In a room the size of a “broom closet” on the third floor of the Student Center, Ian Morrison said he found his “gay tribe.” The small room was the meeting place for Temple’s Lambda Lions, a former student organization for gay students.
Morrison, a 1997 journalism alumnus who was president of the club, said he was lucky to have an on-campus space to express himself and support other LGBTQ students.
More than 30 years later, he finds the same respite at Tabu, a gay sports bar and lounge on 12th Street near Walnut.
“If you give somebody a space to allow them to be themselves and flourish, [that] is when you bring the best part of that person out,” said Morrison, who is Tabu’s events manager. “I feel like that’s what Tabu does.”
Tabu is one of many bars in the Gayborhood, which originated around 13th and Locust streets in the late 20th century. Venues for LGBTQ people clustered in that area, where many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people also began to move in at the time.
The neighborhood, with boundaries at 11th and Broad streets and Pine and Chestnut streets, was officially recognized by the city as the Gayborhood in 2007.
Tavern on Camac’s building has housed a gay bar since 1927, though it’s gone through different owners, names and layouts, said Howard Nields, the bar’s general manager. It’s one of the oldest gay bars in the country, he added.
The tavern, which is on Camac Street near Manning, has three levels: a restaurant on the bottom floor, a piano bar in the middle and an event space at the top, which is also known as the Ascend Nightclub.
The nightclub’s use alternates each night. Late in the week, it hosts Showtune Sundays, when guests sing along to popular musicals displayed on a 20-foot projector. Nields suggested the idea about seven years ago when he was a bartender at the tavern, he said.
Nields grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and often visited Tavern on Camac in his 20s — a time when he said there were no rainbow street signs or gay pride flags hanging outside, making the LGBTQ community feel hidden. After working there for 10 years, he said it’s become a second home for him.
“From the beginning, this bar has always been accepting no matter who you are, and that always drew me,” Nields said.
Stacey Vey, who studied education at Temple from 1983-1985, feels a similar connection to the gay bar Stir, which she opened 11 years ago on Chancellor Street near 17th. While growing up in South Jersey and bartending at LGBTQ-centered parties, she always dreamed of owning her own place.
As a co-owner of Stir, she said inclusivity is a priority, and its tagline is “everyone’s welcome.”
“It’s actually been a dream come true…to meet so many people from so many backgrounds,” Vey said. “We hope to be here another 10 to 20 years.”
Tabu shares the same inclusive mission and has a non-discrimination policy on its website, stating that it strives “to make this a space where all members of the community can feel welcome and free to express themselves.”
But there hasn’t always been a sense of inclusivity in the Gayborhood.
A video of Darryl DePiano, the owner of the gay bar ICandy, using a racist slur sparked citywide conversations about discrimination in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community in September 2016.
Le Thomas is the president of the organization Philadelphia Black Pride, a nonprofit that works to make the LGBTQ community more inclusive for people of color. He said racial discrimination was an issue in the LGBTQ community before the ICandy video. Incidents like bouncers regularly asking to check Black people’s IDs and not white people’s IDs were forgettable in passing, but hard to ignore when they became a pattern, Thomas said.
Thomas helped organize inclusivity training sessions at ICandy and added that Tabu stands out as a welcoming place in the Gayborhood.
“[Tabu] reminds me of ‘Cheers’ and that saying, ‘Everyone knows your name,’” Thomas said. “It feels very neighborly and welcoming. … You know what it is when you walk in.”
Morrison has watched Tabu grow into a recognized sports and show bar during the five years he has worked there, where he has also performed in drag using the name Brittany Lynn.
But he added that the most important aspect of Tabu — and venues across the Gayborhood — isn’t the events it hosts or its happy hour specials. It’s the welcoming environment and patrons, who have become family over the years.
“Anytime at Tabu, you can find any type of person,” Morrison said. “That’s why people come back. … Some bars might be flashier or trending, but Tabu is your neighborhood bar that you want to come to when you’re done work, when you’re looking for a show, when you’re looking for something to eat, when you’re just looking to have a chill night with your friends.”