LGBT freedom rings loud in Philly
It’s the historic hometown of our democracy, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where millions of yearly tourists flock to see national landmarks like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Betsy Ross’ house. This summer, Philadelphia is also the LGBT tourist destination of the year.
The city is commemorating 50 years as the birthplace of the organized LGBT civil rights movement. Back on July 4, 1965, our lesbian and gay forebears gathered for the first time outside Independence Hall. Courageous citizens like Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny peacefully marched and rallied supporters, holding signs and distributing flyers that spelled out obvious reminders like, “Denial of equality is immoral.”
Those Annual Reminder marches became
regular Independence Day rallies, and along with Stonewall and other gay liberation efforts, were vital to igniting the fight that’s benefitted the course of American—and global —human equality.
From July 2 through July 5, Philadelphia’s Equality Forum (equalityforum.com) is organizing events that will celebrate our community’s hard-won milestones, honor our leaders and rally a new generation’s push for equal opportunities (LGBT50.org).
The 50th anniversary celebration is a fantastic reason to visit “the city of brotherly love” this summer. Along with special exhibits and gay-centric events around town, the National Constitution Center (525 Arch St, 215-409-6600, constitutioncenter.org) is hosting the exhibit “Speaking Out for Equality: The Constitution, Gay Rights & the Supreme Court” from June 5 to September 7 as part of the LGBT golden jubilee. Philly Pride (phillygay pride.org) also is planning a special block party on July 5 in honor of the annual marches.
But there’s always plenty for queer travelers to see and do in Philly. Right in the city center, the “Gayborhood”—which is what most people call it, rather than Midtown Village—is marked by rainbow-adorned street signs. Two more historical markers in town also memorialize key LGBT sites. One stands outside the Liberty Bell Center at 6th and Chestnut, and was installed in 2005 to mark the Annual Reminder marches’ 40th anniversary. The other marker honors Giovanni’s Room (345 S 12th St, 215-923-2960, gio
vannisroom.com), one of the country’s first LGBT bookstores, which opened in 1973 and is still open today (as PhillyAIDSThrift@ Giovanni's Room) with an assortment of books and vintage goods.
True to form, a gay-owned hotel a few doors from Giovanni’s is the perfect place to lay your head on the quiet end of the Gayborhood. The Alexander Inn (301 S 12th St, 215-923-3535, alexanderinn.com) is affordable, if basic, with a friendly staff, and Wi-Fi, fitness center and breakfast included. For a more upscale inn, try the Independent Hotel (1234 Locust St, 215-772-1440, theindependenthotel.com) nearby, which also provides Wi-Fi and breakfast, along with access to the gay-ified 12th Street Gym (204 S 12th St, 215-985-4092, 12street gym.com) and evening wine receptions Monday through Thursday.
To say there’s no shortage of eateries in Philly is an understatement, and the Gayborhood encompasses the local restaurant row that is South 13th Street. You won’t go wrong with omelets at Green Eggs Café (212 S 13th St, 267-861-0314, greeneggscafe.com), festive Mexican dishes at El Vez (121 S 13th St, 215-928-9800, elvezrestaurant.com), or yummy drinks and small plates at Charlie Was a Sinner (131 S 13th St, 267-758-5372, charliewasasinner.com).
Head to South 12th Street for something a little more delicious and romantic at Pennsylvania 6 (114 S 12th St, 267-639-5606, pennsylvania6 philly.com), where you can slurp oysters and taste test a more inventive food and cocktail menu. Drift over to Valanni (1229 Spruce St, 215-790-9494, valanni.com) for some Mediterranean and Spanish flair, including a tapas sampler, as well as sidewalk seating to scope out the local foot traffic.
No trip to Philadelphia is complete without a stop at the famous Reading Terminal Market (N 12th St and Filbert St, readingterminalmarket.org), which is perfectly positioned between the Gayborhood, City Hall, Chinatown, and Old City. Scores of vendors selling all manner of veggie, meaty, baked and ethnic cuisines will make the hardest part just settling on what to eat. But don’t miss a sweet treat at America’s original ice-cream company, Bassetts Ice Cream (bassettsicecream.com), open since 1861.
