While many gay meccas are becoming more mainstream (j'accuse Castro, South Beach and Chelsea!), Fort Lauderdale is actually becoming gayer. This is thanks in part to a growing base of out gay men in their 40s and older — many of whom migrated from these former gay capitals — who keep local businesses vibrant, including Ft. Lauderdale's huge assortment of gay restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs and sexually focused venues. Now is a great time to visit the Venice of America with its beautiful canals crisscrossing the city. Or wait till May for Beach Bear Weekend (May 6-11). Or, plan on staying a night or two before or after an upcoming cruise. We probably all know the city has a great gay beach (St. Sebastian) and the fabulous, untouched Hugh Taylor Birch Park, a protected reserve that harkens back to ye olde Ft. Lauderdale. So, here we present our top five things you may not expect and must not miss.
1. Rosie’s: Ok, so you'd totally expect this boozy bar-food joint but it is so gay, no visit to FLL is complete without stopping here. The indoor-outdoor hot spot offers a menu full of quirkily named burgers you shouldn’t be eating and drinks you definitely should be drinking. The food is pretty ordinary despite the high-falutin' menu nomenclature, but this Wilton Manor institution is always packed with gays of all ages and denominations.
2. Day pass at the Grand: If you're not staying at a gay hotel, a day pass at one of Ft. Lauderdale’s gay resorts is a great way to sample the gay guesthouse experience and enjoy a relaxing time in the city (and maybe meet a fellow traveler for fun!) Our first choice is an Editors’ Choice award winner, whose convivial atmosphere is conducive to meeting fellow travelers. The Grand has a day-pass for their small but excellent spa. There’s also a pool area that’s not clothing optional but the large spa is, allowing guests to choose just how naughty they feel like being. There’s a pretty good fitness facility with actual free weights.
3. Bill's Filling Station: Come Friday night, you should be swilling drinks at Bill’s where bears sing karaoke and the Happy Hour specials are kicking. And lets not forget the Friday night GROWL party! This is a down-to-Earth bar where anyone can have a great time, though, admittedly, it’s mostly leather clad daddy bears letting loose to some great music.
4. Market 17: Fort Lauderdale doesn’t have a distinctive local cuisine or big foodie scene, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well. Market 17 serves the most sophisticated food in town, a farm to table experience, fresh, healthy, and delicious; open dinner only.
5. World AIDS Museum: A quick drive to Wilton Manors and you’ll find this museum that opened this past December
inside a nondescript Wilton Manors strip mall. The first museum of its kind, the space chronicles the fascinating, eye-opening, and often heart-wrenching history of HIV/AIDS through a timeline exhibit starting in 1908 (not 1980 — 1908!), art, interactive multimedia and memorabilia. The docent-led or self-guided tours offer a window into the history, hope and devastation of this highly politicized disease and the 39 million lives it has taken.
You can find loads more information on gay-ascendant Ft. Lauderdale in ManAboutWorld, whose current issue gathers the top recommendations for a short stay, combining attractions that are unique to Fort Lauderdale with top hotel, nightlife and dining recommendations. ManAboutWorld offers opinionated travel information and inspiration in over 100 destinations around the world: Get ManAboutWorld Magazine on iTunes (iOS) or Google Play (Android). You may also find information at the tourism authority's gay microsite Sunny.org/LGBT.