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20 Essential LGBT Sites in Philadelphia

Historic sites, popular neighborhoods, top restaurants and buzzed-about bars

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Photo by J. Smith for Visit Philadelphia
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Philadelphia, the United States’ birthplace, is proud of the roles it has played — and plays still — in the founding, furtherance and celebration of the LGBT civil rights movement.

The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection hosted the country’s first major demonstration for LGBT rights, the Annual Reminders, in 1965. Philly also has more nationally significant historic markers than any other city in the nation, with two recent additions: the AIDS Library, formed as a resource during the peak period of the U.S. HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, and a marker just outside the Pennsylvania Historical Society, home of the collection of John Fryer, a Temple University psychology professor who submitted testimony that aided in declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness.

Today, visitors to Philly can easily explore sites where LGBT history was made and enjoy spots all over town where queer life thrives.

To see and do it all, visitors need to spend at least a couple of nights, and that’s made easy with the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package, offering free parking and more perks.

Here’s an essential itinerary for visitors interested in Philadelphia’s LGBT past and present.

01

The Gayborhood

— Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

The center of Philadelphia’s gay residential life and culture since World War II, the blocks between 11th Street and Broad Street, Pine Street and Chestnut Street earned their nickname — the “Gayborhood” — during an October Outfest event in 1995. In 2007, Mayor John Street dedicated rainbow street signs around the neighborhood. Since then, the rainbows have multiplied, adorning more street signs (72 in all), homes, businesses and even a crosswalk at 13th and Locust streets.

Where: S. 13th and Locust streets

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02

Dining in the Gayborhood

diners at Bud & Marilyn's diners at Bud & Marilyn's
Bud & Marilyn's — Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

In the past 15 years, 13th Street has become the neighborhood’s own restaurant row. It’s here that enterprising businesswomen Chef Marcie Turney and business partner Valerie Safran took a chance on their first venture, Lolita, an intimate and inventive Mexican bistro offering amazing fresh-fruit margaritas. Today, the duo owns and operates nearby Spanish destination Jamonera, all-American Bud & Marilyn’s, Italian-inspired Little Nonna’s, gourmet market Grocery and Italian/Mediterranean Barbuzzo along with two gift shops — one with its own chocolate-making studio, Marcie Blaine.

But that’s not all: The street is also home to happening hidden Izakaya and coffee shop Double Knot, modern Asian Sampan, lounge-like upscale taqueria El Vez, fancy wine bar and ristorante Tredici Enoteca, stylish pizzeria Zavino New American stunner Maison 208 (home to the city’s first retractable roof), chouquettes and eclairs at pristine bakery J’aime French Bakery and some of the world’s best gelato at Capogiro.

Where: Various locations including Bud & Marilyn's, 1234 Locust Street

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03

Nightlife in the Gayborhood

Philadelphia Black Pride Philadelphia Black Pride
Woody's — Photo by A. Ricketts for Visit Philadelphia

The name of the after-dark game is: don’t stay in one place too long. Bar hopping rules the night in these parts. Energetic partiers can be found partaking in singalongs at piano bar Tavern on Camac, casually knocking a few back at Writer’s Block Rehab, Toasted Walnut or Knock, flirting at dance club Voyeur, imbibing at beer spots (Boxers, Brü, Ubar) or socializing at the granddaddy of them all, mega club, bar and lounge Woody’s, a Gayborhood staple for decades.

Where: Various locations including Woody's, 202 13th Street

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04

Shopping in the Gayborhood

13th Street in Midtown Villiage 13th Street in Midtown Villiage
— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Independent shops have set up their own stakes in the neighborhood, too. Don’t miss the clever handmade soaps and products at Duross & Langel (which doubles as a men’s grooming lounge and salon), hip and Philly-centric finds at gift shops Open House and Verde, thoughtfully curated Japanese housewares and beauty products from Rikumo, global jewelry at Bella Turka, original and vintage jewelry at Halloween and throwback Philly (and some other) sports team and fan gear at Mitchell & Ness and Shibe Vintage.

