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Medellín, Colombia’s best gay bar is the city’s hub for drag and queer culture

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Returning to my native country, Colombia, for the summer of 2022, nearly two decades after my departure, I assumed there would be changes – evolution. After all, I arrived with a tally of about a hundred men under my sexual belt, a stark contrast from when I used to merely fantasize about being with one.

The prospect of visible gay acceptance seemed unlikely in my Catholic machismo culture. I had yet to look into Bogotá’s thriving gay scene, the capital, and my birthplace (it has Theatron, the largest gay bar in South America). However, eager to avoid the pressure of seeing my estranged father’s side of the family, I opted to travel to Medellín, where I already knew a straight expat couple living there. 

Dubbed the “city of eternal spring,” Medellín lived up to its name: the weather was always lovely, and nature wrapped itself around every street corner. But I underestimated how much I would miss New York’s abundant gay bars. It made me even more nostalgic when only one gay bar popped up in the lively streets of Provenza on Google Maps: Bar Chiquita. Typically, back in Manhattan, my friends and I tended to hit five different bars within the same evening.

I decided to give it a chance when my lesbian best friend Monica came to visit. The gays gotta do something! Massive rainbow stairs led to an impressive gay bar enterprise, which looked like a circus and a sex shop had a boozy baby, and then drag queens barfed sparkles, Christmas lights, and animal print all over it. In other words, I found home.  

As we ordered drinks, Monica asked the bartender where we could find weed. He unexpectedly retrieved a blunt from the backroom and said to leave him half. We were careful to puff only the allotted portion. At that moment, I knew I found community.

Around this time, Christian Salazar started working as a manager. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting him, but he tells me on Zoom that he was a longtime customer before joining the payroll. He, too, found a sense of home and community, which was inevitably an equation for the owners and the bar staff to become like his family. But he doesn’t mean it in the toxic American work culture way. 

“Many [gay people] here don’t often have good relationships with our families,” he says. “So Bar Chiquita really became a place for so much more than fun or entertainment.” 

The name “Chiquita” means tiny in Spanish, but it wasn’t meant to be ironic. Salazar says the venue started as a small drag cocktail bar a block away from its current location. It opened in 2016 and reinvigorated the influence of drag in the city, which previously excluded the art form from its nightlife.

“The bar, in the beginning, was really ‘chiquita,’ like six tables, but there were always people you could talk or dance with. I met my group of friends there, and we just started going twice or three times every week,” he says. 

Salazar explains there’s no official gayborhood, as gay men live all over. The culture revolves around Poblado, which is coincidentally the neighborhood bubble for all the expats. And I learned the circuit party is a universal love language, as he says gay Colombians treasure electronic music and sweaty, shirtless parties as much as New Yorkers. 

At Bar Chiquita, patrons can expect a shameless pop playlist, including a network of the city’s best drag queens belting out numbers and dancing into the early morning. “Techno is very popular here, too,” says Salazar. “[Gay nightlife] is really divided when it comes to music. So people decide on where they are going depending on what they want to listen to.” 

“There are parks for cruising,” he says, “but I don’t recommend it for tourists. Apps are safer.” 

It seems that Grindr and Scruff serve as another universal love language. Gay travelers shouldn’t arrive without arming themselves with the necessary keywords. “Pasivo” means bottom, “activo” means top, and “leche” means cum (a better take on ‘got milk?’ If you ask me). In true slang fashion, don’t expect the terms to be the literal translation. 

But back to Bar Chiquita, which Salazar assures me remains the most colorful and vibrant bar in Medellín. It features drag performances every night. Speaking with some of the bar’s queens, they express in Spanish that there’s simply no other place like it.

“I love Chiquita because it has believed in me since I started drag, and where I grew as an artist and got to perform for the world,” says Suka Prushna. Her favorite memory is repping the bar during Marcha del Orgullo (Medellín’s Pride March), dolled up, leading the parade riding bicycles with her fellow queens. 

Lolita Fatal shares that her first experience in drag was at Chiquita, even among her family and friends. “Chiquita is a space where you can truly be yourself, a place for fun and artistic expression, where everyone can feel comfortable without limitations,” she says.

Whether in Medellín or New York, gay men will find each other. Chiquita offers a bridge for connection and, coincidentally, is a world-renowned hotspot for drag.

 “It stands for a happiness that we all carry within us,” adds Lolita Fatal. 

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