the gay agenda

How to spend 48 (mostly gay) hours in Philadelphia

A gay couple in Philadelphia's Gayborhood. Photo courtesy of Jeff Fusco/Visit Philadelphia
A gay couple in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. Photo courtesy of Jeff Fusco/Visit Philadelphia

Stand at the intersection of 13th Street and Locust in Philadelphia, and you’ll gaze upon rainbows in every direction — the crosswalks, street signs, and store windows send a clear message: you’re in the Gayborhood.

While many look to Stonewall and the events in Greenwich Village as the pivotal moment in the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement, nearly four years earlier — on July 4, 1965 — activist Barbara Gittings held the first major queer demonstration at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. The demonstration, called “The Annual Reminders,” occurred each year through 1969. The city is also home to Giovanni’s Room, the country’s oldest operating LGBTQ+ bookstore.

Pack a weekender bag (and other travel essentials), and head to the City of Brother Love and Sisterly Affection. GayCities has done the homework to highlight some of our favorite picks, from dining and nightlife to can’t-miss historical and cultural attractions.

Day One in Philadelphia

One step at a time

Beyond the Bell Tours
Beyond the Bell Tours offers an LGBTQ+ perspective on Philadelphia history. Photo courtesy of Beyond the Bell Tours.

Arrive early in the afternoon, drop off your bags at your hotel, and hit the ground with Beyond the Bell Tours. Founded by Rebecca Fisher and Joey Leroux, the itineraries explore Philadelphia’s complex history through a bold, inclusive lens and offer vibrant oral accounts of the people, places, and events that have contributed to its evolution.

The Beyond the (Liberty) Bell Tour hits all of the typical tourist attractions through a multicultural lens. The Philly Gayborhood and LGBTQ History Walking Tour takes a deeper dive into the city’s queer legacy, including local civil rights activist Gloria Casarez and Kiyoshi Kuromiya, an up-close look at queer-themed murals, including a tribute to Lil Nas X and Ann Northrup’s 165-foot-long “Pride and Progress,” located on the western wall of the city’s LGBTQ+ hub, the William Way Community Center.

Stay where women made the rules

Guild House Hotel, Philadelphia
The Guild House Hotel pays tribute to Philadelphia’s women trailblazers. Photo by Jason Varney.

While Philadelphia is known as the birthplace of America and the gathering spot of our Founding Fathers, the city also has a rich suffragist (and likely sapphic) history. The New Century Guild opened in June 1882 as a gathering spot for forward-thinking women. Founded by Eliza Sproat Turner, the Guild at its height attracted upward of 500 members seeking worker reform, charitable partnerships, and trade classes. Upon her passing in 1906, Turner left the Guild her assets, affording the purchase of an 1850s Italianate rowhome — recently reimagined as the Guild House Hotel.

The National Historical Landmark features 12 unique suites designed by female-owned, Philadelphia-based design studio Rohe Creative. Each room is named after one of the Guild’s notable members and brought to life with stunning details reflective of their interests and personalities. Expect lush textiles, unique color palettes, and architectural details like Art Nouveau light fixtures, wainscoting, and literary references. What you won’t find, though, is a check-in desk. “Invisible service,” accessible 24/7 by text message reimagines five-star treatment remotely, with customized coffee service, locally sourced bath products, and complimentary afternoon snacks in the spirit of the original Guild’s “noon rest.”

Take your darling to dinner

Darling Jack's
Darling Jack’s. Photo by Jason Varney.

Philadelphia’s dining scene thrives, with options for every budget and cuisine preference. Queer restaurateurs Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran have led the charge as driving forces behind the revitalization of Midtown Village (which includes the Gayborhood).

Their latest venture, Darling Jack’s Tavern, opened in May 2023, and offers a refined take on comfort food that pays tribute to the neighborhood. “I’ve been cooking professionally for over 20 years, opened over a dozen restaurants and event spaces, and written countless menus. And we’ve loved it all, but this one means a lot. It’s been a rough few years for our industry, and we’re excited to get back to basics and cook everything and anything we love to eat,” Chef Turney said.

Tavern-style pizzas (think thin crust pan pizza with a chewy crust cut in sharable squares), along with gochujang glazed lamb ribs, curry beer-battered fish, and coal-grilled whole Branzino, offer unexpected flair. The space (designed by the team behind the Guild House Hotel) feels lived-in despite its fresh coat of paint thanks to the Calacatta Viola marble bar with checkered fabric stools, vintage artwork, and bric-à-brac, and custom-built Pullman booths for cozy parties of two.

