Originally published in the May 2009 issue of The Advocate
Four years before the legendary demonstrations outside New York City?s Stonewall Inn in 1969, one of the earliest gay rights protests took place in front of Philadelphia?s Independence Hall after a local eatery refused to serve gay patrons or any other diners wearing ?nonconformist? attire. So it?s no surprise that the City of Brotherly Love takes its place in gay American history very seriously -- almost as seriously as it takes its gay nightlife.
The tourism board?s ?Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay? campaign has brought droves of curious visitors to the city over the past few years?and now some of the work hard, play hard set are getting in on the action: The Pennsylvania Convention Center is currently in the midst of a dramatic renovation project that will increase its size by 62%, and while many other cities are seeing recession-related dips in tourism, Philadelphia officials report that interest in the city is stronger than ever.
With more than 13,000 hotel rooms and competitive group rates, Philadelphia gives you plenty of options and more bang for the buck than other traditional East Coast convention towns. If work brings you downtown, Loews Philadelphia (1200 Market St.; 215-231-7333) is a 581-room amenity-laden hotel near the Convention Center and just five minutes from Amtrak?s 30th Street Station. The spacious guest rooms are designed with a wood-and-glass aesthetic, lofty 10-foot ceilings, and desks with ergonomic work chairs. The hotel offers 42,000 square feet of function space, including two ample event rooms on the top floor with views of Philadelphia?s ever-expanding skyline. In your downtime, take a swim in the roomy 20-meter heated lap pool or pamper yourself with a spa treatment at the ?wellness center.?
For something considerably more quaint, check in to the Independent (1234 Locust St.; 215-772-1440), a 24-room boutique hotel in a historic Georgian Revival building. The rooms fuse cathedral ceilings, original hardwood floors, and New Zealand wool area rugs with tech, including iPod docking stations and 32-inch LCD HD TVs. Take advantage of the complimentary morning pastries, sip your way through the weekday evening wine and cheese hour, and then head downstairs for a ?Gorgeous Geisha? lychee martini at Bump Lounge (215-732-1800), located in the same building.
Guests of the Independent get free passes to the 12th Street Gym (204 S. 12th St.; 215-985-4092), an eight-level, 60,000-square-foot sweaty labyrinth packed with Philly-brand muscle boys.
If you?re unfortunate enough to be out of the center of the action and stuck near the airport, book the new Aloft Hotel (4301 Island Ave.; 267-298-1700), only minutes from your departure gate. A more affordable cousin to Starwood?s W Hotels, Aloft shines with quirky features like a lobby pool table and front desk staff who greet you with a fervent ?Aloha!? Ask for a top-floor room to avoid noise from the parking lot.