Miami vice capades
|NICE CUPPA. The street becomes a runway during the Sunday Tea Dance at The Palace.(Image by Xtra files)||
story by Daniel Paquette /
Feb 19 2004
In just 17 years, the tiny southern tip of Miami Beach, known as South Beach, has gone from being a crack-infested rundown ghetto to being North America’s premier trendy beach. No other city in the world has rejuvenated in such a short time. It had been eight years since my last trip to “Sobe,” also known as the Gay Riviera, when at the time more than 70 percent of its residents were gay. South Beach is unmistakably one of the prime examples of queers discovering a cheap, once glamorous, rundown neighbourhood and, in the flurry of a few finger snaps and a disapproving Queer Eye, it became fit for a queen. Once the pink stucco was restored, the crack whores removed and the beach spruced up, the mainstream quickly rediscovered what is North America’s largest art deco neighbourhood. It’s North America’s version of Ibiza and St Tropez rolled into one. Fags have done their duty to beautify and have moved on. In fact much of the initial renovations were started by fashionista Tony Goldman, an investor who came in and bought up several blocks just like he did in the 1970s with New York’s Soho, a once derelict area of New York that’s now super trendy. He’s working on a neighbourhood in Philadelphia at the moment.
According to Steven Adkins, the president of the Miami gay business association, less than 10 percent of Sobe is now gay — Miami fags have discovered yet another derelict neighbourhood to fag-a-tize. It’s no wonder that many rundown US cities are bending over backwards to attract us queers — we’re great for the economy, according to Forbes magazine. While I was in Miami, a city that has its own non-discrimination ordinance, it was announced that Florida would not grant adoptions to queers, an issue Rosie O’Donnell has been fighting. Despite the blatant discrimination by its rightwing state legislature headed up by Jeb Bush and the memory of citrus queen Anita Bryant (who launched the first anti-gay crusade in the US back in the ’70s), South Florida continues to attract queers by the hordes. With the Canadian dollar at a 10-year high, and the tourism industry at a near record low, Miami hasn’t been this affordable since the ’70s. Thousands of pink Canucks will head south over the next two months for several high profile events including the Fun In The Sun lesbian and gay circuit party in Fort Lauderdale, the Winter Music Conference, Winter Party and the massive Aqua Girl lesbian circuit bash in South Beach.
Miami Beach is 10 kilometres long with 87,000 residents. But with more than 20,000 hotel rooms and even more rentable condos, the population of retired Golden Girls swells every weekend to more than a quarter million. From the swank hotels of Bal Harbour to the cheesy and cheap motels on the strip, Miami Beach caters to every income level. But it’s the wealthy that are slowly taking over. One great example is that the city of 87,000 has three Ritz-Carlton hotels, more than any other city in the world.
Local fags are now concentrated on the mainland along Biscayne Bay where the gorgeous communities of the Upper Eastside are also a case study in the restorative powers of gay gentrification. Belle Meade is the primary gay residential community located on an island unto its own. Shorecrest and Davis Harbour (often referred to as “Bette Davis Harbour”) are spectacular bayfront residential neighbourhoods with major gay populations.
Known for many years as the gay circuit capital of the world, Miami is now pushing “cultural tourism” as its new draw. But are people really going to Miami because of the architecture or museums? I doubt it. But what is happening lately — and is sure to take off — is that South Beach is becoming the trendy gay honeymoon destination. Adkins told me that the Beach is starting to attract an older more sophisticated lesbian and gay clientele who are coming here increasingly for anniversaries and special occasions. The party scene is still quite evident and now includes a huge contingent of lesbians. Aqua Girl is a May event that will attract up to 10,000 lesbians in a fundraising weekend for the Women’s Fund Of Gay South Florida. Dyke promoters like Ultra, Jade and Pandora are all active in creating a very lively dyke scene.
In March, South Beach will be crammed as the Miami Winter Music Conference, the world’s largest dance music event, attracts up and coming DJs who want to hit it big, as well as all the top DJs/producers, record labels and thousands of electronic music lovers. This conference attracts a huge contingent of Torontonians including many queer DJs. During the conference, two different dance awards shows will take place, but by far the largest is Dancestar USA. This awards show will be broadcast to millions around the world and will be hosted by Carmen Electra, Paris Hilton, Moby and Perry Farrell.
Only days later, Sobe is transformed into circuit city as the A-list event the Winter Party will attract thousands of fags from around the world. This unique week-long party is one of the most successful dance party fundraisers in the world. The main event is an afternoon dance on the sandy beach across from the Tides Hotel that attracts more than 5,000 men every year. Winter Party will also feature the debut of the second annual Queer As Folk tour, now called Future Babylon, featuring a total of 15 events that will include all the top names including the lesbian power trio of Susan Morabito, Tracy Young and Lydia Prim as well as up and comer Alyson Calagna. The main beach party is all about DJ Tony Moran, who told me that playing at Winter Party is an absolute thrill considering they’ve given out more than $1-million dollars US in grants to various gay charities. Michael Aller, a Winter Party board member and Miami tourism director, told me over lunch that this party represents the true spirit of South Beach. Known as Mr Gay Miami Beach, Aller, who is quite hilarious, gave me the complete scoop about the beach, its history and all the celebs that it attracts. His best line was that, “The weather here is just like sex — when it’s bad it’s still good.”
