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TRAVEL FEATURE

Out of Town

Summer in Fort Lauderdale


Andrew Collins | December 30, 2003


The Little Black Book
  • Bar Amici (1301 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-467-3266)
  • Best Inn Fort Lauderdale (3711 N. Ocean Blvd., 954-563-3400 or 800-644-6691)
  • Bill's Filling Station (1243 N.E. 11th Ave., 954-525-9403)
  • Broward Center for the Performing Arts (201 S.W. 5th Ave., 954-462-0222, www.browardcenter.org)
  • Cabanas Guest House (2209 N.E. 26th St., Wilton Manors, 954-564-7764 or 866-564-7764, www.thecabanasguesthouse.com)
  • Chardees (2209 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-563-1800)
  • Club Boom (2232 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manor, 954-630-3556)
  • Club Cathode Ray (1307 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-462-8611)
  • Coliseum (2520 S. Miami Rd., 954-832-0100)
  • The Copa (2800 S. Federal Hwy., 954-463-1507)
  • Doubletree Oceanfront (440 Seabreeze Blvd., 954-524-8733, www.doubletree.com)
  • Elysium Resort (552 N. Birch Rd., 954-564-9601 or 800-533-4744, www.elysiumresort.net)
  • Flamingo Inn Amongst the Flowers (2727 Terramar St., 954-561-4658 or 800/283-4786, www.theflamingoresort.com)
  • Fort Lauderdale Eagle (1951 Powerline Rd., 954-462-6380)
  • Georgie's Alibi (2266 Wilton Dr., 954-565-2526)
  • The Grand Resort (539 N. Birch Rd., 954-630-3000 or 800/818-1211, www.grandresort.net)
  • Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (954-765-4466 or 800-227-8669, www.sunny.org)
  • Hamburger Mary's (2449 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manor, 954-567-1320)
  • Hi-Life (3000 N. Federal Hwy., 954-563-1395)
  • Mark's Las Olas (1032 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-463-1000)
  • Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale (1 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-525-5500, www.museumofart.org)
  • Mustard's Bar & Grill (2256 Wilton Dr., 954-564-5116)
  • New Zealand House (908 N.E. 15th Ave., 954-523-7829 or 888-234-5494, www.newzealandhouse.com)
  • Pineapple Point (315 N.E. 16th Terr., 954-527-0094 or 888-844-7295, www.pineapplepoint.com)
  • Radisson Bahia Mar Resort (801 Seabreeze Blvd., 954-764-2233 or 800-531-2478, www.radisson.com)
  • Ramrod (1508 N.E. 4th Ave., 954-763-8219)
  • Riverside Hotel (620 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-467-0671 or 800-325-3280, www.riversidehotel.com)
  • Royal Palms Resort (2901 Terramar St., 954-564-6444 or 800-237-7256, www.royalpalms.com)
  • Sage Cafe (2738 N. Federal Hwy., 954-565-2299)
  • Sawgrass Mills Mall (12801 W. Sunrise Blvd., Sunrise)
  • Schubert Resort (855 N.E. 20th Ave., 954-763-7434 or 866-763-7435, www.schubertresort.com)
  • Sea Monster (2 S. New River Dr. W, 954-463-4641)
  • Tropics (2000 Wilton Dr., 954-537-6000)
  • Villa Venice (2900 Terramar St., 954-564-7855 or 877-284-5522, www.villavenice.com)
  • Worthington Guest House (543 N. Birch Rd., 954-563-6819 or 800-445-7036, www.worthguesthouse.com)
  • Tourists don't so much consciously avoid south Florida in summer as they do forget about its many charms. It's too bad, because Fort Lauderdale, which has transformed itself into the South's leading gay vacation destination over the past decade, has just as much to see and do in July and August as it does in the wintertime. The summer weather here isn't bad, it's just not much cooler than in the rest of North America. And if you have to put up with hot weather, you might as well stay at a relaxing gay resort with a clothing-optional pool and close proximity to the ocean. Besides, most accommodations in Fort Lauderdale drop their rates considerably during this time, and the daunting crowds that inundate everything from airports to beaches to restaurants during the winter high season virtually disappear come summer.

    Fort Lauderdale and the small interior city of Wilton Manors together have dozens of gay bars, eateries, boutiques, and guest houses. Many of the gay resorts occupy a warren of streets near the beach. One caveat: Fort Lauderdale's scene is very male-oriented, as lesbians tend to favor Key West and Miami Beach.

    The gay resorts are almost all geared toward guys, and there are no lesbian clubs, although most of the main gay discos and lounges described below - excepting the hard-core leather hangouts - are quite welcoming toward women.

    In summer, you can find rates near or under $100 at some of the top mainstream properties near the water, such as the Radisson Bahia Mar Resort and the Doubletree Oceanfront. And if you don't mind something basic, such as the Best Inn Fort Lauderdale, as little as $60 nightly will get you a clean room within walking distance of the beach. Or stay at the charming Riverside Hotel, along fashionable Las Olas Boulevard - rates at this natty boutique property hover around $90 throughout much of the summer.

    Among the gay resorts, prices vary greatly according to location and amenities. The upscale property that spearheaded Fort Lauderdale's growth into a major gay destination, the Royal Palms, has rates starting at $159 in summer. For this you get such cushy amenities as complimentary snacks, wine, and beer, plus a stunning pool with a waterfall and fiber-optic lighting, CD players and VCRs in many units, glass-brick showers with high-end bath amenities, and dedicated top-notch service. There are several other fine options in this price category, including Pineapple Point, a handsome 1930s spread that has the grace and style of a Caribbean plantation, and the Flamingo Inn Amongst the Flowers, run by the former director of Paris' famous Ritz hotel; it resembles a luxury boutique hotel on an exclusive British West Indies isle, with its hand-carved dark-wood furniture and plush white linens.

