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SUMMER 2008 | Philadelphia's Funky Queen Village

SUMMER 2008 | Philadelphia's Funky Queen Village

Despite its name, Queen Village isn’t the official Gayborhood of Philly. That’s about 10 blocks away, officially called Midtown Village and decorated with rainbow-colored street signs.

But Queen Village (named for Queen Christina of Sweden) is gay-popular. It?s a low-slung district of narrow streets and brick-fronted row homes, just west of the Delaware River and south of Independence Hall. The original 17th-century settlers were Swedish, but just about everyone else has passed through since: Fabric Row on South Fourth Street is a historically Jewish stretch where some two dozen stores still cater to design-on-a-dime shoppers; the landmark Italian Market is just west; and by the ?80s, young Philadelphians were flocking here for club clothes, cheap jewelry, tattoos, and cheesesteaks worth a half-hour queue -- all still available on South Street, the ?hood?s main east-west drive. The gay presence dates back decades, but since the late ?90s, new LGBT-owned and gay-friendly businesses have made Queen Village an alternative ?it? district for all ages, ethnicities, and sexualities; labels like ?gay? and ?straight? fade away in the name of a good time.

1. Beau Monde & L?Etage

(624 S. 6th St.; Creperie-BeauMonde.com)

This gay-owned cr?perie opened in 1998 and rapidly became a fixture, inspiring other high-end businesses to set up shop in the surrounding blocks. ?Savory and sweet? describes both the menu and the scene: pressed tin ceilings, mahogany paneling, gold leaf paintings, and lots of windows. Upstairs, the red satin?curtained L?Etage has a lineup of DJs, story slams, and monthly drag stylings by Martha Graham Cracker.

2. TLA Video

(517 S. 4th St.; TLAVideo.com)

The noted distributor of LGBT movies (hits include Naked Boys Singing!, Latter Days, and Coffee Date) got its start as the former Theater of the Living Arts on South Street. Its video store serves cinephiles across many genres, meaning daddy customers of both the leather and stroller varieties.

3. Famous Fourth Street Delicatessen

(700 S. 4th St.)

This Philly institution (established 1923) emerged from remodeling and retooling all gleaming white and spotless, with zaftig sandwiches, standard-setting smoked fish, and thick-as-a-phone-book apple turnovers. It?s here that the publisher of the nearby Philadelphia Gay News holds court for candidates each Election Day.

4. Optimal Gym

(325 Bainbridge St.; OptimalWellnessOnline.com)

Leave it to the new gay management, who arrived in 2007, to transform a grim gym into a fab flex-a-torium. Let in some natural light, add a splash of orange, pump up the music, throw in regular fitness evaluations and trainers featured in the local queer press, and?bam!?an instant hit with both gays and straights.

5. Zot

(122 Lombard St.; ZotRestaurant.com)

Mussel men and women happily indulge in 30-plus preparations of the bivalve at this slick, mood-lit Belgian bistro, with glossy dark-wood tables, brick walls, and exposed ceilings. Let hunky bartenders prescribe the perfect beer to accompany your meal from over 100 Belgian offerings (and twice as many from elsewhere). Happy hour: a tr?s chic.

10 P.M. to midnight.

6. Mario Lanza Institute

(712 Montrose St.; Mario-Lanza-Institute.org)

Queen Village's most famous son was this tenor and star of the 1951 film The Great Caruso, whose brief but shining career would surely have made him a gay icon if only he'd been born female. In the institute's one-room museum, docents milk maximum story value from humble displays of publicity stills, gold records and family photos -- an operatic saga of Hollywood glamour, fiery feuds, and 100-shifts in weight
.

7. Philadelphia AIDS Thrift

(514 Bainbridge St., PhillyAIDSThrift.blogspot.com)

PAT's blog announces "AImless browsing strongly encouraged," for South Street-style hipster threads at "So-So" (south of South) prices. There's a constant supply of clothes and furnishings from movie posters to barware, all proceeds going to AIDS Fund of Philadelphia. Bonus: price tags with a sense of humor ("I have a uniform fetish," "Who's the boss? You the boss!")

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