Having a Gay Old Time
This week, join me as I take a trip into the most classic gay bars in Wilton Manors. These are two tried-and-true exemplary specimens of everything a gay club should epitomize. After my laborious journeys from down-and-dirty dives to spasmodic dance clubs, I felt it fair to indulge in a little Wilton Manors magic.
Georgie's Alibi: The bouncer, a polite, muscular man with a spider tattoo on his forearm, apologized for having to chase down me and my furry-faced companion — I call him Beard — in order to check our IDs. "Usually his beard gets us in anywhere," I lamented to the bouncer.
"I tried that too," he said, inspecting our driver's licenses. "When I was 14. Those were the days! Once I was legal, drinking just wasn't as much fun."
Once we cleared security, we pushed through the mass of human bodies — this (in)famous gay bar packs a wall-to-wall crowd — and made our way out to the patio. We luckily snagged the best seat in the house — an elevated gliding table — and proceeded to order bourbon while watching Beyoncé's "Why Don't You Love Me" music video on multiple TV screens. Rainbow-hued windsocks flapped in the breeze.
After a few minutes, though, I got bored and left Beard to order a burger (voted the best in Fort Lauderdale) from our toned, dark-haired waiter, who had an inclination to roll his r's.
Once you get over the major attack on personal space (I elbowed my way through the throngs into an unoccupied corner), the place is pretty cool. The TVs blast out music vids of all your favorite pop hits; strings of Christmas lights, fringed streamers, and framed posters of all Georgie's drink specials (one for every day: Saturday and Sunday mimosas, Monday margaritas, etc.) decorate the walls of this low-ceilinged gay oasis. I pushed my way to the sprawling bar, with its layers of glasses hanging overhead and shelf upon shelf of booze.
"You guys are busy!" I commented to Eric, a clean-shaven, muscular bartender.
"Well, I don't mean to toot our own horn, but we're like this every day of the week," he said, whirling back and forth, popping bottles and pouring shots. "We've been here 14 years, and we started the trends."
I scanned the crowd. It had it all: dark-haired lesbians sipping wine, muscular boys in ball caps, old guys cuddling in a booth over beer. Eric told me to scope the other side of the bar, so I navigated through the expansive establishment, trying to keep my hands up so as to not brush anyone's unmentionables.
I ended up pausing in front of a couple drinking back near the bathrooms. Nick was grizzled and immediately didn't trust me. Dino was boyish, with cropped hair and a hesitant smile.
"Having fun?" I asked them. "What do y'all think of the bar?"
They must have had superhigh standards, because they deemed it "OK," and Dino complained that "there's too many ugly people here tonight."
"Um... sorry," I said. "I can leave?"
"No, not you," Dino said, waving his hand to indicate dismissal of the entire population as a whole.
"Oh, and a warning," said Nick. "Don't use the restroom here. Guys use the ladies' room."
"Please," I laughed. "I'm not exactly a gay-bar virgin."
Personally, I thought the looks quotient in the room was decent until I saw Carine. Dark-haired, doe-eyed, and clad in a short skirt, she alone skyrocketed it to a solid above-average.
"I'm 23," Carine told me. "I've lived in Fort Lauderdale for 15 years. This is my first time in Wilton Manors."
"Wow," I said, and glanced at her long-haired guy friend, Frankie. "Your doing?"
"Oh yeah," he said. "We're starting at Georgie's. Then we're going to Rosie's. We'll end up at a strip club."
"Wilton Manors is beautiful," she said, fingering her wine glass. "I feel like I'm on vacation! And this bar is so much fun! Everyone is so welcoming."
Yes, you're a hot chick; of course they're welcoming. I told Frankie to take care of Carine (I punctuated it with a quasithreatening look) and darted back outside into the night. Next stop: Another Wilton Manors hot spot.
Bill's Filling Station: I love this bar. We passed through the narrow entrance with the "fasten seat belts" sign at the front and into the realm of the bald-headed, beer-gutted, fuzzy-faced elite. The first thing I made out as my eyes adjusted to the cave-like interior? An old gent wearing a T-shirt with "Provincetown Bears" printed on the back.
Bill's has your tinsel streamers, posters of half-naked bearded studs, flashing lights, and disco balls. The wooden dance floor, however, was mostly unoccupied — save for one mustached man wearing a white polo and ankle bracelet who was thrusting his hips in little circles. Other patrons watched from tables and the foot of the stage. Lady Gaga videos flashed on the big-screen TV, and her music boomed continuously. In a flash, I was down a few steps and pushing my way up to the joint's smaller bar, the space of which was adorned with a variety of license plates from our 50 great states. I was momentarily distracted by two heavily made-up drag queens wearing veils and carrying buckets of beer, but you know me; I don't let a pretty face stop a booze mission. But evidently my friend Beard does. To my left, he had been waylaid: A young man in a tie had swept him up in a bear hug (pun only slightly intended).
"Thank you for being here," the tie-clad dude said warmly. "You're exactly my type."
At the bar, I coincidentally ran into Mark and Jackson, two good-looking amiable guys who greeted everyone with a friendly peck on the cheek. Oh, they're also the owners of Bill's Filling Station.
"Tell me about this place," I said.
"We have the best burger," said Mark.
"Oh, no, I just had that at Georgie's," argued Beard, after disentangling himself from the tie.
"Georgie's is officially the best, but we're better," said Mark. "We're just a well-kept secret."
"We also do a lot of charity — for Kids in Distress, fundraisers, that sort of thing," Jackson said. I was going to ask another question, but I was distracted by Lady Gaga's music-video antics.
"You know, we helped Lady Gaga get to number one," Mark said. "Back in 2007, a woman named Stefani came in with her dancers and asked to use our stage. We were like, 'Yeah, sure.' No one knew her, but when she started performing, everyone stopped what they were doing and stared.
"Later, I was flipping through channels and saw Stefani — Lady Gaga — on TV. I immediately yelled for Jackson. 'Get in here — I think that's the woman who played at our club!' "
"After that, she autographed a photo and wrote 'Thanks for getting me to #1!' " Jackson finished.
Lady Gaga now seems a hundred times cooler to me for having played at Bill's.
On my way back across the dance floor and up to the first-tier bar, I ran into Pete, who was thin with a well-trimmed beard and shiny T-shirt. He was also super-super sweet and just one more reason why Bill's is great: It may be a bear bar, and yeah, I was the only girl there in a packed room of hairy men — but some days, that's the only place I wanna be. No pressure, no games, no judgment, just me and a bunch of gay dudes — and not the bitchy kind: the butch kind.
Pete opined on his feelings for Bill's: "This is a man's bar, but it's laid-back. A good place to unwind; there's no pressure to hook up."
Then he let me touch his beard. Did I mention I love this bar?
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