The queer scene thrives from
November to April and then again during the Disney Gay Day celebrations
in early June, but with more gay men and lesbians settling here
permanently, things are starting to stay lively year-round.
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. Gay businesses exist throughout the
city, but many are east and northeast of downtown, in Thornton Park and along
Mills Avenue. Disney and its nearby mega-attractions lie 10 to 15 miles south
of downtown, a neat and attractive neighbourhood anchored by Church Street
Station. This restored rail depot filled with amusements, souvenir
shops, and a dinner theatre is the only certifiable tourist attraction - but it's
a little tacky. Walk two blocks east across busy Orange Avenue to
reach some funkier blocks with a random mix of grunge clothiers, coffeehouses, and
One of only a handful of downtown Orlando eateries where you'll have a
chance to spend a little money, Le Provence is a wonderful French restaurant
with a smart but casual ambience - it's great for a romantic dinner. The
adjacent bar Boom is a lovely little slice of sophisticated socializing. The
place is packed at happy hour and stays lively well into many evenings; very
good bar fare is served. At Club Quest there's dancing most nights and strippers, drag
shows, and other events much of the time. It's 18-and-over, thus
drawing a fairly youthful crowd. After the usual bars close, diehard revelers
party into the wee hours at Heaven, a raucous after-hours club.
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 queer folks 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
A few cafes and urbane boutiques, all of them gay-frequented, have
enlivened Washington Street, Thornton Park's main drag. Redolent with the smell
of garlic and oregano, La Fontenella serves top-notch pizzas, calzones,
and pastas. Try to get a seat on the plant-bedecked covered terrace with
its gurgling fountains. 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. 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.
WHERE TO STAY
Easily one of the most attractive and well-run queer-friendly (but
mainstream) inns in Florida, Thornton Park's Veranda is a small
compound of historic buildings containing rooms of various sizes, all with period
antiques and some with kitchenettes and claw-foot tubs. It's a favorite
spot for commitment ceremonies. Nearby, the chic Eo Inn is a wonderful
boutique property whose rooms have sleek furnishings, including black-wooden
armoires and fine linens. Accommodations are fairly small, as are the bathrooms
- about the only evidence of the building's previous incarnation as a
YMCA - but the imaginative decorating makes the Eo quite comfortable. A slick
full-service spa was added recently.
Mills Avenue runs north above Colonial Drive; it's lined with gay bars
and businesses, including the city's excellent queer bookstore, Mojo Books.
A few blocks up, the convivial Cactus Club draws a mix of after-work suits,
college students, and pre-disco club bunnies for cocktails. Not far away, White
Wolf is 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.
The area's leading attraction, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of
American Art maintains the largest Tiffany stained-glass collection in the
country and many 19th- and 20th-century American paintings. For dining, the Winter
Park branch of Houston's is notable not just for its fine steaks and seafood
but for its location on Lake Kilarney and distinctive Prairie School-inspired
architecture. Gay-popular Schafer's Caffeehaus is best-known for its
desserts and pastries, but this intimate old-world space also serves very good
Continental food and has a wine bar, too.
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 Holiday Inn, which
has medium-size rooms with functional but pleasant furnishings. Another
good nightlife option a short drive from downtown, Full Moon Saloon is a
country-western and leather dance club (it sounds like an unlikely
combo but it works), always filled with cruisy guys.
This leads us to arguably Florida's most famous - or perhaps notorious -
queer 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. The rates are decent, and a much-needed
renovation in 1999-2000 vastly improved room decor as well as the pool areas and
landscaping. Service can be a little uneven, however. A central
building houses the Rainbow Cafe restaurant (which serves three meals daily).
But what really draws them in are the six gay bars and nightclubs, which include
a warehouse-style disco, a cushy video bar, the festive Footlight Theater
Piano Bar, 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. In fact, Parliament House manages to offer something for
virtually every style and taste - more than a few guests check in and
then check out a week later never having left the place.
authored the recently updated and expanded Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA and six
regional gay guides for Fodor's. He can be reached here at
OutUK or at
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Boom (50 E. Pine St., 407-843-4410).
Cactus Club (1300 N. Mills Ave., 407-894-3041).
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (445 Park Ave., 407-645-5311).
The Center - Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Community Center of Central Florida
(Orlando, 407-228-8272, Website).
Club Quest (745 Bennett Rd., 407-228-8226).
Dexter's (808 E. Washington St., 407-648-2777; also 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).
Full Moon Saloon (500 N. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-648-8725).
Heaven (360 State La., 407-872-7188).
Henry Leu Botanical Gardens (1920 N. Forest Ave., 407-246-2620).
Houston's (215 S. Orlando Ave., 407-740-4005).
La Fontenella (900 E. Washington St., 407-425-0033).
Little Saigon (1106 E. Colonial Dr., 407-423-8539).
Holiday Inn (626 Lee Rd., 407-645-5600 or 877-807-8777, Website).
Le Provence (50 E. Pine St., 407-843-1320).
Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau
(407-363-5872 or 800-646-2087, Website).
Mojo Books (930 N. Mills Ave., 407-896-0204).
Parliament House (410 N. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-425-7571, Website).
Schafer's Caffeehaus (535 W. New England Ave., 407-740-7782).
Southern Nights (375 S. Bumby Rd., 407-898-0424).
The Veranda (115 N. Summerlin Ave., 407-849-0321 or 800-420-6822, Website).
Walt Disney World (UK 0870 24 24 904, Website).
White Wolf (1829 N. Orange Ave., 407-895-9911).
ORLANDO'S GAY DAY CELEBRATIONS
ORLANDO'S GAY DAY - Where To Stay
ORLANDO'S GAY DAY - Events
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