A second home (with a fully stocked bar)

Andra Hem Philadelphia
Adra Hem, Philadelphia. Photos by Jason Varney

Named by Esquire as one of 2023’s Best New Bars in America, Andra Hem — which means “second home” in Swedish — offers an upscale vibe that feels as if you’re stepping into a Scandinavian wonderland. Designed by Ghislane Viñas in collaboration with art curator Paige West, the pair’s first foray into hospitality is a psychedelic dream in peacock blue contrasted by an eclectic collection of works by local artists.

All the senses are stimulated in the two-story venue, with mixologist Patrick Jennings leading the charge with drinks like the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired “Violet! You’re Turning Violet!”, featuring rum, blueberry, and black pepper-infused bianco vermouth. Small plates by chef Kate O’Neill are equally alluring, including Swedish favorites like potato pancakes, meatballs, and open-faced sandwiches called smörgås. The queer-friendly crowd is dressed to impress, serving gender-expansive Greta Garbo (born in Stockholm in 1905) vibes throughout the venue’s intimate space.

Day Two in Philadelphia

The danish that will change your life

Pastries and coffee from K'Far
From left, marzipan challah danish, Yemenite latte, and feta scallion boreka. Photo by Matthew Wexler for GayCities

Carb-loading will never taste as good after a visit to Michael Solomonov’s Israeli-inspired bakery and café, K’Far. The chef pays homage to his first kitchen job at a bakery outside of Tel Aviv with feta-filled borekas (similar to puff pastry), pressed Jerusalem bagel sandwiches, and rugelach.

But the marzipan challah danish is what draws lines out the door. Ribbons of almond paste and a yeast dough enriched with eggs and a hint of sugar create the ultimate breakfast confection, accompanied by locally roasted Ox Coffee. Go for the Yemenite latte for hints of warm spices.

Philly’s take on sapphic Paris

Marie Laurencin "The Does"
Marie Laurencin. “The Does (Les biches),” 1923. Stage curtain design for the ballet Les biches. Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris. Photo credit: RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.

If your idea of a visit to a cultural institution involves more than scaling the steps that lead to the Philadelphia Museum of Art like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, consider a sapphic-inspired visit to the Barnes Foundation. Established in 1922 by Dr. Albert C. Barnes, the collection includes the largest groups of paintings by Renoir and Cézanne, along with other modern masters.

The queer gem to discover this fall and winter is “Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris,” the first major US exhibition of the artist’s work in three decades. Producing the majority of her work in the early 20th century, Laurencin defied the male-dominated circles, forging a style that showcased the female form in a palette of blue, rose, and gray. Co-curators Simonetta Fraquelli and Cindy Kang say the exhibit “subtly but radically challenges existing narratives of modern European art.” (October 22, 2023, through January 21, 2024)

A hot dog vendor gone rogue & the sandwich that defined a city

Cheesesteak at Reading Terminal Market
Cheesesteak at Reading Terminal Market. Photo courtesy of Visit Philadelphia.

Hot dog vendor Pat Olivieri is credited with creating the Philadelphia cheesesteak in 1930, and it’s been a runaway hit ever since. Dozens of vendors “steak” their claim as having the best, with plenty of new variations emerging over the years. Choose provolone, American, or Cheez Whiz (it ain’t cheesesteak without cheese) and a slathering of toppings from fried onions to Italian long hots.

While the number of options can send you into cheesesteak overload, a visit to Reading Terminal Market consolidates options down to three picks: Spataro’s Cheesesteaks (established 1947), Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies & Cheesesteaks (1983), and relative newcomer By George Pizza, Pasta & Cheesesteaks (1990).

The historic venue houses dozens of eateries for those looking for something different, from vegan deli and local beers to Caribbean and Cajun cuisine.

Where reading becomes a form of activism

Giovanni's Room
Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room. Photos by Matthew Wexler for GayCities.

Tom Wilson Weinberg, Dan Sherbo, and Bern Boyle had one thing in mind when seeking a storefront for their queer bookstore Giovanni’s Room (named after the book by James Baldwin and now called Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room): a large, street-facing window. The trio was tired of clandestine bars and hidden venues. They wanted to create a space that was visibly welcoming to all. Fifty years later and several locations and owners later, it has earned the title of our nation’s longest continually operating LGBTQ+ bookstore. Two connected row homes house a vast collection of new releases, used and rare books, and thrift finds.

In the tradition of community gathering, English teacher Dan Maloney founded the Philly Queer Book Club. The group’s gatherings at the venue attract upward of 50 attendees each month and are a terrific way to meet local bibliophiles.

Experience a world-record wine collection

Panorama's custom-built winekeeper.
Panorama’s custom-built winekeeper holds more than 120 bottles. Photo courtesy of the Penn’s View Hotel and Visit Philadelphia.

