Here are SFGN's "Best of 2017" winners in Miami-Dade County.
Executive Director of SAVE
Tony Lima is the Executive Director of SAVE. In this role he works diligently to make the world a better place by giving a voice to the voiceless.
“I am very driven to help make positive strides towards social justice as a whole,” Lima said. “That’s something that was instilled in me by my grandfather who was a political dissident in Cuba and my parents with their plight as immigrants here in the United States. The idea of having the liberty to live as my authentic self and help people live as their authentic selves is important to me.”
Lima is also a proud native Miamian who spent a good part of his career doing public relations and marketing work in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta before returning home.
“My heart is in Miami,” he said. “My mission as an LGBTQ leader is not only to purvey the ideals and the necessity to fight but in this crazy political climate, I also know that its important to do it here in South Florida because I want to make my backyard, the best possible place.”
Best Bar & Best Theme Night
1409 Lincoln Road
When Alexander Guerra and 11-year partner Stephan Ginez opened Hotel Gaythering nearly four years ago in February 2014, the couple wanted a place for local LGBT to congregate and call home -- a place to hold a number of different gatherings, or rather "gaytherings."
"I'll tell you, in the beginning, I wasn't too crazy about the name, but Stephan was very gung-ho about it," co-owner Guerra said. "He said we're going to build it and people are going to realize what the name means, but they don't have to realize today. They will eventually. And that's where we're at."
Ginez's family business is hotels. The hoteliers always wanted to run a gay hotel, one that they could have control over "versus franchise properties," Guerra said.
"I'm a Miami native. We kind of knew South Beach had shifted. The demographic of the people going out were looking for something else," Guerra said. "Social media and especially hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff have been amazing, but at the same time they have kind of dwindled bars and clubs. People are at a point now where they still love their hookup sites but they want to come and engage with the person one on one. And that's what we offer every day here. We try to offer something different every day of the week."
If you build it, they will come -- and boy, have the gays come and gone through Hotel Gaythering. So much so that the hotel and bar swept three categories in this year’s Best Of contest: Best Bar, Best Bartender (Robbie Elias) and Best Theme Night (Bingo).
"When people hear bingo, they think boring, retirement home and stuff but this is a different type of bingo. It's so much fun," said Jaime Bayo, executive director and co-founder of the OUT Miami Foundation, who hosts the monthly gig at Hotel Gaythering. "It's just something different for people to do once a month to come out and support a couple of different organizations and have fun. We're happy with our partnership with Hotel Gaythering for bingo and a bunch of other things we do together."
Guerra says bingo is one of the hotel's best theme nights but it's not their only one. Karaoke Mondays with host and SFGN Best Drag Queen winner Tiffany Fantasia is also a hit, as well as Trivia Wednesdays and Sunday Funday, where more than 230 members of the local gay sports league come together for a complimentary barbecue and $7 Absolut drinks.
The hotel also offers daily and monthly rates for its spa and recently partnered with Molto Bar and Restaurant to auction off a hotel stay, a year pass to the spa and a bar tab to help raise funds for the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
"We're really big on community. The community we've been able to build here is just amazing," Guerra said. "I feel like Peter Pan and these are our Lost Boys. We want people to come to Hotel Gaythering and feel like they're at a friend's house."
Robbie Elias – Hotel Gaythering
There's more to Robbie Elias than being Hotel Gaythering's "staple beartender." The Cuban American, who was named Best Bartender this year, is also a singer/songwriter who has been making his mark in the Latin music market writing songs, touring and singing background for international acts like Marc Anthony and Ricky Martin.
Elias has been bartending at Hotel Gaythering for about three years. Elias said he initially came on board at the Gaythering to help co-owners Alexander Guerra and Stephan Ginez with the hiring process and menu selection, but he decided to stay while he recorded new music.
"Robbie is amazing. He's our staple 'beartender,'" Guerra said. "He dominates Mondays with our Karaoke Monday and is at the forefront of our Friday nights, Bears and Hares. He's the one that started our Throwback Thursdays, and he's been a friend of mine for the last 12-13 years, if not more actually. He deserves the honor of being named best bartender."
When Elias first learned the news, he said it was "a big surprise and such a cool honor. Whenever you’re recognized by your patrons and peers, it's a good feeling.”
Elias says he always tries to "keep it real" with his guests.
