It's the Island of Misfit Toys. Slightly saddened faces etched deep with perennial rejection line up and hang down along the bar as other people play out their sweater-stretching Christmas conviviality — the torn parcels, grandma's dentures, the eggnog umbrage — into eventual familial scrapbooks. The holidays aren't always for everybody, especially when you're gay.
"What happens on Christmas, there's like this unspoken camaraderie among the daytime clientele where they all know why they're there," says longtime Parliament House bartender Brian Humphries. "So it's a group of people who a lot of times wouldn't talk to each other, but they are. And it's not about sex, which the gay bar usually is: Who can I fuck? That's why they're all there. But not on Christmas."
Orlando's most notorious queer leisure-palace-with-a-hotel-and-swimming-pool keeps its doors wide open on the holiest of Christian holy days, and not just because owners Don Granatstein and Susan Unger are Jewish. They, and the bartenders, are family surrogates on a day that boasts an odd story arc and shared misery that gives way to shake-it-off exuberance. Humphries, who has been slinging the yuletide elixirs for 10 years, typically comes in for the latter part.
"I start when the losers whose families rejected them start to leave and the ones who are sick of their families come in," he says. "I don't mean the term ‘losers' `to say` that they're losers. I mean their families see them as losers."
There's one "loser" — meaning he really isn't — that sticks in his mind, a certain celebrant whose family owns and operates a well-known chain locally.
"The family has basically disowned him because he's so gay. He's a trust-fund baby, so he shows up on Christmas Day because they don't want to see him," says Humphries. "They give him a pocket full of money and he's usually dressed in some kind of horrible 1970s trendy outfit for gays back then — sequins and scarves — and he does this whole Stevie Nicks number that night."
Humphries usually ends up covering said patron's later drinks and is reimbursed by a mailed check the next week.
"It's so sad," he says. "He's super-nice. He's just crazy and he's never had to live by any rules."
Humphries makes the best of his off-hours station, annually decking out the Parliament House happy-hour bar with some decorator's mental twig-and-berry explosion on a $100 budget. Customers shower him with turkey table scraps ("Then the housekeeping staff eats really well," he jokes) and regale him with their sordid family tales and pricey gift lists. It's not a bad gig.
"Christmas is a good night," he says. "It's a good moneymaking night, too, because people feel sorry for you, having to work. Usually people are very generous. Your tip percentage is high, which is awesome. But they are very needy. You are working for your money
"Honestly, I don't mind working it because the money's so good," he adds. "My family's so used to it that we just plan a different day for Christmas. You know, when you're in the business, you get used to it."