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Despite the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation currently tracking across the United States, every single city is home to queer people who thrive, and Las Vegas, Nevada is one of them. With a bustling LGBTQIA+ epicenter and a rich queer underground, it’s a diamond in the desert.

That’s why Vegas was a natural stop on our road trip, where we’re showing you first hand how you can experience queer culture, and all the hidden gems of LGBTQIA+ American travel.

We landed in Las Vegas the way you’re supposed to: after dark, delirious, and in serious need of a nightcap.

Our hotel was a short walk from the “Fruit Loop” as it’s been called since the 70s. This cluster of gay nightclubs down East Naples Drive holds court for LGBTQIA+ visitors and locals alike between Paradise and University Center Drive (formerly known as Swenson). We decided to quickly pop into Gipsy, a cash-only joint with an infamous history spanning more than 40 years.

Gipsy is an establishment which has undergone many challenges but persisted nonetheless – making it an important symbol of queer resistance and resilience. The business has been through so many things: lawsuits, a range of business models, police raids, reality TV controversy, and the plights of the AIDS epidemic.

It emerged as a gay bacchanal in the 1970s under the name “Disco Fever,” converted from an Italian restaurant co-owned by Don Rickles. It shut down and reopened many times as a bistro, a cafe, and a gay club called “Gipsy” in the 80s that attracted patrons like Siegfried and Roy, Cher, Janet Jackson, Liberace, RuPaul, and other legends.

With a dramatic return in 2023, Gipsy came back after a full-scale demolition. Continuing to host drag queens, gogo dancers and queer royalty, Gipsy’s storied history and vibrant present proved the perfect kick-start to our trip.

The next day, we start with a coffee at the Bent Inn, a somewhat new renovation that claims to be the first adults-only, gay and locally owned and operated boutique spot in Vegas. With 33 rooms, a pool, and a satiating pub menu, owners Mark Hunter and Greg Kafka developed the property in what used to be Vegas’ more central area before The Strip became the thing. Downtown Vegas is now home to a range of boho-leaning galleries, vintage stores, restaurants, and other establishments that bring additional layers of taste to the glitzy atmosphere that Vegas is known for.

Before they opened up the Bent Inn, Mark and Greg worked in Palm Springs, and the hotel certainly brings a gay desert vibe to the decor with its original interpretations of old pulp fiction book covers. Mark talks to us about how Las Vegas invites some of the highest margins of LGBT tourism, which is why the mission with the Bent Inn is to create a community that is welcoming, non-judgmental, and embracing of all.

Down the street, we make our way to The Burlesque Hall of Fame, which quickly becomes my favorite stop on the whole trip. The institution is the brainchild of tassel-twirler Jennie Lee, who came up with the idea in the 1950s. After Jennie’s passing, the Burlesque Hall opened in the 1990s as an archive of her personal collection of burlesque ephemera in the middle of the California desert. To this day, it is one of the world’s only institutions dedicated to preserving the art and history of burlesque, exotic dancing, and strip-adjacent performance art.

Every single employee at the BHOF is infectiously passionate, each with their own favorite performers and pockets of history. “Burlesque history, is queer history, is trans history, is sex worker history,” and so on, says one team member named Jeffrey Xerxes Brice who also gives us recommendations on the best bars in Vegas. Folded into the anthropology of this museum is a world of LGBTQ+ underground talent, many of their identities undocumented or hidden for their safety at the time. From Mae West, to Josephine Baker, Burlesque’s history has no shortage of icons and gender-swapping illusionists.

Between the tours, the striptease classes, and the expansiveness of the curation, we could’ve stayed at the BHOF another hour or two, but we’re late for brunch (offered on Saturdays and Sundays) at The Garden around the corner. We catch the tail end of a Selena megamix by a queen named Isha Cypress. The crowd is wild, with a robust representation of bachelorette parties and “woo-hoo” girls that fill the space with high energy and lots of cash.

Among legends like Tamisha Iman and Jade Jolie, our favorite performer is a Sin City siren by the name of Salem who gives us kicks, dips and splits without missing a single beat or lyric. We have a long day ahead of us, so we sadly pass on the bottomless mimosas, but in an alternate universe we’d gladly indulge. Maybe next time!

When you think of Las Vegas, it’s unlikely that you think of nature, but just outside the city is a range of mountains, canyons, hot springs, wildlife habitats, and state parks. My travel companion Neal is a hiking enthusiast, and I have the Carhartts to accommodate, so we make our way to the Wetlands and do a 1-mile jaunt to the Las Vegas Wash at the heart of the park.

Watching the sunset on the desert landscape, our nature-chasing turned out to be a much-needed break between our brunch shenanigans and the night that lies ahead of us. Vegas is very go-go-go, filled with neon lights, cold drinks, and hazy fun-seeking. But when you’re looking for a break, pick one of Nevada’s many natural oases for a breather.

On our bucketlist was to go and see the home of Drag Race: Live! at the Flamingo. We popped by the gift shop, aka “Ru’s Werk Room,” and got lost in the theme park feel of this quintessential Vegas casino. Though we try to find a Texas Hold ‘Em table, the night is too packed and we venture instead back to the Fruit Loop.

Before we get too rowdy, we pit stop at Get Booked, an LGBTQ store with a 30-year history that, to our surprise, didn’t have very many books. But if you’re in need of some cute underwear or a sexy fit, Get Booked is your spot.

Next door is Quadz, a sports bar with a chattier ambience that provides a welcome change of pace from the general untz-untz vibe of Vegas. Quadz feels less touristy, with an unpretentious interior and home bar feel.

Of the five different nightclubs and bars on the Fruit Loop, the one we’re most excited for is Piranha, and it does not disappoint. Every club on the strip has high security and strict no-photographer policies, and though Neal is sad we don’t get to photograph inside, it’s reassuring that these establishments are dedicated to the privacy and protection of their communities. Drag Race’s own Eureka O’Hara is on the mic as we ping pong through the club’s many different rooms and vibes. One room is Latin, another is R&B, another is pop, and a glorious range of gogo boys and girls rounded out the experience as a whole.

As we closed our night on the city’s gay strip, Vegas’ many different LGBTQ+ bars were reflective of the city itself — something for everyone. This travel destination is much like a theme park, which you can build and finetune to your liking whether you like fast rides or chill vibes. The LGBTQ+ locals and business owners in Las Vegas understand its unique cultural imprint on the country: nonstop fun, rich LGBTQ+ nightlife scenes, and a menu of things to choose from, no matter your background. If you’re looking for a sure-fire good time, or perhaps a distraction from your daily life, start your next travel plan to Sin City.

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