Hub of northern Spain's staunchly independent Basque region, Bilbao was a gay Mecca
long before the Guggenheim Museum opened its doors says OutUK's Adrian Gillan.
There are many reasons to visit Bilbao. It's all eminently walkable and still not
over-run with tourists; it's dead cheap; there's no need to struggle in vain with
your crap Spanish - everyone speaks Basque; the Museo de Bellas Artes, arguably
Spain's most important art collection after the Prado in Madrid; the Guggenheim
Museum, one of the world's indisputably great buildings, both inside and out; the
fine riverside walk from these two art treasures down toward the quaint Casco Viejo
("Old Town"). Bilbao is also very close to the equally gay St. Sebastian, home to the annual
film festival, a mere hour away by bus near the French border and one of the world's
most beautiful urban bays - quite a mini-Rio.
From the cover of
Coosje Van Bruggen's book about architect Frank O.Gehry and his
Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
GAY OLD TOWN
And then, of course, there's Bilbao's lovely little and highly local gay scene
itself, mainly centred in the Old Town and the aptly-named San Francisco district
just across the river and wrapped around the main train station. By no means everyone
will speak English - or Spanish - so enjoy utterly losing yourself in a warren of
intimate venues where even the music is largely native, move over Madonna!
Pintxos - some local food. (c) Bilbao Turismo
Starting in the narrow streets of the old Casco Viejo, gain your strength at gay-friendly,
slate-clad Kasko on Andra Mari Kalea, offering classy set menus featuring local
food called Pintxos (Pron: Pin-Chos), which are lots of small dishes of various delights. You
might also want to return here later, after hours when this posh eatery
transforms into a highly respected and gay-frequented dance club.
Then stroll around the corner to the buzzing, wood-beamed Café Bizitza on Calle Torre,
a daytime and late-night café-pub with mixed but gay-slanted crowd, both boys and
girls. Note: hardly any gay venues in town have a public phone number - many open
so late and play music so loud, what's the point?
Next, pop around the block to the sprawling Café Lamiak on Calle Pelota - a mixed,
two-floor café with a mildly intellectual air.
Then, as the night deepens, cross over the river south to the friendly weekend cabaret bar
Badulake on Calle Hernani.
Manolita la Primera is run by some young entrepreneurs who have created a local gay environment
which is also very heterofriendly! The bar has a good vibe with good music.
Pub Key is a gay bar with a variety of shows, cabaret and singers. Their famous Asier Bilbao
show is put on at weekends and holiday days.
Nearby High on Calle Naja is a popular, medium-sized, brightly-lit joint,
likewise catering to a mostly male crowd with a typically wide age range - as you
find in many a "local" scene. Indigenous music is played in the main room, and
there's a small scarce-used dance floor around the back: this is usually a "pit-stop"
when gay men go out for the evening, so they save their jiving until later. Upstairs,
you'll find a small adult movie theatre with rows of couches plus a small but active darkroom.
El Balcon de la Lola is a bar with industrial aesthetics which is great in the early hours of the morning. They play mainly house music and attract a gay and lesbian mixed crowd.
Zulo Taberna is a gay bar which is very good value and has a nice atmosphere.
The Santu Bea is a bar that almost exclusively attracts gay men serving a full range of
alcoholic beverages. The bar also has a Darkroom.
Plaza Circular (c) Bilbao Turismo
Luz Gas in C/. Pelota is a pleasant gay bar appealing to gay men of all ages. There's some outdoor seating too.
Since there aren't really any
exclusively gay discos in Bilbao - guys who want to move it generally end up dancing
the night away in trendy but expensive mixed clubs.
Element is a fairly new Sauna which is very fashionable, well designed and rather pleasingly very clean. Each cubicle has its own temperature control and ventilation. Mainly
good looking young men, and a sauna with little or no attitude. There's a darkroom, relaxation room, dry sauna and steam bath.
The most reliable and popular sauna in town is Ego, located in a complex off Plaza
de Zabalburu, in a seedy - though hardly dangerous - neighbourhood just south of
the main station. Ego is clean and well maintained with a sauna, steam room and
plunge pool, plus a maze of private cabins, some showing porn. Guys also chat and
relax in towels around the TV and bar area out front or in the small porn room out
back. Busiest at evenings mid- week (until 11 pm) or from late afternoon onwards come weekends.
Ego is actually located in something like an adult entertainment complex called the
Galeria Zabalburu, with several other sex venues. The most interesting of these for gay men
is the Sex Shop La Pera right next to the sauna, with porn-for-sale out front and rows
of cruisy coin-slot viewing booths to the rear - easy to pull if you lose out in the
Panorámica Casao Viejo (c) Bilbao Turismo
There are some other sex shops in Bilbao too, Fantasias in the C/. General Eguia and Sex Shop Ledesma Bilbao in Ledesma Musikariaren
Kalea which was one of the first erotic shops to open in the city. Both have cabins with glory holes and videos available all day. They cater for both
gay and straight clientelle.
Easyjet and British Airways
fly direct from the UK to Bilbao and you can also go by ferry from Portsmouth. For gay-friendly hotels
at special rates book online with out hotel partners
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Kasko (Andra Mari Kalea 16; T: 0034 94 416 0311; Website)
Badulake (Calle Hernani 10; no phone; facebook)
Café Bizitza (Calle Torre 1; no phone; facebook)
Café Lamiak (Calle Pelota 8; no phone)
El Balcon de la Lola (C/. Bailen 10; T: 0034 63 575 7763; facebook)
Ego (Nicolas Acorta 3; T: 0034 94 470 0777; Website)
Element C/. Particular de Costa 8-10; T: 0034 94 405 2303)
Fantasias (C/. General Eguia 21-23; T: 0034 94 410 1656; Website)
High (Calle Naja 5; no phone)
Luz Gas (C/. Pelota 4-6; T: 0034 94 479 0823; facebook)
Manolita la Primera (Barrenkale Barrena, 4; no phone)
Pub Key with the Asier Bilbao Show (Kristo Kalea, 13; T: +34 669 00 73 96)
Sex Shop La Pera (C/. Niccolas Alcorte, 5/7 in Galeria Centro Zabalburo, 1st floor; T: 0034 68 749 1238; Website)
Sex Shop Ledesma Bilbao (Ledesma Musikariaren Kalea, 2; T: +34 944 24 40 23)
The Santu Bea (Maiatzaren Biko Kalea, 8; no phone)
Zulo Taberna (Barrenkale, 29; T: +34 646 38 05 88)
Revised March 2023