The Philadelphia Story – Aristocratic, Unique, Beautiful but Sometimes Misunderstoor and Underappriciated

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

We’ve all read them, “AMERICAN LISTS”! We love them, live by them, respect them and believe them. It’s the power of the written word teamed with the opinion of the writer. I tend to agree with the unrefined expression: “Opinions are like ass-holes, everyone has one and most of them stink”! With the exception of mine, naturally. I do think that most lists are great fun. But that is just my opinion!

PHILADELPHIA certainly does appear on most lists from the bland: “Sixth most populous city in the United States” the benign: “Best Sandwich in the United States” (no argument but which one?) to the untrue: “Nastiest sports fans in the United States” (WTF does that mean?) I think that someone is confusing a city passionate about their teams with other burgs that simply are not! We care!  We are sometimes called the ugliest, fattest, loudest, dirtiest, crudest and on and on. To this I say in all honesty and with perfecttt Philadelphia “Main-Line” dictttion and candor, “Bull-Fucking-Shit!

I can’t tell you how many times I have been in Europe, Asia, The Caribbean, South America, Asia, anywhere on this crazy planet and have felt extremely proud to tell people I am from Philadelphia and give them a brief outline of life here. Many times the reaction to the word Philadelphia generally is jumping up and down with raised fists to the Rocky Theme (that happened in Hanoi, I kid you not!) and somehow, in Bolivia, Brazil or Peru there is something very special and endearing about that. I wonder sometimes if the average Philadelphian knows how famous and well thought of their home town actually is.  The average Philadelphian takes for granted the Cheesesteak, probably never really knowing that one of the most popular and well known sandwiches in the WORLD! That’s right, I said WORLD! The sandwich concept is British, the hamburger and frankfurter, German but the Cheesesteak is ours and not another city in the world can claim it nor can any other city in the U.S. claim a signature sandwich as renowned. It was created in the Italian Market in the 1930’s and now can be purchased on the Champs Elyse in Paris or down on “The Rocks”, (the original section) in Sydney. Recently I was a guest at a very elegant buffet lunch in London on a terrace overlooking the city. The food selections were labeled and the sandwich rolls had a placard “hoagie rolls” giving me the opportunity to explain to the Brits present that “hoagie rolls” were a gift from Philadelphia as the term “hoagie” came from the sandwiches carried to work many years ago for work on “Hog Island” in the middle of the Delaware. The lunch staple or “Hoggie” became Hoagie over the years and now is common everywhere. Say what you will about Sly Stallone and his (appallingly) bad plastic surgery but “Rocky” is an International Icon and I really can’t think of another city in the world that has a guy like him to identify with. The male “Cinderella” story, the underdog who showed the world he was the best that there was and in spite of adverse conditions and challenge. Gee … Sounds like   PHILADELPHIA! A city where MAGIC HAPPENS!

I have been in the “Incentive Travel” Business for quite some time. I have been around. When I say Philadelphia is one of the great cities in the world if not the greatest city in the world.  I believe I am as qualified as the next guy to give his opinion. I would never say this is “fact” since some people really do prefer tiny towns in Oklahoma and I think that is just grand! In my opinion, we as Philadelphians we are all very lucky. As Gay Philadelphians we are even luckier. Philly is as “Gay Friendly” as any city in the world! Even though San Francisco might have the public reputation as a-Gay Mecca, the “Friendly” part remains to be seen. I have spent a lot of time in San Francisco and it is very nice, quaint in fact but, “The Castro” is really FAR from much of what is great about the city.  You can’t live in The Castro and take a short stroll to the best restaurants in San Francisco. In New York City, what would be called the “Gayborhood”? Is there one? In Philly, we have one and it is dead – center- city and really the best section of the city to boot!  No other American city has that. Chicago was a couple of “Gay Friendly” areas and LA has West Hollywood, Sydney comes close with Kings Cross (sort of) but London, Paris, Rome all are spread out all over the place. I love the way Philly does it! It is Compact, efficient and unpretentious.  Everyone knows where the “Gayborhood” is so the “Homophobes” can stay away and the “Oh I had no idea! Innocent” guys can stumble in for a look!  So cute they are! “Oh, I thought Giovanni’s Room was just a book store”. This is OK. Whatever people are comfortable with should be everyone’s desire! Everyone deserves to be comfortable and happy.  I personally live in the “Hood” and find it one of the best places I can think of to live in the city of Philadelphia. Washington West is pretty, friendly, relatively safe and has a very good/friendly vibe. (I am all about the way my place of residence “feels”)  Some of the best hotels in the city are in the Hood or nearby. No other city offers that. The restaurants are superb, varied in cuisine as well as price. In the summer I have always been amazed and amused at seeing “straight” couples dining al fresco right near the entrance of a gay cinema and have wondered if they had any idea what was occurring steps away or did they even care? This is as it should be. The actual/official “Gay Bars” also seem to be hand selected and varied according to taste, age and interest. Few other cities offer this.  I have seen male and female gay couples hand in hand on Walnut Street or in Rittenhouse Square and no one that I saw was really paying much attention. I would call that “Gay Friendly”. Try such a thing somewhere in Kansas or North Dakota. Try to find a “Gay Pride” Parade in Iowa or Alabama! Think about that with the other richness in Philadelphia and thank the universe we are here! Lucky! PHILADELPHIA!

Because it seems appropriate and the thing to do, I have put together a “LIST” of the top five BEST reasons to live in the BEST of all cities in the WORLD!

