It’s here. It’s queer. A guide to LGBTQ-friendly spots in Palm Springs
Two of my friends have an ongoing joke: If they’re the only customers in a bar, that bar is now a gay bar.
The same ethos can be applied essentially anywhere in a city as gay as Palm Springs: Any coffee shop or clothing store can be gay if someone queer loves it.
Still, if you’re looking for the best queer-friendly things to do in the place some call the gayest town in America (when Palm Springs ushered in the nation’s first all-LGBT city council, residents shrugged), it helps to ask the people who know the desert town’s LGBTQ+ community intimately. For Brad Fuhr, the founder of Gay Desert Guide and owner of KGAY 106.5 FM, curating the best of LGBTQ culture in Palm Springs is his full-time gig.
During the two decades that he’s spent visiting and living in Palm Springs, Fuhr has watched the local gay scene evolve.
“For a long time, all the gay bars and lesbian bars were in Cathedral City,” he said. “Palm Springs never housed many of the bars. It was literally in the ’90s when the bars started cropping up here.”
Trixie Mattel, the skinny legend who graced the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” runway for two seasons, fell in love with Palm Springs in all its gay glory the first time she visited.
“Not to be reductive, but I remember going out at like, 2 p.m., and it was adult gay men in like, midcentury clothing drinking and dancing,” she said. “Like where are we? This is so crazy.”
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Trixie’s drag persona is evocative of the same midcentury aesthetic. “As Trixie, I’ve always sort of envisioned the character to be Californian and super ’60s and super retro,” she said. To her, Palm Springs felt like “visiting your hometown you’ve never been to.”
Now, Trixie and her boyfriend, David Silver, own Trixie Motel in Palm Springs — “I was wine drunk looking on Zillow for houses and my motel popped up,” she said. (You can watch the entire renovation process on their show, streaming on HBO Max.) This means that they escape to the desert as often as possible to shop, drink and relax.
Between Fuhr’s expertise, Trixie’s commitment to aesthetics and spicy margaritas, and my own gay agenda, I’ve assembled this noncomprehensive list of local queer spots. Some are LGBTQ-owned, some draw queer crowds, and some are gay in the same way that iced coffee and walking fast are gay: They’re gay if we believe they’re gay.
Stay at the maximalist haven that is the Trixie Motel
But the Trixie Motel is a bright pink beacon, filled with campy, colorful wallpaper and images of Trixie dressed up as local icons — including a photo of Trixie as Marilyn Monroe that hangs above one lucky toilet.
Each of the motel’s seven rooms has a different theme, ranging from a Yeehaw Cowgirl suite to an intergalactic Atomic Bombshell room. All of the motel’s decor was designed by Dani Dazey, making it a maximalist haven for all of the colorful queers who pass through.
The devil is also in the motel’s details: There are tiny pink speakers blasting Kylie Minogue and Nicki Minaj deep cuts around the pool; the rooms have their own record players, with the office allowing guests to borrow albums by King Princess, Orville Peck and other queer musicians; and the gift shop is the only physical retailer of Trixie’s makeup line. There are even new drinks at the bar every few days.
“I think the standards for cocktails in Palm Springs are very high,” Trixie said. “All the best places have their own cocktail menus with original cocktails.”
The rooms are a bit pricier than some other local options — the cheapest ones start at $400 a night — but that’s not the only way to scope out the motel. People are welcome to stop by between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day to check out the gift shop and bar.
“If you knock on the door and you say, ‘I just want to come in and have some drinks,’ we’ll totally let you in,” Trixie said.
Grab a spicy margarita and a hot chicken sandwich at Blackbook
“They have a food menu that is accidentally, secretly so f— good,” Trixie said. “I mean, it’s a gay bar, but whenever I’m there now, people are eating — it’s like they accidentally became a restaurant because their food is so good.”
The LGBTQ-owned bar stays open until 1 a.m. six days a week, offering disco fries, burgers and other upscale bar fare that complements the fruity cocktail menu. It’s a great place to hit up at the end of the night, with vibes that are more chill than at some other bars on the block.
“And it’s great people-watching,” Trixie said. “Because, you know, gays are walking up and down the street.”
See some great drag at Toucans Tiki Lounge
“Toucans is wonderful if you want to see some great drag,” says Trixie Mattel — a high compliment from someone who once ripped out pieces of her wig to win a lip sync on the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” mainstage.
And it’s true: Aside from being one of the straighter places that I visited in Palm Springs, Toucans was an absolute riot. The queens did fantastic numbers to songs by J.Lo, Beyoncé and even Erykah Badu, and the sea of bridesmaids in cowboy hats and colorful wigs was appropriately rowdy and tipping generously.
As at most drag shows, you should bring a pocketful of singles and expect some very strong drinks.
