Pulse hosted themed performances each night and had a monthly program featuring educational events geared towards the LGBT community. According to Orlando Weekly, Pulse featured "three glitzy, throbbing rooms of club boys, twinks and twinks at heart. Every night has something different in store, but Pulse is known to have some pretty impressive drag shows, and the bar's dancers are usually gorgeous." Because of the three areas, Lonely Planet Discover Florida deemed it "three nightclubs," while their Florida volume focused on it being "ultramodern."
Top 10 Orlando called it a "firm favorite for the Orlando gay crowd,"The Rough Guide to Florida deemed it "justifiably popular," citing its "great lighting and sound plus cabaret performers, drag acts, and erotic dancers." Pulse was the only gay club mentioned in The Rough Guide to the USA for Orlando. According to listings, the entire premises, including the washrooms, were accessible. Using "periodic consumer surveys," Zagat rated Pulse 25/30 for atmosphere, 25/30 decor, and 22/30 service.
President Barack Obama stating Pulse was a refuge for LGBT and Hispanic people
In 1985—prior to Pulse's founding—the property located at 1912 South Orange Avenue was home to a pizza restaurant named Lorenzo's. By 1999, it was called Dante's, a bar with live music. Dante's closed in January 2003.
Founded by Barbara Poma and Ron Legler, Pulse opened on July 2, 2004. Poma's brother, John, died in 1991 from AIDS, and the club is "named for John's pulse to live on," according to a marketing staff member in February 2016. The venue had a focus on local talent. Poma ensured that her brother's memory was prominent on the website, and that the facility was more than "just another gay club." Legler, who was president of the Florida Theatrical Association when Pulse was founded, also founded two nightclubs in Lake Eola Park in 2010, before moving to Baltimore in 2014.The Washington Post described the club's first 12 years as "a community hub for HIV prevention, breast-cancer awareness and immigrant rights," and reported it had partnered with educational and advocacy groups such as Come Out with Pride, Equality Florida, and the Zebra Coalition.
In November 2016, the city of Orlando agreed to buy the nightclub for $2.25 million. Mayor Buddy Dyer expressed plans to convert the nightclub into a memorial to honor the memory of the victims.
Barbara Poma, the owner, refused to sell the nightclub to the city in December 2016. Instead she announced in May 2017 the creation of the onePULSE Foundation to independently fund a memorial site and museum slated to open in 2020.