"It's not like it once was," Robert, owner of the Icebox Cafe said to me, while I inhaled the best key lime pie I've ever tasted at his restaurant. (His pastries were featured on Oprah so you know I'm not lying.)
It's true, back in the 90's and 2000's there more than double the number of gay bars in South Beach. For whatever the reason, likely a combination of being priced out of the city and apps like Grindr discouraging young queers from going out, a number of Miami Beach gay bars have shut down in the past decade.
Still, that doesn't take away from how welcoming and inclusive the city is to the gay community. First off, everyone was gay. Walking down the street it was very clear. Guys are checking each other out nonstop. And while there might not be as many gay-specific spots, it feels like nearly ever restaurant or bar I went to was gay-friendly, still catering to the gay community in cute, subtle ways, from having a rainbow pride flag outside, some queer artwork inside, or having muscular gay bartenders who flirt with you.
I started my stay at The Confidante Miami Beach, which looked eerily familiar to me because it was actually where Dua Lipa shot her music video for "New Rules".
There's nothing not to love about this place.
Direct beach access and multiple pools on premises. The view is insane. They have a cleansing massage where they roll you down with a crystal ball of your choice. Absolutely perfect for when you're hungover and feel like death. And again, while not a "gay hotel" I'd say a good chunk of the men who were lying out by the pool were gay.
"How could I tell?" you ask. Well for one, I'm shameless about talking to every man I find cute after I've had 3 pina coladas. And two, there was a man wearing a Marek + Richard jockstrap under his bathing suit. He kept purposefully pulling down his outside wear to show off the label and his upper crack. It was an aggressive move, but one I respect. I mean, it definitely got my attention.
Then, while I didn't get to stay at the Gaythering which actually is a gay hotel, I did get to head over and have a drink with the night manager whose name was also Zach. Honestly, it's a good thing I didn't stay there because I never would have left. For one, the sauna, and I've been called a "Steam Room Sally" more than once in my life.
But two, and more importantly, it's a local spot for gay Miamians. Roughly 70% of folks at the bar are repeat customers, and it's a bar where everyone knows each other. In a city that has so many visitors, it's incredible that a places like this exists. But it's no accident that they have become the hub that they are. They have various events they host weekly including a very sexy "Bears and Hares" Friday party and a Sunday Funday. The vibe of the bar, simply put, is chill. It's friendly. It's a place to kiki and gather, or rather gayther. Their name really says it all.
But enough with the hotels, you shouldn't be spending all your time at the place you're staying, although God knows it would be really easy to. You should be taking your gay ass out and about.
You need to attend Palace for drag brunch. That's non-negotiable. The iconic establishment lives up to its name. Miami queens come to slayyy. They're not only high energy, they werk the crowd. They stop traffic in the streets and will get the fuck inside random cars. They will cartwheel directly into a splits forcing the driver flaunting his red Maserati to slam on his breaks. They will give you 15 reveals and then pour your mimosa on top of themselves. (Don't worry, the mimosas are bottomless, and you don't have to ask for more. They have the best service staff of any place I've ever been to. Your champagne flute will never get close to empty.)
Right next door to Palace, you can get a quick view of the Gianni Versace Villa and see the footsteps where he died. Alas, they won't you let you go inside unless you're staying at the hotel, which is a bummer. I almost pulled the, "Do you know who I am?" card, but considering I'm literally a nobody, I figured I better not.
From there, you keep heading down Ocean Drive. On your left you see the blue water, above the even bluer sky, and to the right, all the brightly colored facades and neon lights from the art deco buildings. Miami Beach actually monitors and upkeeps the buildings on Ocean Dr. making sure the buildings don't get torn down. If you're an architecture buff, they have a museum right there for five bucks which will tell you everything humanly possible about the differences between Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco, and Miami Modern (MiMo).
Then, of course, there's Twist, the nightclub in South Beach. Boy, oh goddamn boy. Everyone told me I had to head there, so there was a lot of hype going into it. But when I first walked in, I was underwhelmed. It looked so tiny. So I bopped around the dance floor for a little bit, and then decided I'd check out outside. Ohhhhh, girl, this place is actually huge. There are maybe six rooms that I counted, an outdoor space, and a cabana filled with the most muscular go-go boys I've ever seen. I swear to God, they were all jacked, at least 6'0'' and 220 pounds of solid muscle. I mean, they couldn't even dance because they were physically too large, but Jesus they were a sight to behold. But I digress, each room had different music and vibe. Some rooms were definitely more social; others had guys dancing up a storm. The club had everything you could possibly want and more. It also closes at 5 AM, which is dangerous. Lord have mercy on our souls.
So, maybe Robert was right: Miami Beach isn't like it was 15 to 30 years ago. But holy shit, it's still gay AF and one hell of a time.