Before Wilton Manors’ large influx of gay and lesbian residents, there were no gay or straight bars – only bars.
But as more and more bars started opening to cater to LGBT clientele, the city’s other watering holes became de facto straight bars. One by one, they closed or moved. Now, there’s only one left – Red's Bar & Package at Five Points on Dixie Highway.
But while Red’s and the city’s gay bars cater to different clientele, all are welcoming, regardless of who wants to order a drink.
Owner King Wilkinson only has two rules: pay your tab and behave yourself. “That’s all that matters,” said Wilkinson, who was mayor here in the 1990s and can often be found at Red’s wearing his white Stetson. “Everyone’s treated equally here.”
Betty Taylor said she and her wife regularly pull up barstools at Red’s and Taylor has been coming for 12 years. “Everyone’s welcome. Even lesbians. We have a lot of gays that come here,” said Taylor, who added that she feels more at home at Red’s than at the city’s gay and lesbian bars. “These people are my family. Everybody just loves everybody here. No one’s ever been a stranger.”
Manager Velia Velazquez said Red’s is a “redneck and family bar.” You can hear it in the string of country and class rock songs that get played regularly. But the jukebox also has plenty of new hits for those with updated tastes. “We get a little bit of everything here,” said manager Velia Velazquez. “The employees and the customers are like a family. They’re actual friends.”
Velazquez and bartender Diane Avery have been with Wilkinson since the beginning. “It’s so cheerful. Everybody has such a good time. They don’t want to leave. It’s a lively group of people,” Avery said.
Built in 1949 out of two Navy barracks by Irwin “Red” Barnwell, Red’s is also the oldest bar in the city and one of the oldest in Broward County. Wilkinson bought it in 2005. “We’re proud of our faithful customers who come back every day.” He said he keeps them coming back with cheap drinks, free hors d'oeuvres, and courteous service. “It’s a lot hard work to please our customers. But it’s satisfying,” Velazquez said.
Retired firefighter Kevin Kenney has been coming to Red’s for 42 years, ever since he was 15.
“The barmaids know me. If I say I don’t want a Bud Light, they know to get me a gin and tonic.” Kenney first came to Red’s for what wasn’t there – questions about his age at a time when the minimum drinking age in Florida was only 18.
Kenney keeps coming back because of the people, the memories, and the good, cheap drinks. “Everyone knows Red’s Bar. My father came here. My two brothers came here. Every vehicle I’ve ever owned has been parked behind Red’s.
At Red’s, Kenney got married, celebrated his 20th birthday, and got into his first fight – last St. Patrick’s Day.
“It’s definitely a real, blue collar bar. It’s a firefighter’s bar,” said Kenney as he pointed to the fire helmets, donated mostly by retired firefighters, hanging around the bar. Some of the helmets are from active firefighters who were promoted to captain and donated their lieutenant helmets.
“There’s probably 200 years plus of fire experience.” Three of the helmets belonged to him, one of his brothers, and his father.
Kenney said he was heartbroken when Red’s closed before Wilkinson bought it.
“It was my neighborhood bar.” Now, he’s thinking about the future and hopes that, whenever Wilkinson decides to retire, he passes Red’s on to somebody to keep it going.”