In 2003, Visit Philadelphia created a groundbreaking tourism campaign that integrated the city’s deep U.S. historical roots with embracing the LGBTQ+ community. The award-winning “Get your history straight and your nightlife gay” campaign was the first of its kind by a major U.S. city to court LGBTQ+ travelers. 20 years later, its impact is still being felt.
While New York City and San Francisco are often cited as the centers of LGBTQ+ activism and progress, Philadelphia has contributed tremendously to the fight for equality, was and is the home of many queer and trans activists like Barbara Gittings, Kiyoshi Kuromiya and our very own, Mark Segal. News is Out recently visited the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection, and here’s our guide to this vibrant and inclusive city.
Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, located in the Midtown Village area, is a hub of culture, community and nightlife. Queer and trans-owned restaurants, bars and retail shops welcome you in off the city’s original cobblestone streets. Street signs are adorned with Pride flags and named after Philadelphia LGBTQ+ leaders.
Follow the rainbow crosswalks to the heart of the Gayborhood, The William Way LGBT Community Center, which has served Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community and beyond since 1975. Stop in for one of its many events or just to experience the history and culture of the community. The center will be undergoing a massive expansion soon in order to better serve the community in the future.
Tourists will find no shortage of excellent dining options in the Gayborhood. Start your day off with a hearty brunch at Winkel, an LGBTQ+-owned, Dutch-style restaurant by chef-owner Joncarl Lachman. Snack on sweet and savory oliebollen (Dutch-style doughnuts) while waiting for your main course. Step out of your culinary bubble and try Zuurkool & Eggs, a brunch dish made with cabbage, smoked sausage, bacon, eggs and Caraway beer broth. Or try the popular Dutch chicken curry dish, Kip Kerrie.
Climb the steps of the unassuming LGBTQ+-owned Mission Taqueria, and you’ll enter an airy and welcoming spot for killer margaritas and at least five different house-made salsas. The simple yet delicious menu offers a selection of tacos and snacks to tide you over as you explore Philadelphia’s queer history.
At Tattooed Mom, or TMom’s as the locals call it, you can take a break in a queer-welcoming space and imbibe on unique cocktails and mocktails, like the Pickletini, made with potato vodka, pickle and olive juice. Vegan visitors will delight at their meatless options, including a version of the city’s famous cheesesteak.
Married couple Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney own a restaurant group in Philadelphia that includes Gayborhood favorites, Barbuzzo, Bud & Marilyn’s, Little Nonna’s and Darling Jack’s Tavern. All offer incredible food and a staff to match.
For an in-depth look at the vibrant history and present of the Gayborhood, book a tour with queer-owned Beyond the Bell Tours. The Philly Gayborhood and LGBTQ History Walking Tour takes you on a trip through time, from the early days of the gay liberation movement to now, stopping by historic landmarks like The Plastic Club, a women’s art organization founded by lesbian artist Emily Sartain in 1897. Be sure to look up and read the blue historic markers located throughout the neighborhood, including one dedicated to the Philadelphia Gay News.
Don’t miss a shopping expedition at Giovanni’s Room, the country’s oldest operating LGBTQ+ and feminist bookstore. The store is now part of Philly AIDS Thrift, a nonprofit that raises proceeds for local organizations involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. You can browse through rare books, vintage clothes, records and more. You may want to bring an extra suitcase for this one!
For a sip and a twirl, Philadelphia has you covered. Grab a beer and some conversation at Woody’s or Ubar, dance the night away at Tabu and Level Up, explore the leather scene at The Bike Shop or sing along with friends at Tavern on Camac.
In addition to being one of the most historic cities in the U.S., Philadelphia is also a center for art, dance, museums and all things cultural. Sure, the Liberty Bell is a must-see, but so are these other Philadelphia institutions.
For lovers of Fauvism, Modernism and Post-Impressionism art, a visit to the Barnes Foundation is in order. One of the finest and largest collections of 19th and 20th-century French paintings in the world, art lovers will find masterpieces by Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse, just to name a few. From Oct. 22 through Jan. 21, a special exhibition of Cubist artist Marie Laurencin’s works, titled “Sapphic Paris” will be displayed.
Fans of medical history (and the macabre) will find utopia at the Mütter Museum at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The museum of medicine houses over 30,000 specimens and includes exhibitions on The Influenza Pandemic of 1918, a collection of over 130 human skulls, samples of human tissues and antique medical equipment.
If you are visiting Philadelphia this fall, check out a performance of Yasmine Akram’s “10 Dates with Mad Mary,” about a woman recently out of prison, searching for a date for her best friend’s wedding. As part of the “Pop-Up Play in a Pub” series, you can catch Mad Mary at Fergie’s Pub in the Gayborhood.
Home to over 4,000 murals, nearly every block in Philadelphia offers a treat for the eyes. Don’t miss the massive mural covering the west side of the William Way Center by artist Ann Northrup. Titled “Pride and Progress,” the mural depicts the LGBTQ+ rights protests of the 1960s and morphs into a modern-day representation of Philadelphia’s thriving and diverse LGBTQ+ community. If you happen to see the vibrant mural of Lil Nas X off Cypress Street, tuck into the bar it’s attached to, the queer and Black-owned Writer’s Block Rehab.
No visit to Philadelphia is complete without a stop at the Magic Gardens on South Street. Since the early 1960s, mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar has been creating this unique installation of art that covers and inhabits a full building and the two lots next door. Nearly every surface at Magic Gardens is covered with pieces of tile, broken glass, pieces of sculpture and whatever else inspired Zagar.
Make yourself at home
There are no shortages of hotels and accommodations in Philadelphia, but if you want to stay close to the action of the Gayborhood, check out Loews Philadelphia. Loews boasts incredible city views, luxury amenities and a central location just blocks away from the Gayborhood and the popular tourist destination, Reading Terminal Market.
Located right in the Gayborhood, the Alexander Inn was built at the turn of the 20th century. While the rooms are on the no-frills side, the location can’t be beat if you want to be near all the action.
A block from Washington Square is the historic landmark hotel, Morris House. Built in 1787, this hotel is a piece of Colonial Philadelphia history. On the National Registry of Historic Buildings, the rooms are appointed with rich colors of red, black, gold and green, and decorations true to the period.
Exploring Philadelphia’s vibrant LGBTQ+ scene and rich cultural offerings shows that this city has embraced its historical roots and LGBTQ+ community, weaving them together into the fabric of the city itself. There’s more than enough to see and do to fill up a weekend away or even longer.