Travel » Features

Philly Fun

by Jim Provenzano
Saturday Jul 12, 2014

With same-sex marriage bans being lifted in many states, including Pennsylvania, why not share some travel tips about our nation's historically political birthplace? Philadelphia's current scene is gay and friendly, without the occasional attitude of its larger neighbor, New York City.

Our bewigged history and birth as a nation, the pivotal events of which took place in Philadelphia, may seem boring to some, but it's enlivened by a queer context.

Philadelphia is also the site of the first gay rights protests, which occurred years before the Manhattan Stonewall Bar riots.

Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and other early gay activists were among those brave citizens who organized what came to be known as the Annual Reminders; quiet, simple poster-holding protests outside Independence Hall in the mid-1960s, which called for the acceptance of gays and lesbians in mainstream society.

Since then, LGBT events have certainly expanded. The William Way Center, Philadelphia's longstanding LGBT center, hosts events almost nightly. From fundraisers to lectures and film screenings, senior events and meditation sessions, there's even an occasional Women's Jello Wrestling night. 1315 Spruce Street.

Get the 411

Looking for a guidebook, a local magazine or an online guide? Your first newspaper to pick up - or the web version to check out in advance- should be the Philadelphia Gay News. The LGBT news weekly includes up-to-date arts and cultural events in the Philly area.

Facebookers can friend Philly Gay Bar Scene Gayborhood at to get the latest updates on bar events and drink specials. Another online resource is Philly Gay Calendar at, which features recent photo albums of various LGBT events, from bike rides to their early June Pride, celebrity appearances and galas.

Giovanni's Room, the historic decades-old LGBT bookstore, has closed, unfortunately. But you're welcome to stop by and see its Historic Landmark street sign at 245 South 12th St. (


Bars are mostly located in the aptly-named "gayborhood," actually Washington Square West, between 7th and Broad streets and between Chestnut and South Streets. It's all nicely situated between historic areas that lead to the major tourist attractions (Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc.).

Many of the bars are on quiet side streets, and within walking distance of each other. A few more are located in outlying areas of town. While many are mostly popular with men, a clearly friendly and mixed crowd can be found at most bars and clubs.

Sammy's Place (1449 N. 5th St.) has LGBT Saturday night dance nights, monthly drag shows, and is popular with the Latino queer community.

ICandy's dance floor hops almost nightly, with DJs spinning various music genres. When it's warm, the rooftop deck offers a scenic view and fresh air. Their weekly Frat House Friday is popular, as is their Sunday "Hangover Brunch" at a mere $10 at the next door cafe The Tuscan Tavern, which serves a full menu of burgers and other edibles.. (18 to enter/21 to drink) 254 S.12th St. (267) 324-3500.

One of the oldest gay bars in the city, and the country, Tavern on Camac has been serving patrons since the 1930s in its various incarnations. Although the downstairs music can be a bit loud on weekends, the atmosphere relaxes during happy hour. 243 South Camac St.

Nearby, the Venture Inn, one of the oldest bars in Philly, serves tasty food, fun, drag shows and drinks at 255 South Camac Street.

Woody's, the mostly gay men's club, includes a video bar (with expansive windows that open out during spring and summer), and two upstairs dance floors (202 South 13th St.) Another longtime favorite, The Bike Stop is a simple yet friendly tavern at 206 South Quince Street.

For women, check out Tabu, a gay/lesbian sports bar at 200 South 12th St., and Sisters at 1320 Chancellor St., which includes two floors, bars, and a restaurant.

The Dolphin Tavern, while not specifically gay, certainly gets hopping, specifically for its new weekly extra-queer Clubhaus each Friday. The event includes the city's most bawdy drag queens and slim and sexy gogo guys. 1539 South Broad St.


If you prefer more direct cruising grounds, Philadelphia has a few options, including bath houses. Imagine that! A modern city with a sizable gay population actually trusts men to have sex in a privately-owned business.

Sansome Street Gym offers a clean space for working out and pumping of a different sort. Along with "naked socializing" hosted by PANG (Philadelphia Area Nudist Group), the club hosts nude strip acts, and student discounts. $10 for a day-pass, $40 for a membership. Various prices for lockers and rooms. 2020 Sansome St. (267) 330-0151.

For the cinematically aroused, Sansom Cinema (120 South 13th St.) and the Adonis Cinema (2026 Samson St.) offer a flicker of furtive fun in the dark.


From the massive Art Museum (known for its famous steps in the movie Rocky) to the Rodin and other newer and renovated galleries and museums, the arts are well represented in Philly, so much so that I'm not even listing them. You could spend an entire week just seeing art.

