Whether you call Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love, Sisterly Affection, or Non-binary Sibling Tenderness, this historic yet ever-evolving city welcomes LGBTQ visitors with open arms.
The setting for the fifth season of Netflix's phenomenally popular and moving reality series, Queer Eye, Philly is an extremely progressive city as well as a bustling tourist magnet year round thanks to its prominent place in American history and heritage—this is home to the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross' House, and both the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed here—and busy calendar of events, from arts-related to sports (hello, Gritty, the unnerving yet endearing mascot for NHL's Philly Flyers). There's an official "Gayborhood" smack dab in Center City with rainbow-emblazoned street signs (it runs from 11th to Broad Street and Chestnut to Pine Street), while two other districts have become the home and stomping grounds of LGBTQ locals in recent years: South Philly's East Passyunk and, to the city's northeast, buzzing hipster haven Fishtown.
A trailblazer for LGBT-focused tourism efforts, 2003 saw the launch of an extensive tourism campaign and commercial, "Get Your History Straight And Your Nightlife Gay," while Visit Philadelphia's website hosts a robust, dedicated LGBTQ resource page with helpful articles and pdf downloads, plus updated events listings (also check out up-to-the-minute website, Philly Gay Listings).
Major LGBTQ Events in Philadelphia
Philly Pride presents two major events annually: June's Pride Parade and Festival, and October's OutFest, the world's largest National Coming Out Day celebration, which features entertainment and carnival attractions.
Scheduled for March 22-29, 2020, the annual qFLIX film festival sees queer-themed movies and filmmakers come together for 100+ screenings, Q&As, and parties.
Other events worth planning a trip around include September's Philadelphia Fringe Festival, during which over 1,000 performances in every discipline and genre, from theater to stand-up to dance to comedy, fill the city. Be sure to catch anything from Philadelphia-based queer choreographer and performer Gunnar Montana—whose adults-only, immersive productions are filled with highly athletic dance performances, music, and a mix of comedy, horror, queerness, and sensuality—or hysterical local drag and cabaret troupe, The Beaded Ladies. Running concurrently with Fringe, Opera Philadelphia's Festival O features world premieres and contemporary takes on opera (including Fringe crossovers and collaborations) from world renowned creators. 2018 and 2019's O line-ups included works from gay modern dance legend Bill T. Jones, Argentina's Un Poyo Rojo, NYC's experimental The Wooster Group, and Philly's vocal powerhouse drag personality, Martha Graham Cracker.
The annual Mummers Parade, held on New Year's Day, is a uniquely Philly 120-year-old tradition that sees thousands of costumed Mummers, which are broken into Divisions—similar to New Orleans' Mardi Gras Krewes—including plenty of drag queens, blaze a glittery trail through the city with performances along the route.
The Best Things to Do
Once you've gone through the ritual of running up the iconic "Rocky" steps at Philadelphia Museum of Art, actually enter the building to check out the artwork. While the museum is undergoing a massive renovation and a 23,000 square foot gallery space expansion from architect Frank Gehry, expected to be completed in 2020, there are still permanent and temporary exhibitions on display.
From here, walk southeast along Museum Mile, highlights of which include the Rodin Museum, Barnes Foundation, and the family-friendly Franklin Institute. If you're curious about Philadelphia's Mummers and parade, visit the Mummers Museum.
A visit to the country's oldest LGBTQ bookstore, Giovanni's Room, is a must when exploring the Gayborhood. Opened since 1973, the two-level establishment on 12th and Pine Street actually closed in spring 2014, but Philly AIDS Thrift quickly stepped in and took over. Today the store, officially renamed Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni's Room, offers an eclectic mix of new, used, and collectible books, movies, pride merchandise, and more, while benefiting local organizations that fight HIV/AIDS.
Gay-owned Philly bath and body shop Duross & Langel gives Lush a run for their money with extensive line of delicious-smelling, handmade solid and liquid soaps, shampoos, bath bombs, and other grooming products. Old Town's Art In The Age specializes in mixology-related products, including their own line of spirits, which you can also sample—as flights or in handcrafted cocktails—in its tasting room, while souvenir and gift hunters will love Philadelphia Independents, dedicated to locally created, design-centric goods.
The Bushwick, Brooklyn of Philadelphia, Fishtown is filled with cool hipster spots, including the 11,000-square-foot flagship for Philly-born craft coffee shop La Colombe (the oat milk draft latte is incredible, foamy, and vegan!) and indoor/outdoor brewery Evil Genius Beer Company is a fantastic place to socialize over a range of their seasonal taps. Also do some window shopping along South Philly's East Passyunk Avenue, another de facto "gayborhood," with a drink, snack, and people watching break at Barcelona Wine Bar: look for the marquee with an Oscar Wilde quote.
The Best LGBTQ Bars and Clubs
Opened in 1980, the multi-space Woody’s continues to be one of the Gayborhood's most popular drinking and nightlife destinations all week long, with a recently added "Glo Bar" cocktail lounge, and a dance floor on its second level (for which there's a $10 cover on weekends and holidays). Also multi-level, Tavern on Camac, a.k.a. T.O.C., was renovated circa 2014 and features a piano bar on its ground floor and dance club, Ascend, on its upper level, with diverse themed nights including line dancing Fridays from 7:30-10 p.m. (with free lessons at 6:30 p.m.!) and busty drag queen Cleo Phatra's "Broadway-esque" GAYBILL cabaret show on Thursdays (it's a must!). L'etage, located above creperie Beau Monde (sister to NYC's iconic The Tavern On The Green), features weekly drag and burlesque shows.
