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Voyeur: Where All Flags Fly.

February 19, 2015
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VoyeurCSC05Text by Christopher Malo. Images by Charles Shan Cerrone.

Gates and a table cut off Saint James Street from 13th Street as a line forms around the corner and down the block. Under a tent, wanna-be patrons huddle in the rain, waiting for their cue to pay their way and pass through the first threshold.

And true to form – not only because it is Halloween, various cops, sailors, Waldos, a kid dressed like Pharrell (replete with a red Adidas track jacket and that now ubiquitous hat) and football players wait their turn. Maybe because it is Halloween, there are also superheros, werewolfs, Flintstones and two people dressed like Nerds candy boxes.

In the heart of the Gayborhood, at 1221 Saint James St., Voyeur Nightclub is one of the city’s few and far between spots for nightlife after 2 a.m. The building that houses Voyeur is owned by the Mayfair Social Club, which also owns Woody’s. The club also has an interest in Transit, Palmer Social Club and Bump.

Inside, partiers pack the club’s three floors. After passing the coat check, you can either venture underground or continue onto the main floor. As if someone is pulling back the curtain, however congested you thought the hallway was to navigate, it pales in comparison to the main floor, where bodies gyrate, sweat flows and people lose themselves letting their flags fly – be it gay flags, freak flags or American flags.

“They have the best overall staff, the best DJs in Philly, the most bang for your buck,” says Katie K Rex, who has been DJing at Voyeur as a part of Factory Girls since October 2012. “Everybody in Philly is going to Voyeur, regardless of age, gender or orientation. It’s an all-inclusive environment.”

There are various reasons that people have and continue to flock here. There is a freedom that is hard to put a finger on but easy to witness, as expectations and inhibitions are lost in the cacophony of sound and movement. DJ Tripp is this particular evening and early morning’s maestro. It is impossible, even sober, to notice if people are on or off rhythm, as the state-of-the-art system pulsates through your ears and a light and laser show assaults your eyes and keeps you slightly off balance, unable to focus on any one thing for any length of time.

“I go because I enjoy the crowd, the bartenders are fast and pour stiff drinks,” says Tracy Washinsky, who has been going to Voyeur a few times a month for the past eight years. “And I can enjoy a cig while at the bar.”

The Ruby Lounge, one floor down, is exactly what one might imagine – low hung ceiling, an island bar in the center surrounded by red, sparkley vinyl couches and an intimate dancefloor on the far side. Between the dim lights and lingering smoke, it makes things seen difficult to discern, intentional or not.

“The Ruby Lounge has great vibe late night on Wednesdays,” Washinsky says.

Traversing the stairs up from the main floor leads you to a horseshoe shaped balcony where one can overlook the main floor. Sofas and chairs offer patrons a place for respite and the bar in the corner offers spirits for those looking to wet their whistle. Two doors peek into another room, where those looking to break up their EDM/club beats with some hip-hop flavors can get their Shmoney Dance on. But along the mezzanine is where the club earns it name as gawkers line the railing to take in the debauchery beneath.

A chandelier hangs in the middle with sashes of cloth streaming off of it to the railing for effect. There is an elevated box in the middle of the dance floor that people clamor to claim space on to be seen. If there’s not enough room, there is always the main stage where magazine-worthy muscled men move to the beat, adorned in nothing but Speedos. The DJ booth hangs above the main stage, looking over the pulsating and undulating crowd.

“Voyeur will always be classified as a ‘gay bar’ but, Voyeur has always been welcoming to every demographic and thats what makes it special,” says club manager Matt Ricciotti. “Male, female, transexual, drag queen, hipster and everything in between. Voyeur has some really gay nights and we also have some really straight nights.”

Its patronage certainly isn’t all gay. LGBTQ-friendly? Sure. But people of all races, colors, creed and sexuality show up to have a good time.

And from the view overlooking it all, it looks as if they are.

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