I’m sitting in a daggy looking restaurant called Chardee’s, situated in a very ordinary looking section of town. The restaurant serves meaty delights with three veg, and I’m transported to the RSL days of my youth, where the only saving grace was the umbrella in my pink lemonade.

I’m feeling very young and glam. The average diner is well past retirement age, but the place is pumping nevertheless. The huge circular bar is packed five deep, the live band is playing a Second World War tune, and everyone is either dancing arm in arm or chowing down on dead cow.

It’s fantastic! All the men here are having the time of their lives, the place is soooo buzzy; I’ve had 10 interesting conversations within 15 minutes of arriving and it’s only 9pm on a Friday night.

An absolutely gorgeous boy has just arrived with his boyfriend and the boyf’s Zimmer frame. Suddenly I’m no longer the hottest property here. I suspect a commercial transaction is taking place between the beautiful one and gramps, and one of my new friends jealously refers to this relationship as sponsorship.

Fort Lauderdale boasts the second largest resident gay population in the US after San Francisco, but it’s not just for those enjoying their twilight years. I found the locals of all ages very friendly and the melting pot that is South Florida means there are hotties of all types all over the place.

Other highlights of my fast, furious and alcohol-lubricated visit certainly revolved around food -“ what the locals call Floribbean cuisine. Must savours include the risotto at Mark’s on fashionable Las Olas Boulevard, chocolate Coca-Cola cake at Hi-Life Caf?r the smoked ribs and sweet potato pie at Tom Jenkins. All have to be washed down with an Absolutely Lauderdale, a pink vodka concoction sans umbrella. For a local experience, try lunch at Ernie’s BBQ, on Federal Highway, a bar and diner straight off a movie set with sassy waitresses and southern cooking. And if it’s a full-on camp eat you’re after, then Hamburger Mary’s on Wilton Drive is it.

A unique clubbing experience is Friday’s Latin night at the Sea Monster, a grungy venue playing great Latin beats (no Ricky M, thank god!) full of friendly poofs and dykes having a great time. My most vivid memory here is of a huge Latina dyke who had to be one of the best dancers never to grace a stage -“ South Americans sure know how to shake booty. Sunday’s T-Dance is popular with the shirtless muscle crowd. Other venues include Alibi and Boom, typical video bars across the road from Chardee’s and the huge and friendly Copa. There’s one exclusive women’s bar in town -“ Kicks.

Fort Lauderdale is best known for the beautiful strip of pristine sand gracing its shore. The gay beach is at the end of Sebastian Street and it attracts a mixed crowd ranging from the sublime to the not-so-sublime.
Another Fort Lauderdale institution is the Club Body Centre. No ordinary sauna, it features a huge pool, Roman-inspired outdoor courtyard with private cabanas and a very impressive gym. Locals affectionately refer to it as the Country Club.

Quite a few gay guesthouses are within easy walking distance of the beach and all are clothing-optional. I stayed at the Royal Palms, an upmarket pink palace sporting the requisite pool and Jacuzzi. Other classy beach options include The Flamingo and the Villa Venice. If you’re travelling on a budget, try the Orton Terrace, a friendly guesthouse featuring unique d?r. Further afield, but still an easy hike to the beach, the very comfortable Coral Reef Guesthouse is operated by the reigning Mr Club Body Centre, Frank, and his partner Jeff.

Mainstream activities in Fort Lauderdale include shopping along Las Olas, this town’s answer to Rodeo Drive. It’s also worth braving the world’s largest outlet mall, Sawgrass, featuring 500 designer stores. Kill a few hours at the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, an interesting slice of Florida history, and enjoy a drink at Pier 66 Bar, on top of the Hyatt Hotel. The view makes it clear why Fort Lauderdale is called the Venice of America.

The Intra-Coastal Waterway starts here and lolls its way 1,800 miles to Maine. It’s estimated that almost 80 percent of the world’s pleasure craft come through Fort Lauderdale every year and most of the city’s wealthy live on artificial canals with the requisite floating mansion out front. Hey, this is Florida. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

A cruising tour of millionaire’s row on the Jungle Queen, a restored paddle steamer, is a good way to confirm how money can’t buy taste. Bridges are everywhere in Fort Lauderdale and they are built to open for boats, which they do frequently. Far be it for that $8 million cruiser registered in the Cayman Islands to wait for all us poor land lubbers.

INFO Gay America Guide: www.gayamericaguide.com Fort Lauderdale Tourism: www.sunny.org The Royal Palms Guesthouse: www.royalpalms.com Orton Terrace: www.ortonterrace.com Coral Reef Guesthouse:www.coralreefguesthouse.com The Flamingo: www.theflamingoresort.com Villa Venice: www.villavenice.com Club Body Centre: www.the-clubs.com

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