When Richard Gray opened Fort Lauderdale's first gay guesthouse, the Royal Palms, he had no trouble attracting men. It was 1991 and his tiny 12-room guesthouse was the most popular choice on the market “because back then, gay people just supported gay businesses”, he explained. In the 10 years that followed, as Fort Lauderdale became an increasingly popular destination for gay travellers, Gray saw his guests dropping him for newer, younger, more beautiful hotels with names like the W and the Atlantic, which could offer something Gray could not. Gone were the days of staying in secluded guesthouses. Gay travellers were in search of hip, edgy, amenity-driven luxury.
This April, after a multi-million dollar renovation, Gray will reopen his hotel, this time with hopes of being the first resort in Fort Lauderdale to offer gay vacationers what straight-oriented boutiques cannot: a luxury hotel experience - concierge services, on-site restaurants and lobby bars so good they draw the locals - plus amenities tailored specifically to the gay community. And Gray is not alone. Just as gay-friendly clubs, cruises and tours have seen an upswing in the last few years, several new high-end properties are hoping to find success in cities like Miami, Berlin, New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts, where thriving gay scenes cater to like-minded travellers. The banquet hall has been replaced by a yacht for commitment ceremonies, free wi-fi has morphed into an inter-hotel social network, and the lobby bars that made boutique hotels so appealing in the first place now offer drag nights.
Royal Palms Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Opening April 11
What separates the Royal Palms from other new gay spots is that the property is men-only and entirely clothing optional - "you'd agree that's essential to a gay holiday", Gray said. The new property, which quintupled in size from 12 to 62 rooms, is decorated with white leather furnishings and nude photographs by Dennis Dean, complete with selectively placed pineapples. Amenities include an on-site fitness centre and room service, as well as a grill and a 54-foot private yacht that can be rented from the harbour for birthday bashes or commitment ceremonies. Unlike more traditional hotels, there are no phones in the rooms, though iPad 2s will be available to rent.
Lords South Beach, Miami
Opened January 2011
Known for designing trendy New York shops and restaurants, interior decorator Dan Mazzarini updated the historical Nash Hotel with a sunny Art Deco style; yellow stripes and old Hollywood dames fill the 53 rooms. There is a clear focus on fashionable collaborations, too: the bar is sponsored by Absolut Vodka, the white denim uniforms are designed by Levi's, and the digital concierge app is produced with recommendations by Out, the gay magazine. Perhaps the best partnership is one from the hotel's own social network, which aims to connect guests and set them up on dates in the hotel's restaurant and lounge, the Cha Cha Rooster, or on South Beach's primary gay beach, which is a few steps from the property.
The Brass Key, Provincetown
Renovation will finish May 2011
After new owners bought this Cape Cod institution in 2008, the nine buildings and 43 rooms have undergone an impressive three-year renovation that includes limestone bathrooms with glass showers, an English courtyard with a wedding gazebo, a resort-ready infinity pool and 15-person hot tub. The biggest update, though, is the liquor license - which allowed the Brass Key to open the Shipwreck Lounge, a nautical-themed nightspot that has been a welcome addition to Provincetown's typically sleepy social scene.
The Axel, Berlin
Opened March 2009
Rather than billing itsef as "gay-friendly", Axel ushered in the gay boutique business in 2007, when it labelled their three hotels - Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Berlin - as "heterofriendly", the idea being that these properties are so enticing, straight people will want to visit too. Already, their newest property is standing above the rest, with a rooftop bar that draws in the community every weekend (including the city's openly gay mayor), while a restaurant and downstairs bar highlight Berlin's thriving techno scene. Monthly parties - with themes ranging from leather, to drag, to fashion - also attract a steady stream of Berlin's gay tourists, whom Axel hopes will come back and crash at one of the hotel's 84 moody, black-and-gold rooms.
Out NYC, New York City
Opening Spring 2012
When New York developer Ian Reisner stayed at the Axel hotel in Barcelona, he liked his experience so much he wanted his own version. Enter the Out NYC complex, a long-gestating project that involves converting a formally vacant chain hotel into a 90,000-square-foot complex that will have several restaurants, a lobby filled with modern art, a reception hall for commitment ceremonies and a high-rise hotel with more than 100 rooms, which Axel itself will manage. Until next year, the crown jewel of the $30-million project will be xl Dance Bar, a massive dance club that will open every night this fall to drum up interest in anticipation of the full resort.
Correction: A previous article misstated the location of Provincetown. It is in Massachusetts.