In contrast with the upbeat crowd, the red velveteen couches, yellow bulbed chandelier and giant mirror hanging on the dingy, unpainted cement walls set an eerie ambiance at the popular club Shampoo.
“It looks like the setting of a horror movie in here, but it grows on you,” said Tom Powell, a gay club aficionado.
Latin music blasts through the speakers as groups of men along with the occasional woman arrive. Friday night at Shampoo, located at 417 8th St., is infamously known as “gay night,” but in many other clubs around the city, every night is “gay night”.
Names like Woody’s, which has been a Philly classic for more than 30 years, Bump Lounge, Key West and The Bike Shop, provide clubbers with an abundance of choices for a night on the town. The majority of these clubs, excluding Shampoo, can be found in the “gayborhood,” a four-block square from Walnut Street south to Pine Street between Juniper Street east to 11th Street.
“Shampoo is one of my favorite clubs to go to for the gay scene because I can actually get in,” Powell said.
“A lot of places are 21 and over, so this is a nice alternative. Twelfth Air Command is good too; I can get in there on Saturdays.”
Both Shampoo and 12th Air Command, at 254 S. 12th St., draw large crowds of varied ages on a regular basis. Shampoo has several bars and dance floors as well as a Velvet Underground strictly for VIPs. While not as dance oriented, 12th Air Command boasts a great view of Center City from its upper deck.
Sisters, located at 1320 Chancellor St., is a predominantly lesbian establishment – one of the first of its kind in Philadelphia.
“[Sisters] was fairly innovative,” said a manager of the club. “When it first started out, there were only about three corner bars [to serve the lesbian community]. I’ve been in the business for 30 years, it’s hard to put into words the effect that Sisters has had on me.” Ashley Woodson, 23, is a fan of the club.
“I’m not really a clubber, but when I do go out I like ‘Sisters.’ I met my girlfriend there,” Woodson said.
When it comes to the experience that gay and lesbian clubs provide as opposed to a conventional one, the two are more similar than one may think.
“I’m just here to meet people and have fun. There are always the random creeps, but you can expect that at any club,” Powell said.
“I like being around people like me,” Woodson said, “just like anyone else does.” The crowds are a mix of sexual orientations and not just strictly gay. Men and women alike bring their straight friends to partake in the fun.
“Mostly straight women though,” Powell said. “Rarely do I encounter a straight man hanging at the Boy Bar.”
The growing number of openly gay businesses such as clubs, bars and restaurants are a great asset to the homosexual community.
“I think it’s good that people put themselves out there and show that we are a great presence in Philadelphia and that the gay community only adds to the sights and entertainment that the city has to offer,” Woodson said.
Leeann Hamilton can be reached at leeann.hamilton @temple.edu.