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My gay Philadelphia: Jim Werner on the City of Brotherly Love

My gay Philadelphia: Jim Werner on the City of Brotherly Love

I’ve lived here since… I was born 34 years ago! I stayed because it’s home. And it’s an inspiring city. I mean, America was born here, and that independent streak runs deep. You just feel it and it keeps you here.

My favorite queer bar has to be… Bob & Barbara’s. It’s actually not a gay bar. It’s more of a bar with gay tendencies. Technically, it’s a dive bar with a racially diverse, gay and straight crowd. And I love it. As a bonus they have amateur drag – plus the City Special, $3 PBR and a shot of whiskey – every Thursday night. What’s not to love?

For date night, I head to… depends of the mood. Low-key? I take my man to Tacconelli’s Pizzeria, located just a few blocks from where I grew up. You go for three reasons: pizza (that’s all they do), charm (the servers embody the unmistakable but harmless neighborhood attitude) and booze (you bring your own!). This dining tradition is quintessentially Philadelphian.

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Here in Philadelphia, we always look forward to… July 4. As the birthplace of the nation, July 4 in Philadelphia means a week of many, many parties. There are daily events, which include concerts from Grammy-winning musicians, parades, multiple firework shows, an ice cream festival and tons of other activities across the city. And since my birthday is on the 3, it’s a win-win week for me!

Philadelphia’s best building is undoubtedly… a tough question to answer. It depends on what you want to feast your eyes on. History? Independence Hall, arguably the most historic building in America. An engineer’s dream? City Hall. It’s the world’s tallest masonry building with its weight endured by granite and brick walls up to 22 feet (6.7 m) thick. Sensory overload? Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. It’s a whimsical mosaicked building and open space that inspires creativity. My personal favorite is the Divine Lorraine. It’s an unoccupied, dilapidated building on North Broad Street that is striking in its size, architecture and history.

The most romantic place in Philadelphia is… the top of the Art Museum steps late at night, gazing at the skyline in the distance. It’s very peaceful – far enough from the sounds of the city, but close enough to see the twinkling lights of the office buildings blurring together to light up the night. It is also a good place to ponder life’s important questions, like what you’re going to wear to Woody’s (popular gay bar in the city) that night.

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I’d take a Philly virgin to… Jim’s Steaks [above]. Often imitated around the world, the cheesesteak is rarely duplicated successfully outside of Philadelphia. It’s a food that is synonymous with the city and a must-try. As an added bonus, run the ‘Rocky Steps’ to work off the carbs.

For culture, you can’t miss… Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It’s Philly’s version of the Champs-Élysées – minus the Arc de Triomphe. The tree-lined boulevard is home to fountains, parks, outdoor sculptures and famed buildings holding some of the best artwork in the world. It boasts the largest collection of Impressionist art outside of Paris thanks to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation.

I shop at… I have a bit of a problem when it comes to shopping; I like it too much. I shop all over the city: in independently owned and operated boutiques in our neighborhoods, in chain stores like Banana Republic and Uniqlo and in malls – our region is home to the largest mall on the East Coast, King of Prussia Mall. The most important thing to know is that there’s no tax on clothing in Pennsylvania, so there is no wrong place to shop.

When I want something more upbeat… I go bar-hopping around the Gayborhood. Gays, straights and the hetero-flexible mix quite well in this area. It’s full of animated bars and clubs. The folks who frequent them are genuinely glad to meet you, and you will make friends if you haven’t already. The Gayborhood truly is a neighborhood, not just geographic boundary.

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For a day trip, I head to… Historic Philadelphia. I’m definitely a history nerd, and visiting the country’s most historic square mile isn’t like reading a boring old textbook. The day starts with visiting the cracked Liberty Bell that stands as a moving and inspiring symbol of America’s freedom. And talk about a view – that’s Independence Hall right behind it.

For a cheap eat I head to… Syrenka Luncheonette. Service is cafeteria-style reminding you of the famed milk bars of Poland. The décor is something straight out of 1950s, complete with brown paneling, yellow linoleum floors and orange service trays. None of this matters because you are here for the food – pierogies reign supreme.

Philadelphia’s best-kept secret is… Center City Soft Pretzel Company. Hands down, the best time to go is at midnight when they open the doors and the first batches of warm pretzels are popping out of the oven. You walk in single file and get smacked in the face with the scent of fresh-baked salt. And you get three pretzels for $1 – can’t beat that!

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My favourite place to people-watch is… Rittenhouse Square. It’s where dozens of young parents play with their children, where office workers enjoy their lunches as they watch people go by, and where local college studs soak in the warm sun while laying on the grass. It’s also home to a summer farmers’ market. Its best asset is its location in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia’s tony neighborhood.

LGBTI people in Philadelphia always look forward to… I do not pretend to speak for the LGBTI community of Philadelphia, but my partner and I always look forward to OutFest. It’s one of the National Coming Out Day (NCOD) festivals that happen all over the country. Philly’s event attracts 30,000 people. It’s a huge block party that brings together 100 organizations, community groups and vendors, along with live music, dancing, food and shopping. And since it happens in October, the weather always seems to be picture-perfect. The most important part of this festival is that you can drink on the streets!

For more information about Jim and his gay travel planning website Fagabond, visit

Jim’s Steak photo: B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia; Philadelphia skyline at night photo: G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia; Rittenhouse Square photo:M Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia