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Fay's Beach Buzz

Get your history straight
and your nightlife gay

2008 Fay Jacobs

Fay Jacobs

I've discovered Philadelphia.

Until recently, when I thought of Philadelphia it was all about cream cheese. No longer.

I've returned from an immersion tour that included the best food experience of my life (and that's going some), watching rainbow flags go up literally and figuratively, and being asked the quintessential "Provolone or Cheese Whiz?" It doesn't get much better than that.

On the pretense that lofty topics like history and culture were tour highlights, we'll start with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the artist Frida Kahlo's birth, there is a massive exhibit of her most important self-portraits and still lifes. Known for painting herself with that alarming unibrow and mustachioed upper lip, Kahlo was actually more attractive than her self-portraits - as noted in the fabulous photos from her personal albums along with the exhibit.

The show runs through May 18th and it's well worth a trip. If you can't get there, rent the film Frida, starring Salma Hayek - not only is there an unforgettable scene where Frida tangos with Ashley Judd, but you get a great look at Frida's canvasses, too.

Bonnie and I did not jog up the museum steps humming the theme from Rocky, but you knew that.

For history, I checked out Independence Hall. The room where the Declaration of Independence was signed is tiny, with tinier windows. And July 4th, 1776 was reportedly a scorcher. Let's face it, our forefathers didn't wear cargo shorts and crocs. John Hancock and the others may have scribbled their john hancocks on the parchment just to flee the sauna.

Over at the new Constitution Center I walked among the life-size bronzes of the document signers and a cerebral film exhibit charting our nation's quest for equality for all. I started to nurture a bad attitude, figuring that the equality quest would exclude GLBT Americans. To the curator's credit, the march toward gay equality is noted and given weight, even if there is no resolution yet. I hope I get back in my lifetime for the last reel.

For more history, I visited the old Wanamaker's Department Store which is now Macy's (isn't everything?) with its two story pipe organ and 18th century architecture. Coincidentally there was a sale and I turned history into shopping before you could say Give Me Liberty or Give me 30% Off. I was, at least, using currency with Ben Franklin on it.

Later, we sampled Philly's gay culture. We did the nightlife. We got to boogey.

For the Food Tour: We started in South Philly at Jim's Steaks, family owned and operated since 1939. Sure, I've had Cheese Steaks, but I'd never been asked if I wanted Cheese Whiz on mine. According to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, it's not the real thing without the Whiz. Sorry, Guv,I couldn't go there. But the gooey provolone over steak and onions folded into a perfect roll is deservedly legend.

Going from the ridiculous to the sublime, Bonnie and I celebrated our anniversary with brunch at the Rittenhouse Hotel. Truly, I have never had a more exquisite food experience in my entire calorie-clogged, thigh-bulging, restaurant-reviewing lifetime. Our young and handsome Philly boyfriends invited us to the Rittenhouse for the tour-de-kitchen marathon. The buffet had over 40 appetizers alone, including oysters, caviar, vichyssoise with lobster, foie gras ganache, escargot fricassee, shrimp spatzle and the unlikely winner, pineapple and Thai basil soda.

The main course took diners into the actual kitchen for a hot buffet of every kind of meat imaginable (and some slightly unimaginable) along with seafood, paella, venison sausages, Belgian waffles, Tuscan bread pudding, Brussels sprouts and, and, and...

For dessert there was a Liquid Nitrogen station, which, I initially thought was on loan from a dermatologist. No, the smoking stuff was for submerging coconut curry foam and dark chocolate to form divine confections.

We lingered over brunch for a record four hours, laughing at the stares and speculation as our fellow diners tried to guess if the boys were taking their mothers out for brunch, or Bonnie and I had rented them by the hour. We just smiled and sipped champagne. For a chaser we napped.

But on to Rainbow Flags. Following the hedonistic weekend, I spoke at a tourism conference on the topic of "Rainbow Flags on Main Street."

I shared about the economic rewards of gay-welcoming communities. We provided demographics about the value of the gay dollar (big!), and the many benefits to the community at large, not the least of which is a heightened preservation and design ethic. As I was leaving the hotel to come home, dozens of city workers in bucket trucks busily installed hundreds of rainbow banners on city lampposts. The annual Equality Forum is on the horizon and the whole community will be celebrating.

The City of Philadelphia makes a great commitment to their GLBT entrepreneurs and citizens, realizing just which side their tourism toast is buttered on. In fact the City recently launched the nation's largest gay tourism marketing campaign, going after its share of the $54.1 billion gay and lesbian travel market.

Their slogan says it all: "Philadelphia: Get your history straight and your nightlife gay."

The City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) love, indeed.
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Fay Jacobs, a native New Yorker, spent 30 years in the Washington, DC area working in journalism, theater and public relations. She has contributed feature stories and columns to such publications as The Advocate, OUTtraveler, The Baltimore Sun, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, The Washington Blade, The Wilmington News Journal, Delaware Beach Life and more.

Since 1995 she has been a regular columnist for Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, and won the national 1997 Vice Versa Award for excellence. Her columns are collected in the books, As I Lay Frying: a Rehoboth Beach Memoir and the newly published Fried & True - Tales of Rehoboth Beach.

Fay is Publisher and Managing Editor of A&M Books, the publisher of the 14 classic Sarah Aldridge novels.

She and Bonnie, her partner of 25 years, relocated to Rehoboth Beach, DE in 1999. They have two Miniature Schnauzers and a riding lawn mower.

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