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Few LGBT people will forget the events of a year ago, on 12th June 2016 when an armed gunman carried out the worst mass shooting in recent US history, at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando. 49 people lost their lives and a further 53 others were wounded in a late night hate crime terrorist attack. The site is to become a permanent memorial and museum to commemorate both the survivors and lives lost, funded by the onePULSE foundation, a non-profit organisation set up by the owner of the club. OutUK has a special Memorial Feature on the Pulse Nightclub with recent photos from the site and an update on the many activities which continue to support those involved.

Orlando has always prided itself on its tolerance and diversity, and people are proudly rebuilding all that was threatened by the atrocity of last year. Orlando has much to be proud of - a thriving gay scene, gay days at Disney World, and one of the best Pride Events in America.

This city of 170,000 is artsy and intellectual compared with most of beach-loving Florida. Cinemas show foreign and independent films, cafes and clubs sponsor everything from raves to poetry readings, several theatres present experimental and fringe productions, and arts newspapers and 'zines provide the lowdown on all these events.
Orlando's Charles Hosmer Morse Museum
Photo - VisitOrlando.com
If you're visiting the many theme parks in the area, try to set aside at least a full day to explore this charming city with its vibrant gay scene. If you're simply seeking an economical Florida holiday - or a quiet base that's still close to but not engulfed by Disney World - then eitherway, Orlando fits the bill perfectly.

It's actually hard to imagine a place less like feverishly commercial Walt Disney World than the city of Orlando, an amiable and low-keyed metropolis of both new and historic residential enclaves surrounding one of Florida's few walkable downtown centres. The gay scene thrives from November to April and then again during the Disney Gay Days celebrations in early June, but with more gay men and lesbians settling in Orlando and making it their home, things are starting to stay lively all year-round.

GAY ORLANDO


Tonight Show presenter Jimmy Fallon
at Universal Studios. Photo - VisitOrlando.com
Lake-dotted Orlando sprawls in every direction. The city is centred where Interstate 4 crosses the East-West Expressway, several miles north of the Orlando International Airport and west of the Orlando Sanford airport used by many charter airlines.
Universal Studios and its nearby mega-attractions can be found about 10 miles south of downtown area of Orlando with Walt Disney World about 20 miles away in a similar direction. Gay businesses exist throughout much of the city, but many are east and northeast of downtown, in Thornton Park and along Mills Avenue. Downtown itself is a neat and attractive neighbourhood anchored by Church Street Station. This historic depot and surrounding buildings house a retail and entertainment center recently renovated to include a stop for SunRail, the commuter rail service of the Greater Orlando area. Walk two blocks east across busy Orange Avenue to reach some funkier blocks with a random mix of grunge clothiers, coffeehouses, and night spots.

DOWNTOWN

There's a handful of gay-friendly downtown Orlando eateries where you'll have a chance to spend a little or a lot of money. Ceviche is one of the best Spanish restaurants in town. Enjoy a great Flamenco show while drinking a delicious glass of Sangria, surrounded by friendly staff and a great Tapas bar. As the Name of the restaurants suggests, you can not leave, without trying their Ceviche - you will want to order more than one!

Soco's name is inspired by the cuisine that they serve - Southern Contemporary. It's won many awards including best outdoor, bistro, brunch and the list goes on and on. In complete contrast if you want something to do on a Tuesday, when none of the clubs in town are hopping, then go to Hamburger Mary's Bar & Grille for drag bingo. Tuesday Bingo with Miss Sammy and Carol Lee. They suggest you make reservations since this is a popular event.

