Discover Gay Florida :: Fort Lauderdale
The history of the area we now know as Fort Lauderdale started nearly 4,000 years ago with the arrival of the Tequesta Indians. The area wasn't known as Fort Lauderdale until 1838, however, and it wasn't incorporated as a city until 1911.
The Florida land boom of the 1920s, the subsequent clearing of the mangroves and creation of the "finger islands" all helped make Fort Lauderdale the city it is today. Numbering just 5,000 people in 1925, the population of Fort Lauderdale grew to 18,000 in 1940, 85,000 in 1960, and over 166,000 by 2013.
Fort Lauderdale was a spring break paradise for decades, immortalized in the Connie Francis movie "Where the Boys Are." By the 1980s, the spring breakers got too rowdy and the city government decided it wouldn't put up with their shenanigans even if they brought tourism revenue to Fort Lauderdale. It was at that time that the city chose to invest in the fine arts, high-end shopping, and similarly luxurious lodging and entertainment in order to attract another kind of tourist entirely. Their plan worked: luxury tourists brought in $800 million during the spring months of 2004, compared to $110 million with the spring break crowd of 1984.
Within a few short years, Fort Lauderdale successfully changed its reputation from "cultural wasteland" to "hot place to see and be seen." Today, the city hosts millions of domestic and foreign tourists from various social classes. Downtown Fort Lauderdale, featuring Riverwalk and Las Olas Boulevard, is ground zero for "seeing and being seen."
Here are just a few of the places to stay and things to see and do in Fort Lauderdale.
Grand Resort and Spa
This charming resort, just steps from the beach, is very relaxing indeed, with a pool in the front once you enter and two hot tubs! For your pampering needs, there is a full-service spa that takes the task of spoiling you very seriously. The staff is very helpful; how many other smaller hotels along the beach can boast 24-hour desk service? The amenities are all-encompassing as well; rent a movie for free from the front desk and watch it in your room on the flat-screen TV, all the while lounging in a roomy, high-thread count robe and munching on something from the well-stocked food and drink bar. You won't want to leave the complex to go to the beach! (539 N. Birch Rd., 954-630-3000)
Palm trees, flowers and other assorted Floridian tropical flora abound at this charming guest house. Let the waterfall soothe you to sleep as you relax in the sun, but don't sleep for too long... we want to tan, not burn! The pool is heated so swimming can be done year-round, not that it gets horribly cold in lovely south Florida. Some rooms have full kitchens, great for a romantic dinner in. The owners of The Worthington also own the adjoining Alcazar Resort and the Villa Venice. (543 N. Birch Rd., 954-563-6819)
This resort expanded two years ago and now includes 50 rooms, a bar and grill, spa, and fitness center. The bar and grill is open for breakfast and lunch and then for cocktails in the evening, perfect for relaxing poolside. The decor in each room is described as European contemporary and more rooms have king-sized beds than not. (717 Breakers Ave., 954-564-6444)
People love this luxury high-rise hotel; so much so, in fact, that readers of Condé Nast Traveler voted it a Top 100 US Hotel. The rooms at the W offer absolutely anything the traveler may want out of a dgf wvacation experience, ranging from their "wonderful room," which offers a balcony view and a king size bed, all the way to the two-bedroom flats, giving you a chic London feeling half a world away in south Florida. This option (also available in one-bedroom) is great for small families and also for business travelers. (401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., 954-414-8200)
The Silva family brought their Brazilian steakhouse to Florida from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais nearly 10 years ago, combining the rodizio style of steakhouse with an intimate and elegant setting. Tell your waiter "obrigado" after you have a great dining experience. (2400 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-712-0580)
Mario's Catalina Restaurant
For good Cuban and Spanish cuisine, look no further. Mario's is known for its refreshing mojitos (the sangria isn't a bad choice either), its roast pork dishes, and its seafood specials. Can't decide on what to have? Why not have a little bit of everything? The Catalina Combination takes care of that: His special roast pork, beef, and chicken chunk are all together on one plate so you can have it all. (1611 N. Federal Hwy., 954-563-4141)
Highly-rated on both TripAdvisor and in the Zagat Guide, Zuckerello's has become a Fort Lauderdale favorite for Italian cuisine. Open for dinner only, but with a special limited "early bird menu" between 4 and 6 p.m. After 6, why not try the specialty dish "Chicken Zuckerello's," a chicken breast stuffed with spinach, portobello mushrooms, prosciutto and red peppers? (with side dishes, $16.95). Order me one right now! (3017 E. Commercial Blvd., 954-776-4282)
This gem is the only Thai restaurant in the world to receive a 5-star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. But don't let that influence your decision, come experience the food for yourself. The large, flavorful portions do not disappoint, whether you get the traditional pad thai ($10.95 at lunch, $17 at dinner) or a more complex dish like the Siam Duck ($23 at dinner). (1514 E. Commercial Blvd., 954-771-4535)
