8 The Star/ April 13, 1984
Fort Lauderdale and Key West
Create Atmosphere of Almost
Sinful Indulgence and Ease
By Joe Baker
It's been nearly four years since Anita
Bryant sold the mansion, picked up the
kids, ditched her husband and trotted off
The former orange juice queen and gay
rights foe didn't affect gay tourism much
while she lived in Florida. And since she's
been gone, a "Sunshine State" vacation
for gay travelers has only gotten better.
Florida may be straight America's
favorite vacation spot, but it is also fast
becoming the winter vacation capital of
gay men and women.
For gay travelers, the favored spots are
the Gold Coast and Key West. The Gold
Coast stretches along the southeastern tip
of the state, and includes the large cities of
Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm
Beach. Key West is the tip-toe ofthe United States, dipping into the clear warm
turquoise mix of the Atlantic Ocean and
the Gulf of Mexico.
Add the beauty and marvels of theGold
Coast and Key West together and you get
enough cosmopolitan life, sand, sun, surf
and suds to appeal to even the most hard-
tc-please gay tourist.
Of the 40 million Florida visitors each
year, an estimated 13 percent to 20 percent
of them are gay. That's a lot of gay men
and lesbians to share miles and miles of
beaches and rays and rays of sunshine
It had been three years since I moved
from Florida to Texas when I returned to
the "Sunshine State" in March, so I was
especially eager to see how my home for
five years had changed and if gay tourism
was indeed on the increase.
As my Republic Airlines jet started its
descent into Miami International Airport,
I looked out over the blue and green waters
of the Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic
Ocean and realized how land-locked I've
felt living the past few years in Dallas.
The Trinity River just can't compare.
Like most gay travelers to South Florida, I was splitting my vacation between
Fort Lauderdale and Key West. Although
both are popular gay resorts, the character
of the two places is quite different.
Fort Launderdale is a playground or
merry-go-round. It never stops. Key West
is laid-back and mellow. But that doesn't
mean it's retirement city. It's a different
type of action. It's a variety show of geography, relaxation, freedom, charm and
romance. Stop the world, I want to get off
in Key West.
Fort Lauderdale was intense when I
lived there, and I soon found out thai it is
even moreso today. Beaches by day and
bars by night. The city created the six-day
weekend, and the partying—straight or
gay—never seems to stop.
More than 20 years ago, the movie
"Where the Boys Are" started it all and
thousands of young and old people have
been flocking to the beach resort—fast
becoming a large city—ever since.
Spring Break, of course, is the big time
for the college crowd, and I found myself
right smack in the middle of all the madness. I think I'm getting too old for all that
craziness, but I sure gave it my best shot.
This past year producer Alan Carr was
in Fort Launderdale filming an updated
version of "Where the Boys Are." When it
hits the screens, the city better be ready for
the new onslaught of tourists.
Yup, Fort Lauderdale is still where the
boys are. Thousands of gay ones. (And
gay girls, too.) I was surprised to see the
number of gay bars had more than
doubled to nearly two dozen since I moved
three years ago.
There's also now nearly a dozen gay hotels and guest houses, and a half dozen or
so gay restaurants. There's also a good
number of other types of gay-oriented
businesses, and hundreds of straight businesses that don't care what the sexual
orientation of your money is.
The gay beach in front of the Marlin
Beach Hotel still boasts of having some of
the best looking men and women in the
world tanning their bodies. And when the
sun sinks behind downtown Fort Lauderdale's emerging skyline every afternoon,
the place to be is still the Marlin Beach's
popular tea dance.
Entertaining the crowd at Key West
Other top nightspots are The Copa,
Backstreet and the Rooftop. The Copa has
remodeled for the 1000th time—and each
time it has gotten more lavish and electric.
The Rooftop gets a more middle-aged
crowd, while Backstreet is attracting a
is a playground or
never stops. Key
West is laid-back
considerable number of straights these
days. No matter, though, everybody mixes
well. A new pool, patio and outside market
area of specialized boutiques and shops
has turned Backstreet into one of the largest gay entertainment complexes in the
Tun t'tpus of the sun setting in Key West
country. And while I'm on the subject of
bars and dancing, I can't forget my old
favorite haunt—Tacky's. What's it like?
Think about its name, and let your imagination run wild.
Although I enjoyed my stay in Fort
Lauderdale, the highlight of my trip was
my journey down the Florida Keys to Key
Key West: "The Island for All Seasons."
"The Last Resort." "The Southernmost
It has been known by many names, and
has been "owned" by many peoples—a
tiny Florida island of coral rock where
diversity and a laid-back lifestyle are
From its beginning, Key West has been
populated by those whose lifestyles demonstrated independence of thought and
Pirates, exiled tories, sailors, shrimpers,
fishermen, 60's hippies, drug smugglers,
artists, writers, Cubans, socialites. They
all found a permanent or temporary home
on this island paradise at one time or
Now, it's our turn. And what a perfect
place for a vacation or a weekend get-away anytime of the year.
Gays have been coming to Key West for
decades, finding the island's "Live-and-
let-live" philosophy ideal. But they have
now moved into the mainstream as a dominate force in the social, business and political lives of the city. Last year, an
openly-gay man was elected mayor.
Gays were the first to contract "restoration fever" and are responsible for moving
it into epidemic proportions. Lovely old
homes are sporting fresh looks, and gutted
buildings are turning into quaint shops
and restaurants that rival those anywhere.
The Key West Business Guild is one of
the largest gay-oriented "chambers of
commerce" in the country, and has been
tbe drive behind turning the island into a
prosperous and romantic place for gay
men and lesbians to get away from home
or to even call home.
It has worked hard to mold a climate
attractive to gay travelers and residents.
The percentage of Key West's gay
population varies depending on who you
ask. Mayor Richard Heyman estimates
that 15 percent of the island's 25,000
residents are gay. Some female inhabitants, like a salesgirl at a local gift store,
put it at 70 percent of the entire male
But no matter how many gays actually
live on the island, it is the gay tourist who
is courted by both gay and straight businesses. The Key West Chamber of Commerce estimates gay tourism at about 20
percent of the island's total visitors. Last
'The gay beach in
front of the Marlin
Beach Hotel still
boasts of having
some of the best
looking men and
year one million vacationers visited the
9-squarc-mile island —translating into
200,000 gay tourists.
No wonder homosexuals are considered
an important segment of the Key West
But let's backtrack for a minute and talk
about getting to this tropical island.
The Florida Keys are a 150-mile long
chain of islands, dangling off the southeastern tip of the state. Connected by
the spectacular Overseas Highway, the
drive to Key West al the very end ofthe
Keys will take you over nearly 40 bridges,
one aptly named the Seven Mile Bridge.