Philadelphia and the Countryside - Press Room

Releases: Expanded View

Apr 7 2011

Backgrounder: Gay-friendly Philly

LGBT Visitors To Philadelphia Get Their History Straight, Their Nightlife Gay, Their Dining Delicious & Their Shopping Tax-Free

Philadelphia, which recently marked the 40th anniversary of its vibrant Gayborhood, continues to come out as one of the nation’s top travel destinations for gay and lesbian visitors. As reflected in its award-winning Philadelphia – Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay® campaign, the region has become the place to learn about America’s past by day and to experience a little of the party life by night. Philadelphia is now tied for the #9 spot on the list of most-visited gay and lesbian destinations on Community Marketing, Inc.’s annual LGBT Tourism Study, and it’s tied for #2 among destinations most effectively promoting to LGBT travelers.

In Philadelphia and the surrounding countryside, visitors will find everything they need for a fabulous weekend getaway: not-to-be-missed historic sites, rich cultural attractions, great shopping, a hot restaurant scene and lively bars and clubs.

For more information about gay-friendly Philadelphia and to book and plan a stay, travelers can go to or

Get Your History Straight:
Famous for its preeminent role in the founding of the country, the city offers the ultimate history classroom. Within the redeveloped Independence National Historical Park stands Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Independence Hall was also the site of some of the nation’s first gay rights demonstrations, held here for four years beginning in 1965. An official state historic marker—the first in the nation to mark a LGBT historical event—commemorates the landmark protests.

Just across the street is the Liberty Bell Center, which provides a contemplative experience for this venerable symbol of freedom. Anchoring the northern end of Independence Mall is the National Constitution Center, a major museum celebrating the U.S. Constitution, including its impact on the rights of gays and lesbians. Among the displays are sections on Romer v. Evans, a landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of gay-rights laws, and the impact of California’s Proposition 8 on the fight for marriage equality. Pioneering activists Harry Hay and Harvey Milk also are featured in the museum’s American National Tree.

One of the mall’s newest attractions, the National Museum of American Jewish History
spotlights such icons as singer-actress-director Barbra Streisand and conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein in its Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame. Another new site, The President’s House, marks the spot where Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived when Philadelphia was the nation’s capital and commemorates the lives of enslaved Africans who lived and worked for Washington.

Art & About:

For art lovers, there’s no better place to begin than the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Starting at the end of the culture-packed stretch, the Philadelphia Museum of Art houses an impressive array of Renaissance, American, Impressionist and Modern art lives. The museum’s Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building offers a stunning home for its costume, textile, contemporary design and photography collections. Nearby is the Rodin Museum, holding the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of France, including The Thinker. The world-renowned Barnes Foundation showcases an unparalleled collection of French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern works.

Off the Parkway, the Philadelphia Art Alliance on Rittenhouse Square frequently showcases gay and contemporary artists, while the Rosenbach Museum and Library houses the original manuscripts of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Around the city are more than 3,000 murals commissioned by the city’s Mural Arts Program, the largest such initiative in the country. Guided tours are offered on foot, by trolley, elevated train, bike and Segway. Another only-see-it-here installation is Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a half-block-long mosaic created by nationally known artist Isaiah Zagar.

Cultural experiences can extend well into the evening along the Avenue of the Arts, where exciting performances range from opera to world music and from Broadway to local theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Academy of Music, Wilma Theater, Prince Music Theater, the Suzanne Roberts Theatre and other venues. The annual Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe, held in early September, offers street artists, performance artists and other cutting-edge productions.

Just outside the city, the art institutions may be smaller in size than their urban counterparts—but the caliber of the work is equally impressive. The Barnes Foundation in Merion showcases an unparalleled collection of French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern works. (The Barnes galleries are scheduled to close in June 2011, in preparation for its move to a new facility on the Parkway in Philadelphia.) Brandywine River Museum in scenic Chadds Ford specializes in works by the Wyeth family, and the James A. Michener Art Museum, with facilities in Doylestown and New Hope, focuses on artists from Bucks County and the region.

Dining Delights:
While in town, a soft pretzel with mustard and a famous Philly cheesesteak are musts, but visitors should know Philly’s acclaimed food scene extends well beyond these favorite comfort foods. In Midtown Village, lesbian-owned Barbuzzo and Jamonera are wowing crowds with their Mediterranean and Spanish (respectively) small plates, while its sister establishment, the Nuevo Mexican BYOB Lolita continues to serve as a neighborhood favorite. Also on or around the bustling 13th Street corridor: Gay-owned Knock features an American menu with global touches and a lively bar scene; acclaimed chef Marc Vetri’s Amis evokes a modern Roman trattoria; Mixto serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner Latino-style; More Than Just Ice Cream lives up to its name with yummy burgers, salads and sandwiches; Raw presents sushi in an uber stylish setting; Valanni tempts the taste buds with creative Mediterranean fare; and its sister restaurant Mercato provides a market-driven take on Italian cuisine. For lighter fare, two wine bars, Tria and Vintage pair unusual wines by the bottle or glass with artisanal cheese plates, salads, pressed sandwiches and other snacks.

