The Gayborhood — an occasional look at Philly’s gay neighborhood
Philly’s gayborhood is a developing center of activity where gay bars and clubs, gay businesses and restaurants have located and built a loyal following. Marco Fontana lives just on the edge of the gayborhood and knows it well.
Though Marco Fontana is not limited to Philly’s gayborhood, he certainly does a lot of his work there. Of course,he takes on cases that don’t center around people and institutions in the gayborhood but many of his cases have some connection to gay life and the gayborhood. And, at the very least, being a gay Private Investigator, he’s known and trusted in the gay world and many of his clients tend to be gay. One thing he likes to do is spend some time in cafes. Preferably a gay cafe where the men are cute and the coffee is strong. Marco enjoys a caffeine jolt as much as the next guy.
A feature that every gayborhood should have is at least one cafe where gay men and lesbians can gather, cruise, gab and gossip. In New York’s Chelsea, a gay haven, The Big Cup served that purpose for a long time. Greedy landlords ended their run as the neighborhood’s gayest, cruisest, best coffee spot to gather in 2005 by raising the rent from $16,000 a month to almost $22,000 a month. That’s New York.
Philly’s gayborhood is lucky, there are several good cafes from which to choose. One of the old guard is Cafe 12 which, oddly enough, is on 12th Street.
It started out as Millennium Coffee and was an immediate hit in the gayborhood. At the time there weren’t any gay cafes and with the throngs of people who packed the place as evidence, there was a real need fir such a place. Business at the Millennium was always brisk. Every seat was filled and, depending on when you arrived, you’d have to wait a while for someone to give up their rime seating. Tables spilled out onto the sidewalk and all around the door — and even they were seldom empty. It got so that passing by the place, you could feel all the sets of eyes on you as you walked by. A friend of mine got to calling the outdoor section of Millennium Coffee “the Reviewing Stand” because it felt to him that you could see the patrons of the cafe passing silent judgment on passersby.
There was an excitement about the place, not to mention cute help behind the counter. It helped create a fun atmosphere. Sure, it was cruisy but it was also a quite place to sit and talk, to meet friends, to keep an ear open for hot gossip, and, of course, to have that all important cup of coffee.
Then, the news came that it was closing. But not for long. New owners rode to the rescue and reopened the cafe as Brew Ha-Ha. And it was everything Millennium Coffee had been. But somehow the glow was dimmer. Maybe it’s because more cafes were beginning to open up all around Center City and elsewhere. People had more choices — but none of them were gay. Not like Millennium Coffee and Brew Ha-Ha. It was still filled with customers every day and night. It was still difficult to get a table at times. And it was still a great place to meet friends, read a book, or study. And best of all it was a gay and lesbian place in the gayborhood. A place we could call our own.
Brew Ha-Ha percolated along for a number of years until it, too, decided to call it quits. The cafe was immediately snatched up by new owners — quite a nice family who knew just what to do. They understood they were located in the gayborhood and made sure to keep the cafe a friendly and welcoming place. But, as things go, they decided they wanted to move back to their home country to raise their child and the cafe once again changed hands.
Still called Cafe 12, the new owner brightened it up, overhauled the menu, and has made the place new yet again.
It remains a center for gay men and lesbians in the gayborhood with a welcoming atmosphere for anyone else who wants to find a place to chat or read or just daydream with a cup of coffee in hand.
Next time: Toast