When in the city of brotherly love, it’s very easy to find some male-on-male lovin’. In fact, Philadelphia is a U.S. city with its gayborhood right smack in the middle of the city. And thanks to that, staying at a Center City hotel like the Independent Hotel on 13th and Locust grants you easy access to a variety of gay hotspots and locales.
In fact, it’s never hard to find a gay bar or club to enjoy a night out with the boys (and girls!). So if you’re looking for a place to play while in Philadelphia, look no further than the diverse list of gay bars and clubs down below.
If you ever want to visit a gay bar or club in Philadelphia, you have to check out Woody’s and Voyeur at least once. These places are arguably the biggest clubs in the gayborhood and in Philadelphia overall.
At this point, Woody’s is a cultural touchstone in Philadelphia’s gay scene. It’s the gay club that everyone knows and references when thinking of the gayborhood. Plus, the five different rooms with different bars, DJs, atmospheres, and music create a variety of experiences for clubbers.
But caution, Woody’s mainstream appeal has made it the gay bar equivalent to the Philly cheesesteak staple Genos. It’s known by everyone and is a tourist hotspot, but it’s not necessarily the most representative of local life. Honestly, the fact that Woody’s is so well-known has made it what I call “The straight woman’s gay bar.” That said, it’s still the mecca of the gayborhood and should always be respected as such.
Then right across from Woody’s is the popular Voyeur nightclub. The two establishments have a joint venture where they often host bargain deals for entry and connecting events. While Woody’s is respectable in size and more low-key in its presentation, the large scale Voyeur building is a more mainstream space focused on nightclub adventures. If you’re looking to stay up late in the city, Voyeur is the place to go. Just watch out for the cover charge ($20 post-midnight!).
- Tavern on Camac
Once you’ve got the “go at least once” spots out of the way, you can start to explore the spots locals more regularly frequent. These following spaces vary in crowds and aesthetic, but they all cater to gay or gay-friendly clientele.
First, we have Tavern on Camac. If you love musical theatre and pop music, you’ll love this spot. Tavern on Camac is a small and pleasant piano bar found just a few blocks away from Woody’s and Voyeur. This small space speaks of cabaret lights, cocktails, and laughing friends in an intimate and hushed tone. If you ever want to make friends while singing show tunes or listen to a few free performances (good or bad), this is the place to go. Just be cautious of the drinks there. Tavern is a classic culprit of gayborhood drinks. They’re expensive but they’re also doused in alcohol. It’ll get you drunk quickly. But hey, that’ll loosen you up to go sing a song or two (certainly has for me).
Not only does this spot change depending on which pianist is playing that night or time, but the space also holds a small dance room on the second floor. So while Woody’s and Voyeur are more of your dancy/clubby spots, Tavern on Camac delivers on a variety of interests.
- Tabu Sports Bar
Next is Tabu, a spot that’s somewhere in the middle between being a local dive and a more established mega-bar. Within the last year, Tabu, which was originally popular gay dive/sports bar, expanded and bought a new building. Because of that, the atmosphere around the establishment has changed and evolved. Now, the spot has kept some of that dive bar feel while also being in a building with several floors and an outside patio area.
But even better than its dive-with-a-budget feel is its karmic fate. You see, the building that Tabu bought last year originally belonged to iCandy. After the club’s owner was caught saying the N word and other racist comments, he decided to sell the building to Tabu. And since then, the establishment has become a local favorite for queer people of color and especially black people. While the spot has a very diverse following, there’s a great karmic feeling in the fact that black people are literally dancing on iCandy’s grave.
- The Bike Stop
But if you’re looking for something even more dive-y and grungy, walk a few blocks down and between alleys, to find The Bike Stop.
Now, the Bike Stop is many things. It’s a leather bar, it’s a local dive bar, and it’s a grunge bar. But most importantly, it’s the most authentically gay male spot in the city. There aren’t very many bachelorette parties that visit this bar, so gay men looking to just be in a gay male space will appreciate this place. (That said, women are still welcome in the space. They just rarely choose to).