History, of course, is prominent, with more innovations and "historic firsts" than most other U.S. cities. From tours of Independence Hall to other attractions, our country's history is encapsulated in many of the attractions.

For a break from the nightlife scene, the massive Fairmont Park makes for a scenic bike ride in spring, summer or autumn, and a scenic snowy visit in winter. A long strip of forests and recreation buildings along the banks of the Schuylkill River, the verdant lands are part of Philadelphia itself and several suburban towns. It's ten times larger than Manhattan's Central Park.

Other smaller parks, like the now-gorgeous and once-cruisy Rittenhouse Square, were created over the past few centuries for beauty and well as safety. Found father William Penn foresaw small parks as not only an aesthetic improvement to the growing city, but as a fire preventative as well.


After burning all those calories barhopping and/or observing flora, you might be hungry. But despite its reputation for cheesesteaks, much more savory cuisine awaits in Philly. Numerous restaurants, ranging from traditional American, to Italian, Asian, and upscale sushi and French cuisines are available.

A few notably gay-owned eateries include A Full Plate Café(1040 N. American Street), Barbuzzo, known for delish Mediterranean cuisine (110 South 13th St.), El Vez , for Mexican cuisine served in a campy décor (121 South 13th Street), and for those who just want a dish to go, or a few groceries to snack on, visit the simply-named Grocery (105 South 13th St.), a lesbian-owned grocery with take-out food that's open late.


But where, oh where, are you going to stay? Two words: Kimpton Hotels. My palatial room at the stylishly designed Palomar Hotel (117 South 17th St.) was a dream. From the fine-tuned climate control to the enormous Jacuzzi and fully tiled shower that could have fit four guests -with a view- the Palomar is also perfectly situated in the center of Center City itself.

With an expansive 24-hour Walgreen's right around the corner, I was able to get snacks, toiletries and other items quickly.

Kimpton's other hotels in Philadelphia include The Monaco at 433 Chestnut St., which features modern style with a nod to Philly's history


Getting around's at first a bit confusing, as with any bustling city, but you'll find walking is an intimate experience along the mostly close sidewalks. Buses and the under and over-ground SEPTRA train systems took me quickly to points in all directions, and for a nominee fee. Getting a weekly card was also simple.

Feeling bike-ish? Despite the tight and frequently one-way streets, Philadelphia is a very cyclist-friendly. Bike lanes abound, but be careful. Like its neighbor city New York, Philly residents tend to jaywalk with frequency. I rented a sturdy Trek hybrid from Breakway Bikes, which was only two blocks from the Palomar. Online reservation and payment was easy, and the staff was cool.


The annual Equality Forum event draws activists, social change veterans and newbies to the City of Brotherly Love. Meet and greet noted LGBT civil rights activists, and enjoy large-scale street parties and gala benefits. The next Global LGBT Summit is the first weekend of May 2015.

With New York's annual LGBT Pride events overshadowing those of its neighbor, Philadelphia's Pride events are understandably smaller yet festive, including Pride, usually set for the first weekend in June. The annual Outfest, a multi-event celebration, coincides with National Coming Out Day, October 11.

Bastille Day gets a wacky homegrown holiday as well. July 14 sees a unique faux-reenactment of the taking of the Bastille, set at the Eastern Penitentiary. It's basically an excuse for a fun street party, where "Marie Antoinette" shouts, "Let them eat Tastycakes!" then the locally produced snacks are flung from the roof of the prison.

July 31 - August 3 will see a return to the Phreak n Queer Festival, a loosely arranged bevy of music, art, spoken word, dance nights and other events, all with a decidedly queer/alternative edge.

Halloween 's festivities include tours of the notorious Eastern State Penitentiary, where the cells and decaying halls take on a realistically spooky edge. Some are done up in historic settings with vintage décor that recreates the cells of famous prisoners.


Philly residents love to boast about their selection of convenient vacation escapes. Nearby mini-trip potentials include the scenic New Hope, which is basically a rustic village with an amusingly disproportionate amount of gay-owned bed and breakfast inns. Autumn's foliage is amazingly beautiful and photogenic, and worth at least an overnighter.

Atlantic City , while not the happening showplace of its glory years, does include a few gay venues in between casinos. For summer beaching, go "Down 'a shore," specifically Cape May , where gays sometimes outnumber the Jersey Shore types.

For general event listings and features on Philadelphia sports, arts and other events and attractions, visit Find local and regional tourist info at

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit


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