Diversity has always been the middle name of East Las Olas Boulevard.
For decades, this marvelous neighborhood was the epicenter of gay life in greater Fort Lauderdale. The LGBT community has always found a warm and inviting welcome on Las Olas.
An array of elegant restaurants and world class shopping venues, many are still owned and operated by gay and lesbian entrepreneurs. In fact, as a result of their initiatives, this week SFGN is privileged to publish a special insert for the Las Olas Association.
Las Olas was once the home of the most popular gay bar in greater Fort Lauderdale. For over two decades, the Cathode Ray was the central meeting place for all gay locals and tourists.
A narrow bar with an outdoor patio originally owned by Wayne Gibson and then John Manzi, the Cathode became so popular, it had to move to a larger venue. It is now the Italian eatery known as the Tuscan Grill. But few gay men who have been here for decades will ever forget Sunday nights outdoors on the canal.
Purchased by the late philanthropist Richard Fasenmeyer, the nightclub expanded to include Bar Amici, a large corner restaurant that now houses 'Fork and Balls.' Under Fasenmeyer's stewardship, Bar Amici and Cathode grew to prominence as 'the place to be,' from monthly luncheons for Gamma Mu to daily and weekly business meetings for LGBT groups and associations.
After Fasenmeyer passed away, Larry Wald continued the tradition of hosting community groups and sponsoring neighborhood functions. However, few men had the deep pockets of Fasenmeyer, a wealthy Republican who had been one of President George Bush's top 200 donors. Extravagance was his style and expense not an obstacle.
A decade after his death, Fasenmeyer's legacy is a foundation that today still funds HIV causes and the Cleveland Clinic. But the private parties on his yacht and the bar are just memories. No gay venue on East Las Olas has emerged to replace it.
Nevertheless, so close to the gay-driven Victoria Park neighborhood, East Las Olas Boulevard remains a gathering place regularly patronized by the LGBT community, from breakfasts at the Floridian Restaurant, to dinners and parties at the Riverside Hotel. It makes sense. Las Olas hosts fine dining and safe streets, outdoor patios and indoor boutiques, chocolate shops and modern clothing stores. A wealth of contemporary art galleries, such as the Bellagio, cements the walk. The merchants make it their mission to keep the pulse vibrating with energy.
For me, Las Olas has always been very special. It's where, in 1979, I opened my very first law office, at 1700 East Las Olas. It's where, in 1999, inside the Floridian Restaurant, at 1400 ELO, I hosted the 'Norm Kent Show,’ on WFTL, 1400 AM radio. It's where, in 2009, I owned and operated for 2 years, 'Norm's Newsstand.'
Las Olas has been the home of art shows and holiday festivals, AIDS walks and St. Patrick's Day parades. Its rich history has showcased bookstores and realtors, selling million dollar yachts and multi-million dollar waterfront estates. Fashion designer Zola Keller's bridal gowns have become an institution, and now gay women can shop there, too! You can even now marry your partner at the historic Stranahan House Museum.
The next major event on Las Olas will be their annual Wine and Food Festival, this year on May 1. Over 50 tables of wines from around the world, along with scores of restaurants offering signature plates will go to benefit the American Lung Association. Breathe it in. The air is clean, the atmosphere festive, and like the rest of Las Olas, you are more than likely to find it inviting and welcome.
See you there.