Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Puerto Vallarta's changing gay scene


The scene at Blue Chairs Beach in Puerto Vallarta. Photo: Ed Walsh
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"This is what the Castro used to be 20 years ago," said Clay Berger, a hair stylist at Puerto Vallarta's upscale blu by len salon and spa. The former Santa Rosa resident was referring to the gayest part of the city, Zona Romantica, where blu prominently displays the rainbow flag. The shop is on the neighborhood's main street, Olas Altas, and across the street from two gay bars and a gay restaurant.

And Zona Romantica is changing and getting gayer all the time. A couple of recent changes were imported from California. The Bench and Bar, with the same owners as the original Bench and Bar in Oakland, is one of the two gay bars just across the street from blu.

A couple of guys from Los Angeles, Peter Deep, and his business partner, Shaun Butler, made a huge impact on Puerto Vallarta's gay nightlife when they opened the Ma�ana nightclub in November 2006. It quickly established a following among locals who were ready for a change from the established Club Paco Paco. And where the locals went, the tourists followed, making Ma�ana the most popular gay club in Puerto Vallarta. A handful of other smaller gay bars have opened over the past couple of years and there are even more gay and gay-friendly hotels and bed and breakfasts to give LGBT travelers plenty of options.

Unlike longtime gay enclaves like Palm Springs, Provincetown, and Key West, Puerto Vallarta's evolution is relatively recent. In 1989, Paco Ruiz, the then-owner of his namesake, Club Paco Paco, had his one-man Stonewall rebellion against the police who frequently raided his club. He stood up to the cops and was sent to jail. The case received media attention and the public sympathy that followed helped pave the way for the city's current gay-friendly environment. That climate grew warmer this year with the inauguration of a gay-friendly mayor, Javier Bravo Carbajal.

The scene

Puerto Vallarta is centered on Banderas Bay, on Mexico's west coast. It's less than a four-hour flight from the Bay Area. Zona Romantica, where the gay clubs, bars, hotels and just about everything else gay are centered, is in the southern end of Banderas Bay. It's also where you will find Playa De Los Muertos, the city's largest public beach, and home to Blue Chairs Beach, the unofficially gay section of that beach.

Zona Romantica boasts over a dozen gay or gay-friendly hotels and over 20 gay bars and nightclubs. Everything is in walking distance; don't even think of renting a car. Cab service is plentiful and cheap. You can take a cab anywhere within the zone for about $3. But be sure to establish the price of the ride before you get in the cab; taxis aren't metered.


The newest gay hotel in Puerto Vallarta is also its largest. The Abbey Hotel has 55 rooms, 13 suites, and is perfectly situated in the heart of Zona Romantica, just a block from the beach. If you want to escape the beach crowd, the Abbey (no connection to West Hollywood's Abbey bar), has a pool and Jacuzzi. You can surf the Internet with its free wireless service while you cruise the crowd. The Abbey also features a late afternoon pool party starting at 4 p.m. for guests and non-guests. It promotes itself as a gay/lesbian hotel but the manager said that almost all guests are gay men.

The Hotel Mercurio remodeled its pool area two years ago and is worth stopping by even if you aren't staying there. The pool now has a waterfall and the bar next to it is open for a great afternoon and early evening stop. It has budget prices without a budget feel. It has a free Internet station for guests, free wireless, along with a cordless phone that you can use to call to the U.S. for free. It also provides a complimentary buffet breakfast. Like the Abbey, it promotes itself as a gay and lesbian hotel, although its manager estimates that about 5 percent of guests are lesbians.

The San Franciscan Resort and Gym is another great option in Zona Romantica. It sits high on a hill just a block from the neighborhood's main drag, Olas Altas. It has an upscale appearance without upscale prices. The owner, a retired physician and attorney and onetime San Francisco resident David Rhodes, will make you feel at home. Like the Mercurio, the San Franciscan has a free Internet station, free wireless, and guests can make free calls to the U.S. from a lobby phone. It's gay, lesbian, and straight mixed.

The Vallarta Cora is the oldest gay hotel in Puerto Vallarta and attracts a very loyal crowd even during the slower summer months. It is all male and is also the only gay clothing optional hotel in the city. If you aren't staying there, for only a $4 entrance fee that includes a free drink, you can check out its pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, and dark room. Its public hours are 3 to 11 p.m.