You’re in Philly, so naturally a cheesesteak will happen. Got a cheesesteak craving at 4am? No problem! Get thee to one of the city’s most famous landmarks, the neon-illuminated Geno’s Steaks (1219 S 9th St, 215-389-0659, genosteaks.com), which has been filling Philly’s bellies since 1966. But local advice is to skip the madness surrounding Geno’s and Pat’s, and instead try something equally delicious and more low-key. You won’t regret eating at Sonny’s (228 Market St, 215-629-5760, sonnyscheesesteaks.com) in Old City, where traditional Cheez Whiz cheese steaks are on the menu along with other tasty choices. Tony Luke’s (39 E. Oregon Ave, 215-551-5725, tonylukes.com) is the other fave in South Philly, though it’s such a hit there are also a few more locations around town.
With the sad demise of Philly’s last lesbian bar, Sisters, many other bars have embraced the ladies. Top among them is the lesbian-owned Stir (1705 Chancellor St, 215-732-2700, stirphilly.com), noted as a rare—and very fun—gay bar located outside the Gayborhood, near beautiful Rittenhouse Square and City Hall.
Back in the ‘hood, Tabu (200 S 12th St, 215-964-9675, tabuphilly.com) is a gay sports bar downstairs, with fun parties upstairs, including lez-friendly Saturday dance parties, Sunday socials and loads of drink specials. The Bike Stop (206 S Quince St, 215-627-1662, thebikestop.com) is Philly’s local leather bar, and turns sexy with lesbians at least once a month, usually the second Friday (check the website for the latest schedule).
Icandy (254 S 12th St, 215-324-3500, clubicandy.com) is the go-to club for queers ready to groove into the night. Its first floor bar has free entry, but expect a cover charge after 10pm on weekends to hang on the rooftop patio and hit the dance floor. Head over to little South Camac Street to hit a trio of cute lady-friendly joints, including the Venture Inn (255 S Camac St, 215-545-8731, viphilly.com) for its all-vinyl rock ‘n roll dance parties and other shows. Philly’s local piano bar, Tavern on Camac (243 S Camac St, 215-545-0900, tavernoncamac.com) invites you to sing the night away, or get moving in the upstairs nightclub.
Whether you’re there for a weekend or much longer, Philadelphia is sure to keep you buzzing with choices. If not history, maybe a visit to one of the city’s amazing art museums is in order. If not cheesesteak, sample some of the other fabulous restaurants that have put Philly on the culinary map. But no matter what, take the time to appreciate the city’s extraordinary role as a cradle for both U.S. democracy and LGBT civil rights—and celebrate accordingly.
Visit LGBT50.org for the latest speakers and events for the 50th anniversary of the LGBT civil-rights movement. Check out PhillyMag. com/g-philly and VisitPhilly.com for more ways to enjoy your visit.
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA
One of Canada’s most scenic cities comes out
It’s not just hometown cutie Ellen Page that made lesbians take note of Halifax. (It didn’t hurt, though.) Nova Scotia’s capital has been a North American city on the rise for years. It’s part historic waterfront, part college town, part emerging culinary hub, and one big part LGBT hot zone.
Because of the North Atlantic climate, summer is the best time to visit Halifax—and they make it easy. Delta operates direct flights there from NYC during summer , and fast ferries connect Portland, Maine to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia from June to October.
An even better reason to head north every July is Halifax Pride (halifaxpride.com), the fourth-largest gay pride in Canada. Over 10 days, the rainbow flags are flying high as all those hip Halifagians (as they call themselves) come out of the woodwork, tattoos and all. This year the throwdown runs July 16 through 26, taking over the city with big annual events that make Pride a shared value for everyone. In fact, locals consider it common knowledge that the annual Pride parade is the biggest march in the city, outdoing even Canada Day.
