbourne and the great state of Victoria!

Social

Comments

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19119
Matt Akersten

Matt Akersten said on the 21st Sep, 2010

I love Melbourne. Especially Lygon Street with all the great restaurants. And the city is so lucky to have JoyFM. x

AvZ1987

AvZ1987 said on the 21st Sep, 2010

I love visiting Melbourne, but never get the chance to head out because I visit family. Mind you, after this article it's kind of a headache figuring out where to actually go. Brisbane doesn't have a much going on, but it is certainly easier to know where to go and what to see lol.

homestarrunner

homestarrunner said on the 21st Sep, 2010

i've never been to melbourne! perhaps i should go?

neal james

neal james said on the 21st Sep, 2010

comprehensive guide! been here 3 years & still only seen half these places.

cheers travis!

mmlover0123

mmlover0123 said on the 21st Sep, 2010

Wow! This is a very comprehensive guide. Love that I learn new things about the place I'm living in. I won't take these for granted. I wake up to JOY FM as my morning alarm everyday. Might consider volunteering as well... I never knew it was at 225 Bourke Street.

mikee

mikee said on the 21st Sep, 2010

Love living in Melbourne! What an awesome city!

Grumpy

Grumpy said on the 21st Sep, 2010

Just back from a great weekend down there visiting and partying with friends. Tends to leave Sydney for dead these days.

hazyinseptember

hazyinseptember said on the 22nd Sep, 2010

woot! go melbourne.. so much better than stinky old sydney ;) great article travis

jasonjohn82

jasonjohn82 said on the 23rd Sep, 2010

Move to Melbourne and get involved at our only GLBTIQ radio station. I did and have been here for 6 years :) Jase "The Chase - with Trace

badamj2000

badamj2000 said on the 23rd Sep, 2010


OMG outragement :)

OMG is Batmania near Albury?

poolboy jackson

poolboy jackson said on the 23rd Sep, 2010


Well, I think that should be 'grumpyinseptember'

jimjazz

jimjazz said on the 27th Sep, 2010

my city, my melbourne! love it, miss it, want it! damn my job.

dylan3rd

dylan3rd said on the 27th Sep, 2010

LIES!! the beer @POW mongays hasnt been that cheap in years.. I think its closer to $10 a jug now :(

Travis de Jonk

Travis de Jonk said on the 27th Sep, 2010

Thanks Dylan! I'll update that POW info. I've still got to do a paragraph about the party scene too...

CeeJay

CeeJay said on the 28th Sep, 2010

Also, for my friends at least, the theatres are a major reason to visit Melbourne - you guys do a 'theatre district' way better than Sydney! Especially with shows as camp as Hairspray now playing.

ernesto_1

ernesto_1 said on the 28th Sep, 2010

wot is pow. i only noe wow LOL

badamj2000

badamj2000 said on the 29th Sep, 2010

Im sorry, but 3.75m Melbournians are simply wrong.:)

NATEE

NATEE said on the 7th Mar, 2013

Melbourne is a wonderful cosmopolitan place. Fast paced and fun to be in. :). Just for those silly comments on people attacking other cities in this country ahh Grow UP. You don't want to build Melbourne's reputation for being insecure within its own city. Now that is not what Melbourne is about. I enjoy visiting Melbourne it is very quaint :)

longhornie

longhornie said on the 13th Jul, 2013

Others will doubtlessly report the opposite experience, but I've found that guys in NSW and QLD are A LOT more friendly and welcoming. My experience with the Melbs scene has been that its stand-offish and clique-y.

I've had the same experience online as well - if I change my location to reflect my travels, guys in other states are always more out-going and wanting to connect than the Melbourne Mob is for me.

Add to that the facts that venues aren't particularly close to one another or to the city centre, I - like AVZ - find it very hard to navigate.

longhornie

longhornie said on the 13th Jul, 2013

Others will doubtlessly report the opposite experience, but I've found that guys in NSW and QLD are A LOT more friendly and welcoming. My experience with the Melbs scene has been that its stand-offish and clique-y.

I've had the same experience online as well - if I change my location to reflect my travels, guys in other states are always more out-going and wanting to connect than the Melbourne Mob is for me.

Add to that the facts that venues aren't particularly close to one another or to the city centre, I - like AVZ - find it very hard to navigate.