America’s birthplace is also known as one of its most gay-friendly cities. Per the Philadelphia Free Library, when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, "The City of Brotherly Love" is a living example of founder William Penn’s insistence on tolerance without persecution. Philadelphia has an overt and noticeable gay population. Unlike obvious, self-contained gay neighborhoods such as The Castro, Boystown, and the French Quarter, Philadelphia’s queer havens are more accurately described as LGBTQ+-friendly districts, with one exception. They include Fishtown and Northern Liberties, South Street and South Philadelphia, Manayunk, and New Hope/Lambertville. The standalone gay neighborhood is aptly named The Gayborhood.
Philadelphia’s gay community is well-served by an active and impactful LGBT Affairs Office and an LGBTQ Liaison. Philly is a pioneer in legislation shielding gays from housing and employment discrimination. A July 4, 1965 demonstration in front of Independence Hall helped jumpstart the gay rights movement, according to WHYY. There is now a yearly pride march held on the spot.
Philly also deserves credit for promoting gay tourism with its "Get your history straight and your nightlife gay" marketing strategy of the early aughts (via Philadelphia Magazine). It even has its own version of the pride flag with brown and black stripes added for greater inclusion that flies at City Hall. Gayish events that enrich all of its 100 neighborhoods include the Philadelphia Fringe Arts Festival, recitals by the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, and performances by cabaret stalwarts The Bearded Ladies.
Washington Square West, the heart of The Gayborhood, comprises the blocks between 11th and Broad streets and Pine and Chestnut streets. According to San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender News, it has been a residential gay refuge since World War II. If there is any doubt that this stretch is an LGBTQ+ oasis, it is dispelled by its rainbow crosswalks, multi-colored street signs, and pride flags (69 of them).
GayTravel4U recommends the OutFest, Philadelphia’s National Coming Out Day block party. The Gayborhood event is a day-long celebration of all that’s gay in Philly. The Philly Trans March also occurs there. TimeOut lists no less than 5 of the city’s stand-out gay bars, all of them in The Gayborhood. Woody’s is the oldest, and it features "RuPaul’s Drag Race" viewing parties. The Bike Stop is a favorite of the leather crowd. The others mentioned are Tavern on Camac, U Bar, and the Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar. According to EATER Philadelphia, Philadelphia’s last lesbian bar standing, the Gayborhood’s Toasted Walnut Bar & Kitchen, closed last year. The Lesbian Bar Project reports there are now only 24 left in the entire country.
Once considered the core of queer Philadelphia, Giovanni’s Room is the U.S.’s oldest, still operating gay bookstore. Danny’s Midnight Confession is a 40-year-old adult gift store in the neighborhood. A mural depicting lesbian activist Gloria Casarez adorns The Gayborhood. LGBTQ+ excursions led by Beyond The Bell Tours point out queer highlights.
Fishtown and Northern Liberties
Within walking distance of gay-friendly Northern Liberties is the inclusive and accepting neighborhood of Fishtown. Deemed one of the hottest new neighborhoods by Forbes, it is a nine-minute hop from downtown. Fishtown is fortuitously located mere hours from New York City, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. It is also a favorite of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community, owing in part to its reasonable average rental price of $1,500 for a one-bedroom (via Apartments.com) and scenic waterfront views.
Discover Philadelphia notes some of Philly’s best gay-owned spots, many of which are in and around Fishtown. Trans-owned Cake Life Bake Shop was a Food Channel champion on "Cupcake Wars." Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse is a gay/black/female-owned Fishtown favorite. Gay-owned One Shot Cafe and queer/female/black/veteran-owned boutique Trunc are Northern Liberties standbys. Fishtown’s murals, many LGBTQ+-themed, are prime examples of street art in a city reputed to have more murals (4,000+) than any other, per Discover Philadelphia. The neighborhood was once a shad-fishing hub, hence the name. Its heritage is reflected in the fish symbols affixed on many apartment doors.
