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A man and a woman stand next to each other. She wears a leather jacket and electric blue top and he is wearing a white shirt with a deep v.
Tori “Barbie” Gillis and Kenyatta Hollis coordinated their looks for a night out at Level Up.

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What Are We Wearing to the Gayborhood Now, Philly?

At Level Up Bar & Lounge, a Black-owned LGBTQ club in Philadelphia, nightlife brings out comfortable couture, vintage pieces from elders’ closets, and Michael Kors accessories

Ernest Owens is the Editor of Eater Philly, and the food expert to go to when you’re out of options.

Welcome to Best Dressed, an Eater series where restaurant diners show and tell what they’re wearing out to dinner, from the small details to the splashy pieces — and how they approached getting dressed for each spot’s specific scene. How do we dress to go out these days? Want to see what diners are wearing in London, Paris, Philly, Boston, and Brooklyn? See all of our Best Dressed series here.

The Place: Level Up Bar & Lounge
Location: Gayborhood in Midtown Village
Concept: Cocktail and hookah bar/nightclub
Menu Highlights: 17 flavors of wings (such as cajun dry rub, honey hot drizzle, mango habanero, Thai chile, and garlic buffalo), loaded crab fries, meat lovers flatbread pizza, and sweet potato tots; to drink, flirty cocktails like Lloyd’s Blue Cosmo (vodka, blue Curacao, triple sec, lime and cranberry juice), Bussy Bully (Hennessy, passionfruit puree, mango puree, sweet and sour, and cranberry), and Rum Breeze (rum, mango puree, passionfruit puree, orange juice, and cranberry juice).

The only Black queer-owned bar in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, the city’s social hub for LGBTQ venues and nightlife, Level Up is known for its themed parties (including zodiac parties and margarita day parties), inclusive drag shows, and lively karaoke nights. On a typical night, customers can expect to find stellar saucy wings and inventive cocktails, served alongside hip-hop and R&B hits. At the time of its grand opening in 2021, proprietor Ken Lowe Jr. told the press that the hot spot’s mission is “making sure no matter who you are or how you identify, we at least have something once a month that you can come to and feel safe.”

On a breezy Saturday night during Memorial Day weekend, a gaggle of Gayborhood regulars and D.C. Black Pride transplants — including a birthday girl looking for relaxation after a hectic dinner, and a trend-setting duo — headed to Level Up, all glammed up in the likes of mesh tops, vintage Lacoste, and sentimental threads from their grandparents’ closets.

A neon sign that says “LEVEL UP BAR AND LOUNGE”

Brandon Vinson, 34, business manager from West Philly

Eater: Did you dress specifically to come out here tonight?

Brandon Vinson: Not really, I would consider this straight-from-work wear. I’m a regular here, so I just came here comfortably.

Really? You have on ripped jean shorts, Nikes, and a mesh-top. Where do you work?

I’m the business manager at Toast Café, a dope brunch spot in West Philly. We can dress like this.

So how else would you describe your fit?

Pretty in pink. I got the mesh from Boohoo online. It’s from last year’s collection. Tonight, I’m feeling easy, beautiful, cute, sexy, and fun.

A Black man sitting on a stool wearing sneakers and socks and shorts and a short-sleeved button down
Brandon Vinson calls this look “pretty in pink.”
A close up shot of a man wearing a watch and a pink crocheted shirt and denim shorts.

Is that a Michael Kors watch?

Yes, the gold one. You can never go wrong with a Michael Kors accessory, no matter the location.

What brought you out straight from work in this look?

It’s one of the few Black gay spots in the city where you can just be. I kind of stumbled in tonight with this outfit, but it’s the perfect place to come as you are, be who you are, smoke hookah, and vibe out.

Izaiah Contreras, 26, socialite from Philly

Eater: Did you dress specifically to come out here tonight?

Izaiah Contreras: Yes. My mom’s out in Miami for the Bad Bunny concert, so I wanted to go out for Memorial Day weekend.

How would you describe your outfit?

I just turned 26, so I’m getting older and want to carry myself differently. I used to go out with barely a shirt, but now my aesthetic is more elegant. This is definitely an upgrade for me.

A person wearing a sheer white top holding a Michael Kors purse
Contreras shows off a Michael Kors purse.

I see you have a Michael Kors bag. He seems to be popular at this bar tonight. What made you wear this?

Oh, I got this out of my mom’s closet since she’s away. I also got these pants from her and other pieces. It’s become a thing.

You’re in all white. Any particular reason for the color choice?

