The Parliament Resort (410 N Orange Blossom Trail. Tel: 407-425-7571. www.parliamenthouse.com) used to be a Holiday Inn before the construction of I-4 and opened under its current name in 1965 according to the stud bartender wearing a black thong who claims to have two masters degrees. He beams with pride when he tells me the place is like a bathhouse on weekends. It’s grand opening as the world’s largest gay and lesbian resort happened in 1975 and looks like it hasn’t changed much since that time. I spend a part of the evening warding off the advances of a crusty Mainer who keeps inviting me up to his room and plying me with nonsensical pickup lines like, “I’m from Maine, I’m a maniac.” He’s wearing acid-washed jeans and his teeth are crooked and hunched together like a group of suspects posing for a police lineup. Yelpers and locals alike call the Parliament run down, but I see in its dim strobe lights and air-brushed diva portraits a slice of queer history. I hope they turn it into a museum one day.
Later that night at Hanks (5026 Edgewater Drive. Tel: 407-291-2399. www.hanksorlando.com), the bartender wonders aloud to me at what age he became invisible to younger men even while he shows me iPhone pics of the 29-year-old he’s seeing. I’m breathing exclusively through my nose, a futile attempt to ward off the noxious fumes from the unfiltered cigarettes of the guy next to me. As all of this unfolds, an advancing figure on my left emerges and attempts to slide his finger down my booty. I escape to the labyrinthine backyard which I’m sure sees plenty of action on busy weekends.
The next morning, the clouds break like curtains being parted on cue, when I enter Celebration, a Disney planned community. The pretty, but antiseptic downtown has a vaguely art deco-inspired vibe and I’m only here to grab a cup of coffee for the drive to South Florida. An elevator version of Madonna’s Human Nature is playing at the cafe and that’s an encouraging sign, yet I wonder, does anyone ever get laid in this town?
The backroads of Central Florida prove hot and dusty as I follow them at a leisure pace and it’s refreshing to see that a thriving community of citrus farmers means the landscape is still dotted with flecks of orange. I make a pitstop in Fellsmere, a town of 3,800 people smack in the boonies where a friend from back home has pointed me in the direction of Marsh Landing (44 N Broadway St. Tel: 772-571-8622. www.marshlandingrestaurant.com), a local eatery whose mounted animal heads, sepia-toned photographs, and rusty farm tools recall Florida’s pioneer past. The food is just alright, but perhaps the fried gator platter was the wrong choice?
Despite the 80 degree heat, I still wince slightly when a chunk of grape popsicle breaks off and slides gracefully down my chest and arrives perilously close to the waistband of my Aussie Bum bikini swimsuit before I brush it away. The popsicle has been handed to me by a staffer named Lincoln at Pineapple Point (315 NE 16th Terrace. Tel: 954-527-0094. www.pineapplepoint.com), a luxury gay guesthouse in Fort Lauderdale where I’m now relaxing poolside.
Pineapple Point is a rarity in that it’s one of the few gay-owned lodgings where the outside world disappears completely once you enter through its white-picket gate, as if owners Phil and Judd have the power to snap their fingers and make a noisy, stressful world go away. I love that when I go to the beverage bar for a glass of lemonade for example, there are a variety of snacks waiting for me (which is what I’m really craving) or that resident felines Blanche and Stella lead by example in pointing me to the best lounge chair to curl up on each morning, or that every time I make the journey from pool to hot tub, a clean towel is never far away. Around every twist and turn there is a place to sit, a place to lie down, a place to forget. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve put me up in one of their spacious apartments, an ideal splurge if you’re traveling with a group.
I am a huge fan of traditional escargot, one in which a flaky puff pastry shell surrenders under the weight of a determined fork, and the one I’m eating now pairs beautifully with the sound of crashing surf. I’m at The Atlantic Resort & Spa having dinner on the terrace at its casual French restaurant the East End Brasserie (601 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. Tel: 954-567-8020. www.atlantichotelfl.com). My server Christopher recommends a sea bass and it’s just wonderful. I can’t remember if I had dessert (was there any room for it?), but East End is my new favorite place to eat French in Fort Lauderdale. Hours later I am still happily burping up garlic and beurre blanc.
The following morning, I find myself doing some detective work to recall what happened after I left East End Brasserie. A jock strap on the floor, the fact that my credit cards and cash have become separated from my wallet, and a slight headache offer some clues. I remember hitting up the Ramrod (1508 NE 4th Ave. Tel: 954-763-8219. www.ramrodbar.com) around midnight to take the sting off the dollars the slot machines at Seminole Hard Rock Casino (1 Seminole Way. Tel: 954-327-7625. www.seminolehardrockhollywood.com) ate up right after dinner. At Ramrod, I remember being hit on relentlessly by a visitor from Maui named Carl, still a toned muscle God at age 54, who also bitched about a bad experience being photographed by legendary erotic photographer Tom Bianchi. I remember little else.
Nevertheless, I pull myself together for a hearty morning of navigating Fort Lauderdale’s massive canal system via kayak at Richardson Historical Park. My guide for the eco-tour is Kenny Myers who operates a tour company called Atlantic Coast Kayak Company (Tel: 954-781-0073. www.atlanticcoastkayak.com). Myers tells me exactly what species of birds are swooping overhead and how long the massive iguana I’ve come up close and personal with has been living on someone’s back deck. Mostly, however, I enjoy his boyhood stories about hopping trains in New Jersey or catching fireflies for a penny a bug to assist in emerging glow-in-the-dark technologies. Kenny is a character.
The afternoon speeds by with a trip to gay San Sebastian Beach (N Fort Lauderdale Beach Dr at Sebastian St) where it is quiet followed by lunch at nearby Royal Palms Resort (717 Breakers Ave. Tel: 954-564-6444. www.royalpalms.com), another stellar gay guesthouse where I learn the hard way that the resort is no longer clothing optional (although an expansion aims to fix this).
That evening I hit up the new Village Pub (2283 Wilton Drive. Tel: 754-200-5244. www.villagepubwm.com) for a cocktail where it is a best of the ‘90s night and later stroll down the street for $1 drinks at Rumors (2426 Wilton Drive. Tel:954-565-8851. www.rumorsbarwiltonmanors.com), a packed queer neighborhood tap room.
At the International Swimming Hall of Fame (1 Hall of Fame Drive. Tel: 954-462-6536. www.ishof.org) the next day, the cacaphonous sounds of whistles blowing, water splashing, and guys howling is an encouraging sign for my morning swim and sure enough I arrive smack in the middle of an international water polo tournament complete with young, Speedo-clad men everywhere. The guy candy is killing me. Barely a word of English is being spoken among any of the teams so it feels like I’ve stumbled upon one of those Bel Ami porn films minus the sex. My swim, meanwhile, is amazing.
Afterwards, a Florida downpour is threatening everyone’s night as they scurry to celebrate Valentine’s Day at their favorite restaurant. I’m at the bar at Dapur (1620 N Federal Hwy. Tel: 954-306-2663. www.dapurkitchen.com), a justly romantic place and current hotspot that has created a special prix-fixe menu for the holiday. It’s a shame not to have access to the full menu which looks amazing, but as a DJ bangs out romantic ditties for the occasion, I enjoy head-spinning martinis and an assortment of tasty Asian small plates.