Where: Various locations including Bella Turka, 113 S. 13th Street

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05

The Liberty Bell Center

The Liberty Bell Center The Liberty Bell Center
— Photo by D. Cruz for Visit Philadelphia

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Historic Philadelphia district, the original city, played a vital role in the birth of the United States’ LGBT rights movement. Between the Delaware River and 7th Street and Vine and Lombard streets are the Colonial yet contemporary neighborhoods of Old City and Society Hill as well as Independence National Historical Park, home of the Liberty Bell, a symbol of the abolitionist movement and freedom in general.

Where: The Liberty Bell, 526 Market Street

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06

Reminder Day Marker at Independence Hall

Independence Hall was the site of the United States’ first major LGBT rights demonstration on July 4, 1965. A state historical marker commemorates this peaceful protest — and the four that followed each July 4 through 1969 — known collectively as the Annual Reminders.

Where: Independence Hall, 520 Chestnut Street

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07

John Fryer Historical Marker

This new Pennsylvania Historical Society marker honors the late activist John Fryer, M.D. In 1965, the University of Pennsylvania expelled Fryer from his psychiatric residency program on the basis of his homosexuality, then deemed a mental illness by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1952. In 1972, Fryer, a faculty member at the Temple University School of Medicine, offered an electrifying anonymous testimony that resulted in a committee that helped lead to the APA’s 1973 declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness.

Where: John Fryer Historical Marker, S. 13th and Locust streets

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08

Rittenhouse Square

Philadelphia’s most popular town square

— Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

The toniest of the five public squares laid out in city planner William Penn’s original plan, tree-lined Rittenhouse Square has been an alfresco sanctuary for LGBT Philadelphians dating back to the 1930s. Today, the park’s benches and grass are filled with all manner of Philadelphians, and the neighborhood around the park has grown into the city’s busiest center of business, shopping and dining.

Where: 18th and Walnut streets

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09

City Hall

— Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

More than merely an architectural marvel (it’s the world’s tallest masonry building, topped by a statue of city planner William Penn) and the seat of city government, Philadelphia’s City Hall is where, in 1982, Philadelphia became one of the first cities in the country to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s also where countless gay couples have come to marry and get their marriage licenses since May 20, 2014, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted marriage equality.

Where: City Hall, 1401 John F Kennedy Boulevard

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10

AIDS Library Historical Marker

Founded in 1987, this community library was the nation’s first to dedicate itself to the delivery of information on HIV treatments, nutrition and history. Today, the safe center continues to offer referrals for nearby and national resources and provides the public with free computers. It is part of the Philadelphia FIGHT network of community health centers.

Where: AIDS Library Historical Marker, 1233 Locust Street

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11

South Street

View on South Street View on South Street
— Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

Center City’s colorful boulevard owes its vibrancy to the artists, hippies and gays who turned it into a welcoming enclave in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It’s where radical gay collective Gazoo founded Philadelphia’s Gay Liberation Front, the city’s first gay community center, and the Royal Theatre, an early 20th-century African-American-owned cultural center where bisexual blues singer Bessie Smith performed — and near where she lived. Today, the street’s known for its mosaic masterpiece Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, mouthwatering cheesesteak shops and hangouts like dive bar extraordinaire Bob & Barbara’s, home of Philly’s best-loved drag show, lesbian-owned Little Spoon Café and the eclectic, gay-owned boutique shop Workshop Underground.

Where: Various locations including Bob and Barbara's Lounge, 1509 South Street

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12

William Way Community Center

The city’s LGBT community center occupied several buildings from 1976 to 1995 before settling into its very own spot in 1996. William Way opens its doors 365 days a year, offering a variety of life services, community art shows and celebrations for the LGBT community. On the block-long western exterior wall of the building, artist Ann Northrup’s mural Pride & Progress depicts portraits of LGBT Philadelphians through the years.

Where: William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce Street

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13

Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room Historical Marker Giovanni's Room Historical Marker
— Photo by J. Kaczmarek for Visit Philadelphia

The country’s longest-running LGBT bookstore opened along South Street in 1973 and relocated in 1979 to its current Pine Street location. The unofficial community and cultural center is named after James Baldwin’s trailblazing novel and now operated by Philly AIDS Thrift, a nonprofit secondhand shop located at 710 S. 5th Street. Proceeds from both stores go to people living with HIV & AIDS. A historic marker resides outside the corner shop.

