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TRAVEL Fort Lauderdale: Feeling the warmth on all sides
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2017-03-01

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Going to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is an experience in warmth.

The expected aspect of that would involve the actual air temperature; in fact, it was a record 85 degrees one "winter" day when I was there recently. However, the sunny disposition of the people ( natives and tourists ) was just as obvious as the climate and warm beach.

The first place this was obvious was The Grand Resort & Spa ( 539 N. Birch Rd.; GrandResort.net ) Fort Lauderdale's largest gay-owned and -operated men's spa/resort—and there are a few in the neighborhood. Lee very kindly showed me around the spacious Grand, pointing out the pool, spa and, yes, clothing-optional grotto ( where my cool suite happened to be ). Yes, there's warmth—and if you want to shed your inhibitions ( and clothes ), this is the place to be.

The spa ( which is essentially a bungalow ) features rooms that are comfortable. Massages ( Swedish, mud and otherwise ) are available, although I opted for a facial that left me feeling and looking refreshed.

After checking in to The Grand Resort, it was off to Wilton Manors restaurant Bubbles + Pearls ( 2037 Wilton Dr.; bubblesnpearls.com/ ), a champagne raw bar that can boast a Top Chef contestant as its owner—in this case, lesbian Josie Smith Malave. Malave, like various people I met and just observed, was extremely friendly, chatting up visitors and regulars alike. ( By the way, if you can get her to tell you about her adventures in New York City, you'll be transfixed. ) As for the food, there's some excellent seafood—and the chicken and ribeye are pretty impressive as well. ( A side benefit was getting to introduce one of my dining companions to shishito peppers. He was so enthralled that he planned to send seeds to his own father sothe can plant some. )

Speaking of Wilton Manors, it's a city that's basically a giant Boystown. ( In fact, as a result of the 2010 U.S. Census, it was named the "Second gayest City" in the United States. )

Dozens of LGBT-owned businesses dot the streets, including various bars ( some categorized by age group ), restaurants and others. There's even one bar called The Gym—which made me wonder ( jokingly ) if there's a gym called The Bar.

Another spot to check out is The Alchemist Coffee & Slicers ( 2430 NE 13th Ave.; TheAlchemist.cafe ). The slicers ( open-faced sandwiches on Tuscan bread ) are quite tasty, which variations such as Mediterranean, tuna, shrimp and even sweet options such as Nutella.

A couple other eateries I was fortunate enough to check out included Fort Lauderdale spots B Square Burgers & Booze ( 1021 E. Las Olas Blvd.; bsquareburger.com/ ) as well as Shooters Waterfront Cafe ( 3033 NE 32 Ave.; shooterswaterfront.com/ ). B Square offers everything from pan-roasted chickpeas to sliders to "mac-n-cheesy" dishes while Shooters offers a fantastic riverfront view in addition to selections like New England lobster roll and seared salmon couscous salad.

By the way, Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors have—in the words of Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau LGBTQ Managing Director Richard Gray—a great "shag factor." ( Yes, Gray is British. ) It's not just the steamy temperatures that draw people to the area; the fact is that some people go to Fort Lauderdale/Wilton Manors to, um, get really close—upping the area's sultriness even more.

Galleries and museums

Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors have a lot more to offer than beaches, restaurants and hot physicality ( although that'd be enough for most ). Galleries and museums abound, providing the opportunity to learn about art, science, the LGBT community and much more.

The Bonnet House Museum & Gardens ( 900 N. Birch Rd.; BonnetHouse.org ) is a stone's throw from The Grand Resort as well as the beach. The house's modern history began when Hugh Taylor Birch ( who purchased the house in 1895 ) gave the Bonnet House property as a wedding gift to his daughter Helen and her husband, Chicago artist Frederic Clay Bartlett, in 1919. The estate is a visual marvel, with everything from orchids to a huge courtyard aviary to iguanas ( which seem to be omnipresent ) to a few remaining squirrel monkeys. ( Incidentally, the monkeys are there as a result of a fire that happened in a nightclub—don't ask. ) By the way, the gorgeous estate is named after the bonnet lily.

One of the most emotional experiences I had during this trip involved a visit to Wilton Manors' The World AIDS Museum and Educational Center ( 1201 NE 26th St #111; WorldAIDSMuseum.org ). Executive Director Ed Sparan showed me the ongoing exhibit "Chronology of AIDS," which contains more information than almost anyone knows about HIV/AIDS. Other current exhibits include "Saving Grace: HIV in the Black Community," and there are various intriguing items such as an interactive AIDS Quilt station and even curios such as AIDS-awareness trading cards. ( Yes, they did exist. ) By the way, activist Larry Kramer is scheduled at an event the museum is sponsoring on Friday, March 10.

The Stonewall National Museum & Archives ( 2157 Wilton Dr.; Stonewall-Museum.org ) also provided a lot of insight. When I went there, Executive Director Chris Rudisill showed exhibits such as art offering The Lure of Provincetown—but there were also interesting items such as a racket Martina Navratilova donated, or Ellen DeGeneres' shoes, or a Transexual Menace jacket. Stopping here is highly recommended.

And there's also the Stonewall National Library ( 1300 E. Sunrise Blvd.; Stonewall-museum.org/the-museum/library ), which has works by Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman and Charles Warren Stoddard. In addition, there are books available for purchase as well as an online catalog.

Being interested in science, I also decided to check out Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Discovery and Science ( 401 SW2nd St.; MODS.org ). In addition to the newest exhibit areas—Otters at Play, Everglades Airboat Adventure, Prehistoric Florida, Florida Water Mysteries and Storm Center—attendees can take in various shows or watch creatures such as alligator snapping turtles, tarantulas and exotic fish.

And for art aficionados, check out the NSU Art Museum ( nsuartmuseum.org/ ), which is located at 1 E. Las Olas Blvd.—a thoroughfare that's the Fort Lauderdale equivalent of Michigan Avenue. One of the can't-miss exhibits is "Francesco Clemente: Dormiveglia," which includes nine large-scale paintings that feature goddess-like figures. I also greatly liked "Regeneration Series," which showcases the works of contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer.

Many thanks go to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau for arranging the visit. Remember that true warmth ( in whatever form you wish to find it ) is just a plane ride away.


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