On April 23, a raucous group gathered for a reunion at Paradiso Restaurant on East Passyunk Avenue. The event was a homecoming.
“Ten years ago, we met on the second floor. It was a smaller crowd,” Paul Vetrano shouted over live music.
Anthony Santaniello pushed balloons aside at a high-top table, “Nobody knew anybody. We were all new to each other. Even Paradiso was new.”
“The name of the venue enchanted me,” Vetrano said.
Santaniello and Vetrano finished each other’s sentences and filled gaps in memories as the two friends reminisced about QOTA, or Queers on the Avenue.
In March 2009—long before South Philly became “Philly’s new gayborhood”—the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District brought together LGBTQ friends, allies, neighbors and business owners for the now-popular happy hour and networking mixer. Joe Marino created the moniker, and the BID printed flyers that promoted the event.
Nobody remembers the flyers.
“I heard about it through word of mouth,” said South Philadelphia resident Marc Mucci. “Everybody was talking about it. There had been nothing like it outside Center City. The gayborhood uptown was shrinking as life moved online. Meanwhile, nobody knew who lived around the corner or down the street here in South Philly.”
“It’s true the gayborhood was changing,” said Santaniello, “But QOTA came about when I was changing, too. I didn’t want to go to Center City to socialize, anymore. For me, QOTA has always been a social gathering, not a bar scene.” He took a drink from a cocktail glass. “And, I can save bus fare.”
By design, QOTA has met at a different venue every month since inception. The group has visited East Passyunk’s restaurants and bars, boutiques, art galleries and the Singing Fountain. Today, it is one of the top monthly LGBTQ events in the region.
“We’d anticipate the event from month to month. Even now, it’s fun to discover next month’s venue,” said Vetrano. “The people are familiar, but the surroundings change. It promotes the neighborhood and makes us all realize how desirable East Passyunk is.”
“...And how much the world has changed,” added Mucci. “Dozens of venues open their doors and welcome LGBT people. You would never have seen a mixer like this in the seventies and eighties, a few blocks from where I grew up.”
The group comprises a range of ages, and friendships formed at QOTA have moved beyond the monthly events.
“It’s a diverse group,” said Mucci. “Two guys who are regulars have been together almost fifty years. There are also people in their twenties and thirties—new residents, old residents, and people from out-of-town. By now, we’ve attended movies, weddings and funerals together. These friendships are now over a decade old. It all started here, and we hope to continue for ten more years, at least.”