Where the Boys Are

To hear the locals tell it, 10 p.m. on Fridays at Georgie's Alibi is between shifts. The early birds -- the after-work crowd -- are in bed, either alone or not. The night owls are arriving in dribs and drabs and Hondas. The transition period sees a little of everything in the sprawling bar: guys playing pool, guys standing near a wall of sports plaques holding hands, guys cheek-kissing each other hello, guys standing alone scanning the room, guys in tank tops, guys with disciplined haircuts, and one guy standing in the middle of the bar's main room beneath the TVs that are playing one of Gwen Stefani's latest, displaying a belt buckle the size of a Hershey bar with a scrolling digital display that reads, in red lights, LEO LOVES DICK, surely answering in literal terms that old conversation starter, "What's your sign?"

Boys who are into boys are into this place, and they are having a fine time indeed.

A bartender hands a drink to a bespectacled, goateed man named Charlie, who notes that it's plenty big.

"Oh," the brick-jawed bartender responds, "it's never as big as you want it." Then the bartender gathers some cardboard boxes and ducks under the end of the bar to go trash them. As he does, he holds one box in front of him.

"You notice how they always lead with the box?" asks a ruddy-faced patron named Ralph, who isn't so openly gay that he'll provide his last name. "That's so you don't stick your dick in their mouth."

A little later in the main room, a middle-aged man notices Ralph's T-shirt, which reads, "Make me late for work."

"How late do you need to be?" comes the question.

"I've got 72 hours till Monday" is the reply.

From near the men's room, where a large portrait of Seinfeld's Kramer hangs on a bruise-colored wall, a wadded-up napkin flies over the shoulder of its intended target and against the chest of your correspondent, one of the few straight guys on the premises.

"I'm so sorry," says the napkin-thrower, who introduces himself as Andre. Then he notices the chest he hit. "Oh, he's got a hairy one." Andre reaches over and lifts the front of the Calvin Klein button-down covering said chest. A likewise hairy belly pokes out. "Oooh!" he says, and lifts his own white T-shirt to reveal a pelt of dark curls. Then, unbidden, he gropes the left side of the hairy spot that he hit with the napkin.

"You ever notice," says an onlooker named Joel, watching this scene, "how friendly gay guys are?"

This township, Wilton Manors, is by any measure one of the most gay-friendly towns in the country. It's one of only three American cities with a majority openly gay city council (West Hollywood, California, and Mount Rainier, Maryland, are the others). The best running estimate is that perhaps 35 to 40 percent of Wilton Manors' 12,500 or so residents are gay; the 2000 U.S. Census found that the Manors had the nation's third-highest proportion of same-sex households after Provincetown and Guerneville in California's Sonoma Valley.

At the epicenter of what has been a remarkable and swift demographic and economic transformation have been several people and many outside forces. But some amount of credit has to go to this so-called video bar on Wilton Drive in a very large strip mall. Since it opened in early 1997, Georgie's Alibi has not only shaped the Island City into a town amenable to a concentrated gay and lesbian population but it's also goosed the economy.

At first glance, this bar doesn't seem particularly unique. A collection of softball and pool trophies makes it feel like a frat-house rumpus room. The skill crane machine is jammed with the usual stuffed-animal trinkets, the beer is cheap, and the service attentive. Says waitress Lois Kessinger, who is 77 years old and a delight in conversation: "It is a fabulous bar, the best bar in town. It's very clean, and we don't allow no naughtiness." Indeed, you won't see much worse in the Alibi than you would on the field during an average high school football game.

Lois' son, George Kessinger Jr., owns the bar, along with Terry Norman and Adam Burnett. The trio's formula has worked well. According to Kessinger, a second location, in St. Petersburg, celebrates its fifth anniversary this week; a third one will open in Palm Springs, California, by October. The Wilton Manors bar is the seventh-largest purchaser of liquor in the State of Florida. Whether this ride continues, of course, depends upon whether the city and the bar fall victim to their own hasty success.

The gay village in Wilton Manors certainly predates Georgie's Alibi. In 1988, residents installed as city commissioner Broward County's first openly gay elected official, John Fiore, who today is heavyset and affable and works for the county's marine advisory committee. Fiore and his fair-skinned and bespectacled partner, Michael Pierce, indulged recently in a happy-hour drink of water on the fan-cooled Georgie's Alibi patio.

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Sam Eifling
Contact: Sam Eifling