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TRAVEL FEATURE

Out of Town

Fort Lauderdale


Andrew Collins | November 27, 2006

Fringing the ocean, Starwood Hotels' glamorous and gay-friendly Atlantic resort has been a key feature of Fort Lauderdale's stunning redevelopment - Photo: Andrew Collins
The Little Black Book
  • Alcazar Resort (555 N. Birch Rd., 954-567-2525 or 888-830-9931)
  • The Atlantic Hotel/Trina Restaurant (601 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., 954-567-8020 or 866-837-4274)
  • Bill's Filling Station (1243 N.E. 11th Ave., 954-525-9403)
  • Cabanas Guest House (2209 N.E. 26th St., Wilton Manors, 954-564-7764 or 866-564-7764)
  • Chardees (2209 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-563-1800)
  • China White (109 S.W. 2nd Ave., 954-759-7047)
  • Club Boom (2232 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-630-3556)
  • Coconut Cove (3012 Granada St., 954-523-3226 or 888-414-3226)
  • Coliseum (2520 S. Miami Rd., 954-832-0100)
  • Coral Reef Guest House (2609 N.E. 13th Ct., 954-568-0292 or 888-ENJOY-IT)
  • Elements (3073 N.E. 8th Ave., 954-567-2432)
  • Elysium Resort (552 N. Birch Rd., 954-564-9601 or 800-533-4744)
  • The Flamingo (2727 Terramar St., 954-561-4658 or 800/283-4786)
  • Galanga (2389 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-202-0000)
  • Georgie's Alibi (2266 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-565-2526)
  • The Grand Resort (539 N. Birch Rd., 954-630-3000 or 800/818-1211)
  • Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (954-765-4466 or 800-22-SUNNY)
  • Hi-Life (3000 N. Federal Hwy., 954-564-8828)
  • Johnny V (625 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-761-7920)
  • Kitchenetta (2850 N. Federal Hwy., 954-567-3333)
  • Mark's Las Olas (1032 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-463-1000)
  • Naked Grape (2039 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-563-5631)
  • New Moon (2440 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-563-7660)
  • New Zealand House (908 N.E. 15th Ave., 954-523-7829 or 888-234-5494)
  • Pineapple Point (315 N.E. 16th Terr., 954-527-0094 or 888-844-7295)
  • Ramrod (1508 N.E. 4th Ave., 954-763-8219)
  • Riverside Hotel (620 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-467-0671 or 800-325-3280)
  • Rosie's (2449 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manor, 954-567-1320)
  • Royal Palms Resort (2901 Terramar St., 954-564-6444 or 800-237-7256)
  • Schubert Resort (855 N.E. 20th Ave., 954-763-7434 or 866-763-7435)
  • St. Regis Fort Lauderdale (1 N. Fort Lauderdale Blvd., 954-465-2300)
  • Tropics (2000 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-537-6000)
  • Sidelines Sports Bar (2031 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-563-8001)
  • Steel (1951 Powerline Rd., 954-522-9985)
  • Stork's Bakery (2505 N.E. 15th Ave., Wilton Manors, 954-567-3220; 1109 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-522-4670)
  • Villa Venice (2900 Terramar St., 954-564-7855 or 877-284-5522)
  • Worthington Guest House (543 N. Birch Rd., 954-563-6819 or 800-445-7036)
  • Fort Lauderdale, which has transformed itself into Florida's leading gay vacation destination over the past decade, continues to turn heads with the spectacular redevelopment of its stunning beachfront. This neighborhood with a number of gay resorts has seen – or will soon see – the opening of several upscale, gay-friendly hotels, include the Atlantic, the St. Regis, the W Hotel, and the Trump International. New bars, restaurants, and attractions also continue to open throughout the city and in the neighboring community of Wilton Manors, helping to make the region a vibrant and exciting gay destination year-round.

    In deciding where to stay in Fort Lauderdale, consider whether you'd prefer a gay, clothing-optional resort or a larger mainstream property. Among the latter is the charming Riverside Hotel, set along fashionable Las Olas Boulevard. This natty 1936 property recently completed a stunning, multimillion-dollar makeover. The first of Starwood Hotels' snazzy new beachfront properties to open here, the dashing Atlantic offers unobstructed ocean views from the majority of its spacious, airy rooms, all of them with Bose CD-stereos, lovely patios, and small kitchens. Starwood's St. Regis, with a mid-December 2006 opening, is even more sumptuous: Most rooms overlook the ocean or Intracoastal Waterway, and they come with such deluxe perks as butler service, a fabulous spa, and leather furniture. Starwood's next big project, the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale, is expected to open in December 2007.

    Among the gay resorts, the upscale property that spearheaded Fort Lauderdale's growth into a major gay destination is the Royal Palms, and it continues to shine as one of the nation's premier small gay hotels. Perks here include complimentary snacks, wine, and beer, CD players and VCRs in many units, glass-brick showers with high-end bath amenities, and dedicated top-notch service. Guests can relax all day around the stunning pool with a waterfall and fiber-optic lighting. There are several other fine upscale resorts of comparable repute, including Pineapple Point, a handsome 1930s spread that has the grace and style of a Caribbean plantation, and the Flamingo Resort, opened 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 sumptuous linens. Relatively new owners have continued to upgrade the resort with improved furnishings and amenities.

