Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018
 

Fort Lauderdale welcomes LGBTs with low fares, warm beaches

NEWS


edwalsh94105@yahoo.com

A surfing snowman welcomes visitors to Fort Lauderdale for the holidays. Photo: Ed Walsh
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With 16 gay hotels, more than twice as many gay bars and nightclubs, pristine beaches, and warm winter weather, it is easy to see why Fort Lauderdale is a favorite LGBT getaway.

Fort Lauderdale showcases the best of all worlds. It has big-city nightlife, culture, full service hotels and museums, plus stunning white sandy beaches, expansive public parks, and some of the top gay resorts.

This time of year, it features near-perfect weather, with daytime temperatures in the 70s and water temperature averaging about 78 degrees.

Thanks to competition between Virgin America (soon to be Alaska Airlines), JetBlue, and United you can fly there nonstop for about $250 round trip from San Francisco International Airport. Flights in early December were running as low as $199. JetBlue is your best bet with free Wi-Fi, movies, snacks, and the airline gives you about two inches more legroom in economy. Several other airlines offer connecting flights to Fort Lauderdale from all three Bay Area international airports.

Fort Lauderdale makes a good home base for exploring all of South Florida. Miami is less than 45 minutes away. In a few weeks, a new high-speed rail line will launch connecting downtown Fort Lauderdale with downtown Miami in less than 30 minutes. The railroad will eventually connect Miami with Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, making it practical for Fort Lauderdale visitors to take day trips to Orlando.

Most of Greater Fort Lauderdale's resorts are close to the beach. Unlike Miami, Fort Lauderdale doesn't allow hotels to be built directly on the beach. This results in great views along the city's famed A1A highway that lines the edge of the beach. Sections of the beach are named for the street that intersects with it. The unofficial gay beach is Sebastian Beach, where Sebastian Street meets A1A. The 18th Street Beach is very popular with gay locals. It's bigger and generally not as crowded as Sebastian Beach.

Fort Lauderdale is known as the "Venice of America" because of the city's huge network of canals, but instead of gondoliers in modest wooden boats, you will see a seemingly endless display of luxury yachts. The mansions that line the canals are where the super rich spend the winter. You can get your best view of the homes through a number of tours of the canals, including the city's iconic Jungle Queen Riverboat (http://www.junglequeen.com/). Water taxis run regularly on the canals and the operators give riders a tour as they drop off at stops along the way. One of the best ways to get the lay of the land is by bicycle. Riverwalk Recreation ( http://riverwalkrec.com) offers a number of tours that start in the revitalized Riverwalk district. Most tours include the city's tony Las Olas Boulevard, known for its high-end restaurants and shops.

 

Singers LeNora Jaye, left, and Antonio Edwards performed at Georgie's Alibi/Monkey Bar's Cabaret Room earlier this month. Photo: Ed Walsh

Nightlife

The town of Wilton Manors (pop. 12,682) is just to the northwest of the Fort Lauderdale Beach area and is ranked second, just behind Provincetown, Massachusetts, as the country's gayest town per capita. It is also where almost all of Greater Fort Lauderdale's LGBT nightlife is located. Wilton Manors is bucking the trend of many other cities with a stable number of gay bars and nightclubs. When one closes, another seems to open. It may be helped by tourists who like to go out and enjoy the warm nights when they travel.

Celebrating its 20th year in business, Georgie's Alibi and Monkey Bar (http://www.alibiwiltonmanors.com/) is one of the oldest gay clubs in Wilton Manors and its momentum helped other LGBT businesses establish in the area. Georgie's is part of a strip mall on Wilton Drive that is now made up of mostly gay businesses, including Hunters (http://huntersftlauderdale.com), the Java Boys coffee shop, and a gay-oriented clothing store, Mix Menswear.

Just across the street from the Georgie's strip mall is where you will find a series of other gay bars, including the sports bar, Gym (http://www.gymsportsbar.com/), which was opened a little over two years ago by the man who owns the bars by the same name in New York and West Hollywood.

The Manor Complex ( http://themanorcomplex.com/) is a popular weekend nightclub across the street and just east of Georgie's.

Johnson's ( http://www.johnsonsfl.com/) is the newest gay bar on Wilton Drive. It celebrated its grand opening in August and is geared to gay men and showcases male strippers.