"Of course, knowing your regulars' drinks and making conversation are a given, but I think its taking that extra step that makes you a good bartender," Elias said. "I always try to make things happen for people. If they want to hear a specific song or if they need to talk about how crappy their day is going, I am there for them. People want to connect and I try to be as much of myself as possible with them so they feel that I am their friend and not just a person serving drinks. Gaythering is all about that personable experience."
Besides best bartender honors, the South Beach gay hotel also snagged Best Bar and Best Theme Night (Bingo) in SFGN's Best Of 2017 contest.
Best Beach & Best Activity for Tourists
Past its blue water, sandy shore, and colorful lifeguard stands, the world famous South Beach is a world of fun and entertainment set amongst its defining Art Deco buildings.
Voted “Best Beach” and “Best Activity for Tourists,” South Beach is a world of cabarets, night clubs, fine restaurants, world class hotels, roof top bars, theaters, shopping, art museums, galleries, spas, beauty salons, and more.
In between enjoying South Beach’s day and nightlife, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau recommends that visitors and tourists enjoy the architecture of the Art Deco buildings and “take a stroll along the beach and watch the cruise ships heading out to sea.”
Many who have been to South Beach recommend the people watching.
Reecia Edwards is the latest visitor to do so.
“The best time is the people watching on Ocean Drive. The world is so diverse and I love it. Being here on South Beach reminds me that true love has no boundaries.”
El Rey De Las Fritas
1821 SW 8 St.
El Rey De Las Fritas does burgers – Cuban style.
It’s called a “frita” and El Rey De Las Fritas won “Best Burger” for this Cuban version of an American classic – ground beef, ground pork, ketchup, raw onions, various spices, and fried shoestring potatoes on a fluffy Cuban roll.
Late founder Victoriano “Benito” Gonzalez liked to call it, “La Formula.”
The restaurant’s Cuban creation has plenty of fans, from within and outside of Miami, and has won multiple awards – the “Frita Showdown” and the “Burgie Awards” in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
“The best fritas. The bread, the meat, and the delicious potatoes rock,” said Raquel Padron.
“Best Fritas in the World. I have been going to this place since I can remember. This is the marvel of this place: the recipes have never changed. Love the place. I would recommend it to everybody and anybody. I have taken all my family members who come from out of town and everybody always wants to come back,” Allan Santovenia said.
Best City to Live
After a 4 year winning streak the City of Miami Beach was dethroned in our annual Best Of contest. Instead readers chose the City of Miami this year. While the two cities both have the word Miami in them, they are vastly different. Miami is a sprawling metropolis with 399,457 residents, whereas Miami Beach is a small resort town with 87,779 people.
We’re not quite sure why our readers love Miami this year. But it could be for the same reason the rest of the world loves the city. Miami is a leader in finance, commerce, culture, media, entertainment, the arts, and international trade. Miami is also known as the Capital of Latin America.
Whatever the reason may be, congrats to Miami!
Best Drag Queen
Henry Williams, better known for her stage name Tiffany Fantasia, has been around the block for a long while now. Born and raised in South Florida, she first caught the drag bug in college while studying jazz and musical theater.
“I kind of just fell into it,” Fantasia told The Miami Times and SoBeGayNightlife.com back in 2015. “A friend of mine asked me if I would join him for this show he was doing. So I went along with it and I earned $10 in tips that first show. That was gas money for the week. It was a fun first experience so I just kept doing it every week.”
And that's how it all began. Ten dollars in tips soon turned into a 14-year-long gig at The Palace and thousands of performances at venues all over South Florida. This is her fourth-time winning Best Drag Queen.
Since Palace closed its 1200 Ocean Drive location [and opened a pop-up T-dance on the rooftop of the Clevelander Hotel on the weekends], Fantasia has been keeping busy at Señor Frogs, as well as other venues.
On being named Best Drag Queen again by SFGN readers, Fantasia said "it's an honor" and she would like to thank her supporters. "I really do appreciate it." Fantasia says she honestly doesn't know why she continues being named the best.
"We have many great artists in the area, who are just as worthy of the title," she said. "I think I bring an energy to my shows that very few possess, and that's what I feel sets me apart.”
LGBT Event of the Year
Miami Beach Gay Pride
When Habiba Estrada attended last year’s Miami Beach Gay Pride, she had a lot of fun and enjoyed herself. But she was also there to show her pride for her daughter, who is a lesbian.
