If you live in a cold weather climate like I do, there is no better feeling than visiting a warm destination towards the end of the winter season. And what better place to visit than one of my old stomping grounds and the place where I officially came out, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
From the moment I exited the plane, I felt like I was in store for a leisurely, sun-filled holiday. I stayed at The Grand Resort & Spa, which is located just steps away from the beach and in close proximity to some wonderful restaurants. The Grand is a gay-owned and operated and is always extremely welcoming whenever I stay there. From check in, to check out, the staff caters to your every need. The resort offers distinct outdoor spaces, one being clothing optional as well as a full-service spa.
One of the jewels of the greater Fort Lauderdale area is Wilton Manors. A mecca for the LGBTQ community, Wilton Manors is home to dozens of shops, restaurants and nightlife venues all owner and/or operated by members of the LGBTQ community.
My first stop in Wilton Manors was Rosie’s Bar & Grill. Having worked a few blocks from Rosie’s when I was editor of South Florida Gay News, I frequently dined at Rosie’s. The food is consistently good and a quick lunch there is fairly inexpensive. If you go, order the She BOP Wrap with a side of sweet potato fries. It’s one of my favorite items on their menu.
Wilton Manors is pretty casual during the day, so strolling up and down ‘The Drive’ is not uncommon. On my stroll, I came across Wilton Creamery, a cute ice cream shop that also offered a variety of bubble tea items, so of course I had to try one. The lavender milk tea was really good. I was a bit hesitant to order that flavor, but the owner said it was one of top picks among his staff.
If you are looking for some shopping therapy, head over to Mix Menswear or Ball Sportswear, both located in the Shoppes of Wilton Manors. The retailers have a variety of clothing from high-end suits to skimpy swimwear, perfect for a pool party or day at the beach. Also, in the shopping center are Hunters Nightclub and Georgie’s Alibi. Ironically, both venues also have establishments in Palm Springs.
Fort Lauderdale is known for being one of the most LGBTQ-friendly destinations in the world. That can be seen while visiting The Stonewall National Museum and Archives (SNMA), one of the largest gay archives and libraries in the United States. SNMA presents an ongoing 12-month schedule of exhibitions on LGBTQ themes and public programs, including author presentations, films, panel discussions, and collaborative events. Furthermore, the museum operates an art gallery in Wilton Manors which exhibits LGBTQ artwork.
A short drive from SNMA is the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, the city’s largest art museum. During my stay, the museum was presenting an exhibition called Happy! The exhibition is organized by NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale and will be on view through July 5, 2020.
Before heading back to the Grand, I decided to meet up with Richard Gray, Fort Lauderdale’s Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. I’ve known Richard for many years. He has played an integral role in helping the city become a diverse and inclusive locale. We had dinner at Lona Cocina Tequileria, located in the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach hotel, which offers stunning views of the Atlantic. We spent the next 3 hours sharing stories, sipping margaritas and enjoying delicious food prepared by celebrated chef Pablo Salas. Two of my favorite selections included the Ceviche prepared with grouper, rock shrimp, lime and avocado as well as the Lobster Quesadilla made with large chunks of butter-poached Maine lobster and a chipotle aioli.
After a quick power nap, head back out to Wilton Drive to experience some of the best LGBTQ nightlife in the country. You can literally walk from venue to venue and experience every kind of nightlife imaginable. Lesbian-owned Sidelines Sports Bar is a favorite among the ladies and sports enthusiasts, while The Eagle is a hotspot for the leather community.
DrYnk Bar & Lounge has become a favorite destination among locals and just up the road, The Manor Complex continuously hosts some of the most famous DJs in the world.
One of my favorite weekly parties in Wilton Manors is the Classic 54 T-Dance, every Sunday at Hunters. DJ Richie Rich spins 70s and 80s disco all night – which I love. I may have been the youngest person in the room, but I can’t resist an evening of ABBA, Donna Summer and KC & the Sunshine Band.
Also located in Wilton Manors is The Pride Center at Equality Park. For nearly 25 years, The Pride Center has provided a welcoming and safe space for South Florida’s LGBTQ community. The Pride Center hosts more than 60 regular meeting groups each month and more than 35,000 people attend activities at the Center each year. The Pride Center is a major site for HIV testing and prevention, education and counseling and offers holistic and comprehensive support programs for persons living with HIV/AIDS.
What trip to Fort Lauderdale would be complete without a trip to the beach? And more specifically, Sebastian Beach. Out Traveler has called Sebastian Beach, located at the intersection of Sebastian Street and A1A, the “Hottest U.S. Gay Beach.”
Greater Fort Lauderdale is truly an internationally diverse city, which is easy to visit from almost any U.S. city including many South American destinations. Given what the world has been through over the last few months, I think we all need a beach day!
Enjoy the Journey
Rainbow Rating: 5/5