Off the Wall: Chardees Redux

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What do the Mini Cooper, the Volkswagen Beetle, and the Fiat 500 have in common? They are classics and icons from the past that have been brought back with great success and a touch of nostalgia thrown in for good measure.

Now Wilton Manors is getting its own trip down memory lane revived and repolished. Chardees is baaaaack!

In its hay days Chardees was The Place, The center of WM's universe.

It opened in 1990 and closed in 2007. A glittering gay mirage in a desert of boarded-up strip malls, trailer parks, crack houses, and abandoned buildings strewn with garbage. The venue aimed specifically at the mature gay men, or silver foxes, and their admirers.

It was renowned worldwide and featured two legendary bartenders: Mark Hess and Jimmy Molloy. The “Supper Club” as it was also known, headlined entertainers like Eartha Kitt, comedienne Pudgy, singer Jennifer Holliday, and Judy Tenuta. It was the place to go to, by some loved and revered as “the new church,” it became a mainstay.

The floodgates were opened in the mid nineties. Inspired by Chardees’s success and popularity a slew of gay or gay-friendly businesses followed — coffeehouses, real estate agents, eateries, clothing stores, banks, developers, more gay bars.

In 1997, Jim Stork started Stork's Bakery and Café on NE 15th Avenue; three years later, Wilton Manors elected its first gay mayor, John Fiore. Norm Kent founded the tribe's local paper, The Express, precursor of SFGN, in December of '99. Today, Wilton Manors is the center of Florida's queer galaxy. Wilton Drive is the heart of one of the gayest towns in America; 40 percent of its 15,000-plus residents identify as LGBT.

And it all started with one gay bar.

Tony Dee, The Lord of the Drive, believes that the old magic is still there, the name recognition has certainly survived and he hopes it is still the destination many of the original patrons never left. He says: “Seeing an old friend can put a smile on your face.”

We wish him all the best. Chardees Lounge will open soon at: 2440 Wilton Drive. WM 33305

 


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