“The Flamingo is ‘Flaming Gone’!”

| Nov 11, 2019
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A Flamingo pool party in better days.

The news came as a bit of a shock. I had not been to St Petersburg, Fla. in about eight months but was about to make a return trip. Normally that trip would have included at least one visit to the Flamingo Resort. The Flamingo is (or was as I was about to find out) a gay resort with a very t-friendly reputation.

Then out of the blue came this email from an admirer/friend. It read in part “OBTW hadn’t been out in a while so I decided to go to Flamingo about 2 weeks ago. It’s gone! Apartments going up!”

The Flamingo gone. Why? How could that happen? Even from a distance those would be questions not hard to answer but when it happens it is still hard to accept.

I was reminded of a really nice article (blog for you younger gals) that appeared in TGForum about 15 years ago. The author talked about her five favorite T-friendly clubs across America, how they were welcoming to the t-girls, newbies and veterans, had great drag shows and all were venues where the admirer could find the girls of his dreams. Suddenly, according to the author, they all had one other thing in common. They were closed and gone. The only thing permanent in life is change.

I certainly identified with that article. After all, I wrote it. In the years since other clubs came in to my top five list and then dropped out of business. From the Dufferin in Vancouver to the Pyramid Club in Montreal to recently The Raven in New Hope, Pa, changing circumstances make the business model for these clubs no longer the best fit for the property.

But what happened to the Flamingo? Gay commentators to the news story were universal in blaming management, “As always, a little bad management went a long way, wrote Mark Hudson, “My last few visits were disappointments as the place went dead nightly by midnight. Door keys failed to work, floors were stripped of carpet and painted, only to have the paint flaking off in huge sheets by my last visit. Housekeeping seemed nearly nonexistent. Parliament House in Orlando is just as bad. We have a better model here in Michigan at The Douglas Dunes, now just called The Dunes. When the gaiety is taken out, the gays leave”.

“Ownership was probably pocketing the money it made from the bars and not putting into keeping up the rooms,” wrote ‘Woody.’

The official record is a bit different. News stories did not stress financial hardship but instead pointed out that “City records show the resort’s motel-style structure, featuring a swimming pool surrounded by balconies and a cabana bar, will be replaced with a new structure after it closes. The owners, Edge Partners LLC, were granted a permit from the city in June to begin developing a 215-unit building registered under the name Marina Walk Apartments.”

“From what I heard about the Flamingo,” wrote my friend Steve,” the owners were offered a tremendous amount of money for the property. It’s actually waterfront.”

When gay bars close you often find the neighbors beating the drum and cheering at the demise of a place probably best known for its late night noise and possibly illicit sex in the bushes. Not so with the Flamingo.

A local news article published on-line wrote, “Neighbors also credited the Flamingo with freshening up a part of their waterfront community. At the time it opened, the resort replaced an abandoned hotel that had become an eyesore and a haven for drugs.

“(Before the Flamingo opened in 2009) That place was a dump,” Broadwater Civic Association president Tom Ando told the then-St. Petersburg Times in 2009. “We’re lucky that (the Flamingo) came in.”

The article continued, “For a decade, the Flamingo hosted musical acts, leather conventions, and drag shows, featuring performances by Vanessa Vanjie Mateo of Tampa, and Alexis Mateo of Orlando, both of whom were featured on seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Logo and VH1. It drew LGBTQ vacationers from across the state who heralded it as a unique cultural hub in the area.

“Kathy Vesely, a St. Petersburg retiree, said she first started attending the Flamingo’s weekly Sunday tea dances 10 years ago. At the time, she was still living in Citrus County and would drive over an hour every week to attend.

“It was a real home space and it was fun, it was energizing. Every week there were lots of people and lots of alcohol, of course. It’s where I met my friends,” Vesely said, choking up as she spoke. “I don’t think there’s anything around quite like it.”

“Vesely said she even moved into the resort for several months while she was looking for a long-term home in St. Petersburg. But as the real estate market in the Skyway Marina District has flourished in recent years, Vesely said she and other Flamingo regulars anticipated that the resort might not last long.

“We all knew in our hearts that this was coming because the area’s so ripe for development,” Vesely said. “It felt like being part of a family, and that’s what I’ll miss.”

Local TV Station ABC Action News also covered the closing, “It’s going to be missed for sure,” they quoted general manager Jon Jusino, “This was a safe haven for so many in our community,” said Jusino.

The plan is to turn the hotel’s 34th Street South property into a brand new 245 unit apartment complex.

“I think it’s amazing,” he said. “Redevelop this into something that can be great and amazing for the community itself.” (215 to 245 units??)

The Action News story continued, “Plus, the owners of the Flamingo say this is not “goodbye,” instead it’s “see you later.” They are currently looking for a new location for the Flamingo.

The plan is to find a place in St. Petersburg or close to one of the Pinellas County beaches.

“I’m hopeful,” Jusino said. “I hate to lose something like this for our community.”

Jusino said the owners have 60 days to find a new location.

Update: Those 60 days have now passed without announcement of a new location.