Wander around the vibrant Palm Springs Art Museum
With a collection of thousands of sculptures, photographs and paintings, the museum houses the work of Marina Abramović, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder and many more. You can currently find an uncanny sculpture of tourists (courtesy of Duane Hanson), a vibrant painting by Stanley Whitney and immersive neon rooms by Phillip K. Smith III.
“We’ve had Michael Childers and Andy Warhol,” Fuhr said. “We’ve had a lot of great things through that museum and there’s a combination of LGBTQ artists that are in there as well.”
Admission is free Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m.
Pick up specialty drinks at the socially conscious Palm Springs Bottle Shop
Green dots indicate brands created and led by BIPOC, yellow specifies women, light pink denotes LGBTQ and bright pink designates disabled or socially responsible producers. (If you forget the system, there are color keys displayed around the shop.)
Beyond the dots, the PSBS is just a lovely place to shop. Along with an array of wine and beer, the shop has plenty of charcuterie board materials and party snacks. (A second location is coming to Market Market.)
My partner and I walked out of here with a case of Drag Queen Seltzer, a bar of dark chocolate, a lip balm and a bottle of Kylie Minogue’s hard-to-find rosé — truly, what’s gayer than that?
Get a strong drink and a late dinner at Paul Bar/Food
Yet beyond the cryptic front windows and the plain-looking “Bar/Food” sign, you’ll find a bustling space with flattering lighting, a gorgeous wooden bar and a wildly delicious menu.
Paul is an unpretentious speakeasy, where owner Paul O’Halloran himself will greet and seat you. The drinks are strong and simple in all the right ways, and I’d say it’s the kind of place worth taking a cab to so everyone gets the chance to nurse two delicious cocktails without worrying about who’s driving home.
Food is served until about 10 p.m. each night, making Paul a great place for a fancy dinner once your brain has fully melted into the desert routine of getting brunch, taking a long nap and eating a late dinner. For fear of doing the food any injustice, I’ll just say that the lamb chops I got were by far the best thing I ate during my recent trip to Palm Springs.
One thing to note is the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but we were able to walk in and snag two seats at the bar pretty easily, even on a busy Saturday night.
Thumb through vinyl and books at Gré Records and Coffee
The back room has a stage for performances, but even on a normal day, you can sit and watch ’80s videos on a vintage television. We spent a while perusing vintage Playboy magazines and chatting with the rabbi who hangs out there most days before leaving with a book on Judy Garland.
Dance and play drag queen bingo at Hunters
“It draws an eclectic mix throughout the week,” Fuhr said. “Like Friday is called Fur Friday, and it’s where bears gather for a very cheap happy hour in the afternoon, but by nightfall, it transforms.
“You’ll find the bachelorette [parties] there dancing in the back room, and you’ll find a variety of people,” he added. “It’s lesbian-owned and there’s lesbian managers.”
This is one of the bars where you’ll find a more mixed crowd — read: not just the G in LGBTQ — likely because of the different events it hosts. Certain nights you’ll find drag queen bingo, trivia or karaoke, but I’d recommend checking Instagram if you’re interested in catching a particular performance or activity.
Snag a funny T-shirt from Boss Dog and Friends
Funny graphic T-shirts are a sort of siren call for they/thems like us, and Boss Dog and Friends sells the exact type of stuff that my partner would say has “t-boy swag.”
What is t-boy swag, you may ask? In simple terms, it’s a vibe. In more complex terms, my partner would describe it as “an embodiment of a certain je ne sais quoi that is not rooted in the physical, nor in practice, but rather, in the recontextualizing of certain masculine entities through a self-recognizing frame of mind.” (If you want to go deeper on that, here’s their whole article on it!)
But back to the clothing. This place is filled with colorful and clever apparel that’s hard not to chuckle at while you browse through the store. I ended up walking out with a Garfield-adorned LAsagna Raiders shirt that I’m proudly wearing right now — who cares if the Raiders left Los Angeles decades ago and I don’t watch football in the first place.
Bring your dog to brunch at Boozehounds Palm Springs
To start, the LGBTQ-owned bar and restaurant is housed in a gorgeous space, with high ceilings and huge windows. The actual menu, which is described as Southern California cuisine with a Japanese influence, is also absolutely delicious. But the most compelling reason why many people love Boozehounds is that furry friends are welcome in certain areas of the restaurant.
“I love that place because there’s portions of it that are dog-friendly,” Fuhr said. “It’s great to have a bar-restaurant where you can bring your dogs — you can’t bring them in the main dining area, but they’ve got an atrium and a beautiful patio.”
Beyond brunch and dinner, Boozehounds offers a solid happy hour, a late-night menu and even a menu just for dogs (which has options like sweet potatoes, a salmon bowl and a special doggy gazpacho).
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