By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
Patrons' memories of the bar, while sometimes hazy, tend to be highly favorable. An ex-firefighter named Terry tells of his encounter at the Alibi with a real-estate agent who eventually talked the New Yorker into buying a home in Wilton Manors. Ralph, the wisecracking patron with the "Make Me Late for Work" shirt, tells of an episode when Cyndi Lauper and Cher toured together, in 1999, when a friend in the area brought them to the bar. No one seemed to recognize the pair, leading Ralph to the conclusion that the men inside might simply have thought they were drag queens dressed as Cyndi Lauper and Cher. Also that year, the bar held a New Year's countdown, complete with balloons falling from the ceiling, at the end of every month; some balloons contained raffle tickets, and after the December 31 balloon drop, they raffled off a new Mercury Cougar sedan. More recently, the bar threw a party for Martha Stewart's release from prison, with a raffle of some of Stewart's signature line of home products from Kmart.
Meanwhile, on the civic front, the Alibi supported the city's parks initiatives, the annual Easter egg hunt, Halloween costume contests, and the Police Benevolent Association. In 2002, Georgie's held a library fundraiser that sold pink plastic flamingos painted by artists such as Romero Britto. Library workers enjoyed not only the financial assistance but the fact that the bar served cheap drinks throughout the auction.
Last October, Georgie's hosted a get-out-the-vote rally and was a staging ground to bus people to the polls; on one Saturday afternoon, the place felt like a political rally. Poverello awarded its 2005 Seraphic Award to Kessinger for his years of contributions to the center -- including gratis Christmas parties for volunteers. And in this way, as can happen in a small town, the business of a bar became the business of the whole town. Come for the Long Island Iced Teas, stay for the well-supported public services and sense of belonging.
"I was joking with him months back," says Jim Kiser, a social acquaintance of Kessinger's, "and I said, 'Georgie, you should be the mayor of Wilton Manors.' He said, 'Oh, no, not me. I'm too busy for that stuff.'
"It's hard to give him a compliment because he has humility, a rare quality," continues Kiser, who after 18 years working in the county's criminal justice system prides himself on knowing where the dirt is. "But he would be an excellent mayor. He has great judgment, and God, he knows the community. He knows everybody there."
The day might not be far off when Georgie's Alibi franchises begin popping up around the country in gay-friendly enclaves. The Wilton Manors bar, with 13 years remaining on its lease, has no plans to go anywhere. "Believe it or not, I think we've educated a lot of people, that we're not the monsters or the crazy people they think we are," Kessinger says.
"I would not want to see this be an all-gay city. To have the diversity of everybody getting along -- it's almost like we're creating something that everybody wishes for. And I think it's happening here."
The damnedest thing, says Rick Wierzbicki, the retiring chief of police, is the little cards they use at Georgie's. "It's pretty cool, how you rate people," he says. "I'll get you one."
Wierzbicki, who leaves office in September, is dressed in a gray T-shirt and snug corduroy shorts as he takes lunch at one of the tables on the patio. He says he makes a point of dining here at least once a week, one indication of why the Police Department has a generally positive relationship with the gay residents of Wilton Manors. The cops not only screen applicants with psychological tests that attempt to predict interaction with people different from them, but they train on addressing things like same-sex couples' domestic spats.
"The city now has a diverse identity," Wierzbicki says. "You say 'Wilton Manors,' people say, 'That's where the Alibi is. '" His most vivid memory of the bar? It was the first place where a man addressed him as "honey."
As far as the police presence at Georgie's, it's rarely needed. Kessinger says the bar spends $20,000 a year on its own security. When officers do show up, usually the most they have to deal with is being playfully cruised.
Wierzbicki explains too that there is a break in decorum during the Stonewall Street Festival and Parade, which is held on a Sunday in late June to commemorate a violent resistance by gay men upset with a police raid on a New York City gay bar. It's hotter than hell. When Wierzbicki granted the officers permission to wear shorts, he says, the gathered revelers were delighted.
"The gay community should thank their lucky stars for the Broward County area, that we're able to live down here pretty much without the abuses you would take if you lived in Mississippi or Iowa or Nebraska," says Thomas Smith, the Poverello financial officer, who's originally from Minnesota's Twin Cities. "We're so damned lucky in this part of the country to have as many choices as we do.