Former regulars are skeptical about there ever being a replacement for the Flamingo. “I doubt seriously they will ever reopen the Flamingo anywhere else, wrote ‘John Smith,’ “half the reason Flamingo worked was because it had the sort of dive bar rundown worn-in feel to it. It was the sort of resort you could get away with the stuff they did. And its location was also unbeatable, that’s something they will never get again no matter what.” Smith went on with a skeptical view of the future for all gay/t-friendly bars in the area, “And sadly I fear the other gay bars and pride will begin to fade away in St. Pete as it all gentrifies into 55+ communities for Americans to die in. Same thing happened to the rest of southwest Florida over the past 20 years. It went from 12 gay bars between Palmetto and Naples, to just 2 left, one in Sarasota the other in Ft. Myers, and they’re sputtering out now as well.”

Just as with any requiem we should pay homage to the departed Flamingo with a few testimonials:

“My favorite memories of Flamingo,” wrote admirer Steve, “were their Halloween Parties, followed by their after St. Pete Gay Pride party and finally their BDSM Weekends. I’d always reserve a room early and have fun with all the Girls that attended.”

‘All the girls’, Steve? Good on ya!

My friend Demi added, “I do indeed miss Flamingo’s. It was my favorite place to go to hang with other dressers and to meet new friends, especially after Craigslist personals shut down and Georgie’s Alibi closed. The atmosphere was always fun, accepting, non-judgmental and very comfortable. Many wonderful memories were made there. Entertainment and accommodations were good and the fact it was a resort with rooms, so you could relax and spend the entire weekend on premise was great.

“It was a rundown dump as far as the condition of the rooms but I really do miss Flamingo,” she repeated, “and hope something similar opens in TB area that will replace. I would love it if we had a club like Angela’s Lap Top Lounge in Pa., with an adjoining hotel.”

Demi hit the nail on the head with that resort feel of the Flamingo. Other hotels and motels will have a pool but they will not likely have a pool and a bar and music and occasional entertainment. Most evenings the Flamingo had four bars on the go. You were young and liked metal music? You got it. You were a bit older and liked cruising? You got it. You were even older and liked to chat with other old ‘queens’? You’ve got that, too.

The Flamingo drag shows were popular with the regular crowd and with the drop-in bachelorette party types as well. I liked attending the shows to observe the drop-in audience as much as the regular performers.

But as much as I enjoyed the evenings, the weekend afternoons around the pool were fun too as I worked in a bit of tanning time, trying to gain some evidence of bikini bra straps burned in to my shoulders and across my back. My wife hated it when I came home with tan lines but for the closeted me there was always the thrill of keeping those lines concealed from my straight friends for the next few weeks.

You met the most interesting people around the pool. One Sunday afternoon as I lay soaking up the sun in my latest one-piece bathing suit an elder gentleman came over to sit beside me. We started up a conversation. He was from New England and had visited the Flamingo for the week and had just checked out. He didn’t say it but I figured he was one of the crossdressers from the night before. I could tell by the nail polish residue on his fingernails. Girls, don’t you know that sunlight really magnifies that stuff. Once you think you have your nail polish off check it under a good light or better yet, sunlight. And before you put it on first apply a coat of clear nail polish to seal the nails. That is particularly important for us older gals.

So we chatted and chatted. He never talked about his dressing and never gave any indication that he’d read me. We talked a lot about his family and about his work back in his firefighter days. We talked about my work and my family. It was more man-to-woman talk. He spared me all that sports talk about the Patriots and Red Sox, stuff two guys would have been talking about.

I was disappointed that he never tried to hit on me. He did take me to dinner at the nearby Bob Evans but that was it. When it was time to part; we parted. Oh, it was nice to spend an afternoon with a man who was not trying to find a way to get my throat around his appendage!

But yes the sex at the Flamingo was often great, too. The Flamingo was a reliable place to set up a Craig’s List date. Everyone seemed to know where it was and if the main guy did not show up there was usually someone else to take his place.

With the Flamingo gone, where now? Steve had the answer, “the hot spots are now Punky’s and Enigma in St. Pete and with any of the clubs in Ybor City.” (a Tampa district famous for its nightlife)

And that’s just it: the demise of the t-friendly gay clubs is coinciding with the rise in places we all can go and feel comfortable. Why go to a run-down gay resort when we can jump on any cruise liner and be our feminine selves? Why subject ourselves to nights of disco/metal music when our femme selves can go to dinner and concerts anywhere?

We are going a long way baby, to paraphrase the old ad and we are leaving the old gay closets behind. Goodbye Flamingo; hello World!

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Category: Transgender History

Linda Jensen

About the Author ()

Canadian writer Linda Jensen is a long time contributor to TGForum. Before the days of the Internet Linda started her writing with the Transvestian newspaper. Her writing ranges from factual accounts of her adventures to fiction although frankly sometimes her real life adventures are stranger than the fiction. Linda is married to a loving partner who upon learning about Linda said, "she was part of you before I met you. Although I didn't know it she was part of the package I fell in love with. I don't want to mess up that package." "Does it get any better than that?" asks Linda.

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