Having planted my rainbow flag in downtown St. Pete, I decide that Saturday will be devoted to explorations farther afield. The Zamora has a handsome fleet of cruiser bicycles available to check out free of charge and I use mine to seek out my breakfast. After cycling for several miles past the towering resorts, some elegant, others tacky, lining Gulf Boulevard, I settle on Beverly’s (7401 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach Tel: 727-360-2253. www.beverlysonthebeach.com). I’m drawn to it perhaps because its blackened windows remind me of so many queer bars of yesteryear, but it’s full of old Florida awesomeness including wood paneling on the walls, no frills brekkie faves, and a clientele whose average age is at least 1,000.
Pinellas County is full of gems. Forty miles north of St. Pete Beach is Tarpon Springs, an odd bird of a city in that it has the rare distinction of having the highest Greek population of any US municipality and boasts an historic and still-thriving sponging industry. Dodecanese Blvd., its main artery, is crammed with Hellenic eateries, tacky souvenir shops, and throngs of tourists chewing on every bit of scenery they can. Along the docks are boats where rows upon rows of sponges hang out to dry. It’s worth a few hours to be sure.
I walk the boulevard to the very end and it’s here that I discover Rusty Bellies (937 Dodecanese Blvd., Tarpon Springs, Tel: 727-934-4047. www.rustybellies.com), a family-owned waterfront eatery where an army of whirring fans prove a capable defense against the stifling heat. Rusty’s is famous for using its fishing boats to scoop up schools of locally caught grouper and turning them into satisfying Greek dishes like souvlaki.
Temperatures are really spiking this afternoon and to not cool off in the Gulf would be tantamount to insanity, so I drive to the tip of spindly Fort De Soto County Park (3500 Pinellas Byway South, Tierra Verde, Tel: 727-582-2267. www.pinellascounty.org/parks) and meet up with several friends who are locals. There is nary a gay in sight, but this nevertheless is a perfectly lovely place to picnic, swim, and idle, and my friends and me spend the better part of the afternoon doing just that. I do believe this why people love the Sunshine State.
Given the relentless heat, it seems appropriate that “Cities in Dust” by Siouxsie and the Banshees (the video that portrays the fall of Pompeii) is playing while my friend Chris and I sip cocktails at Brick and Mortar (539 Central Ave., Tel: 727-822-6540), another culinary bigwig in downtown St. Pete. A ballyhooed stop on the local dining circuit, we’re not sure what to make of the ambience: the dining room looks like a Brooklyn hipster hangout while the waiting area resembles a funeral parlor circa the 80s, but we love the food. Both the octopus and poutine are downright unreal.
Imagine if 80% of the clientele at your favorite gay bar were straight. Now imagine if that bar were lifted from a gayborhood and dropped into a teeny coastal resort town. While a door handle in the shape of a martini glass screams gay to me, that’s not entirely the case at Chic-A-Boom (319 Main St., Dunedin, Tel: 727-736-0206. www.kellyschicaboom.com), a cocktail bar in quaint Dunedin that’s one part of a larger entertainment complex, including nightclub Blur and taproom Kelly’s. All three joints (including the conjoined back patio) are packed and the crowd at Blur is clearly the gayest, but between the gaggles of women in tight dresses and the leering looks from packs of men smoking cigars on the patio, these are clearly mixed bars. At one point at Blur I think I spy a sexy daddy on the dance floor, but realize it’s just my own reflection in the mirror.
The next morning, I pull back the blackout curtains in my hotel room to discover the Florida sun greeting me with a big morning hello. Looking down from my balcony overlooking McPherson Bayou, I see singles, families, and couples sunbathing around the enviable pool below, and I decide that my last day will be devoted to deepening my already pronounced Speedo tan line.
First there is a late breakfast at the Sea Horse (800 Pass a Grill Way, Pass-a-Grill Beach, Tel: 727-360-1734), another Old Florida gem since 1938 that sits on the waterfront in the tony enclave of Pass-a- Grille. Everything about it, including friendly waitresses that take no sass and look like they’ve been working at the joint forever, and hearty if artery clogging breakfasts for under $10, is perfect.
There are two spots around town (that I know of) for queer sunbathing. The first is Sunset Beach (9000 W. Gulf Blvd, Treasure Island. Tel: 727-547-4575), which is a few miles north of my hotel, but can be a bit of a challenge when it comes to park- ing. It’s a perfectly pleasing stretch of sand, but rarely sees a critical mass of queer visitors. Perhaps in a city where the sun always shines, there is no compulsive need to make a mad dash for the beach the way folks do in New York, Chicago, and foggy San Francisco. I take a few Instagram-worthy selfies in my new swim- suit and move on to the second stop.
The Flamingo Resort (4601 34th St. South. Tel: 727-321-5000. www.flamingofla.com), a sprawling LGBT hotel and resort which includes a cabana bar, full-service restaurant, several specialty shops (including Adonis Leather-crafters and swimsuits galore at A Touch of Oz), and a large kidney-shaped pool as its centerpiece is somewhat lacking in the panache of other gay resorts scattered throughout the state. That said, it really does have it all and I’m thrilled to order a club sandwich and a cocktail and sprawl out. St. Pete has so much to offer, and yet my final few hours in town are spent soaking up as much sun as I possibly can. Isn’t that how every Florida vacation comes to an end?