Traveling down 39th Street on Oklahoma City’s northwest side, a lustrous mural greets passersby with the phrase “Welcome to 39th Street District Everyone is Fabulous” — all in larger-than-life print against a rainbow backdrop. Welcome to OKC’s “gayborhood,” an epicenter of LGBTQIA+ culture and entertainment that’s as historic and vital as it is fun and inclusive.
The History of 39th Street
Many cities have their own “gayborhoods,” from the Castro in San Francisco and Northalsted in Chicago to the club-saturated confines of South Beach and Las Vegas’ cheekily dubbed Fruit Loop. But what makes OKC’s version unique is the momentum it maintains with age — while rising real estate across the country sees queer spaces dwindle, the affordability of doing business in OKC helps these communities to not only survive, but thrive and grow.
A lot of 39th Street’s successes stem from its position on Route 66, comprising the stretch of Americana roadway between Pennsylvania Avenue and Youngs Boulevard. As travelers came through in droves, the necessity for lodging and entertainment steadily arose, beginning with the opening of the Habana Inn in 1968. Now called The District Hotel, the property was marketed as a gay hotel — a first of its kind for OKC and a pioneer on a national scale. All over the country, this was a time when LGBTQIA+ people found safety in numbers. Not just fun and frivolity, gay businesses were pivotal sources of solidarity and inclusion, during a time when homophobia ran rampant. For instance, the infamous Stonewall Riots in New York City took place the year after the Habana Inn opened, signaling a sea change for queer communities across the world.
OKC, like everywhere else, wasn’t without its share of fraught growing pains. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, gay clubs and bars across the country experienced raids and harassment, including places like Angles, a warehouse-sized gay club that opened on 39th Street in 1982. But as OKC quickly became a beacon for LGBTQIA+ transplants and tourists, especially from surrounding states like Texas and Arkansas, the 39th Street evolution was underway.
Angles still reigns as a wildly popular weekend nightclub, joined by a spree of other bars and clubs, like The Boom, Apothecary 39 and the newly minted Indigo Lounge. The Habana Inn was rebranded and renovated in 2021 into the District Hotel, with a whole new slate of on-site bars, two outdoor pools, and regular festivals and events that draw visitors from near and far. Most recently, “The Strip” capped off a years-long renovation project that saw expanded roadways and sidewalks, new murals, rainbow-colored bike racks and new businesses, like Whips n Furs Costumes and Rainbow Bistro. Today, 39th Street has come a long way from its humble roots as a Route 66 stopover. Rather, it’s a mecca for LGBTQIA+ people and allies, regarded as one of the foremost gay communities in the Great Plains, and it’s only getting better, bigger and brighter.
Where to Go
Although 39th Street is now teeming with bars, each one has its own distinct vibe and style. For nightlife, Angles is still the end all-be all. The sprawling, multi-level club has enough late-night dance parties and over-the-top energy to make it feel like something out of Miami — albeit with a much cheaper cover charge.
Just around the corner, Apothecary 39 is a far more subdued watering hole, with a quieter setting and an emphasis on craft cocktails in a space that feels like an eclectic parlor. Across the street, Phoenix Rising is perhaps the most popular bar for drag shows, with an indoor performance floor and a cute patio out back. The Boom, perched atop a hill on 39th Street, is known for its drag brunch and drag dinner shows, performed in an ample theater space behind the main bar. On non-show days, it has more of a casual vibe, complete with a huge front patio and recurring features like trivia night and karaoke. Then there’s Tramps, the casual cornerstone that feels like the gay version of Cheers, thanks to its low-key dive-y atmosphere, friendly servers and sprawling patio.
New to the district is Indigo Lounge, an inclusive and welcoming bar that feels a tad more upscale and elegant than its proximal cohorts. The decor is whimsical and chic, the owners routinely make the rounds to welcome guests, and unique cocktails include pineapple martinis and spicy margaritas. The latest business to join the party is Rainbow Bistro, a much-needed restaurant in a bar-filled enclave. The late-night spot, which should come in handy on a night of bar-hopping, features casual sandwiches and snacks, like charcuterie pretzel boards and beer cheese, along with saucy sandwiches like The Hot Mess, with salami, ham, mozzarella, provolone, tapenade and toasted focaccia.
As the neighborhood continues to expand and evolve, new non-bar businesses are arriving as well, like Whips n Furs Costume, a fun all-season costume and vintage store, where you can find anything from a makeshift Captain Hook ensemble to thrifted ponchos and fur coats.
If staying overnight, The District Hotel is still the community cornerstone it’s always been. Billed as “OKC’s Renowned Wonderland for Adults,” the 21+ property boasts comfy and affordable motel-style rooms, as well as a few spacious suites. Spring through fall, both the west and east pools are open for guests to swim and lounge on bright Adirondack chairs, complete with al fresco bars slinging cold beer and boozy seltzer. There’s also a casual indoor lounge, outfitted with animal print and darts, and the new County Line, a country-themed club where folks can dance into the wee hours and go large with bottle service. The District Hotel also hosts numerous recurring festivals and events throughout the year, from karaoke and ladies’ nights to drag shows, viewing parties and the Miss Gay Rising Star Pageant.
For further proof of OKC’s status as an LGBTQIA+ mecca, there’s the fact that the city now boasts two full-fledged Pride festivals. While the OKC Pride Alliance holds its summertime fete downtown, 39th Street has a Pride of its own: the long-running OKC Pride Festival held the first weekend in June to kick off Pride Month. The heart of the festival is the Pride Parade, which marches down 39th Street from Pennsylvania Avenue to Youngs Boulevard. Along the way and all weekend long, the district also features drink tents, food, vendors, live music stages and events galore.
Year after year, 39th Street continues to grow and expand, both in terms of businesses and Pride, and in terms of reputation. As OKC Pride and the 39th Street District maintain their momentum, beckoning new bars and bistros, the future has never looked brighter for OKC’s singular gayborhood.