The most upscale accommodation choice in Puerto Vallarta is the Casa Cupula B&B. It's owned by San Franciscan Don Pickens. Its sits high on a hill over the Blue Chairs Beach. It's a great choice if you want to feel like you are getting away from it all while still being close to town. Like the Mercurio, most of its guests are gay male but lesbians are also very welcome. Casa Cupula is closed between August 14 and October 6, according to the Web site.

The gay couple who once owned the Blue Chairs Beach Resort lost their lease earlier this year. They are looking to relocate to another building and they will keep the name. The

The hottest new restaurant in town, El Arrayan, is owned by lesbian Carmen Porras. Photo: Ed Walsh
building that once housed the Blue Chairs is still operating as gay hotel, with the new name, Blue Ocean Resort by the Sea.

If you want to get away from it all, stay tuned. Plans are in the works to build a 54-acre, 160-bungalow, jungle village for gay men near Puerto Vallarta. It could open as soon as next summer. The Web site is


The upscale Mañana club has an indoor disco but its centerpiece is its open-air pool surrounded by a dance floor and seating areas. It's open until 6 a.m. during the week and until 8 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

The owner of the superb Gay Guide Vallarta ( explained that a big part of Mañana's runaway success was that it was able to obtain a late-night operating permit. That attracts locals who work in the restaurants and hotels and need someplace to go after the night shift. Buses don't start operating until around 5 a.m., so it's critical to have a place where they can stay late. Tourists, in turn, want to go where there are a lot of locals.

Other new additions to Puerto Vallarta's nightlife include the high-tech video lounge bar, Stereo. Plasma, with a notorious dark room, is popular with the leather and bear crowd. Another new edition is Encuentros, an upscale bar and pizza restaurant. The aforementioned Bench and Bar, like the Palm bar it replaced, is a popular showcase for local gay-centric entertainment. By the way, you will have to wait until the fall to visit the Bench and Bar. It closed for the summer.

There are no lesbian bars in Puerto Vallarta. But Apaches on Olas Altas is lesbian-owned and is popular with gay women. The Budda Lounge bar and restaurant is owned by a couple of lesbians from New Jersey and is also popular with gay women.

Day life

Sadly, Paco's Paradise, a private gay beach and hotel, has closed. But take heart. Diana's Cruise is still going strong. It's run by a gay woman, Diana DeCoste. Diana's all-day cruise ( includes a breakfast, lunch stop, snorkeling, and whale and dolphin watching. It's mostly gay male, but lesbians are welcome.

Eating out

The hottest new restaurant is town is El Arrayan, owned by Carmen Porras, a lesbian who is originally from Mexico City. It opened three years ago and is busy, even in the slow season. It is in a new building in the downtown, or El Centro section. It's known for its authentic Mexican cuisine and is the favorite Mexican restaurant of Gary Beck, a gay man who writes a local restaurant guide. Beck is among many San Franciscans who bought property in Puerto Vallarta and splits his time between the two cities.

Mama Dolores is on Olas Altas, Zona Romantica's main drag, and on Friday nights, in season, it features a man in drag. One of the two gay men from Toronto who own the restaurant dresses up as his ultra bitchy alter ego, Mama Dolores, who is constantly coming up with new ways to insult customers. The act draws a huge following with a long line in the high winter season.

The ChocoBanana is just a couple of blocks from the gay beach and is a great, inexpensive place to stop for a meal or a snack. Its signature food, a frozen banana dipped in chocolate, is a must. The Banana Cantina restaurant, just upstairs from the ChocoBanana, opened in December 2005 and has drawn rave reviews.

Some of the best coffee around can be found at Dee's Coffee Company or its neighbor, Coffee Cup. Other longtime gay favorites include Cote Sud, Archie's Wok, and the aforementioned Apaches.

For more information

For detailed information on all of the businesses mentioned, check out the excellent or pick up a free copy of Gay Guide Vallarta available at many gay-friendly businesses in town.

A lively Yahoo forum for gay travel and gay life in Puerto Vallarta: The owner of that group, Gary Beck, also writes a restaurant guide that is updated several times a year. For more information:

For information on the Thanksgiving weekend Latin Fever circuit party, visit

For information on the all-gay Club Atlantis Vallarta, an all-inclusive Club-Med style resort, October 27-November 10, visit

Multimedia: For a video report on Puerto Vallarta, visit:

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