Before gay and lesbian travelers could move relatively unperturbed through popular vacation destinations across the country, there were the getaways: locations around the nation known for their ability to protect the marginalized and provide respite from the goings on of an uncaring world. LGBT people would flock from around the country to frequent these private, safe spaces, including tropical Key West.
At Island House, this feeling is what the gay resort treasures. A trove of community, adventure, and pride, the 26-room enclave situated in Old Town Key West has been a landmark for gay travelers since its doors opened in 1976. Serving locals and visitors 365 days a year, its communal-style setup deserves applause during an age when LGBTQ communities can exist in separate spaces, disconnected and yearning for a manifestation of something tangible.
Every evening around the central pool, Island House staff has a free happy hour at its 24-hour cafe. It's a simple concept, but the results are powerful. Men from all over the resort -- all over the island -- come and join in the festivities. People of all shapes, colors, statuses and nationalities flock here to actually connect; to make physical the idea of pride in community.
The space isn't just popular during Pride and pool season, either: visitors can be found at Island House year-round, and as of last year about 30 percent of the city of Key West identified as part of the LGBTQ community, according to the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.
We stopped by Island House during Key West Pride Week to hear from the guests themselves exactly what makes Island House so special. Here's what they had to say:
"We love island house because of its casual environment. It's always a party, no matter when you come here."
-Bruce, Brad, Eric, Daniel, Blake & David, from Ft. Lauderdale
"It's the cornerstone of Pride weekend. There's so much to love: the drinks, the atmosphere, the naked boys... and the video room."
-Keith & Patrick, from Naples
"Key West is amazing. The people are nice, the weather is gorgeous, and Island House is a lot of fun. You can definitely be yourself, and enjoy yourself."
-Marc, Devin & Kevin, from Las Vegas & Orlando
"I love the people here, both the staff and the patrons. It's like family. I've been coming to Island House since 1999, because you don't ever have to leave! The bar and the restaurant is amazing. They make it easy for you to be authentically yourself."
-Ryan & Andre, from Fort Lauderdale and North Carolina
"It's our country club. There is never a bad day here at Island House. You're in paradise. It's truly one of the only liberal places left. They seriously live by the motto of 'One Human Family'."
-Duwayne, Dave, Leslie, David & Jeremy, from Key West
"It's a place where you can meet people from all over the world. We send our single friends here, and we also send our coupled friends here, too. It's like gay paradise. We've been together for 11 years, and we've been coming here for 8 of them."
-Sergio & David, from New York City
"This is our first time here, and we love the all-inclusive scene. The environment lends itself to meeting new people. We immediately feel at home."
-Brad & Eddie, from Portland Oregon
The Island House awaits. Explore the experience here.