The Big Gay Fall Events Guide to Philadelphia

Start saving dates: Here we round up the 41 best things worth doing, seeing and exploring this autumn.

DO DROP IN: Brian Sanders’ JUNK will be back with a new work at the Fringe this year.


It may have a new name and a soon-to-be home on the waterfront, but the FringeArts Festival (September 5-22) still brings the best in gritty, offbeat and creative performance art in the city. This year’s don’t-misses: the premiere of the dementedly twisted Basement (September 13-15, 19-21), from choreographer (and G Philly summer cover boy) Gunnar Montana at the Asian Arts Initiative. (Nudity has been promised.) Speaking of which, chock-full of sexy boys and girls, Hush Now Sweet High Heels and Oak (September 6-20) is the new work of much-beloved Philadelphia dance company Brian Sanders’s JUNK, and is making its world premiere at the 23rd Street Armory. (Think an overtly sexual Cirque du Soleil show.) After getting all hot and cultured, brush up on your Brecht and grab a drink at the Festival Bar to flirt with the elusive artsy gays who rarely venture out onto the streets of the Gayborhood. (Stay tuned to G Philly for more gay Fringe coverage.) 

Shot boy at one of Philly Gay Calendar’s Big Gay Boat Parties

Feastival (September 12) is back for a fourth year of spectacular gastronomy at Pier 9 on Penn’s Landing. Fall’s hottest ticket for foodies, the Stephen Starr/Audrey Claire Taichman/Michael Solomonov-hosted food fest allows you to sample delish fare and libations from the city’s best restaurants, bid for silent auction items (that don’t suck), and feel all philanthropic for supporting the event’s beneficiary, FringeArts.

God knows the Gayborhood is full of spots to shake, rattle, and twerk. But if you prefer your dance music live, Swedish DJ duo Icona Pop, who’ve topped the pop charts with their bouncy summer anthem “I Love It,” rolls into town for a show at the TLA (September 22).

Before autumn’s chill sets in, bask in the sun one more time with Philly Gay Calendar‘s Big Gay Boat Party (September 15) on the Moshulu. DJ Dee Jay spins all your favorite pop hits, shirtless boys abound.

TASTY TIP: As the weather gets cooler, a great way to warm up (and impress a date) is with a home-cooked meal. Learn from the city’s best chefs at Cook, the collaborative kitchen classroom just off Rittenhouse Square.

With 92 acres of gardens, Morris Arboretum is home to thousands of plants, including gorgeous maples, dogwoods and oaks.


Kicking things off, Martha Graham Cracker—that redwood of a hairy drag queen­—calms things down with a special “unplugged” show at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (October 3).

Back in the Gayborhood, it’s not just the turning leaves that are worth noting. This is never more apparent than during the Midtown Village Fall Festival (October 6), when gays and straights alike come out for a breezy day of shopping, eating, and (mainly) drinking along 13th Street. Grab a table out front at El Vez early, and let the pitchers of frozen blood-orange margaritas flow.

That’s just the beginning of the Festival-athon. A week later, get your pumpkin on at the Reading Terminal Harvest Festival (October 12). The next day brings the best gay festival the city has to offer: OutFest (October 13, two days after National Coming Out Day), which—unlike Pride or Equality Forum—actually takes place in the Gayborhood, drawing massive crowds out of the gay bars and into the streets. The fiercest of Philadelphia drag queens are represented by performances all day on the corner of 13th and Locust, while cruising becomes an Olympic event in the Bike Stop’s back parking lot, where cheap beers are chilled and the boys treat 12th Street like a runway.

Final­ly, feed your inner cinephile at the 22nd Annual Philadelphia Film Festival (October 17-27).

One of the many gnarly monsters lurking in the shadows at Eastern State Penitentiary’s “Terror Behind the Walls.”

After all of that it might be time for some city detox. Jim Thorpe, a town in the heart of rural Pennsylvania, is a 90-minute drive from Center City and makes the perfect day trip. Its Fall Foliage Weekends, held throughout October, boast free music events at four different venues throughout the downtown area, along with seasonal specials from cozy restaurants and too-cute shops. Make it a weekend by snatching a room at the popular Harry Packer Mansion, whose imposing facade was the inspiration for Disney World’s Haunted Mansion. Spooky!