Casual dining meets the upmarket at J. Mark's. Before you even order, you will notice that their dgf jaycomplimentary bread is to die for. Many people recommend their signature slow-roasted prime rib ($25.95) but you really can't go wrong with anything, from pasta to burgers. Still want a taste of prime rib but don't want a lot of beef? Try the prime rib sliders served with a horseradish and basil pesto ($12.95). (1007 N. Federal Hwy., 954-390-0770)
Events, Nightlife and Things to Do
Fort Lauderdale Boat Show
Fort Lauderdale is known as "The Venice of America," so it is not surprising to know that it is a boating capital of the United States. The Boat Show is one of the largest tourist events of the year, bringing in well-heeled yacht enthusiasts wanting to purchase their newest luxury home away from home. Open to the public most days, $22. (First week in November, www.showmanagement.com/fort_lauderdale/event/)
Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest
The Winterfest boat parade has been a Fort Lauderdale staple for at least 40 years, perhaps most publicized nationally by Regis Philbin when he was at the helm at his own morning talk show. It has grown from a local holiday event to the largest event in the state of Florida, with over a million parade spectators watching the boats each year. The 2013 theme of the parade is going to be "Passport to Paradise." (Second week in December, www.winterfestparade.com)
Pride South Florida
Pride South’s Florida’s roots were in the original protest decrying Anita Bryant’s anti-gay machinations in south Florida back in 1977. The event as we know it today has operated during the winter in Fort Lauderdale since 1998, welcoming tens of thousands of people and over 250 vendors to celebrate gay pride at War Memorial Auditorium and Holiday Park. (First week in March, www.pridesouthflorida.org)
Wilton Manors is the heart of gay nightlife in the Fort Lauderdale area, it was profiled in a past installment of "Discover Gay Florida." Bars and clubs in Wilton Manors include Alibi, Bill’s Filling Station, Boom, Infinity Lounge, The Manor Complex, Rumors, Scandals Saloon, Sidelines Sports Bar, and The Village Pub.
Away from Wilton Drive, there are a few bars and clubs that have great drinks and even greater eye-candy. Ramrod (1508 NE 4th Ave.) is just down the road from the Wilton Manors bars and hosts a diverse crowd who loves leather, denim and uniforms. If you like them the hairier the better, The Cubby Hole (823 N. Federal Hwy.) is the place for you, with twice-weekly underwear nights for your bear-gazing needs. Johnny’s (1116 W. Broward Blvd.) bills itself as having the hottest dancing boys in Fort Lauderdale, and indeed they have a variety of dancers every night of the week. PJ’s Corner Pocket (924 N. Flagler Dr.) is a place where they welcome all colors and all flavors. Described as having "a chill R&B vibe," the bar boasts black, Latin, and white bartenders and dancers.
Dudes (3262 NE 33rd St.) offers live singers in the early evenings (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays), and when the sun goes down the bar becomes the spot to appreciate some of the hottest dancers anywhere on the beach. Smarty Pants (2400 E. Oakland Park Blvd., #101) offers something for everyone, like trivia nights, drag shows, competitive karaoke, and even a bowling league! Mona’s (502 E. Sunrise Blvd.) turns sweet 16 this year, and it has earned its reputation as the laid-back bar where everybody knows everybody. The Stable (205 E. Oakland Park Blvd.) serves up a variety of events country-style every day of the week, from happy hour to drag shows. Boardwalk (1721 N. Andrews Ave.) is famous for its strippers, which are invariably a part of the nightly themed events. If you’re hungry (not just for the men, but for actual food), Beefcake’s Grill is out on the patio at Boardwalk and it is open until 2 a.m.
Things to Do
International Swimming Hall of Fame
Fort Lauderdale is well-known for having an undeniable relationship with the water, so where else would there be a worldwide hall of fame dedicated to swimming and famous swimmers? Currently there is a tribute to the late Esther Williams, who was honored in the hall of fame all the way back in 1966, for her contributions to swimming via the motion picture industry. A museum and library are also on-site. (One Hall of Fame Dr., 954-462-6536)
Museum of Discovery and Science
Open since 1976 and in its current location since 1992, the Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS) is the most visited museum of its type in the state of Florida. Mainstays of the museum are the "Great Gravity Clock," one of only three that exist in the entire world, and the active exhibit teaching children and adults about native Floridian flora and fauna. You may also know the Museum as the site of Hotspots’ Holiday Celebration this past December. (401 SW 2nd St., 954-467-6637)
Galleria Mall at Fort Lauderdale
People who come to Fort Lauderdale rarely leave without getting some good shopping in. Anchored by Neiman Marcus, Macy’s and Dillard’s, the Galleria hosts over 100 stores and seven different restaurants, giving tourists familiar shopping options mixed in with high-end designer stores, and familiar eats mixed in with fancier digs. Foreign tourists will love the low prices, but don’t we all love retail therapy? (2414 East Sunrise Blvd., 954-564-1036)
For more information on gay Fort Lauderdale, go to www.HotspotsMagazine.com