Where: Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni's Room, 345 S. 12th Street

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14

Menagerie Coffee

In 1973, Quaker landlords defied then-commonplace discrimination against LGBT tenants by renting the storefront at 60 N. 3rd Street to the gay owner-operators of the city’s first LGBT coffeehouse. The shop was the unofficial predecessor to the William Way Community Center (see above), a safe space for the community to socialize. Today, the surrounding neighborhood vibrates with art galleries, independent boutiques, historic sites, bistros, bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) restaurants and bars — and Menagerie Coffee, a great lesbian-owned café.

Where: Menagerie Coffee, 18 S. 3rd Street

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15

Arch Street Meeting House

Arch Street Meeting House Arch Street Meeting House
— Photo by J. Smith for Visit Philadelphia

The historic home of a 300-year-old Quaker “Friends” congregation hosted the Philadelphia Conference, where about 300 LGBT activists gathered in February 1979 to plan the first national demonstration of lesbian and gay rights in Washington, DC. That October, that march would attract 100,000 demonstrators and would define a national civil rights movement. Visitors can view the historic marker outside the meetinghouse and are welcome inside.

Where: Historic Arch Street Meeting House, 320 Arch Street

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16

Gloria Casarez Mural

Gloria Casarez — the City of Philadelphia’s first director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, a founding member of the Philly Dyke March and a longtime community activist — is memorialized in a mural by artist Michelle Angela Ortiz emblazoned on the front of the former 12th Street Gym, which closed after 30 years in early 2018. Gloria Casarez Way, the block where A Tribute to Gloria Casarez stands, also honors her in name. A Philadelphia native, the late Casarez helped ensure Philadelphia adopted the nation’s broadest possible LGBT-rights protection during her time in City Hall.

Where: 204 S. 12th Street

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17

Barbara Gittings Home

Considered the mother of the LGBT rights movement, Barbara Gittings, a Philadelphia resident from age 18, edited the nation’s first lesbian magazine, co-organized the historic Annual Reminders at Independence Hall and led charges both to promote positive LGBT literature in public libraries and to change the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. A Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission marker honors the home she shared with photojournalist partner Kay Lahusen. A sign at 13th Street and Locust Street declares the thoroughfare Barbara Gittings Way.

Where: Barbara Gittings Home, 21st and Locust Streets

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18

Keith Haring Memorial

South of Center City, circa 1987 We the Youth is an original work by out Pennsylvania native and artist Keith Haring, one of many murals created by LGBT artists or about the LGBT movement as part of Mural Arts Philadelphia.

Where: We the Youth mural, 22nd and Ellsworth streets

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19

Valley Forge National Historical Park

More than 200 years before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was signed, challenged and repealed, gay Prussian military genius Friedrich von Steuben transformed General Washington’s ragtag army at Valley Forge into a professional force. Benjamin Franklin, who knew of what he referred to as von Steuben’s “affections for the same sex,” recruited the Prussian as the Continental Army’s inspector general and major general. A bronze monument at Valley Forge honors his contributions. The historic site is about a 30-minute drive from Center City.

Where: Valley Forge National Historical Park, 1400 N. Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia

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20

New Hope

— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

In the 1940s, the Bucks County riverside hamlet of New Hope became a popular destination for Broadway-bound performers and musicians. Since then, the artsy village has developed into a beloved destination for LGBT visitors (and residents), offering both a respite from city life and more than a dash of stellar restaurants, bars and shops, the Bucks County Playhouse and antique and vintage stores. Each May, New Hope and Lambertville Celebrate Pride Week starts with “Rainbow Flagdrop” — a mile-long banner on loan from Key West — along with a parade and fireworks over the Delaware River. The pool at The Raven is a popular summer destination for those seeking refuge from surrounding metropolitan areas.  New Hope is approximately a 45-minute drive from Center City.

Where: E. Bridge and N. Main streets, New Hope

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The Gayborhood
Dining in the Gayborhood
Nightlife in the Gayborhood
Shopping in the Gayborhood
The Liberty Bell Center
Reminder Day Marker at Independence Hall
John Fryer Historical Marker
Rittenhouse Square
City Hall
AIDS Library Historical Marker
South Street
William Way Community Center
Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni's Room
Menagerie Coffee
Arch Street Meeting House
Gloria Casarez Mural
Barbara Gittings Home
Keith Haring Memorial
Valley Forge National Historical Park
New Hope
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