Happy hour just got happier at Panorama, the Italian restaurant and wine bar located in the Penn’s View Hotel. Its custom-built Guinness World Record-holding winekeeper houses 120 bottles on tap, pressurizing with nitrogen and kept at ideal serving temperature.

But what good is a winekeeper without well-stocked vintages? Wine director William Eccleston’s ever-evolving list spans Old World and New, trending production styles like orange wine and hard-to-find varietals like Italian Lambrusco and Austrian Zweigelt. Wine flights (five 1.5 oz tastings) offer an opportunity to diver deeper into the collection with thematic continuity, or go rogue and ask Eccleston to customize pours to suit your style or challenge your palate.

Taste New American cuisine in Old City

From left, duck entree, restaurateur Ellen Yin, the interior of Fork restauarant
Fork, owned and operated by James Beard award winner Ellen Yin, is one of Philadelphia’s most notable restaurants. Photos courtesy of High Street Hospitality Group and Steve Chris/Philadelphia Magazine.

New American cuisine reigns supreme in Old City, where Ellen Yin’s Fork has been holding court for 26 years. Recently awarded the 2023 James Beard Award for Restaurateur of the Year, Yin says, “Restaurants, in general, are all about community. That’s what really drew me in — a community of friends and family, the drive to make a neighborhood a better place, helping the less fortunate, and building a team.”

With soaring ceilings, palm fronds, and dramatic murals painted by former server Anthony DeMelas, Fork’s visual wow factor is surpassed only by chef George Madosky’s menu. Heritage grains, seasonal vegetables, and responsibly sourced meat and seafood converge in dishes like black bass crudo, a bracing first course with green coriander and elderberry. Sea scallops and squid, served with blistered shishitos and oat tabbouleh, make for an unconventional entrée, while the dry-aged burger, loaded with caramelized onions and punchy raclette cheese, delivers the ultimate comfort food.

Gay all day… and night

Voyeur Nightclub, Philadelphia
Voyeur Nightclub. Photo courtesy of G. Miller/Visit Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s concentrated Gayborhood makes bar-hopping easy, with all types of establishments within easy walking distance. In the spirit of Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room, continue the evening at Writer’s Block Rehab, a standalone rowhome transformed into a two-story literary-themed queer enclave with games, custom wallpaper, vintage chandeliers, and craft cocktails. (Be sure to grab a selfie in front of the Lil Nas X mural by Ash Ryan.)

Then head over to Woody’s, which has been drawing crowds for more than 40 years. The multi-floor venue features five different spaces, each with its own DJ and vibe.

For a final hurrah, Voyeur Nightclub’s pulsating dance floors draw the early morning crowd, but getting in will cost you a “membership fee,” so plan accordingly.

A final farewell

Detox in style

A man receives a neck massage at Rescue Spa, Philadelphia
Rescue Spa offers a range of treatments at its 9,700-square-foot urban oasis. Photo courtesy of Rescue Spa.

A 48-hour getaway isn’t complete without a bit of pampering. Rescue Spa’s newly opened outpost boasts 15 treatment rooms offering everything from bodywork and massage to high-tech treatments to restore (or maintain) that youthful glow. A private relaxation room, exclusive to the Philadelphia location, includes an infrared sauna and luxe hydrotherapy shower with various water temperatures and pressures to relieve sore muscles from that late night on the dance floor.

Note that Rescue Spa isn’t that kind of bathhouse. Though you can request a male massage therapist, the spa is intended for skincare and therapeutic services in a beautifully designed and technologically advanced setting.

48-hour Philadelphia resource guide

Guild House Hotel

Historic character with modern comforts 1307 Locust St · Philadelphia, PA 19107
(855) 484-5333

Darling Jack’s Tavern

Refined tavern with European flair 104 S 13th St · Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 546-4200

The Barnes Foundation

Contemporary art and education programs 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy · Philadelphia, PA 19130
(215) 278-7000

Reading Terminal Market

The best, freshest, and liveliest public market 51 N 12th St · Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 922-2317

Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room

Gay Philly Must 345 S 12th St · Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 923-2960


Sophisticated wine bar 14 N Front St · Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 922-7800


Sophisticated and elevated eatery 306 Market St · Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-9425

Writer’s Block Rehab

Books and booze! 1342 Cypress St · Philadelphia, PA 19107
(267) 603-6960


Must stop lounge/dance bar 202 S 13th St · Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 545-1893

Voyeur Nightclub

Cool, stylish 3-floor dance bazaar 1221 St James St · Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 735-5772

Rescue Spa

Every service under the sun 1811 Walnut St · Philadelphia, PA 19103
(866) 772-2766



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