If you don’t skip town, you can still experience the beautiful colors of autumn. AIDS Walk Philly (October 20) is a great opportunity to do just that, and gather the boys for the bestest of causes. Bonus: If Mother Nature cooperates, it’s one of the year’s most spectacular days to be on leafy Kelly Drive.

The month wraps up with Halloween, the High Holy Day of our tribe. The legend is still the Henri David Ball (October 31), a splashy, spectacle-y staple on the city’s gay calendar. The costume competitions are sexy and serious.

If you’re looking for a (G-rated) thrill, consider Terror Behind the Walls” at Eastern State Penitentiary in Fairmount, touted as the largest haunted house in America. Once an infamous prison, from late September to early November, it’s transformed into a highly theatrical (and downright terrifying) production that nightly gives new meaning to the term “screaming queens.”


Glee star Alex Newell will be honored at the Attic Youth Center’s 20th Anniversary Gala.

The annual First Person Arts Festival (November 7-16) is rich with diverse programming with a bit of something for everyone, and this year includes gay comic and actor Kevin Allison, who unpacks his sassy storytelling show RISK! again this year. RISK! is “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public.” Sassy enough for you? (If last year’s show with Janeane Garofalo is any indication, it’ll be a memorable evening.) Another best bet: opening night’s Grand Slam (November 7), where the city’s best monologue makers battle it out for the title of “Best Storyteller in Philly.”

Alex Newell (pictured, right), best known for his role as transgender student Unique on Glee, is the honoree at The Attic Youth Center’s 20th Anniversary Gala (November 16) at the Crystal Tea Room. Tickets are $175 before October 15 ($200 after) and benefit the city’s fabulous center for LGBTQ youth.

BalletX, Philadelphia’s edgy contemporary ballet company, unveils its Fall Series (November 20-24) at the Wilma, comprised of three world premieres: works by Juilliard grad Adam Barruch, BalletX co-artistic director Matthew Neenan, and the award-winning Gabrielle Lamb, whose new creation reflects on gender, the subconscious, and the mysteries of the creative process. (For more on our cover model, BalletX dancer Jesse Sani, go here.)

Yummy daddy-about-town Bruce Yelk is Philly’s gay toastmaster general and the man behind one of the best parties of the year, the annual Pink Pub Crawl (November 27). It winds its way around the Gayborhood for the sixth year on Thanksgiving Eve, so you’ll be good and hungover for that turkey and trimmings.

Speaking of Thanksgiving; is there a better holiday? If you’re ditching Grandma’s this year — or just looking for a space to have your own Turkey Day with your nearest and queerest — the Blind Pig in NoLibs has your … balls. Its “Thanksgiving Balls” are turkey wrapped in mashed potatoes and stuffing, then breaded, fried and served with gravy and cranberry sauce. We are truly thankful.

Metro Men’s Clothing has everything stylish worth wearing on the holiday-party circuit — including underwear, for when the party goes back to his place.


The holiday light show at Macy’s has been a local tradition for more than 50 years.

It’s a seasonal must: the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker (December 7-29) at the Academy of Music. But there’s an extra gift this year. The ballet is also staging its first Nutcracker Market (December 6-8) at the Kimmel, featuring 50 selected artists selling handmade crafts and gifts, plus nibbles from Jose Garces. Worried about a holiday entertainment overdose? Pig Iron Theater Company’s gender-bending interpretation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (December 5-23) may be just the thing for you.

Holiday shopping can be a bitch. Your presents problems solved: Open House and Duross & Langel in Midtown Village and Duke & Winston in Northern Liberties. For gays who need some gingerbread décor with their retailing, Lahaska’s Peddler’s Village serves up live entertainment, thousands of twinkling lights, hot mulled cider and toasted marshmallows, and more scented candles than anyone should buy.

The Delaware Valley Legacy Fund’s annual TOY fundraising party (December 7) attracts the city’s A-Gays to Reading Terminal Market for the month’s most air-kissy, see-and-be-seen event. Donated toys go to kids at CHOP.

It’s ho-ho-ho time, you ho’s. (That’s a joke!) The Christmas Light Show and Wanamaker Organ Concert at Macy’s (Through December 31) has been a city holiday tradition since 1956.

The day after Christmas brings the opening of Grace of Monaco, the new biography of Philly’s own Grace Kelly, starring Nicole Kidman. Because ’tis this the season without a bit of Grace?

Follow G Philly on:
Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest

Like what you see here? Sign up to get a free subscription of G Philly in your mailbox.