It was October of 1991, and gay life was at once emerging and thriving in Fort Lauderdale.
On East Las Olas Boulevard, Wayne Gibson announced he was going to be selling the high end Cathode Ray Bar to John Manzi. The Cathode had already become the most premiere bar in the gay neighborhood of Victoria Park in Fort Lauderdale, especially on Sunday nights when the community’s movers and shakers would line the outdoor waterside patio. From WSVN’s news anchor, Craig Stevens, to WFTL’s afternoon talk show host, Al Rantel, well known names and hot numbers would crowd the narrow establishment.
Not far away, just under the tunnel at US 1, Jungle Bar owners Zack Enterline and Steve Whitney announced in Hotspots! Magazine to columnist “Mrs. Beasley” that they would be featuring a “Dog Day Thanksgiving,” a free Turkey Day buffet for gay men and their pets. At the time, I was a minority partner in the bar. It was just down the block from the long-running gay strip club, Stanley’s, featuring “hot and young dancers,” hosting that month the 7th annual Dixie Awards, a charity event run to honor popular local entertainers.
On Sunrise Boulevard, in what is now Mona’s, a more subdued establishment named the Phoenix would serve the gay community. On the same street, in what is now Slammer’s 321, a young entrepreneur named George Kessinger ran a popular bar named Georgie’s. He would eventually go on to operate some place in Wilton Manors we now call the Alibi. Meanwhile, a new bar named Saturn was just opening, featuring promotions by a Brad Buchman, a local HIV activist. His work was promoted by Brad Casey, writing for a small gay magazine called, “A Friendly Voice.”
Still, the mother of all gay bars, was on A1A at 17 South Atlantic Boulevard, the Marlin Beach Resort and Hotel, featuring “Mother” at its Sunday Brunch Buffett. Today, it’s the beach place, and you can say even now on a Sunday afternoon, it’s still where the boys are. Then, it was known for its underground swimming pool and lavish restaurant.
In 1991, however, the most popular bar in town had become the Copa, on Miami Road in Dania Beach, elegantly operated by lovers John Castelli and Bill Bastiansen. A phenomenal dance club, with a 4 am closing time, it was a gay entertainment Mecca on the weekends, whether it was hosting a ‘wet jockey short contest’ or an AIDS fundraiser.
Nevertheless, the Copa had been raided by Sheriff Nick Navarro earlier that year in May, accused of being a “drug den.” Hundreds of gay men and women were illegally detained and inexcusably humiliated, forced to vacate the bar to waiting TV cameras- and law enforcement officers with guns in their hands and masks on their head, issuing threatening directives to stunned patrons.
Meanwhile, a smaller dance club, the Lodge, was running successfully at the corner of Himmarshee Street and 2nd avenue, in the city’s historical district. Tucked away on the second floor, it competed with Backstreet on East Broward Boulevard, also in ownership of a late night liquor license. While the Lodge was short lived, it distinguished itself under other names as well, first as the glamorous Cabaret, hosting sit down dinners and featuring nightly performances by Electra. It also reopened as the District, and eventually Manhattan’s. Another popular gay supper club at the time was January’s, just west of I-95 on Davie Boulevard.
Under the Lodge on the first floor, years before, there was also a male strip club called ‘Johnny’s Village Inn’ owned by Johnny Moses. He would move it to its present location on West Broward Boulevard, selling it to Sean David.
On its ad pages, Hotspots heralded the opening of drag performer Cathy Craig at a gay themed hotel and bar, called Club Caribbean Resort on US 1. In one of its cottages, a year later, Brad Casey would start Scoop Magazine. Pompano Bill met him there, and the retiree began taking pictures of gay nightlife in South Florida. As the decade unfolded, Club Caribbean would go from owner to owner to foreclosure, crushed in part by a multi-million dollar lawsuit after a drunken young gay man dove from the second floor bar into the pool and cracked his skull open.
Meanwhile, another club, called 825, The Malebox proudly announced on Monday’s they would host a strip club contest called “Boys and Beer” and the “Men of X-Tacy.” The owner was a Boston entrepreneur, Joe McCallion, who ran into tax problems with the IRS. After shutting down, the bar was taken over by Paul Hugo, who turned it into a successful neighborhood locale. When he sold it to Ed Cosman though, the music died. FLPDS targeted it for multiple code violations. Hugo, however, found a new business partner, Brett Tannebaum, and the duo has squeaked by, eventually opening up The Coliseum on US 1 in Hollywood, and now, The Venue in Wilton Manors.
In 1991, down the block from the Malebox was Lefty’s, a neighborhood institution owned by Lefty, and his partner Kevin. A big bear of a man, Lefty was promoting a Thanksgiving feast that month as well, probably offering some of the boar he would catch on one of his New York hunting excursions. Lefty would sell the bar at 710 North Federal Highway, eventually reopening as the Haymarket. The FLPD took down the place for drugs and lewd act violations in 2001. On the south side of Federal, just beyond the 17th street causeway, attorney Arthur Smith ran a popular club called ‘The Bus Stop.’
Gay themed nightlife was starting to emerge in Wilton Manors. A new bar would open in the Manors in December of 1991 at 2004 Wilton Drive, between the Dairy Queen and Siam Restaurant. What is now Tropic’s was then ‘the Cape.’ One other bar on Wilton Drive catered to lesbians. Where the Village Pub now sits, it was called ‘The Otherside.’ It was relentlessly and repeatedly harassed by city officials for parking problems and code violations.
The Stud on Andrews Avenue boldly announced a ‘Master/Slave’ Auction for the Holidays ahead, to benefit Poverello, a food bank program for HIV patients. Down the block, a bar called ‘Rustlers’ attracted the country western crowd with square dancing. The Stud, though was so popular, it would move from Andrews to State Road 84, and reopen in a huge dance facility, which included an outdoor volleyball court and a host of showcase performers.
It would eventually be sold and reopen as The Saint. But when the Coliseum opened in 1999, just a few hundred yards from the Copa, the Saint lost its staying power. But with its outdoor volleyball court, foam parties, teen nights, and large dance floor, it will be remembered.
On Broward Boulevard, there was also Tacky’s, home of the Sunday Meat Market and an overflowing outdoor tea dance, with full liquor until 4 am. It met its demise later in the nineties after some attempted revivals, including an effort to make it into a lesbian venue. No matter where you partied or worked in the early 90’s it seemed everyone would wind up late night at Tony Barone’s ‘End Up’ in the Romark Building on West Broward Boulevard near 441.
Meanwhile, West Palm Beach became the first Florida city to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. They had a few bars of their own, notably Heartbreakers and Kozlow’s. Later Cupid’s would open up offering full nudity.
In Miami Beach, there was plenty of activity as well. Warsaw was gearing up for Boy George on New Year’s Eve. The Cactus and the Boardwalk was also still alive and well. The Boomerang, Stables and Southpaws, also graced the pages of David. Dana Manchester was hosting a cocktail party and fund raiser on Coral Way at a Jack Campbell bathhouse.
Life is a series of comings and goings. As we look back and reminisce, we can see where the road has taken us, maybe get an idea of where we are going. But for everything we do take with us, there is a fond memory left behind.