BARS AND NIGHTS OUT

The popular gay Bar Codes hosts a number of themed evenings including Leather Nights, Spin for a Win and free karaoke. The venue has a patio, pool table, good music and bartenders who are always friendly.
Hank's Bar on Edgewater Drive is a no-frills neighborhood gay bar with a straightforward drink menu, pool tables and a landscaped patio. They provide a comfortable atmosphere in which they welcome everyone and host pool competitions and bear nights. They have been operating for more than 30 years billing themselves as The Best Little Bar with The Worst Reputation!
Plenty of places to relax and chill in Orlando
Photo - Ben Van Hook / VisitOrlando.com
Savoy Bar is a fun bar in North Orange Avenue, which hold Mega T-Dances, Happy Hours and virtual boys that perform a striptease on their website - sadly not in the venue! They have a outdoor terrace and regularly hold special events and promotions. Stonewall Orlando recreates the pride of the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The Main Room features a bar, video screens, and a dance floor with DJ's. Their patio bar provides a lush tropical themed seating area and a covered gazebo with pool table. Upstairs their second floor open air Sky Bar overlooks the downtown Orlando skyline.

If you want something way more wet Club Orlando is open 24 hours and is part of THE CLUB chain of saunas. Membership gives access to other clubs that they run. There's a fully equipped gym with certified trainer Mon-Fri 11-19h. They provide showers, free condoms and all weather outdoor terrace, dry sauna, steam bath, video shows, hot tub and work-out area.

EOLA HEIGHTS

Historic Eola Heights begins a few blocks east of downtown. Stroll around the grassy oak-shaded perimeter of rippling Lake Eola, and you'll likely see gay guys jogging, strolling, and hanging out. Nearby streets are lined with some of Orlando's earliest homes, but the neighbourhood fell on hard times during the second half of the 20th century. Among the first people to move in and clean it up were gays and lesbians, who later continued east into the Thornton Park neighbourhood, known for its fine old wood-frame houses.

A few cafes and urbane boutiques, all of them gay-frequented, have enlivened Washington Street, Thornton Park's main drag. Sassy and stylish, Dexter's is a restaurant, market, and wine shop that serves commendable, mostly Mediterranean inspired fare, such as eggplant Napoleon or spicy shrimp Provencal. They have a second restaurant in Winter Park that is also worth a visit. A short drive east, Southern Nights is one of central Florida's most popular gay and lesbian clubs - varied theme nights keep the place interesting. The club has a young vibe & focuses on LGBT parties with happy hours, dancing & Best Bod contests.

WHERE TO STAY


Eo Inn Orlando
Photo - Eo Inn
Easily one of the most attractive and well-run gay friendly and chic places to stay is the Eo Inn a wonderful boutique property whose rooms have sleek furnishings, including black-wooden armoires and fine linens. Accommodations are fairly small, as are some of the bathrooms - about the only evidence of the building's previous incarnation as a YMCA.

It really is their attention to detail and some imaginative decorating that makes the Eo very comfortable. A slick full-service spa is also available with a rooftop jacuzzi. The Inn is in a prime Orlando location just steps from Lake Eola.

Mills Avenue runs north above Colonial Drive; it's lined with gay bars and businesses, including White Wolf a worldly yet understated bric-a-brac emporium that also has a cafe serving terrific international fare, from mango-nut-tabbouleh sandwiches to shiitake mushroom lasagna. After so enchanting a meal, you might decide to purchase some of the funky furnishings here or at one of the several antiques shops along the same street.

Another nearby favorite, Little Saigon serves stellar Vietnamese fare. The traditional soup of noodles, rice, vegetables, and chicken or seafood is always a winner.

ARTS & CULTURE

To the north Mills cuts through a dense concentration of lakes anchored by grassy Loch Haven Park, which contains modest but engaging history, art, and science museums. The star of the neighbourhood is the 56-acre Harry Leu Botanical Gardens, a tranquil spot for a stroll. The exclusive town of Winter Park lies north of Loch Haven Park. Its downtown evokes the grace of Savannah and the glamour of Beverly Hills, albeit on a tiny scale. Chain clothiers, smart boutiques, and tiny restaurants line both sides of Park Avenue, interrupted only by lush Central Park which is bisected by the Amtrak station where you could go by train to either New York or Miami.

