For Pride Month, everyone's favorite aggregate rating site Yelp has put together a list of the "Top 100 LGBTQ+ Bars Across the U.S." — and one Cincinnati bar has made the cut.
"While Pride still might look a little different this year, bars and clubs across the United States are finding ways to safely welcome patrons back for stiff cocktails, cold beers, and some of the best local drag shows guaranteed to leave you gooped, gagged and everything in-between," writes Yelp Senior Regional Manager Ryan Cox.
The site narrowed down the list to the best of the best based on the total volume of Yelp ratings and Yelp score between January 2016 and April 28, 2021.
And the Queen City's top LGBTQ+ bar? Below Zero Lounge, which came in at No. 82 overall.
This Over-the-Rhine nightclub — co-owned by Nigel Cotterill and JC Diaz — has one of the area’s largest vodka collections (some dispensed at 6 degrees Fahrenheit), plus excellent karaoke and drag shows in the upstairs Cabaret on weekends.
The bar is meant to be a safe haven where anyone and everyone can gather. Walk into the establishment at night and you’ll see people wearing tuxes and gowns sipping on cocktails right next to people in T-shirts and flip-flops.
“Some nights the bar is completely straight. Some nights it’s completely all women. Sometimes it’s all 60 (and older) people,” Diaz told CityBeat in a 2018 interview. “I think that for the most part, everyone feels really welcome here and feels like they can be themselves without any judgment. And that’s important. You need to have harbors of safe spaces, especially with what the hell is going on with the world today.”
This “open-minded bar for open-minded people” has also given its space to a heap of community events. Cotterill and Diaz both laugh at a particular event in which a group of nuns rented Below Zero to raise money for haircuts for Cincinnati's unhoused population. The group played Wii bowling and, as the story goes, many nuns were on their second round of Long Island Iced Teas.
For another event, Below Zero hosted a deaf karaoke/dance party. The music was cranked up so loud that people who were deaf or hard of hearing could feel the vibrations through the floor. YouTube music videos, in which a person signed the lyrics, accompanied the music.
Since then, Cotterill and Diaz have made it a point to put closed captions on their TV set.
When they first opened the club in 2007, Cotterill and Diaz knew they had to brand the bar as inclusive to everyone, but Cotterill says they’re fortunate the LGBTQ community planted its flag there.
Topping Yelp's list of LGBTQ+ bars is Sidetrack in Chicago at No. 1. And nearby bars English Ivy's (No. 63) and Metro (No. 99) in Indianapolis, and Chill BAR Highlands (No. 87) and Big Bar in Louisville are also in the best 100.
In addition to its Yelp accolades, Below Zero Lounge also took home several Best Of Cincinnati reader pick awards this past year, including Best Bar/Club in downtown/Over-the-Rhine, Best LGBTQ+ Bar and Best Martini.
Below Zero Lounge is located at 1120 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine. More info: belowzerolounge.com.