The heart of Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. | J. SMITH/ VISIT PHILADELPHIA
What more fitting location to celebrate the LGBT civil rights movement than the birthplace of US independence? Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — site of the First and Second Continental Congresses, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and home to annual LGBT rights marches that began in 1965. On the Fourth of July for five consecutive years through 1969, pioneering activists held “Annual Reminders” in front of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
To commemorate those marches and the start of a pre-Stonewall unified LGBT front, Philadelphia is once again stepping up in support of equal rights for all Americans. From Thursday, July 2 through Sunday, July 5, the Philly-based Equality Forum (equalityforum.com) is putting on a 50th anniversary celebration outside Independence Hall (LGBT50.org).
Tips for enjoying a long Fourth of July Weekend celebrating city’s 50 years of LGBT activism
While the main events will take place over those four days, the pride spirit is already ramping up across town and getting ready for an influx of queer visitors. The Gayborhood — which is literally what the city calls its gay neighborhood, marked by rainbows on its street signs — is home to more than enough action to make a long weekend fun. But here are a few more travel tips for those keen to see the LGBT and many other fun faces of Philly.
Philly is full of hungry people. This is clear to see from the booming restaurant scene, which is giving locals and tourists alike a whole lot of belt-loosening options.
One of the first places to stop on any visit is the Reading Terminal Market (readingterminalmarket.org), the famous public market conveniently nestled between the Gayborhood, City Hall, Chinatown, and Old City. The huge indoor edibles emporium could fill you up with samples alone. But that shouldn’t stop you from perusing scores of vendors selling everything from dumplings to corned beef to fresh-shucked oysters. Just leave room for dessert at Bassetts Ice Cream (bassettsicecream.com), still churning out the best frozen delights since 1861.
For a more traditional dining experience, venture into the Gayborhood along busy South 12th Street to Pennsylvania 6 (pennsylvania6philly.com). With a great happy hour menu, cozy seating, and super-friendly service, the restaurant is a perfect spot to charm your date with delicately prepared seafood and veggie-forward dishes, plus solid wine and cocktail lists.
Head a little further into to the ‘hood for more Mediterranean and Spanish flair at Valanni (valanni.com) on Spruce Street. It’s a nice menu that includes burgers, flatbreads, and calamari, and more intriguing items like shiitake polenta with shrimp and “figs in a blanket.” Sidewalk seating makes this prime people-watching territory, especially during brunch and happy hours.
Speaking of brunch, Green Eggs Café (greeneggscafe.com) is a Gayborhood fave for its various benedicts, French toasts, and omelets. For something with a little more ethnic zing, consider Raw Sushi & Sake Lounge (1225raw.com) on Sansom Street, home to a pleasant patio and reliably fresh Japanese fare (the lunchtime bento boxes are a great deal).
Of course, you’re in Philly and there will be cheesesteak. But instead of traveling the well-trodden path into South Philly for Geno’s or Pat’s, try Sonny’s (sonnyscheesesteaks.com) in Old City for a perfectly built cheesesteak made with soft bread and your choice of toppings and cheeses — including Cheez Whiz, the official partner of thin-sliced beef within the city limits.
Woody’s on South Street in the Gayborhood. | M. FISCHETTI/ VISIT PHILADELPHIA
For a residential enclave, the Gayborhood boasts several good hotel options. The gay-owned Alexander Inn (alexanderinn.com) is an affordable option with basic rooms, lovely staff, and wifi, fitness center and breakfast included — all in a terrific location. In fact, a few doors down don’t miss Giovanni’s Room (giovannisroom.com), opened in 1973 and now one of the country’s oldest LGBT bookstores.
The Independent Hotel (theindependenthotel.com) is another well-situated option that offers a more upscale, boutique experience. Recently renovated, this inn offers basic amenities like wifi and breakfast, and throws in 12th Street Gym (12streetgym.com) access and complimentary wine receptions Monday through Thursday.
Philly is loaded with so much history and culture it can be tough to narrow down how best to spend your time. Though it may seem too touristy, Big-Bus or trolley tours (phillytour.com) are a good way to get a snapshot of the city in a matter of hours. These hop-on, hop-off tours, if timed right, are an easy way to see the sights without having to navigate public transit or hail taxis — made even more convenient if you tie in a bulk-admission Philadelphia Pass (philadelphiapass.com) to hit the museums while you’re at it.
In the Old City and Society Hill areas you’ll find the main sights, like the Liberty Bell, the US Mint, the Betsy Ross House, and other historic landmarks. The National Constitution Center (constitutioncenter.org) is a great place to re-energize your patriotic sentiment. But better than that, from June 5 to September 7, it’s hosting the “Speaking Out for Equality: The Constitution, Gay Rights & the Supreme Court” exhibit as part of the LGBT 50th anniversary celebration.
No one can come to Philly’s Gayborhood — aka Midtown Village — and say they didn’t have plenty of watering holes to choose from.
Both Woody’s (woodysbar.com) and the Knock (knockphilly.com) offer outdoor areas and happy-hour specials, making them good starter spots for a night out, though the latter adds a touch more sophistication and dining to the experience. Woody’s, meanwhile, gets more clubby with every passing hour.
As night falls, it may be time to pull up a stool at one of the neighborhood haunts along tiny South Camac Street. U Bar (ubarphilly.com) is a friendly, two-story bar aiming to wet your whistle, with doors opening at 11 a.m. daily and lots of drink specials. A few doors down, the Tavern on Camac (tavernoncamac.com) is Philly’s favorite piano bar, with an upstairs club that gets moving closer to midnight. At the other end of Camac, the friendly Venture Inn (viphilly.com) puts on drag shows, karaoke, and all-vinyl rock ‘n roll dance parties every other Saturday.
Tabu (tabuphilly.com) is another hotbed of performance and dancing upstairs that serves sports-loving queers downstairs. But Icandy (clubicandy.com) is the go-to club for gays wanting to get down. Its first floor is always free entry, but after 10 p.m. on weekends expect a cover to dance upstairs or to hang on the rooftop patio.
Whether you’re new to Philadelphia or a seasoned visitor, 2015 promises to be a banner year for LGBT travelers to take the city by storm. This may be the summer that the City of Brotherly Love nickname gets a whole new meaning.
For a regularly updated rundown of 50th-anniversary events commemorating the LGBT civil rights movement, visit LGBT50.org and gaypioneers.com. Also check out PhillyMag.com/g-philly and VisitPhilly.com for more things to do during your stay.