Also part of the Tavern family, U Bar gets compared to Cheers thanks to its relaxed neighborhood vibe and crowd of regulars, while sports (and happy hour specials) fans have a perfect place to watch games and play pool in Boxers PHL. Officially Philly's first LGBTQ sports bar, and drawing a diverse crowd, Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar moved into the roomier, former Icandy Nightclub space in 2018, and now boasts two levels, a dance floor, a cabaret showroom for drag shows and karaoke, an outdoor patio, and menu of bar food including pizzas, wings, and decadent varieties of tater tots. On second Fridays, Tabu hosts Philadelphia's Black Pride's Black Fridays happy hour event, which runs from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., with a portion of proceeds benefiting PBP's scholarship fund.
Meanwhile bears, leather, raunch, and fetish crowds converge at the 37-year-old The Bike Stop, which keeps things old school sleazy with a basement darkroom. Call is 2 a.m. in Philadelphia, but the high-tech, 20,000 square foot Voyeur Nightclub keeps the party going until 3:30 a.m. on weekends. Outside the gayborhood in Rittenhouse Square, Stir Lounge is popular with the post-work crowd and also hosts special events like lesbian speed-dating, drag shows, and live music, and Thursday's Stirsday party with $5 drinks and $2 beers. Although Philadelphia's lesbian bar, Sisters, closed to much lamentation in 2013, the colorfully lit Toasted Walnut—from former Sisters manager Denise Cohen—came to the rescue in 2017, with karaoke, open mic, and other events for women and their friends.
Also be sure to check what's on at the Northern Liberties district's Ruba Club, which hosts LGBTQ-inclusive shows and events (Mimi Imfurst of "RuPaul's Drag Race" fame starred in a run of "Hedwig & The Angry Inch" here).
The Best Places to Eat
Lesbian power couple Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran helped transform the Gayborhood's 13th Street, once a sketchy red light district, into a buzzy dining and retail strip. Their 15-year-old, 45-seat Lolita was renovated in 2014 and, now also granted a liquor license, is one of the best spots in town for delicious modern Mexican cuisine and premium margaritas. Their still expanding family of Gayborhood restaurants and stores includes tapas and wine spot Jamonera, Italian-American Little Nonna's, Mediterranean kitchen and bar Barbuzzo, and the retail shop that started it all in 2002, Open House.
Located just off South Philly's LGBTQ East Passyunk strip, Stina Pizzeria opened in 2019. Decorated with an eclectic mix of art, kitsch, and artifacts, this very LGBTQ-friendly venue—co-owner Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou is co-founder of Philly AIDS Thrift, and one percent of gross sales are donated to a different organization each month—serves up chef Bobby Saritsoglou's delicious Mediterranean fare, including oak wood-fired pizzas, stuffed Turkish pide, pastas, and more.
More delicious carbs await at Queen Village pasta spot Cry Baby, another 2019 newcomer that takes its name from a John Waters movie and served as a filming location for Netflix's "Queer Eye." The tapas-style crispy potatoes and rigatoni with smoked chicken, cherry peppers, pancetta, and vodka sauce are toothsome musts.
A few other recent Philly favorites include the Gayborhood's cinematic Double Knot for sashimi, sushi, robata, and other Japanese specialties; nouveau steakhouse Alpen Rose; and two-floor Italian venue, Guiseppe & Sons, which is well worth the stop for a cocktail and happy hour snack in its glam, photogenic basement level.
Where to Stay
Opened to much well-deserved fanfare in August 2019 within architect Lord Norman Foster's 60-story Comcast Center tower, just south of Museum Mile, the 219-room Four Seasons Philadelphia At Comcast Center is North America's highest situated hotel, with absolutely breathtaking views of the city from its guestrooms, 60th floor sky lobby, and the ear-popping glass elevator you'll take to get there. The 59th and 60th floor's Jean-Georges Restaurant is one of the hottest reservations to snag on weekends (breakfast, by the way, is incredible), and the 57th floor is home to a spa, gym, and indoor infinity pool. James Beard Award-winning chef Greg Vernick's seafood restaurant, Vernick Fish, occupies the ground floor, while his outstanding Vernick Coffee Bar cafe—don't miss the cold brew and pastries—is located in an adjacent sibling tower.
Sofitel Philadelphia At Rittenhouse Square has long been supportive of the LGBTQ community, and transformed its lobby into the "LGBTQ Hall of Flags" during Pride in 2019. If you want to be a few steps (or stumbles) from the Gayborhood's bars, the residential-style 24-room boutique The Independent Hotel is a perfect choice.
If you fall in love with the scrappy, hipster Fishtown, meanwhile, book one of the coveted four rooms at Wm. Mulherin's Sons boutique property, housed within a restored 19th-century brick and concrete building. Bonus: you'll be right next to its namesake Italian-inspired sister restaurant.