    The more reasonably priced Elysium Resort, just 200 yards from the beach, has perfectly comfortable rooms. Here you'll always find friendly guys lounging on the expansive sundeck, with its hot tub, hammock, and tropical bar – there are two heated pools. Even the simplest rooms at nearby Villa Venice are warm and attractive, with refrigerators and microwaves. With its friendly staff and an extensive pool area where breakfast is served, the resort draws an energetic, fun-in-the-sun bunch. 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 naturale. The same owners opened the neighboring Alcazar Resort in 2006, also featuring a frisky ambience and lovely rooms. Moderately priced Coconut Cove, just a short walk from the beach, is another reliable choice in the neighborhood.

    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 2003; now its sleek rooms have flat-screen TVs, DVD/CD players, cordless phones, and Wi-Fi. Other highly recommended properties include the 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 about 30 rooms, the 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. Although it's set a short drive inland from the beach, the Coral Reef Guest House is a worthwhile option thanks to its attractive gardens, massage offerings, and eight cheerfully furnished, reasonably priced rooms. One of the closest resorts to the many gay bars and restaurants in Wilton Manors, Cabanas Guest House appeals to social butterflies, with its 10-man Jacuzzi and eight-man aromatherapy steam room. The posh rooms have goose-down comforters, Wi-Fi, and CD/MP3 players.

    Fort Lauderdale is less about sightseeing than Miami or Orlando – people come here to relax in the sun, socialize, and shop. This latter activity you can enjoy at the famed Sawgrass Mills Mall, whose more than 300 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. It's also a city built on and around water, and there are myriad opportunities for sightseeing cruises, fishing charters, sailing trips, scuba-diving excursions, and kayak tours – many of the local accommodations work closely with area boating and sailing outfitters. But if you do have a hankering for a bit of culture, catch a 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 the occasional rainy afternoon. It's known for its first-rate collection of works by leading American impressionist painter William Glackens.

    The city's dining scene continues to evolve. For creative contemporary cuisine, it's hard to beat stylish Mark's Las Olas, which has a chic decor and A-list clientele. Perhaps the hottest venue in town is Johnny V, helmed by celeb chef Johnny Vinczencz – at this hip Las Olas restaurant you might try ancho-cinnamon-grilled pork tenderloin or corn-dusted yellowtail snapper with smoked-pepper relish. At the Atlantic hotel, Trina has become a favorite for its signature Trinatini cocktails (with vodka, lavender syrup, and pomegranate and lemon juices), such tempting Mediterranean-inspired fare as Moroccan chicken pizza and tagine-baked grouper with almond couscous, and the awesome ocean views.

    Or consider one of Fort Lauderdale's several gay faves, such as Hi-Life, a homey bistro with delicious, sensibly priced pastas, salads, and seafood and poultry grills – try the grilled bacon-wrapped jalapenos stuffed with shrimp and cheese. Kitchenetta Trattoria serves some of the best Italian food in the region, including knockout ricotta cheesecake for dessert. A favorite piano cabaret in Wilton Manors, Tropics offers above-average Continental fare, such as a prosciutto-pocket starter – a pastry stuffed with prosciutto, apples, walnuts, and mozzarella.

    Wilton Manors is also home to Rosie's, a former Hamburger Mary's restaurant that's still a convivial spot for casual pub fare and socializing, and Galanga, known for its outstanding sushi and well-prepared Thai food. For dessert, coffee, and wine, or delicious sandwiches during the day, be sure to stop by breezy and hip Stork's Bakery. There's also a Stork's on Las Olas Boulevard, from which you can book a romantic gondola tour along the Himmarshee Canal. A great, relatively new addition to Wilton Manors is the Naked Grape, a handsome little wine bar with light food and live music most nights as well as a nice selection of microbrew beers to go along with the vino.

    Fort Lauderdale pulses with gay bars. If you're in the mood to cut loose at a big-time warehouse disco, head to the Coliseum, a glitzy megaclub with a variety of parties and theme nights. The elegant China White nightclub has a number of lively parties throughout the week, and has become quite famous for its giant elephant sculpture and distinctive leopard-print carpets and lavish Buddha statuary.

    Leather bars like the hard-edged Steel lounge and dance club and the dungeonesque Ramrod, with its Tom of Finland artwork, always 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-and-older crowd. 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. Sidelines Sports Bar draws a great mix of folks to shoot pool and watch sports on TV, and the lesbian-popular New Moon, a friendly neighborhood joint with great dancing on weekends. Club Boom, Elements, and Georgie's Alibi are slick, happening video bars nearby, all three of them good places to meet locals and converse with friends. There's something for everybody in this constantly growing gay resort community.

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



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