We certainly felt like novices arriving for our first visit to Fort Lauderdale in Florida. Unfortunately, we did not stay in one of the many gay guest houses in the area, but we did strike it lucky arriving in Beach Pride Week, the third week of February.
The weather was dry and comfortable, at around 24 degrees and the sea temperature was warm and inviting, though some of the locals didn’t agree. Many don’t swim until the water temperature reaches a distinct ‘summer simmer’.
Our first few days were very relaxed, lazing and gazing on golden Sebastian Beach, Fort Lauderdale’s best known gay beach and recently voted (2019) the best gay beach in the world.
Opposite the beach is the iconic Casablanca Café, a favourite gay hangout with an upstairs verandah providing the perfect vantage point for sunset cocktails. This was a great choice for lunch meet ups with our mates who live nearby.
We also enjoyed the huge Margaritas and the freshest oysters at Tsukuro, located right on the oceanfront, where the sunsets present a spectacular focal point for after beach recovery cocktails.
Staff treat you like celebrities, the seasonal ocean treasures on the menu are totally delicious and there’s always a tempting special offer during happy hour.
This long stretch of beach is punctuated by hundreds of blue umbrellas and sun beds, available for hire at a ‘breathtaking’ fee, so be sure to take your own. Across from the beach international hotels, chic bars and shops line the strip.
Scooters, the “in the moment” form of transport can easily be hired using a downloadable app and are perfect for promenading in trendy style on the extensive beachfront walkway.
Our friends who live in this fabulous area, kindly accompanied us on our first foray into the venues of Wilton Drive, the ‘happening’ strip of Wilton Manors, the gayest precinct we have ever seen.
We started with a delicious vodka martini at Infinity Lounge, a casual sophisticated cocktail bar where the vibe inside is relaxed and neighbourly. This soon became our favourite bar with its welcoming staff, friendly local clientele, and great happy hour deals.
Hunters is both a bar and nightclub which is a very popular place to enjoy a dance, karaoke, erotic show boys, theme nights and a Sunday tea dance. Our two visits to this fabulous venue reignited our passion for rousing dance tunes and hot, shirtless men.
We ate at the extremely popular Galanga Thai Kitchen & Sushi Bar. The food was fresh, exotic and authentic. You can’t book ahead so put your name on the list and kill 30 minutes in Ball, the gay clothes and swimwear shop next door. You’re sure to find that ‘darling’ party outfit or luminous harness you didn’t even know you had to have.
A few doors down from Galanga is Georgie’s Alibi Monkey Bar, one of the oldest gay bars around which has four areas, the Main Bar, the Sports Bar, the Monkey Bar (with dancing boys) and The Patio. We arrived when their BEAST Dance Party was in full swing and the place was loud and packed. We returned for quieter drinks later in the week to sample their famous Thursday night $3 Long Island iced teas.
Our last bar for the night was another favourite, DRYNK. The front bar was friendly and lively and the back bar outside, with lounge chairs and heaters, had a warm, cosy and relaxed atmosphere. Don’t miss having the house specialty drink, a ‘Smoking Old Fashioned’. You will want to watch it being made so you can fully appreciate its unique, rich flavours.
There are dozens of gay bars to choose from in Fort Lauderdale and we have only mentioned a few. It would seem impossible to see them all but you can always try.
Fort Lauderdale Pride ran over four days from 21st to the 24th February. Most activities were centred around Fort Lauderdale Beach or Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors.
To kick the party off on Friday we visited The Pub in Wilton Manors to meet friends and to hear Sir Ari Gold performing live from the soundtrack of Freedom Concert. Then it was over the road to Hunters for a night of dancing and go go boys.
Saturday was the main day of Pride, starting with a Bears Beach Bash on Sebastian Beach, featuring a DJ, bar and lots of friendly bears and cubs.
The ‘Carnaval’ themed parade started at 5:30pm.
It was the first Pride parade ever held at Fort Lauderdale Beach.
The parade headed down State Road A1A and featured a range of floats, well choreographed dancing groups, high school marching bands and local Pride organisations.
Most had gifts or handouts to excite the spectators. The dazzling, brilliantly coloured plastic beads thrown into the crowd were a huge hit and soon became more of a trophy than a decoration.
The competition for the most lavishly adorned ‘princess’ in our group was on and our party managed to amass a myriad of the gaudy garlands with just a touch of scratching and snarling to secure the highly prized goods.
By far the most colourful crew in the parade was Flock Fest, which is renowned for having the best inflatable floaties on the beach.
Each year they hold a summer festival for their adoring fan club who try to outdo their fellow flock friends with ever more extravagant floating devices.
When the rainbow flag was unfurled and the mounted police arrived with their rainbow festooned horses, we knew the parade had come to an end.
We followed the end of the parade down towards the Beach Park for a rocking block party, enjoying live performances by favourite local drag queens, various musical acts and internationally acclaimed DJ, Dani Toro from Barcelona, all for free.
On the Sunday there was another Beach Festival from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., featuring exhibitors, food vendors, music and performances, concluding with a stunning fireworks show at 7:45 p.m.
To finish Pride we were off to Wilton Manors for the Official Pride Closing Night Party at the The Pub.
Las Olas Boulevard
This breathtaking area of Fort Lauderdale is a popular shopping and dining district and has been home to some of the most notable celebrities in the country.
We knew we were getting close to the most prestigious zone when we saw mega yachts berthed outside even more mega mansions. As we neared the business area the noise and crowds spilling out of the restaurants and bars was a clear indication of the popularity of this upmarket locale.
The choices for eating, drinking and shopping are endless and rivals any of the most renowned entertainment quarters in the world. This is an area to explore more fully on our next visit to this gorgeous and glamorous city.
Things To Do Next Visit
There is so much to do in Fort Lauderdale and with Pride and catching up with friends we didn’t get to explore everything. Our list of things to do next time is based on strong recommendations from locals.
• Las Olas Boulevard (browse, shop, eat and drink in style)
• Sunday Brunch at Rosie’s Bar and Grill
• The local water taxi tour around the canals to eyeball the million dollar mansions
• The Brightline train or Uber to Miami to explore South Beach
• Dinner at Lips, a fabulous drag restaurant
• Visit Bonnet House Museum and Gardens right on the beach front.
• Visit Ramrod Bar (a Fort Lauderdale rite of passage)
Know Before You Go
• The best months to travel are between November and April
• Fort Lauderdale Pride is in February, Wilton Manors Pride is April and Halloween at the end of October are all great times to visit for celebrations and special events.
• Uber or Lyft are the best ways to get around especially from the airport or Miami.