John Howard travels between two of the U.S.’s gayest towns
If your navigational skills are not what your geography teacher might have hoped for you, the journey between Fort Lauderdale and Key West is your kind of road trip. You just get on Highway 1 – the USA’s original road that goes from the southernmost point of the country way up to Maine or somewhere ridiculous. And you stay on Highway 1. No turn-offs, no detours, no mess, no trouble.
Unless you want to take in the ridiculous mansions of Palm Beach, that is. And you don’t: it’s where Trump plays golf and where hundreds of police are routinely roped in to divert everyone from the main road, because those police don’t have more burning issues to attend to. And if you can resist the temptations of Miami Beach, which, we get it, is hard to do.
And the reason you might want to make this road trip? Because at both ends of it is a classic gay resort, both very different, both very fun. Up there is Fort Lauderdale, which struggles on a daily basis for gay supremacy over Miami Beach (they’re only half an hour apart: do both) while down there at the very southernmost tip of the United States, a few miles away from Cuba, is Key West, the maddest little gay town in all of the Americas.
Between the two is what is generally considered to be one of the best road trips in the world, taking you over miles-long bridges, through funny little towns, past protected beaches and eventually – going north to south – into a town famous for chickens walking freely about, nearly-naked go-go boys hanging out in the streets to lure you into their bars and for architecture so quaint you might as well be in England (only it’s hotter in Key West).
Staying at The Marker, a mini-resort by the waterfront (a couple of pools but a cosy atmosphere and pretty gay staff, if our gaydar doesn’t deceive us), we were right where we needed to be, a walk from the bars (many with live music), a longer walk from the gay scene and not far from the straight resorts you want to avoid but where you might pick up a sailboat or go on a water sports excursion (the snorkeling and jet-skiing around here are great, even if the beaches aren’t particularly).
Yes, there’s culture if you want to see Ernest Hemingway’s house (nice, some crazy cats with too many toes) or the Tennessee Williams Museum (though we preferred to go for brunch at Cat On a Hot Tin Roof for the cocktails as our TW homage). But this place is mainly about the fun from the Bourbon Street Bar, where those go-gos operate and where you can go and get some, ahem, attention in one of the nooks out back, to Island House, where the concept of a hotel meets the unrelated concept of a gay sauna, with surprisingly successful results. And the just walking around taking in an atmosphere that is relaxed, fun-loving and extraordinarily boozy.
Hopping back in our Hertz rental – a convertible, even if that ride can be blowy! – we head north, timing our arrival in Fort Lauderdale to coincide with Pride. The drive is long, much longer than they will tell you, by the way, so leave a decent amount of time or come the previous day.
Checking it at the funky B Ocean Resort, which is right on the beach – wide, sandy, water-sportsy – and which has a pool with a viewing window where they do adults-only burlesque that you can watch from the bar, we do a break-neck costume change and head up to the Ritz Carlton pre-Pride brunch where the vodkas and champagnes and food are free and the place is lousy with some of the most creative drag queens creating mayhem. From there it’s back to the beachfront to watch the parade.
For your regular gay goings-out, you head to Wilton Manors, proud to call themselves ‘the second gayest city’ in the US, though they don’t mention who they lost out to. They even have their own gay pride, even though the place is only this big, while Wilton Drive is where you’ll find LGBT clubs and shops and B&Bs.
Next day, before the main gay party – or Fort Lauderdale Beach Festival, as they like to call it – we do some Bloody Marys and high-carb-content recovery food at the beachfront bar and pool back at B Ocean Resort. Then it’s onto the beach where, as if by magic, tents and food stands and a stage and thousands of LGBTs have materialised to party until the fireworks are done. And this is just regular Pride. You wait until next year’s Pride of the Americas, which will unite gays from Canada all the way down to Argentina for a Pride to end all Prides.
It’s a big place, is Florida. And these are just two of the attractions for the gay on the go but with a car at your disposal, cash dollars in your pocket (those exchange rates are less than kind right now, be warned) there’s not a reason in the world you can’t make the road trip of a lifetime of it. And if you do give in to temptation and do a stop-over in Miami Beach, then we can’t think of a single person who would blame you for it.