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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; or check out manly Mykonos around the corner - to reach the video lounge around the back you'll need to squeeze past an entire bar's-length of horny, leering, groping punters, beyond the little cabaret stage where said drunken patrons perform impromptu shows to great applause.

CLUBBING

Nearby New 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. La Bola de Cristal is a popular gay bar with Drag shows on Thursdays and playing mainly House music the rest of time. There's a dancing area attracting mainly gay guys and they stage some one-off shows on special occasions. 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 like Congresso which is renowned for playing some good house and club music.

HOT STUFF

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 Dietas Sex Shop 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 sauna. Or failing that, the gents on Platform 8 of the main station nearby are a dead cert all round the clock, if you hang around on the benches outside for long enough. And there's always Plaza Venezuela a little north for one last bid as darkness falls.

There are some other sex shops in Bilbao too, Fantasias itself has two branches in the C/. General Eguia and C/. Niccolas Alcorte which is also part of Galeria Centro Zabalburo. Both their shops have cabins with glory holes and video shows all day.

Erotic Shop has some articles for gay men, although it is mainly geared towards a lesbian clientelle.

Panorámica Casao Viejo (c) Bilbao Turismo

MORE INFO

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 Bookings.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Badulake (Calle Hernani 10; no phone)
Café Bizitza (Calle Torre 1; no phone)
Café Lamiak (Calle Pelota 8; no phone)
Congresso (Muelle de Uribitarte 4; no phone)
Dietas Sex Shop (Nicolas Acorta 7; no phone)
El Balcon de la Lola (C/. Bailen 10; T: 0034 63 575 7763; Website)
Ego (Nicolas Acorta 3; T: 0034 94 470 0777)
Element C/. Particular de Costa 8-10; T: 0034 94 405 2303; Website)
Erotic Shop (C/ Lamana 2; T: 0034 94 416 9993; Website)
Fantasias (C/. General Eguia 21-23; T: 0034 94 410 1656)
Fantasias (C/. Niccolas Alcorte, 7 in Galeria Centro Zabalburo, 1st floor; T: 0034 94 410 1656)
Kasko (Andra Mari Kalea 16; T: 0034 94 416 0311)
La Bola de Cristal (Plaza Venezuela 1; T: 0034 94 424 2508)
Luz Gas (C/. Pelota 4-6; T: 0034 94 479 0823)
Mykonos (Calle General Castillo 4; no phone)
New High (Calle Naja 5; no phone)

Revised July 2017.

 

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