10 Essential LGBTQ+ Bars in Philly’s Midtown Village
Consider this your ultimate guide to the gayborhood.
On any given Saturday night, the scene on 13th Street between Chestnut and Locust is, to put it mildly, electric. Al fresco diners clink glasses on the sidewalk. Throngs of excited partygoers carouse and crowd the open street. Propulsive rhythms waft out of packed bars and nightclubs. It’s sensory overload in a good way, a welcome shock to the system—and there’s so much more where that came from.
Philadelphia’s Midtown Village, which sits between Rittenhouse Square and the historic Old City district, is home to an ever-growing list of restaurants, bars, and shops. Notably, the neighborhood is the Philly’s queer epicenter, a cluster of gay and gay-friendly establishments connected by rainbow crosswalks.
Watching a night unfold on 13th and its neighboring streets, one may never guess that Philly’s gayborhood, like everywhere else, has seen some major changes in the past year. One of the city’s last bastians for sisterly affection, Toasted Walnut, closed for good in the spring. By summer, Philly Pride Presents—an organization that put on Philly’s Pride and Outfest celebrations for nearly 30 years—dissolved, leaving big question marks on the local gay calendar. So, it’s safe to say that 2021 has presented Philly’s spirited queer scene with some challenges. But Philly, if absolutely nothing else, is good for putting up a fight.
“We were closed for over a year. My event calendar got cleared,” says Dave Morreale, general manager and venue director of local favorite, Franky Bradley’s. “But the downtime has been eye-opening. It allowed us to look to the future. We get to decide together as a community what the landscape looks like, and it’s important that we make strides together.”
For all its changes, Morreale believes that what propels Philly’s gayborhood—and what truly makes it electric—hasn’t changed a bit: “Grit, character, and community,” he says. “We’ve got all the things.” So here’s our list of 10 Midtown Village gay spots you absolutely must see to really experience the scene.
Inclusive leather bar that’s steamy enough to fog your beer goggles.
On one of Midtown’s many unsuspecting side streets sits perhaps the only bar where your Tom of Finland fantasies can come true (straight people, don’t google that). Philly’s favorite gay dive, The Bike Stop, boasts four levels, including a sports bar, a dancefloor, and a mood-lit basement bar where the lights are low and the pours are heavy. Stop in for pool and weekday specials, or break out your best gear for the bar’s monthly leather-loving event, VICE.
13th Street newcomer that stands out from the crowd.
With its clean atmosphere, Latin-inspired menu, and an almost unheard-of weekend Happy Hour from 3 to 5 pm, Cockatoo feels like a little slice of Miami right in Center City. The POC-owned bar and event venue opened last year as a safe space for queers and allies alike. In the time since, Cockatoo has garnered a reputation not just for great food and drinks, but dance parties, drag performances, fashion shows, and art exhibitions.
Relaxed and eclectic spot donned the “House of Weird.”
We love a triple threat—especially when they’re chill about it. On the ground level, Franky Bradley’s presents a casual atmosphere for good conversation and unpretentious American fare. The second level, however, is another story. On nearly every night of the week, climb the stairs at Franky Bradley’s and you’ll find a spectacle: cabaret, stand-up comedy, drag shows, burlesque, dance parties—you name it. No matter what you’re into, this bar, restaurant, venue, and nightclub will keep you entertained.
Upscale gayborhood stalwart where business meets pleasure.
If there’s one gay bar in Midtown Village where you can take your mama, it’s Knock. And that’s a compliment. Located on the corner of 13th & Locust, Knock offers a classy setting for dinner dates, business meetings, and the occasional boozy brunch. But don’t let the abstract paintings fool you. You can belt it out every Wednesday night at Knock’s All-Star Karaoke session. On Friday and Saturday, sip a specialty martini from Knock’s extensive cocktail menu and find bliss as Knock transforms into a lively piano bar.
Bar, restaurant, and hookah lounge where there’s never a dull moment.
New kid on the block, Level Up, is already making waves. The bar’s jam-packed event calendar includes themed parties, drag shows, and perhaps the most raucous Wednesday karaoke night in Midtown Village. One of the neighborhood’s only Black-owned queer bars, Level Up is an inclusive hangout great for after-work drinks, weekend hi-jinks, and spontaneous nights on the town. Gather around a hookah with your crew, order something properly fried and sauced from the bar’s generous menu, and let Level Up show you just how well it lives up to its name.
Vibrant, three-story bar for football, drag balls, and everything in between.
To some, the idea of a gay sports bar sounds nearly oxymoronic. Tabu, Philly’s longest-running gay sports bar, would beg to differ. Regular football watch parties, rollicking drag brunches, and weekly dance parties make Tabu one of the busiest and most diverse gay bars in the neighborhood. Stop in for daily drink specials and bar noshes downstairs, root for the Eagles (and only the Eagles) in the upstairs game room, and toast with friends upstairs on the outdoor patio.
Tucked away piano bar and nightclub where your inner diva can thrive.
On an off night, the uninitiated may never guess that somewhere down the historic cobblestone road of Camac Street, there’s a choir’s worth of queers belting show tunes in unison. After all, Tavern on Camac started as a speakeasy. Step inside, though, and you’ll find a busy piano bar, an intimate subterranean restaurant, and an upstairs nightclub. Stop in during the week for happy hour specials, dinner, and live music, or elevate your evening at Ascend Lounge’s weekend dance party, Ascention.
Unfussy, relaxed haunt where you can hang with the locals.
You won’t find any flashing lights or blaring beats at U Bar, one of the gayborhood’s long-standing watering holes. The bar and restaurant prides itself on being “no nonsense,” offering a chill alternative to the dizzying energy of its neighbors. What the bar may lack in glitz, it makes up for in options. The list of beers, wines, and ciders is a welcome reprieve from the typical vodka-on-vodka situation gay bars are famous for. And the bar’s food menu spans everything from soup-of-the-day to Mediterranean flatbread to sriracha deviled eggs. U Bar is your spot for friendly conversation, a relaxed atmosphere, and reliably tasty grub.
Ginormous after-hours venue you’ll love getting lost in.
Night owls, this one’s for you. While most local bars are pouring their last cocktails at quarter of 2, Voyeur is stepping on the gas. The multi-level nightclub boasts a whopping 20,000 square feet of bar and lounge space, not to mention a light and sound system that’s nearly unrivaled in the neighborhood. Open until 3 am on weekends, hit up Voyeur for genre-spanning sets from popular DJs, drag performances, and burlesque. If you’re feeling fancy, Voyeur offers a membership program with perks like reduced admission and access to their VIP lounge.
Quintessential bar and rite-of-passage for gayborhood newbies.
Listed among Out Magazine’s “50 Greatest Gay Bars in the World,” Woody’s is without a doubt the most famous gay bar in Philly. Its sprawling bi-level location, smack-dab in the center of Midtown Village, offers a strobe-lit dance floor, a pub, and—get this—a cyber cafe. Sometimes you gotta work while you twerk. This gayborhood landmark is often a first stop for partygoers, professionals, gays, straights, tourists, and regulars alike. Whatever you’re looking for, there’s a chance you’ll find it at Woody’s.