Beyond Midtown Village, foodies will be dazzled by choices offered by the stars of the city’s dining scene: restaurateur Stephen Starr, owner of 15 trendy eateries, and Iron Chef Jose Garces, who has seven restaurants. Options among their growing empires are Starr’s Asian-fusion Buddakan; the comfort food of Jones; French bistro Parc; and British pub The Dandelion, while Garces’ offerings include authentic Spanish-style tapas at Amada and Tinto; the gourmet market/cafe Garces Trading Co.; and the American-focused JG Domestic.

Bars, Clubs & Community:
Most of the city’s gay and lesbian bars and clubs are conveniently located in the Gayborhood, which runs from 10th to Broad Streets and from Chestnut to Pine Streets and is marked by street signs with rainbow flags. Best known are the always-packed Woody’s, which has several bars and a pulsating dance floor; Sisters, the city’s only lesbian nightclub; Voyeur, an after-hours club where the dancing continues well after 2:00 a.m.; The Bike Stop, a land of leather and its fans; Tavern on Camac, a piano bar and dance club; The Westbury, a pub-style hangout; the gay and lesbian sports bar Tabu; and Sisters, a bar-restaurant-dance club mostly for women. Meanwhile, the William Way LGBT Community Center acts as an unofficial LGBT visitor’s center and offers regular events, while the 12th Street Gym is a favorite workout spot for locals and also offers guest passes.

In and out of the neighborhood, regular events include the legendary Thursday night drag show at Bob and Barbara’s; the monthly Martha Graham Cracker cabaret show at L’Etage in Queen Village; the monthly New Wave-themed Sex Dwarf nights at Fluid; and the monthly Gay Bingo, which benefits AIDS Fund Philadelphia.

Splendid Shopping:
Washington West fittingly offers a discriminating eye for furniture and housewares, from traditional outlets on Antique Row to a new generation of stores selling more contemporary items. Also in the neighborhood is the nearly 40-year-old Giovanni’s Room, the oldest gay and lesbian and bookstore in the country. A shopping trip wouldn’t be complete without a stroll along 13th Street between Walnut and Chestnut Streets. The owner-operated shops feature handmade soaps and bath products, women’s jewelry and accessories, home goods and mouthwatering gelato. For those in need of some special souvenirs, Open House and Verde carry great Philly-inspired gifts, including wine totes, note cards, paperweights, T-shirts and more.

More great shopping awaits along Rittenhouse Row, a tony shopping district on Walnut Street, from Broad to 20th Streets; in Old City, home to dozens of galleries and boutiques; in Northern Liberties, site of the Piazza shopping and dining complex; and on funky South Street, where trendy clothing shops and piercing and tattoo parlors rule. On the outskirts of Philadelphia is the Franklin Mills Mall, a massive outlet mall; and the King of Prussia Mall, complete with eight department stores and more than 400 upscale specialty shops. And don’t forget, there’s no sales tax on clothing in Pennsylvania.

Mark Your Calendar:
Philadelphia and The Countryside® hosts major gay events throughout the year. Favorites include Equality Forum, one of the nation’s largest gay and lesbian symposiums and festivals in April; Philadelphia Black Gay Pride in late April; Dining Out for Life, a benefit for ActionAIDS, also in late April; New Hope Celebrates Pride in May; Philadelphia’s LGBT Pride Parade and Festival in June; the Philadelphia QFest film festival in July; Gay Day at the Philadelphia Phillies game in August; and OutFest, the National Coming Out Weekend held in October.

Regional Excursion:
New Hope, situated one hour north of Philadelphia in Bucks County, is an artists' colony built around a vibrant and funky Main Street filled with shops, restaurants, bars and cafes. LGBT-favorite spots include Marsha Brown Creole Kitchen, known for its authentic creole and southern cuisine; Mother’s Wine Bar and Restaurant, a hotspot for meal-like Bloody Marys and comfort fare; and Karla’s Restaurant, where locals go for innovative cocktails like the fresh-squeezed blood orange martini. The Ramada Inn includes Dansu, a popular sushi bar and dance club, and Bob Egan’s Cabaret and Supper Club, where nationally and regionally known acts perform.

Where To Stay:
The region offers a range of gay-friendly accommodations, from large, full-service hotels to smaller boutique properties to intimate bed-and-breakfasts and inns. The Gayborhood is home to the gay-owned Alexander Inn, the boutique-style Independent Hotel and the popular chain DoubleTree by Hilton Philadelphia Center City, while the city’s newest properties include the upscale Kimpton-owned Hotel Palomar Philadelphia and Starwood’s luxurious Le Méridien Philadelphia. Visitors can log onto to plan their visit and book their stay.

The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) makes Philadelphia and The Countryside® a premier destination through marketing and image building that increases business and promotes the region’s vitality.

For more information about travel to Philadelphia, visit or, where you can build itineraries; search event calendars; see photos and videos; view interactive maps; sign up for newsletters; listen to HearPhilly, an online radio station about what to see and do in the region; book hotel reservations and more. Or, call the Independence Visitor Center, located in Historic Philadelphia, at (800) 537-7676.

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