“I wanted just to support my daughter and assure her that I am so proud of her and how much I love her just the way she is. I am sure she feels me and I want to let her know that it will not only be during the parade. I will always be by her side.”
Held every April, last year’s event attracted an estimated 130,000 people, a number that has grown since the first Miami Beach Gay Pride in 2009 drew 15,000. Last year’s event also included 70 parade contingencies, 35 floats and 3,000 parade participants.
It’s part of what’s helped Miami Beach Gay Pride win “Best LGBT Event of Year” four times, including this year.
“It was my first time going to a gay pride anywhere. There were lots of sexy men and women, the music was on point, and I loved it so much. I will be definitely be going next year and celebrating mis Cumpleaños while am there,” Robert Ballard said.
Best Live Theater
176 NW 24 St.
When Kathleen Kenny wants “weekend gold,” she goes to see a play at the Villain Theater, which won the “Best Live Theater” award.
“This place is special. Check it out. Something different than dinner and a movie. Live theater plus comedy equals weekend gold.” Jeff McNabb calls it “laugh out loud comedy, Chicago long form-style, hilariously portrayed. It’s certainly worth seeing, especially if you're into improv.”
Along with various improv troupes, including YAAAS!, which is known as “Miami’s LGBTQIA+ Improv Team,” Villain Theater also offers musicals, writing classes, monologue readings, and comedy classes for those who want to get on stage.
It’s all part of the theater’s mission “to create and foster a supportive theater community in South Florida. We are committed to actor training and development and providing those actors with performance opportunities. Our view is that both training and performing are equally important to provide a sense of support for a burgeoning community.”
SAVE is a triple threat. The organization is a 501c-4, 501c-3 and a political action committee (PAC). Founded in 1993, SAVE is an acronym for Safeguarding American Values for Everyone. The past few years have been very busy as the organization has ramped up its activism.
SAVE’s 501c-4 focuses on writing and passing policy on a state and local level. As a 501c-3, SAVE helps to educate voters on important issues in the LGBT community. Some examples are workplace protections, banning conversion therapies and educating people on reducing prejudice and bias against the transgender community. As a PAC, SAVE helps support candidates up for elected office.
In one of its most high-profile victories, SAVE and the ACLU of Florida sued to challenge Florida’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states with marriage equality—and won.
SAVE helped to expand the human rights ordinance in Miami-Dade County to include the transgender community. It passed six bans on conversion therapy in South Florida. The organization has also supported 80 candidates into elected office.
All of that, and SAVE shows no signs of slowing down.
Magic City Pizza
7401 Coral Way
Miami, FL 33155
Magic City Pizza put a spell on Miami-Dade natives this year, becoming the area’s new favorite slice.
The small little shop boasts a menu full of your standard options, from cheese pies to chicken wings. But they also have a vegetarian pizza and The Magic City pizza, which features five different meats.
“The pizza was the kind of pizza I love the most, New York style,” One yelp reviewer writes. “Thin crust but she was able to keep it so crispy which was amazing!”
Above all else, diners recommend the garlic rolls as one of the best items on the menu. Another reviewer described them as having a “crusty exterior and a soft center with extra Parmesan and garlic on top.”
The pizzeria also has an option to order online as well, matching the service many local chains have. While seating is limited, there are a few tables for people to dine at as well.
7232 Biscayne Blvd.
Moshi Moshi recently became George Rios’ new late night spot.
“This place is amazing, especially for those late night munchies. It has become my new late night spot in Miami. The miso pork ramen is out of control, I highly recommend it. The staff is great also.”
There are plenty of other sushi and Japanese cuisine lovers who echo Rios and helped Moshi Moshi win “Best Restaurant.”
Jose Campos dined there for the first time this summer. “The sushi was amazing, great portions, fresh, and the prices were fair compared to other sushi chains. The ceviche was delicious along with Hiro Roll and Volcano Roll. And the sake that our waiter recommended was paired great with our meal.”
The menu lists almost 20 different rolls, including, Pollo Salsa, Jumbo BBQ Eel, Spicy Lobster, Joe Roll, and Crunchy Alaskan.
It’s what’s drawn Drew Myers-Li for years.
“One of my favorite haunts in Miami. All of the food is amazing, the staff is very fast and attentive. They are open until 5 a.m., so if you’re one of those nut cases like me who sometimes gets and absolutely undeniable sushi craving at 3 a.m., there is hope in the world.”