Wilton Drive: The Heart and Soul of Wilton Manors | Opinion

Wilton Drive. Photo by Carina Mask.

Wilton Drive is a one-mile segment of State Road 811 within the city of Wilton Manors. It begins at Five Points and ends at the Fort Lauderdale border, just north of Fort Lauderdale High School. I first visited Wilton Drive in 1980, while I was living at SIR Apartments in nearby Dixie Highway. I washed my clothes in a laundromat at 2365 Wilton Drive, an address now occupied by Wilton Collective. Other than some restaurants, and shops here and there, the Drive did not make much of an impression on me. Then things changed.

During the four decades since 1980, this magnificent mile has become a center of social life, entertainment, commerce, and tourism, and not just for LGBT people. Cynthia Thuma wrote about those changes in her 2005 Images of America book “Wilton Manors”: “A 1998 cover story in City Link magazine declared to the outside world what most Wilton Manors residents already knew: the city was becoming increasingly attractive to gay people looking for a quiet, tolerant community to settle in. One of the pioneers at the front of the influx was George Kessinger, who, in April 1997, opened Georgie’s Alibi, a restaurant, sports bar, and meeting spot for the gay community.” Meanwhile, “entrepreneur Tony Dee bought Chardee’s in 1990, refurbished it, and bought in live entertainment nightly.” Soon the Drive attracted other LGBT-owned or friendly bars, restaurants, shops, and professional offices like Dean Trantalis’s law firm.

The Wilton Drive Improvement District (wiltondrive.org) describes the Drive as “One Mile. Endless Possibilities.” “Wilton Drive has come a long way from its days as a sleeping small town road. It’s now a bustling destination renowned for its diverse entertainment, arts, shopping, and dining.” It has 118 LGBTQ-owned or friendly businesses, including bars, eateries, art galleries, shops, boutiques, day spas, etc. As the heart and soul of Wilton Manors, the Drive is the center of one of America’s leading gayborhoods, despite being part of an increasingly homophobic State of Florida.

If Wilton Manors is “a second hometown” for South Florida’s LGBT community, it is also a tourist magnet for queer people from around the world. Many of the folk who stay at Wilton Drive’s guest houses, eat at its restaurants, drink or dance at its pubs or clubs, shop at its stores, admire its private or public art or participate in its activities do not live in the Island City, or even in the United States. Outcoast.com praised the Drive’s LGBT-owned businesses as “a must-visit for your visit. See drag shows, mingle with other gay travelers, and visit some of the most established and celebrated gay-friendly restaurants in the city.” VisitFlorida.com, another travel site, said that Wilton “offers a small-town feel coupled with big-city fun.” It’s no wonder that the Drive was voted Broward’s Best Attraction, for residents and tourists alike.


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Corrections: editorial@outsfl.com

2520 N. Dixie Highway,
Wilton Manors, FL 33305



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