Anthony De Riggi, 88, died last March 23, his passing noted in his hometown of Farmingdale, New York, but virtually unreported in Wilton Manors, the city where he made his name: Tony Dee.
Dee, a longtime Broward real-estate developer, 33 years ago co-founded Chardees, among the very first gay-oriented supper clubs along Wilton Drive.
“He was a shrewd, shrewd businessman. The shrewdest businessman I ever met,” said Paul Hugo, owner of The Venue on Wilton Drive. “I first met him at Chardees. Always dressed to the nines. A showman. He was always the funny guy, charming guy, a witty guy, a wise guy. All those things. A guy you liked to be around.”
Dee grew up in Long Island’s Farmingdale. As a younger man, he became a barber and eventually owned three Nassau County hair salons, according to his widower, Andy Martin.
“As far as being out, he just lived his life,” Martin said of Dee’s early years in New York. “He started coming down here about 1970. He really liked Florida.”
One spot he loved: the old Jimmy January’s restaurant on West Davie Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, one of Broward’s first gay supper clubs with nightly entertainment.
In 1990, Dee and his then-life partner, Charlie Mielke, bought a gay restaurant at 2209 Wilton Dr. called The Palms and re-opened it as Chardees (Char for Charlie; dee for Tony).
“Charlie was the food, Tony was the front man,” Martin said. “Tony had the gift of gab. He knew how to talk to people.”
Among the attractions at Chardees: big-name entertainment. Entertainer Eartha Kitt was the first star Dee brought in, later followed by such acts as comedian Judy Tenuta, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and singer Sam Harris.
Dee programmed the club’s entertainment based on what he liked himself, Martin said.
“It’s music that he loved and it’s evident there are a lot more people who like the same kind of music. It worked.”
Dee sold Chardees in 2005, shortly after he and Mielke broke up. “He owned the building, but sold the restaurant,” Martin said.
After selling the supper club (now home to Eagle Wilton Manors), Dee concentrated on his commercial real estate business. He also owned the old Schubert Resort for gay men in Victoria Park near Sunrise Boulevard.
Dee and Mielke remained friends and in 2012 they got back into the supper club business, purchasing Tropics, an established restaurant at 2000 Wilton Dr.
“He remodeled the inside. He didn’t shut the bar or restaurant down. It was season,” Martin said. “He basically told the painting crew, you all need to be out by 3:30 p.m.” Mielke died in 2013.
Martin, originally from North Carolina, moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2011 and met Dee the next year at Tropics. “We weren’t official until New Year’s Eve going into 2013.”
The couple had a 36-year age difference. “There was an attraction for both of us. He liked younger guys, I liked older guys. All of my partners were older.”
Dee sold Tropics in 2014.
“He wanted to get another building. He wanted to do a little more real estate. He sold the building and the business,” Martin said.
Martin and Dee also bought and sold homes in Wilton Manors, the Carolinas and Boca Raton.
In January 2022, Dee had knee surgery. His health deteriorated and by April “he just wouldn’t get out of bed,” Martin said.
Dee’s health continued to decline and he died less than a year later.
Martin turned 53 on Oct. 17. Dee would have been 89 on Oct. 21.
When asked what he misses most about Dee, Martin replied, “Everything.”
“When either one of us would walk into a room, we would just smile together,” he said, weeping. “There are certain connections you have with certain people in your life that are just undeniable. We knew if the other was in pain. If they had a bad day. And we knew what to do. We’d talk each other through things. I enjoyed letting him know about different kinds of music and he enjoyed teaching me about commercial real estate.”
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on X, formerly known as Twitter.