Inclusive and accepting Fishtown is within easy walking and biking distance of gay-friendly Northern Liberties, also a good-for-walking neighborhood. Culture Trip anoints Northern Liberties as Philly’s prime dining district with its many brunch options and a central piazza that hosts frequent food festivals. The neighborhood’s Darnel’s Cakes promotes AIDS awareness while peddling outstanding baked goods in honor of the AIDS-stricken cousin of one of its owners.
South Philadelphia and South Street
South Street divides Philadelphia’s Center City and is one of the borders of the queer-tolerant neighborhood of South Philadelphia. U.S. History uses words like "strange," "weird," and "hip" to describe it, and it is the place to go for body art. It’s also the home of Harry’s World, purveyors to practitioners of voodoo. The South Street Art Mart showcases items crafted by 100 area artists. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is an expansive South Street art space and tourist attraction that is highlighted by a huge mosaic maze.
Tripsavvy estimates there are 400 shops, bars, restaurants, performance spaces, and galleries in South Philly, many catering to the LGBTQ+ nation. East Passyunk Avenue is one of the major South Philadelphia thoroughfares. It is the nation’s oldest Italian-American shopping section and is now a gay-welcoming strip packed with bars and restaurants. Per PhillyBite Magazine, Queers On The Avenue hosts monthly socials there. Philly cheesesteak titans Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks also battle it out on the avenue.
Bob and Barbara’s Lounge, a South Street fixture since 1969, features the city’s longest-running drag show, live music, and karaoke. Head over to lesbian-owned Hardena’s for Indonesian comfort food. And straight and gay sports fans can watch the Phillies at South Philly’s Citizens Bank Park or the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
This neighborhood on the northwest outskirts of the city has morphed from a gritty industrial section to a coveted residential neighborhood and from a blue-collar zone to a gay-friendly one. According to Gay Real Estate, Manayunk’s lofts, row houses, and Victorians can be had for a median price of $269,900. Rentals are available for a monthly average of $977 (via Extra Space Storage). This fortuitous combination of living space and affordability makes it one of Philadelphia’s most alluring neighborhoods. Inspired by its location on the banks of the Schuylkill River, Manayunk is an indigenous word for "place to drink." Its trendy bars are just that. There are also restaurants, galleries, and boutiques that attract the new queer crowd. Extra Space Storage calculates that gay-friendly Manayunk is one of Philadelphia’s safest neighborhoods, with 86% less crime than elsewhere.
Out & About in MNYK, held annually in October, is coordinated with National Coming Out Day. The event serves to promote Manayunk as a safe and all-inclusive enclave. The LGBTQ+-centric entertainment schedule described in Manayunk includes drag cabaret performances, queer bingo, and a drag queen boot camp. The Venice Island Performing Arts & Recreation Center is a neighborhood staple. The Manayunk Arts Festival is Philadelphia’s major outdoor one, with more than 300 artists participating. An annual bike race in and around the neighborhood is a local draw.
New Hope and Lambertville
Though it’s about 30 miles outside of the city limits, no survey of pro-gay Philly neighborhoods would be complete without a nod to LGBTQ+-welcoming satellite New Hope and its across-the-Delaware River sister Lambertville, New Jersey. The quaint artist’s colony has been a magnet for gay Philadelphians since the 1940s, according to Travels of Adam. It is inundated with galleries, antiques, wineries, and gay and lesbian inns. New Hope/Lambertville is the site of a weekend-long Pride Festival featuring a fair and an equality flag ceremony, and the annual New Hope Celebrates Pride Week & Parade is another LGBTQ+ highlight. The New Hope Arts festival is a popular September activity.
The Bucks County Playhouse is an iconic theater dating from 1939 and a launching pad to the New York theater scene. The Cub Room, featuring pianist Mx. Dena Underwood, and The Raven are two New Hope nightspots. Another is The RRazz Room, where cabaret acts and A-list comedians strut their stuff. Per Visit Bucks County, the Wishing Well is recommended for its gay-friendly accommodations. Karla’s Restaurant has served the gay community for 50 years. Fetish enthusiasts frequent Le Chateau Exotique. A huge Bucks County flea market is another magnet for gays and straights traveling from Philadelphia and elsewhere.