LOCATION: We all know we are located on the Delaware and all of that but how often do we consider that we can be at the beach in an hour? A nice beach too! Maybe one with gambling or maybe one for kids, families or nudists! All within an hour’s drive. Not many cities offer that! How about the mountains? Skiing? Lakes, hiking, cool fresh air? All within an hour’s drive. Personally I love the colors of autumn at the shore as well as the mountains and PHILADELPHIA really provides both without much effort. New York is about an hour away. The company I used to work for had many, many Broadway Theatre programs and the drive was not bad at all. Admittedly there is really only one Broadway and Philly does have theatre but the best of the best is so close. Baltimore and Washington DC also very close. Major International airports with great public transportation to get there on. LUCKY!

CULTURE: The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the best if not the best in the world. The Academy of Music, not only a renowned hall comparable to the Royal Albert Hall in London but the Kimmel Center is a state of the art masterpiece. A stroll up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway yields some of the best museums and exhibitions on the planet. The Rodin gives you the unsurpassed opportunity to see sculpture by the master Auguste with pieces second only to the Rodin Museum in Paris. The Barnes Foundation? Seriously? No other city has this. The Philadelphia Museum of Art? Tell me another museum in the world with more exquisite art that has also been the scene of something like Barbra Streisand Award Winning second TV Special and The Internationally Known ROCKY STEPS!! Even the Louvre can’t boast that! (BTW? The Statue should be moved to the top of those steps. Just like Tracy Lord, Philly needs to relax sometimes and enjoy life getting the brick out of its ass!)

RESTAURANTS: Are you kidding me? Jose Garces, Mark Vetri, Bobby Fley, Morimotto, not to mention Tony Luke, inventive restaurateurs like Stephen Starr are but a part of a dynamic, refreshing and very exciting restaurant scene. Some of the oldest, still running establishments in the United States are in Philadelphia. Did you know that tiny John’s Roast Pork in South Philly has a James Beard Award? Just in case you don’t know what that means, as Joe Biden would say “It’s a very big fucking deal”! True Bookbinders and Le Bec Fin have had their day but I defy anyone at anytime to find better Asian Cuisine than in Philly (Chinatown or Washington Avenue) Better Italian than in South Philadelphia, Polish in Port Richmond and some just great American Grub!

HISTORY: Kind of silly to mention. After all Chicago has that old fire station and New York have a couple of tall buildings and a gift statue from France. San Francisco and LA have … Eh, what is that that they have? Philadelphia is where America begins! Sort of like Dorothy and the start of the Yellow Brick Road! Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross, the first American flag, the oldest still running theater, The Walnut Street, oldest street, Elfreth’s Ally, the first library, post office, hospital, bank, stock exchange, water works, paper mill, art museum, zoo, department store, first Thanksgiving Day Parade. (There is more) I wanted to mention the oldest and largest outdoor market, The Italian Market. The largest masonry building in the world, city hall, and we have more murals than any other city in the world with more than 3,000. The largest landscaped park in the world with 9,200 acres is Fairmount Park and Philadelphia was the first city in to create parks simply for the pleasure of people. I have to wonder sometimes if because we have so much history and so many firsts in Philadelphia if we have not become a bit jaded and have forgotten how very special we are! Just in passing, the first professional football game was played in Philly (yes The Eagles) in 1934 and the very first computer was constructed at PENN in 1946! There are many more firsts but I wanted to end with one of the most important by far! The Scott Paper Company of Philadelphia PA was the first to manufacture toilet paper specifically for what corn cobs and leaves were formerly being used. I’m not totally sure of what that might say about us but thought it was worth mentioning.

THINGS THAT EXCITE ME: Part of the enchantment of Philadelphia are things with no admission that are priceless like evenings in Rittenhouse Square all year round! Seeing all of the people enjoying life at the cafes along 18th Street and between Walnut and Locust Streets. Early mornings in Franklin Square with the magnificent fountain glistening in the sun and watching Asians of all ages practicing their Tai Chi. the Christmas Light Show in the nation’s first department store, not for the show itself but the kids watching with eyes and smiles wide! Magical! Reading Terminal Market. So alive and exciting! Love Park, Logan Square and Swan Fountain, Boathouse Row, Head house Square. The Mann Center in summer. Tiny side streets in center city, scenes right out of an American history book. Fireworks over the Delaware. The Mummers (for about an hour). Basset’s Cinnamon ice cream (the recipe brought from Paris by Thomas Jefferson). The possibility of another World Series Parade. And another Pat “The Bat” Burrell- type leading things off!  A new era for the Eagles! Movies like The Sixth Sense and Silver Lining Play Book. OK and Bradley Cooper! The City Tavern, cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages, tourists enjoying my home town. I love to see folks with their maps and confused looks and I love to help them find what they are looking for and make new suggestions. I am excited that Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross House, Constitution Center, American Jewish and African American Museums are here. This is all world class stuff! Being a “foodie” I love to show off our great array of restaurants! I get clients and vendors from all over the world and am able to “knock their socks off” every time!

Obviously I think a great deal of Philadelphia, my home, at least in this life. I believe there is no other city like it. Large enough to be more than enough and small enough not to be overwhelming. The people, like the weather and vibe is varied and can sometimes be extreme, dramatic and worthy of much conversation. Philadelphia people love to talk, express opinion and are somewhat forceful and confident. Like the city, what you see is what you get! Honest, ever changing but unlike some cities that try a bit too hard Philly is comfortable with who he/she is and is alright with everything said about her. Like Tracy Lord* she is able to laugh at herself, adjust and stay “Very wonderful, always”!**

*Tracy Lord, Heroine of “The Philadelphia Story” played by Katherine Hepburn in the original Broadway production as well as the award winning film. Philadelphia’s own Grace Kelly (Princess Grace of Monaco) Played Tracy Lord in the musical remake “High Society” her final film. NOT to be confused with porn star Traci Lords!

** Line from the play and films used in describing Tracy by her mother.

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