No one can dispute that Fort Lauderdale, Florida is the place “where the boys are.” But, before we go too far, I want to make it clear we’re not talking the 1960 Connie Francis/George Hamilton cinema classic about four college women seeking boys during Spring Break. Nearly 50 years later, Fort Lauderdale still hosts thousands of horny, drunken coeds each March, but for twelve months a year, it is HOME to many, many more gay men.
Over the past 10 years, gay men from all over the country have left trendy queer neighborhoods like Miami’s South Beach, New York’s Chelsea, and DC’s Dupont Circle for the sunny shores of Fort Lauderdale. In fact, Wilton Manors, Fort Lauderdale’s closest thing to a gay ghetto, is statistically one of the “gayest” cities per capita in America—New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago are not even close! Wilton Manors is perhaps the only city in the country where city council and mayoral candidates actually play the “gay card” in their favors.
The critical mass that Fort Lauderdale enjoys has resulted in a unique community and a lively scene. Unlike Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, where youth and beauty rule, Fort Lauderdale is a city for men, a place where guys in their 30s, 40s, and 50s set the trends and dominate the scene. Sure, there are plenty of twinks, drugs and dance clubs, but life definitely doesn’t end in Fort Lauderdale at age 30.
Spring Break 2006 may be a fading memory, but it’s never too late to check out the boys in Fort Lauderdale.
Nearly every motel and hotel chain has staked out a spot in Fort Lauderdale, but for the most authentic experience, plan to stay at one of the dozens of quaint guesthouses that dot Route AIA along the beach. The Blue Dolphin (725 N. Birch Rd.) offers European charm at a reasonable price. Others might prefer Inn Leather (610 SE 19th Street), “designed by leathermen for leathermen.” The Windamar (543 Breakers Ave.) is also a popular location thanks to its spa and video room in the basement.
With so many discerning gay men, one would expect Fort Lauderdale to offer a plethora of fine dining establishments. Surprisingly, that is not the case. Wilton Manors favorites Chardee’s (2209 Wilton Drive) and Tropics (2004 Wilton Drive) serve an older clientele, complete with crooning piano players. Don’t miss Chardee’s bountiful Sunday brunch. Hamburger Mary’s (2449 Wilton Drive) is a popular neighborhood hangout with outdoor patio dining. You won’t find many Chinese restaurants in Fort Lauderdale, but there is plenty of Thai, including three excellent establishments just blocks apart on Wilton Drive: Siam Cuisine, Tasty Thai, and Galanga. If you’re looking for seafood, Fort Lauderdale again comes up surprisingly short. Go to Catfish Dewey’s (4003 N. Andrews) for the freshest catch in town. Finally, if you’re looking to impress, go to Chima (2400 E. Las Olas Blvd.) for a taste of Brazilian charred meats served by handsome gauchos, complete with boots.
The serious shopper should start out on Las Olas Boulevard, the city’s answer to the Plaza, complete with quaint, tile-roofed shops and outdoor cafes. If designer clothes and collectibles aren’t your cup of tea, check out Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise, a huge retail complex that puts the Odessa outlets to shame. In Wilton Manors itself, don’t miss the really gay strip mall, the Shoppes of Wilton Manors (2240 Wilton Drive). Start at Gaymart and then head over to Bottoms & Tops for all your clubwear needs. Then pick up a candle at Wicks & Wax before enjoying a latte at Coffee Boys.
While you’re at the gay strip mall, stop in Georgie’s Alibi, the ultimate Fort Lauderdale neighborhood bar and grille. It’s rare when Georgie’s isn’t hopping, and it’s especially busy on Thursday nights when they serve Long Island ice teas in mason jars for $2.50 each. Afterwards, head over to Boom (this strip mall has everything) for some dancing. If rough and rowdy bears are more your scene, your spot is Bill’s Filling Station (1243 NE 11th Ave.), the honkey tonk roadhouse, especially on a Friday night. On Sunday nights, Jackhammer (1727 N. Andrews Ave.) rules, with a popular retro tea dance that attracts some of the hottest men in town. Afterwards, cross the street to Boardwalk, a go-go bar with the highest concentration of hot twinks in town. Later, Ramrod, Fort Lauderdale’s (1508 NE 4th Ave.) leather bar, is the place to be.
Not that kind. Actually, the locals don’t make it to the beach that often; they can go anytime. Hang out with the gay tourists at Sebastian Beach on Route A1A. Or, if clothes aren’t your thing, head south to North Miami Beach’s Haulover Beach, a county park where the naturists frolic. If you’ve got a day to kill, take Discovery Cruises (www.discoverycruise.com) over to Grand Bahama Island and back for around $125. It’s not fancy but plenty of fun with a group of friends and a tab at the bar. One of Fort Lauderdale’s best-kept secrets is the Water Bus (www.watertaxi.com). For just $5, you can ride and peek into the back yards of the many mansions that line the city’s waterways.
Certainly, the men of Fort Lauderdale don’t seem to obsess overly about their bodies, but fitness is not neglected, either. For a complete workout or a simple party pump, drop by Main Street Gym (www.mainstreetgymflorida.com) in the Shoppes of Wilton Manors. If it’s a nice day, put on the roller blades or rent a bike and enjoy the sights on the beach along Route AIA. You won’t be disappointed and your body will thank (or curse) you later.
If fun in the sun isn’t on your itinerary, check out these attractions...
The Bizarre Wonders of the Human Body in New York City
Since opening at South Street Seaport, “The Bodies,” an amazing look at human anatomy and physiology, has left visitors in shock and awe. The result of an amazing process that literally plasticizes the human body, “The Bodies” features 20 whole-body specimens, as well as 260 individual organ and partial body specimens.
In this process, pioneered in China, tissue water is first removed by submersion in acetone. This acetone is then removed in a vacuum chamber. Spaces that were once filled with acetone are then filled with liquid silicone rubber that is treated and hardened. The result is a rubberized specimen, preserved to the cellular level, showcasing the complexity of the body’s many bones, muscles, nerves, blood vessels and organs.
Even the squeamish will agree “The Bodies” is tastefully presented and certainly unique.
Tickets ($24.50) and more information: www.bodiestheexhibition.com.
The Splendors of Ancient Egypt in Chicago
After nearly three decades, treasures from the tomb of King Tut are again making their way across North America. After stops in Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale, the new exhibit, “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharoahs,” will open in Chicago at the Field Museum (1400 S. Lake Shore Drive) for a seven-month stay.
Be prepared to be dazzled by 4,000-year-old artifacts, including funerary statues, furniture, jewelery, and containers to hold Tut’s mummified organs. Ironically, the promotional materials depict what appears to be Tut’s sarcophagus