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An LGBTQ club returns in Las Vegas, a sign of changing dynamics in queer nightlife

Jacob Lopez

The local LGBTQ nightclub Gipsy has had more lives than a cat. It opened in 1981 as a sanctuary for those in the community who were afraid to express themselves during a very socially conservative time. And during the next four decades, the club would endure arson, multiple owners, legal episodes, and an infamous — and famously despised — overhaul by the TV show Bar Rescue. Eventually, Gipsy met the wrecking ball in 2020.

But in November 2023, it reemerged in a brand new building and operation that both hearkens back to the club's five-decade history and ventures into new territory. It’s emblematic of the changing and enduring dynamics of LGBTQ nightlife in Las Vegas.

Gipsy was a hit from the get-go. One of its earliest patrons was Dennis McBride, a lifelong Southern Nevadan and a historian who documented the state’s LGBTQ history in his book, Out of the Neon Closet: Queer Community in the Silver State (and who also wrote about Gipsy back in 2020 for Desert Companion). The spot made quite an impression not just with the LGBTQ community — or "show kids," as they were referred to in code back in the day — but celebrities and straight revelers as well.

"Going to the Gipsy — especially if you just come from [other gay spots], which were kind of dives — it was brighter, the music was louder, [it] actually had DJs. In those days, [it] had a more extravagant bar with more drink choices. And there was more of a sense of being out and open at Gipsy, which you really didn't feel you could be in any of the other bars. So it was sort of the opening of the gay community in Las Vegas."

Gipsy enjoyed a high pedestal in the Las Vegas nightlife scene even as HIV/AIDS ravaged the LGBTQ community in the mid-to-late 1980s. McBride notes that, paradoxically, the stigmatizing virus didn't compel everyone to stay in the closet, especially as LGBTQ nightlife began to expand.

"That's when more gay bars started opening in Las Vegas, and not just in little ghettos, like the 'Fruit Loop' [on Paradise Road and Naples Avenue]. They opened all over town; they were scattered. On the one hand, we were just as maligned and threatened and we were in more danger in the 1980s than before. And yet, the gay community became more open and more widespread than it had been before."

The club would thrive in the 1990s as the dominant LGBTQ spot in Las Vegas. But in the 2000s, things began to change. More LGBTQ bars and clubs opened (and, in some cases, quickly closed); casino nightspots began experimenting with gay nights; cruising began moving from being in-person to online, especially through dating apps like Grindr and Scruff. Gipsy's main competition for the LGBTQ dance crowd emerged both on the Strip (Krave) and just across the street (Piranha, which, like Gipsy, was owned by the late Paul San Filipo). And the EDM music explosion brought with it a new slate of megaclubs on the Strip. By the early 2010s, LGBTQ revelers — who have traditionally embraced dance music — increasingly felt more comfortable going to clubs that weren't expressly gay.

While gay clubs and bars still number in the teens in the Las Vegas valley, and remain important to the LGBTQ community — especially those who still desire a safer space for socializing — it's hard to ignore the cultural shift that has affected gay hangouts across the country.

"If you look at the bars from the '70s and '80s — when I was coming out — and even before then, they were refuges," says McBride. "And gay people had an emotional connection with the bars. You're rejected everywhere else in your life, and you're threatened with jail and fines, but you could go to the bar, and you were accepted. You were part of a community. ... But there isn't that emotional connection any more. And you can just as well go to this bar as that bar. You can just as well go to a straight bar as a gay bar and find what you're looking for, whatever that might be."

Gipsy 2.0 aims to be as central to the LGBTQ community as it was in 1981 with offerings both traditional to gay nightlife — such as drag entertainment, be it from local queens or competitors from the reality TV show RuPaul's Drag Race — and upgraded from the original Gipsy, such as a late-night sushi bar and a roll-up door that connects a patio to the indoor club. Read more about Gipsy's evolution here.

Guest: Dennis McBride, LGBTQ historian

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.
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