Tiffany Chapel, Charles Hosmer Morse Museum
Photo - VisitOrlando.com
The Winter Park area's leading attraction is the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art which maintains the largest and most comprehensive collection of the stained-glass works of Louis Comfort Tiffany found anywhere in the USA. There's a major collection of American art pottery, and fine collections of late-19th- and early-20th-century American paintings, graphics and the decorative arts.

For dining, the Winter Park branch of Hillstone Restaurant is notable not just for fine steaks, seafood and pasta alongside specialty cocktails but for its location on Lake Kilarney and its Prairie School-inspired architecture.

OTHER OPTIONS

Off the beaten path in northwestern Orlando, Faces is a convivial lesbian bar that's been going strong since the mid-1970s. It's not terribly far from one of the better hotel values in the city, the Quality Inn and Suites, which has medium-size rooms with functional but pleasant furnishings.

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

This leads us to arguably Florida's most famous - or perhaps notorious - gay entertainment complex, Parliament House. The considerable legend surrounding this resort with several gay bars rivals that of Shangri-la - countless revellers have returned from their holidays in Orlando telling tall tales of debauchery and partying at Parliament House.
First and foremost, it's a lodging option, perfect if you're okay with horny guys roaming outside your door at all hours. It has lots of mixed reviews as somewhere to stay, some parts are run down and smell bad from other people's smoking. You need to be careful in the area, it's certainly not the safest part of Orlando.
Orlando's Parliament House. Photo - OutUK
A central building houses the Rainbow Cafe restaurant which serves three meals daily. But what really draws people in are the six gay bars and nightclubs, which include a warehouse-style disco, a cushy video bar, the festive Footlight Theater Piano Bar with its traditional drag, a pool hall, a swimming-pool bar, and cruisy country western-style bar. Although the crowd tends to be male, plenty of women hang out at the bars and restaurant.

Andrew Collins authored the recently updated and expanded Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA and six regional gay guides for Fodor's.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Bar Codes (4453 Edgewater Dr., 407-532-3627, Website).
Ceviche Tapas (Church Street Station, 125 W Church St., 321-281-8140, Website).
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (445 Park Ave., 407-645-5311).
Club Orlando Sauna (450 East Compton St., 407-425-5005, Website).
Dexter's of Thornton Park (808 E. Washington St., 407-648-2777).
Dexter's (558 W. New England Ave., Winter Park, 407-629-1150).
Eo Inn (227 N. Eola Dr., 407-481-8485 or 888-481-8488, Website).
Faces (4910 Edgewater Dr., 407-291-7571).
Hamburger Mary's Bar & Grille (110 West Church St, Unit H, 321-319-0600, Website).
Hank's Bar (5026 Edgewater Dr., 407-291-2399, Website).
Henry Leu Botanical Gardens (1920 N. Forest Ave., 407-246-2620).
Hillstone Restaurant (215 S. Orlando Ave., 407-740-4005).
Little Saigon (1106 E. Colonial Dr., 407-423-8539).
Quality Inn and Suites (626 Lee Rd., 407-645-5600, Website).
Parliament House (410 N. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-425-7571, Website).
Savoy Bar (1913 North Orange Ave., 407-898-6766, Website).
Soco Restaurant (629 E Central Blvd., 407-849-1800, Website).
Southern Nights (375 S. Bumby Rd., 407-898-0424).
Stonewall (741 W Church St., 407-373-0888, Website).
The LGBT Center of Central Florida (946 N Mills Ave., 407-228-8272, Website).
Universal Orlando Resort (6000 Universal Blvd, 407-363-8000, Website).
Visit Orlando (407-363-5872 or 800-972-3304, Website).
Walt Disney World (Walt Disney World Resort, 407-939-5277, Website).
White Wolf (1829 N. Orange Ave., 407-895-9911).

Orlando's Gay Days Celebrations

Pulse Nightclub Memorial

Online Hotel Booking

Revised May 2017.

 

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