Over the course of Pride, organizers plan a well-rounded series of events that span health and educational forums, talent shows, tournaments, comedy, and singalongs. And there are the requisite parties, which take over the local clubs and also include a cocktail cruise, plus the traditional closing-night outdoor dance party at the city’s giant central park, Garrison Grounds.
One of the city’s biggest surprises is the preponderance of lesbians. They seem to be everywhere, like a gorgeous Canadian women’s wonderland, playing sister city to sultry New Orleans’ queer vibe. Some locals even say that lesbians outnumber gay men in Halifax—a theory that seems plausible especially around the Pride festival. The common ladies’ hangout is low-key Company House (2202 Gottingen St, 902-404-3050, thecompanyhouse.ca), located on Gottingen Street in the gay-centric North End neighborhood. The Coho serves as a café by day and bar with live music almost every night, though late on weekends the place turns into DJed dance parties chock-full of cuties.
Next door, don’t miss the more traditional club scene that is Menz & Mollyz Bar (2182 Gottingen St, 902-446-6969). You’ll find plenty of flirty gals and boys mixed into the club’s various parlors and main dance space. Reflections (5187 Salter St, 902-422-2957, reflectionsca baret.com) is another good spot for dancing. With several colleges in town, the crowd may skew younger, but they’re sociable all the same.
Finding gay-friendly lodging in downtown Halifax is assured, since this is Canada and the whole country is pretty much a giant welcome mat for LGBT travelers. Head to the city’s DestinationHalifax.com to find a place that suits your criteria using their hotel search function. A downtown standout with an air of old-school class is the Lord Nelson (1515 S Park St, 902-423-6331, lordnelsonhotel.ca). It’s across from the stunning floral explosion that is Victoria Public Gardens (halifaxpublicgardens. ca), and right on the Pride parade route.
For a taste of some of local maritime history, visit the Halifax waterfront. There you can check out the recently renovated Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (1055 Marginal Rd, 902-425-7770, pier21.ca), which has great exhibits and amazing harbor views. Or do a little souvenir shopping while sampling the region’s freshest flavors at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market (1209 Marginal Rd, 902-492-4043, halifaxfarmersmarket.com), open daily. Local Tasting Tours (902-818-9055, localtastingtours.com) offers food excursions by neighborhood or other themes.
Seafood is the defining ingredient across Canada’s Maritime Provinces, and Halifax is the busiest port for legendarily delicious North Atlantic shellfish. The traditional, romantic option is the Five Fishermen (1740 Argyle St, 902-422-4421, fivefishermen.com), serving the full local gamut: lobster, oyster and chowder, and great non-seafood dishes. The building is a historic landmark with a fascinating past, so don’t be surprised if somebody mentions ghosts. Another standout is in the North End. Brooklyn Warehouse (2795 Windsor St, 902-445-8181, brooklynwarehouse.ca) is like a New York menu built with ingredients direct from Nova Scotia’s farms and shores—as well as a new, often unusual chowder every day. To keep with the local flair theme, dine at neighborhood fave 2 Doors Down (1533 Barrington St, 902-422-4224, go2doorsdown.com) to chat up the charming staff and get superb versions of old favorites like crispy greens mac ‘n cheese, along with a few ethnic-inspired dishes. The restaurant also proudly pours cocktails with Ironworks Distillery spirits, made in nearby Lunenberg. Head to Morris East (5212 Morris St, 902-444-7663, morriseast.com) for a little different lunch or dinner menu focused on pizzas and other temptations like the “skillet poutine”—a concoction of potato wedges, mushroom gravy, bocconcini, and sour cream.
Halifax is a good walking town, but don’t be shy to join a Big Pink Bus tour (902-423-7441, bigpinksightseeing.com) or perhaps a two-wheeled tour with I Heart Bikes (902-406-7774, iheartbikeshfx.com).
Tours are an ideal way to get the lay of the land and find some insights into a city with way more going on than what meets the eye. And in Halifax, there’s always more to be discovered. Visit destinationhalifax. com/experience-halifax/lgbt for more tips on the best of LGBT Halifax.