Michael Santa in Blog, Miami \ Photos by Dale Stine
Once upon a time, South Beach was a hotbed of gay bars and clubs.
In the ’80s and ’90s, new clubs and restaurants servicing the LGBTQ+ community opened every day on Washington Avenue, Lincoln Road, and Ocean Drive. Once the gays came, celebs like Madonna, Cher and all the 90’s supermodels followed, turning Miami into the epitome of chic. It would prove a double edge sword, however, as the glamour attracted wealthy investors and gentrification began to take over. By the early ’00s, rising rents forced the creatives out and gay enclaves such as Salvation and Warsaw Ballroom were replaced by Office Depot and Señor Frog’s. The gay mecca was a shadow of its former self.
One of the few places to remain, however, has been Palace, the iconic gay Ocean Drive restaurant and bar that is world-renowned for its live drag performances. It was saved in 2007 by Thomas Donall, a nightclub owner and designer from Michigan, who rebuilt and rebranded it into the shining crown it is today.It was Donall who introduced daily drag on-the-street shows to Palace as well as its popular weekly T-Dances. He also launched drag brunch – named The Best Brunch Restaurant in America by Miami
Herald– and created free block parties during Pride that eventually grew so large, he had to acquire permits from the city to accommodate the crowds. Now celebrating over 30 years on Ocean Drive, we spoke with Thomas Donall about what he’s doing to make sure Palace remains one hell of a gay time.Has Palace become a place to meet men in Miami?
Thomas Donall: You can meet anyone at Palace Bar. We are a fun place where everyone is welcome: men, women, curious, celebs and the most amazing Miami Beach characters. Are the Palace queens willing to play matchmaker? Thomas Donall: If you tip them, sure…
Have you noticed that more and more people are going to Palace to dance?
Thomas Donall: I have! I mean Palace is still known for our drag shows but we also feature DJs seven days a week. Who are the DJs? Thomas Donall: Our residents are DJ Cesar, Bill James, Sushiman and Josh Riptide. They all spin different formats from crossover style to Latin beats to disco and circuit dance on weekends.
Do the queens mind having to share the floor with patrons?Thomas Donall: Our queens love to interact with patrons on the dance floor, just not during their performances! Of course not! They are the real stars of Palace, after all. Who are the current reigning queens? Thomas Donall: We have a total of 17 fierce divas but our reigning queens are Mhi-Ya, Noel Leon, Tiffany Fantasia, Missy Meyakie, TP Lords, The Body Fantasia Royale, Elishaly D Withshes, Tiara Love and Joanna James.
What fun events lie ahead for Palace?
Thomas Donall: Every day is a holiday at Palace but we’re planning some extra special theme events… the next one is on Memorial Day so come celebrate the red, white and blue with us!