Sobe attracts major celebrities not only for vacation but many live in the area including Ricky Martin, who can be seen in his Speedos riding his bike down Ocean Drive. Jennifer Lopez owns a home minutes away from all the action. Her island home is quite visible from the road and, according to Aller, you know when JLo is home because of the security guards out front. Elton John supposedly bought an apartment in Gianni Versace’s Ocean Drive mansion where Donnatella still makes frequent visits. Aller told me about his friend cutie Enrique Iglesias who grew up in Miami and is very gay friendly. The Fab Five recently hosted a party at The Hotel — it’s a favourite of Madonna for its whimsical, Alice In Wonderland design by fashion designer Todd Oldham, who now designs LaZ-boy chairs and sometimes DJs. The roof top pool at Hotel is like none other and includes breathtaking views.
Both Christina Aguilera and Pink are known to party very hard while in Sobe, apparently always frequenting the gay bars. Once-time resident Madonna moved out several years ago when it became too straight.
Celeb spotting is quite easy in Sobe. While I was dinning at Talula, a very down-to-earth yet fabulous restaurant, I, along with every other fag in the room, spotted a very tanned Jennifer Saunders. Sweetie, she looked amazing and obviously loved all the attention she was getting strictly from all the fags in the room. I bumped into former supermodel Lauren Hutton while checking into my hotel, The Tides, also known as the “Diva Of South Beach.” This hotel is where you want to be. Right in the middle of Ocean Drive, across the street from the gay beach, beside the only gay bar on the street and around the corner from Crunch Gym, where you can take the brutal SM dominatrix cardio workout. Clean lines, all-white rooms, complete with telescope in each to check out the hotties at the beach.
Right next door is The Palace, renowned for its free Sunday Tea Dance that spills out onto the street where drag queens use Ocean Drive as their runway and stage while hundreds of straights congregate with their cameras. The $4,000 a night Tides penthouse with its rooftop patio and Jacuzzi was stunning to say the least. Perfect for, as the general manager stated, an intimate cocktail party for 70 of your closest friends during Winter Party. Sure, maybe if I was Elton John. This hotel is fashionista and celeb central as Janet, Sting and every other single-name celeb was there over the last month. But if that’s not your scene, then right next door is Hotel Ocean. This European style boutique hotel is more piano bar demographic than circuit party and is much more affordable. It includes very large rooms, great service and no pretense. This will be one of the lesbian hotspots for Aqua Girl.
The restaurants and bars on this beach range in price from Swiss Chalet to Swiss bank account. Every restaurant had a champagne menu as this was easily “the” Sobe drink.
Tantra was the best restaurant I’ve ever been to. Never have I witnessed a restaurant that tried to indulge every sense. Their food, overdosed in every aphrodisiac known to man, was simply orgasmic. The Indian-styled room was beautiful and sexy in every detail including the grass floor and the film Kama Sutra projected on a huge wall. It felt like I was at some up-scale orgy. The menu not only sold $3,000 bottles of champagne but also did customized yacht bookings.
Most of the restaurants here have club lighting. It’s very strange to be eating dinner and yet feel like you’re in the middle of a loud dancefloor.
Touch restaurant was another incredibly sexy space with belly dancers and gorgeous sax players performing right at your table. Is this high-end lap dancing?
Crowbar, a Miami institution, is easily the hottest dance club on the continent as their brand new location in New York was already seen in Sex And The City. DJ Brett Henrichsen, recently in Toronto and considered the west coast’s most popular DJ, spun his magic blend of vocal house to an enthusiastic crowd. Brett always knows how to work a crowd and should be booked in TO much more often. The gods of the gym rule over this huge renovated deco theatre. And bottle service here and all over this city is the new VIP. Every bar, from trashy gay strip clubs to swank martini lounges, has sectioned off areas reserved only for those who buy by the bottle. A simple vodka and tonic is not enough anymore, sweetie, as you must buy the entire bottle of vodka. Insanely pretentious and obscenely expensive, bottle service has now recently been approved in Ontario.
Of course a trip to Miami isn’t complete unless you’ve gone to an Eddie X party. A Toronto favourite, this DJ is still the master of tribal drums.
The best part of South Beach is the actual beach itself. It’s fronted by a park full of palm trees, a funky boardwalk and volleyball courts. The sandy beach that goes on for miles has none of the irritating vendors seen at most Caribbean or Mexican resorts. Since half of Miami’s two-million people are Latino, including Brazilians and many Cubans, and it attracts a large number of Europeans, the city is totally diverse and offers anything you want. Without a doubt, the gay Riviera is still the crown jewel of all gay resorts, a paradise of indulgence, beauty and sex.