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"Most of us are middle-of-the-road gay people who have jobs and make a living and go to church on some Sundays," he continues. "There are certain bars that we go to and certain bars that we don't go to. Some people like leather, some people like dresses, and some people don't like anything. Georgie's is the kind of place where a straight person could walk in by accident and not be offended by anything they see."
Offensiveness, of course, is relative, as evidenced by the business card that finally comes. On one side, it carries the bar's particulars. On the other, it has a little survey, with space for a name, a number, and then columns of boxes, allowing the giver to rate his eyes, hair, teeth, chest, ass, legs, and package; describe himself as good-looking, well dressed, a bear, charming, funny, and top or bottom; and space for additional comments. You have to figure that if chicks went for this sort of thing, they'd be in every bar in the country.
On Thursday Long Island Iced Tea nights, three bucks gets you a huge Mason jar of blue goop that men drink through straws, siphoning the heavier alcohol off the bottom of the drink first. The place is packed. Cars spill across NE Seventh Avenue to spots in front of Pride Mortgage and the Italian American club, then along the side of Poverello. If there are 300 people in and outside the bar, 293 of them are men. There's no walking from front to back without scraping shoulders, backs, fronts. The T-shirts alone are a trip: "He's out of town" in white letters on a black shirt, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" against a map of Missouri. The shirts cut through the blaring dance music, as does a shouted pickup line.
Shorter guy to guy in sleeveless shirt near pool table: "Are you gay or straight?" The response is inaudible, though it's presumably the latter, because the short guy follows: "Are you a BJ man?"
The response again is inaudible; the shorter guy keeps walking. It may be a place you can bring -- or even hire -- your mother, but it still roils with the sexual energy of men. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
"You can be a man and just be gay," says a medical administrator named Patrick, who's buying a third or fourth round of Miller Lite on the patio one afternoon. "I think part of the whole Georgie's issue is you're going to find a lot of guys here who are just regular guys, who just happen to prefer men. You can still be a man and be gay. I was Air Force; I was military police. Nobody ever knew the difference until I announced that I'm never going to get married, I'm never going to have kids, I like to sleep with other men. Doesn't mean I go home and sew curtains.
"The only thing that should distinguish a straight bar from a gay bar," he continues, "is the clientele." This is an important point for him, because when he first moved to Fort Lauderdale about 12 years ago, he says, gay bars were almost strictly pickup joints, and seamy at that, a contrast to much of Wilton Manors today.
Then again, there are plenty of bars that wouldn't abide a guy under a tent in the parking lot hawking cell phone accessories and adult DVDs for $4 a shot. But Georgie's has always been different. "This bar," says a stout, black-haired fellow named Raymond Rock, "put Wilton Manors on the map." Rock, a former Georgie's bartender, is getting nicely schnockered on a summer Wednesday, prompting him to, at one point, demonstrate on a couple of patrons a deft if overeager face-massaging technique. Rock used to work for some Prudential outfit in New York for about eight years, designing computer systems and making hella dough, but calls his hire at Georgie's "the job I was most proud of in my life." Something about community, family, that sort of thing, but everything gets hazy once the second beer comes and Rock goes to work kneading shoulders.
He offers his heartfelt revelation at the sports bar where jokes about penis size and masturbating in the shower had sent the assembled midday drinkers into gales of laughter minutes earlier. "Welcome to the Alibi, where all your dreams will come true," bartender Jason Basilico says. "Sort of. It's an endless sea of opportunity. What those opportunities are, is questionable." His rubber Jack Daniels bar mat that used to say "America's Cocktail" has been stripped of its final syllable, by the way. Someone down the bar makes another dick joke, scarcely audible over the laughter. Seriously, your mom would love it.