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GETAWAYS Orlando's The Parliament House
by Ross Forman
2008-03-12

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ORLANDO, Fla. - The Parliament House ( P-House ) is the premier local, all-gay resort—and arguably one of the best such facilities in the world.

Let's see, there are six permanent distinctly different bars, a full-service restaurant, a renovated theatre with seating for 250 and a 120-room hotel. And that's just for starters. Also on the 10-acre facility here along Orange Blossom Trail is a volleyball court, a lakeside beach on Rock Lake, a pool and a luxurious courtyard.

Talk about the magic kingdom.

____________

Don Granatstein. Photo by Ross Forman

____________

Oh, yeah, Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios and all of the other popular theme parks are just a short drive away.

'This is the center of the gay community in Orlando, for sure,' said Don Granatstein, co-owner of The Parliament House, which attracts more than 10,000 visitors per week. Heck, on a chilly Sunday in mid-January, there were more than 3,000 visitors.

'It's hard to imagine this place until you walk around.'

No truer words have been spoken. P-House, as it is known, is a local establishment with worldwide support, located about 25 minutes by car from Orlando International Airport.

Michael Hodge founded The Parliament House in 1975. He died in 1992, and the club then was run by his brothers and sisters.

Granatstein and his wife—yes, he is straight—bought P-House in 1999.

'When this [ opportunity ] became available, my wife went nuts for it,' Granatstein said. 'It was in bad shape nine years ago; it really was. [ The past owners ] had really let it go downhill.

'So, before we bought it, we asked people in various gay communities if they had heard of it. They had, and had been there, but had stopping going because it had become seedy. However, all said they'd return if it was fixed up because it really used to be the place to go.

'We realized the value of the name, Parliament House, but it was in pretty bad shape [ when we bought it. ] . It was a dirty, filthy place, which was a shame.

'Yet we took a giant leap of faith to believe this thing would work.'

Led by Unger's decorating past, they invested more than $1 million to renovate P-House—from wiring and plumbing to a new sound and lighting system.

'We learned early on what an unbelievable name this place has,' he said, 'and today, it is a totally different place than [ when ] we bought, even though the basics may be the same.

'We spent millions on the place to make it a place where people would want to come.'

That's gays of all types, truly. There are twinks and frat boys to bears and, of course, plenty of female impersonators.

'Orlando's gay community is gigantic, because of the tourists and the amount of gay employees at the [ various ] theme parks; that total is unbelievable,' Granatstein said. 'It's dangerous to go bar-hopping, in Orlando or anywhere, but here you can go bar-hopping without your car. It's a total entertainment package, all night every night.'

The cover-fee is never more than $10, though slightly higher during Gay Days in June. There are multiple drag shows nightly and now occasional first-rate, gay-themed theatre productions.

P-House has attracted Cyndi Lauper and other high-profile celebrities, not to mention the Disney Dancers and more.

'We want to turn this part of [ Orange Blossom Trail ] into a mini-Lakeview or Jarvis Street in Toronto,' said Granatstein, who has been purchasing many of the adjacent properties and will soon start developing on them, including 200 beautiful time-shares that could house about 300 people when full.

He is building time-share units for the gay community on 10 acres, and they will include a first-rate health club and swimming pool.

'Orlando does not have a gay area, per se … but we want to change that,' Granatstein said. 'People often ask, 'What's the biggest surprise [ about Parliament House ] ?' And my answer is: The number of people who come, and the fact that we draw so many people and really do not have any [ anti-gay ] problems.'

Just The Facts About …

The Parliament House

—Employees: 150.

—Clientele: 90 percent gay men, ages 18 and up.

—Who's who: Watch ( and listen ) for Darcel Stevens, a drag queen who serves as the entertainment director and mistress of ceremonies for most of the on-site show.

—Sports: There are multiple TVs in the bars to watch the big game, and the club supports many local gay sports, including softball, tennis and bowling.

—The owners: Don Granatstein and Susan Unger, who have been married for 10 years and together for 20 years, he said. They have six children ( three sons, three daughters ) , all in their 30s, and three work at P-House. None of the six is gay.

See www.parliamenthouse.com .


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