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Gathering places favoured by homosexuals have operated for centuries.Reports from as early as the 17th century record the existence of bars and clubs that catered to, or at least tolerated, openly gay clientele in several major European cities.Within a few weeks after the Nazis took over government in 1933, fourteen of the best known gay establishments were closed.After homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969, many gay bars opened in West Berlin, resulting in a lively gay scene.

In Cannes, France, such a bar had already opened in 1885, and there were many more in Berlin around 1900.

The Stonewall Inn in New York City was the site of the Stonewall riots of 1969, which have come to symbolize the beginning of the modern gay liberation movement in the United States. A gay bar is a drinking establishment that caters to an exclusively or predominantly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) clientele; the term gay is used as a broadly inclusive concept for LGBT and queer communities.

Gay bars once served as the centre of gay culture and were one of the few places people with same-sex orientations and gender-variant identities could openly socialize.

Other streets where there are still concentrations of gay bars are Zeedijk, Amstel and Warmoesstraat, the latter being the center of the Amsterdam leather scene, where the first leather bar already opened around 1955.

Because of the high prevalence of homophobia in Russia, patrons of gay bars there often have had to be on the alert for bullying and attacks.

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