But even though the Bike Stop is a leather bar, it doesn’t just cater to the leather community. Yes, the atmosphere is very leather and cruise-y, especially in its basement bar, but the spot is a dive bar like many others. The building has developed a local and committed community that supports and frequents it regularly. So if you’re looking for a legitimate spot to meet and talk to gay Philly locals, the Bike Stop is the place to go.
But before we continue with this list of gay Philly spots, where will you sleep after a night on the town? Again, the gayborhood is right smack in the middle of Philadelphia’s Center City, so there are plenty of hotels to stay within walking distance of the establishment. But, there is one hotel with the most convenient location, the Independent Hotel.
The Independence Hotel is a stationed on 13th and Locust. Because of this, the building is just one block away from Woody’s and Tavern, right across from Voyeur, and a few streets away from Tabu and the Bike Stop. Plus, you can also travel to other neighborhoods like the affluent Rittenhouse Square, the cultural Avenue of the Arts, and Philly’s Historic District. If you’re a gay traveler staying in Philadelphia for a couple of days, the Independent in is worth considering for its location alone.
But on top of that, the small but charming boutique hotel provides beautiful interior designs. The overall décor of the building is a blend of classic and modern, and each guest room is distinctive – some have fireplaces, others feature exposed brick walls, cathedral ceilings, French windows or lofts.
Plus, the hotel has beautifully thick walls that keep the party noises going on across the street from ruining your sleep, a free wine and cheese happy hour, and complimentary breakfasts delivered to your door, and, of course, free WiFi. The Independent in is your sweet stay in the city while enjoying the gay spots listed above and below.
- Dahlak Paradise
But what if you want to check out gay spots that aren’t in the gayborhood? After all, Center City is only a small strip of Philadelphia and the gayborhood is just one neighborhood in the blossoming metropolis. So if you want to check out a few gay-friendly spots outside of the gayborhood and in varying sectors of Philly, check out these three spots below.
First, we have Dahlak which is a home for the queer people of color and millennial life in Philadelphia. This restaurant and bar in West Philadelphia serves Ethiopian food and neo-soul/R&B vibes that are perfect for alternative and diverse crowds. This spot is a West Philly landmark rarely discussed by people outside of the city, so any tourists would be next level travelers to go visit it. But remember to be respectful of the locals and the space!
Also, keep in mind that you’ll find very different crowds and atmospheres depending on what time of day or night you visit. While the sun’s up, the building is more of your typical (though very good) Ethiopian restaurant. But by night, the spot opens up to a more hipster-friendly dance and bar spot. Visit Dahlak during both times to get a true feel for the place.
- The Dolphin Tavern
Next, we have The Dolphin Tavern in South Philly. Standing right on Broad Street and Tasker, this small dance bar is located perfectly for rideshare users and BSL (subway) riders. But it’s the interior that has gathered the Dolphin its college, millennial, and young person clientele. With neon light walls and frequently rotating DJs, this bar is a gay-friendly dance spot that is humble but fun.
If nothing else, visit this spot so you can take a few pictures and videos in front of its light up walls. But be careful, the dance floor can get pretty crowded on the weekend. And a bunch of drunk 20-somethings bumping against each other on the dance floor is bound to get crazy (in both good and bad ways).
- Saint Lazarus
Lastly, we have Saint Lazarus. This small and fun dive and dance bar is a sort of mix between Dahlak and The Dolphin. Stationed in the ever growing (and ever gentrified) Fishtown, this dive bar is a joint venture with a neighboring Mexican restaurant. So people drinking and dancing at the Saint can also grab a taco at one in the morning. On top of that, the space’s atmosphere is enhanced with Christmas lights, Buddha statues, and sexual posters. All of which give the space a very hipster and gay-friendly feel. This spot is both local dive bar and weekend dance scene. And despite its small size, you’ll frequently see a large crowd of smashed bodies grinding together on any given Saturday night. It’s a lot of fun.
So that is my list of gay spots to visit and frequent when clubbing in Philadelphia. Each spot gives a different feel and caters to a different crowd while still being a gay focused or gay-friendly locale for Philadelphians and tourists.
So when you stay at the Independent Hotel and want a gay space to drink, sing, and dance in, try one of the above spots. Then come back and tell us what you think.