    Starting at a mere $69 nightly, the Elysium Resort, just 200 yards from the beach, has perfectly comfortable rooms. Here you'll always find friendly guys out lounging on the expansive sundeck, with its hot tub, hammock, and tropical bar; there are two heated pools. Or for about $100 nightly, the simplest rooms at nearby Villa Venice are warm and attractive, with refrigerators and microwaves. The resort draws an energetic, fun-in-the-sun bunch that appreciates the friendly staff and extensive pool area. The similarly priced Worthington Guest House ranks among the cruisier resorts in town, with a playful vibe and attractive grounds for sunning and swimming au naturel.

    The gay-resort scene in Fort Lauderdale is constantly evolving, with trendy new properties opening seemingly every few months, and older ones receiving massive makeovers. A great example of the latter is the elegant New Zealand House, which was virtually rebuilt in spring 2003; now its sleek rooms have flat-screen TVs, DVD/CD players, cordless phones, and high-speed DSL. Other highly recommended properties include the 28-room Grand Resort, whose urbane decorative scheme contrasts markedly with the tropical beachy ambience of Fort Lauderdale beach; it's one of the few gay lodgings with a gym. With 30 rooms, the new Schubert Resort, fashioned out of a retro-cool 1950s hotel compound, affords a similar level of opulence and alluring facilities, including a cafe with a full bar. One of the closest gay resorts to Wilton Manors, Cabanas Guest House appeals to social butterflies, with its 10-man Jacuzzi and eight-man aromatherapy steam room. Rates start at $119 in summer, a nice deal considering the posh rooms with goose-down comforters, high-speed DSL, and CD/MP3 players.

    Fort Lauderdale is less about sightseeing than Miami or Orlando - people come down here to relax in the sun, socialize, and shop. This latter activity you can enjoy at the famed Sawgrass Mills Mall, whose 250 designer outlets include Donna Karan, Saks, Ann Taylor, and Macy's. Or just stroll along Las Olas, which abounds with fashion boutiques and jewelry shops. But if you do have a hankering for a bit of culture, catch a major play or concert at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale is also a great place to while away a rainy afternoon, should you encounter one. It's known for its first-rate collection of works by leading American impressionist painter William Glackens, plus strong concentrations of contemporary American paintings and photos, with several queer artists - Larry Rivers, Berenice Abbott, Robert Mapplethorpe - represented.

    The city's dining scene keeps improving, as prominent restaurateurs continue to open great new places around town. A top spot for a romantic meal is Sage Cafe, where you can feast on such beautifully rendered French classics as coq au vin and salade Nicoise. For creative contemporary cuisine, it's hard to beat stylish Mark's Las Olas, which has a chic decor and A-list clientele. The menu shows off the likes of crispy-skin yellowtail snapper with coconut salad, pumpkin-scented rice, and macadamia-run-mango brown butter.

    Or consider one of Fort Lauderdale's several gay faves, such as Hi-Life, a homey bistro with delicious, sensibly priced pastas, seafood and poultry grills, and salads - try the grilled bacon-wrapped jalapenos stuffed with shrimp and cheese. Mustard's Bar & Grill tops the list of gay-popular Wilton Manors eateries. Typical on the mod-Floridian menu is pan-seared chicken with shiitake mushrooms and fresh peaches.

    A favorite piano cabaret, Tropics offers above-average Continental fare, such as a prosciutto-pocket starter - a pastry stuffed with prosciutto, apples, walnuts, and mozzarella. Wilton Manors recently got a branch of the gay-popular burger chain, Hamburger Mary's, a convivial spot for casual pub fare and socializing. Bar Amici, adjacent to trendy gay bar Cathode Ray, is one of the hottest restaurants on snazzy Las Olas Boulevard, with a hip, chatter-filled dining room and a kitchen churning out top-notch contemporary Italian fare. There's live jazz on Wednesdays.

    Fort Lauderdale pulses with gay bars, one of the largest selections of any city this size (the population is about 155,000). A great summertime option, just a short drive from the beach and many gay resorts, is Club Cathode Ray, a video lounge and sports bar. If you're more in the mood to cut loose at a big-time warehouse disco, head to The Copa, a rambling club with an inviting patio - it's one of the few places in town open past 2 a.m. (on weekends). Also increasingly popular is Coliseum, a glitzy megaclub. A gay Latino party, Noche Latina, is held on Fridays at Sea Monster, known for its pounding sound system and hot dance floor.

    Even in sultry weather, leather bars like the hard-edged Fort Lauderdale Eagle and the dungeonesque Ramrod, with its Tom of Finland artwork, draw big crowds. Bill's Filling Station is a quintessential neighborhood hangout and home to one of the city's top happy hours, especially among the 35-plus set. Wilton Manors, a 15-minute drive from the beach resorts, has several appealing nightspots, including a few that cater heavily to Fort Lauderdale's considerable over-50 gay population. In this latter group, Chardees, a restaurant and lounge, is queen of the hill; its nightly piano cabaret is always a big hit. Club Boom and sports-themed Georgie's Alibi are a pair of slick, happening video bars nearby, both of them good places to finish off an evening of revelry.

    Andrew Collinsis the author of 10 travel guides, including Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA.


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