With the closure of the New Moon a few years ago, there are no longer any lesbian bars in Wilton Manors, but Beach Betty's bar in Dania Beach, about a half-hour away, has been going strong as a lesbian hangout for 27 years. The bar also attracts a lot of non-gays who appreciate the bar's unpretentious divey character.

 

Dining, attractions

In addition to gay nightlife, Wilton Drive is where you find some of South Florida's best restaurants. Marcy Miller and her wife, Bravo's "Top Chef 2" finalist Josie Smith Malave, opened Bubbles and Pearls (http://bubblesnpearls.com/) last year and it is going strong. Other LGBT favorites include Rosie's Bar and Grill (http://www.rosiesbng.com/), and Galanga Thai Kitchen and Sushi Bar ( https://www.galangarestaurant.com/). Georgie's Alibi also features an excellent casual patio restaurant known for its burgers.

Wilton Manors hosts a small, but worth seeing, storefront museum dedicated to LGBT history. The Stonewall National Museum and Archives (http://www.stonewall-museum.org), located at 2157 and 2159 Wilton Drive, includes display cases with artifacts on LGBT history, including an exhibit dedicated to the victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub mass shooting.

The museum is part of the larger Stonewall Library and Archives in Fort Lauderdale ( https://www.stonewall-museum.org/) that also contains exhibits as well as an LGBT-focused library. The archives contain more than 30,000 historical artifacts dating back to the early days of the gay rights struggle, including boxes filled with more than three decades worth of the Bay Area Reporter. It includes magazines and gay papers from all around the U.S. For a $35 donation, you can borrow books and DVDs from the library's extensive collection.


The World AIDS Museum (http://www.worldaidsmuseum.org) in Wilton Manors is the only museum in the world dedicated to HIV and AIDS. It includes a series of panels chronicling the progression of the disease from the "gay plague" of the 1980s to hope and treatments in the late 1990s.


Fort Lauderdale has long courted the gay travel market from back when tourist boards shied away from actively promoting themselves in the LGBT market. And Fort Lauderdale has not forgotten the "T" in LGBT. Thanks in large part by efforts of Richard Gray, a former hotelier and now the LGBT managing director for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, the destination has produced videos and print campaigns with transgender men and women showing off the city's proud heritage of tolerance and acceptance.

 

People visited Sebastian Beach, the gay section of Fort Lauderdale Beach, earlier this month. Photo: Ed Walsh

Resorts

For the gay male market, one of Fort Lauderdale's biggest draws is its wealth of gay resorts. The gay hotels draw visitors from all around the world who appreciate the camaraderie of staying in a hotel where you can assume everyone is gay, unless you hear otherwise, the opposite of the real world from where most visitors come. Most of the gay resorts are clothing-optional and include free breakfast and Wi-Fi. They range from properties that are very cruisy and open for day passes, to others that are more couple oriented.

Fort Lauderdale's largest gay resort, Worthington Resorts (www.theworthington.com) boasts that it is also the largest gay resort in the world. It is three resorts combined into one with a total of 63 rooms, three swimming pools, two hot tubs, and a small, but well-equipped, fitness room. It is just two blocks from Fort Lauderdale Beach. The gay men's resort is clothing-optional and is a perfect place to meet fellow gay travelers and is a good mix of couples and locals. The property includes free parking, so you don't have to pay to park at the beach. A free continental breakfast is served up the main Worthington resort as well as the Villa Venice section.


The upscale 33-room Grand Hotel and Spa (http://www.grandresort.net) is next door to the Worthington and includes one of the city's best spas on the property that is open to guests and non-guests alike. Swimsuits are required for the pool in the front of the property, but the large hot tub and deck in the back are clothing-optional. A continental breakfast is included and the property features a very well-equipped fitness room. It is easy to see why the Grand draws a very loyal clientele.

If your budget allows, the 26-room Pineapple Point Resort (http://www.pineapplepoint.com/) is Fort Lauderdale's most luxurious resort and some consider it to be the best gay resort in the world. It is ranked #1 of 35 specialty hotels in Fort Lauderdale by http://www.TripAdvisor.com. The hotel employs a large staff ensuring that guests in every one of its 27 rooms and suites are very well taken care of. Free snacks and soft drinks are served by the pool, and the hotel hosts a free wine and cheese cocktail hour every evening. The expansive property includes a series of buildings surrounded by a lush tropical garden.

 


For more information, check out Fort Lauderdale's official travel website at http://www.sunny.org/lgbt.






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