I wore this exact outfit a few weeks ago for the memorial of my family, Daelicious O’hare Mizani, who was taken away from us at only 23 years old. We celebrated their life and legacy at Franky Bradley’s bar and I wore this there, too. Everytime I wear these pieces, I think about them.

That’s deep.

Yeah, but it’s life. And Daelicious would want me to keep living my life with style.

Stephan Moore, 43, educator from Miami

A Black man wearing a floral short stands against a wood wall.

Eater: Did you dress specifically to come out here tonight?

Stephan Moore: Yes. I’m in town from Miami, visiting D.C. for their Black Pride, and came over to Philly real quick to check the Gayborhood out.

That’s a lot of traveling. How has it been so far in the city?

It’s been pretty chill. Seems like other people are out and about for Memorial Day weekend.

How would you describe your outfit?

Pretty boy chic. It’s spring wear with flavor and color. Your impression can matter more than words, so I take what I wear seriously.

Where did you get the pieces that helped you achieve this look?

I got the shorts from ASOS and the shirt probably from Boohoo. And of course I’m rocking these Jordans.

How did you end up at Level Up?

I’m here with a friend and we were walking down the Gayborhood and folks were saying we should come down here. So far, it’s been cool. This is a time to come together, celebrate inclusiveness and being out... to drink and celebrate life.

Latisha Martin, 32, healthcare worker and Kareema Williams, 29, manager from Philly

Eater: Did you all dress specifically to come out here tonight?

Latisha Martin: We just met here tonight. We didn’t know each other prior. I came here with a friend after a whirlwind of hectic scrambling to find somewhere to eat for my birthday dinner. We ended up settling for El Vez and then we headed here for drinks and more partying.

Kareema Williams: Yeah, that’s what I like about Level Up. You can come here and be with the community and meet new people. I come here regularly.

Two Black women pose for the camera, one wears denim shorts and a black and white top and the other wears a colorful dress
This duo met at Level Up.

That’s cool. How would you describe your very contrasting outfits?

LM: Dinner casual, something perfect for a dinner party and the club at the same time. This dress is new from Shein, but don’t tell anyone. Just joking, because it’s not who you wear — it’s how you dress it up.

KW: Comfortable and cute. I just wanted to wear something relaxed, but still make me feel good.

Why Level Up compared to any other nightclub in the city tonight?

LM: I’ve been here before and I just feel more comfortable being somewhere where there’s people who look like me in joy.

KW: I feel like straight clubs have gotten boring. I really love how the people here are carefree and you can do hookah, karaoke, and vibe out.

Tori “Barbie” Gillis, 33, entertainer and Kenyatta Hollis, 40, 4th grade teacher from Philly

A woman wearing a skirt, leather jacket, and blue top and sunglasses stands next to a man with two long braids and a hat.
Kenyatta Hollis wears a vintage Lacoste cardigan while Tori Gillis channeled her late grandmother’s “feminine and dainty” style.

Did you all dress specifically to come out here tonight?

Tori “Barbie” Gillis: Yes, we’re here on our best friends night — something we do every Saturday night.

Kenyatta Hollis: Yes, it’s always a party in the city when we link up.

How would you two describe your outfits?

TG: It’s giving retro besties running the city, chic. It’s about showing a look, having a look, and giving a look — all three are accomplished here.

KH: Agreed, we’re intentional on setting the norm, not setting the trend. My look is giving vintage prep.

What’s the process of how you all coordinate your looks?

TG: We probably coordinated this about an hour ago on the phone. We’re like Cher and Dionne from Clueless. In like 15 minutes, we understood the assignment.

KH: Yeah, cause we’re going to the Gayborhood on a Saturday night. Nights like these, you definitely want to show more personality. If you plan to turn up at Level Up, you gotta show out.

What are your “pop off” pieces tonight?

KH: My vintage cardigan from Lacoste. I got it for only $15 from a thrift store on South Street called Retrospect. It definitely makes my edgy prep look.

TG: This is a Sag Harbor bag I got to go with these clothes that I got from my grandmother’s closet. Her look was very feminine and dainty, and that was the look I wanted to rock in her memory. I went to her funeral earlier today.

Wait. You went to a funeral earlier today and still came out tonight?

KH: Yeah, I wanted to get out the house tonight and turn up with my bestie.

TG: She was like, “I want to come outside” and I was like, “Bestie, let’s go.”

That’s very inspirational. You two are slaying.

TG: I know my grandmother is doing a cartwheel right now watching us slay.

A man and a woman photographed from the waist down, She wears Converse and he wears animal-print boots.

Neal Santos is an editorial and commercial photographer available for work between Philly and New York.

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