If your vision of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, includes legions of beer-swilling, bikini-clad spring breakers descending in droves for spring break, think again. That was Ft. Lauderdale in the 1980s, when 600,000 kids left college and high school to party down. But the city shooed away the kids years ago, and those shenanigans moved to other cities on the Sunshine coast. These days, Ft. Lauderdale is a more grown up playground for everyone from forward-thinking families to Hollywood celebrities — and a whole lot of gay folks — but plenty of party options can still be found.
Stay: W Hotel As I enter the W Hotel, I am literally surrounded by LGBT people: dozens of happy same-sex couples are checking in for a mass wedding ceremony that weekend. It feels momentous and amazing, but I ask the few possibly straight folks, including a staffer, if the proportion of same-sex couples surprise them. The answer: No, because there’s always a really diverse crowd here at the W.
This hotel has the trendy sophistication of a Miami Beach hotspot but with less of the cost and hassle. The hotel itself is actually a high-rise multiplex designed to look, albeit abstractly, like the sail of a boat. From our room I had unrivaled, panoramic views of the ocean, the part of the beach they call the strip, the Intercoastal waterway, and the rest of the city — and a giant rattan chaise on the balcony meant I could sleep outside, close my eyes, smell the sea, and feel like the Atlantic was lapping just feet from me.
There’s a boutique luxury steakhouse Steak954 (if your budget allows, try the Australian Tajima Wagyu), Rande Gerber’s swank Whiskey Blue bar, an oceanfront infinity pool, the Bliss Spa, a great room/living room area where guest DJs spin on weekends, and a secluded pool oasis with cabanas that have Wi-Fi, private bathroom, flatscreen TV, and a phone so, presumably, you can order more cocktails. The rooms are resort white and W classic with awesome peek-a-boo baths in many suites (meaning I could lay in a bubble bath and still see the ocean). Best yet: Ted Gibson, the gay celebrity stylist and co-star of What Not to Wear, has a salon here at the W and on a good day you can get the Ted treatment yourself.
Play: Stonewall National Museum & Archives There are plenty of LGBT-friendly bars (Rumors, Infinity, Georgie’s Alibi) but—and I write this with no shame at all — I spent more time at the local museums. There are several worthy of your time including the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens (you can see the first house built in Ft. Lauderdale on jungle-like property that remains largely as it was at turn of the century) and the wonderful World AIDS Museum in nearby Wilton Manors (which was founded by an HIV-positive gay man and is reportedly the first of its kind in the U.S.). But if you visit only one spot, make it the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, which is technically two stops. The first houses the largest lending library of its kind in the U.S., with more than 18,000 books and audio-visual materials that you can check out, as well as an archive of thousands of old LGBT magazines, newspapers, videos, games, cartoons, T-shirts, oral history collections, and more.
My co-pilot and I were digging out old copies of Girlfriends (the lesbian magazine we co-founded in 1993) while Man About World’s Billy Kolber was busy uncovering old copies of Out&About, the gay travel magazine he started in 1992 (which, by the way, was eventually sold to OutTraveler). We were in queer nerdvana. After literally tearing me away from reading horny old gay physique magazines and the first lesbian pulps (repression must have been highly erotic!), we went to the Stonewall Gallery, a classic boutique gallery with their regular exhibit and some revolving shows, many in conjunction with the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.
This month was Stroke: From Under the Mattress to the Museum Wall, a historical retrospective of incredibly erotic illustrations by artists who made work for the gay male magazines from the 1950s to the 1990s, starting with the closeted ones that pretended to focus on bodybuilding and “anatomy drawing” to the unabashedly gay magazines that bloomed post Stonewall (like Honcho and Blueboy). Even better than the exhibit was seeing it with a straight (but highly enlightened) 70-something couple and a trio of queer 20-somethings — all of whom had no idea of how gay men explored their sexuality during times when homosexuality was still criminalized.