Raymond Ortega, co-owner of Molto Bar and Restaurant on Lincoln Road, had a vision: to open a gay bar in South Beach where the hosts and servers also put on a show for you -- in drag.
Think Coyote Ugly on steroids.
In that famous saloon female bartenders performed outrageous stunts on the bar and fed shots to patrons. Molto – at the site of the old Haven – has a similar feel to Coyote Ugly, only the servers are drag queens who perform even crazier stunts – like drag legend Noel Leon doing her signature split on the bar or transgender Fantasia Royale pouring water on her, ahem, large chest.
"When I first came here and saw the place, that’s the first thing we started talking about. We’re gonna get on the bar and perform," Royale said. "It just adds an extra effect to our shows. It’s something different, something to make the crowd go wow; like when I used to perform at the Palace going into the streets. Here at Molto, it’s a more intimate setting. We have to be intimate with our crowd, getting on the bar and feeding them shots. That’s what we’re going for.”
Fellow "dragtender" Tlo Ivy says that's precisely what Molto is trying to accomplish.
“We’re trying to incorporate that feel. We want to do something different," Ivy said. "Here in Miami Beach, as far as stable gay places to go, we have Twist and Score. That’s pretty much it, but they are clubs and we are a bar. So we want to offer something different and offer variety."
Ortega's vision came originally from the roots of Palace. The 31-year-old grew up there and was one of the first servers and bartenders there 12 years ago when the third owners of Palace, Doug and Henry, owned it. He was also a part of creating the drag shows there every day and pushed very hard to do it.
"The drag queens there originally were hosts and servers," Ortega said. "I was there before Thomas Donall took over the lease. He only let the performances continue, the entertainment part only. So when I became a bar manager at Palace, it was an element I always wanted to incorporate back at Palace."
Since Palace closed on Ocean Drive, Ortega sought to bring back the bar he knew 12 years ago but into this era. He recruited many of the staff and entertainers from Palace and opened Molto.
"A bunch of us, the best from the Palace Bar, took over and we’re sort of bringing Molto up from the bottom up," Ivy said. "We offer everything; it’s not just one sort of format. There’s open format to everything."
Ortega says Molto is different from other gay venues.
"We are not just a drag venue and that's different because well, we don't have local gay bars on South Beach anymore," he said. "We have clubs [like Twist and Score] or weekly events. But we've lost the feel of having a gay bar on South Beach,” he said. “Molto is a venue where everyone knows everyone, and you can come and day drink or eat great food that are not really South Beach prices. I'm trying to bring back a bar I knew 12 years ago but into this era; where you have a happy hour, where you have great-tasting food while also giving the drag girls an opportunity to bartend, serve and perform. Everyone is seeing them in a different light, not just as a performer at Molto."
So far for Royale, accepting Ortega's invitation to be a part of the Molto team has been "one of the best choices I’ve made in the last couple of months."
"It’s a little different being on the other side of the bar because usually I’m the one who’s drinking," Royale laughs. "But now I’m getting the hang of everything. It’s good. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time and now I’m able to do it. Ray gave me a chance and I’m very excited to see what comes out of this. I hope Molto brings us, for one, unity. It’s another gay bar for us to have a choice to come to. It’s good that we’re rebuilding South Beach."
The feedback on social media so far has been positive. Jeff Pazzo on Facebook wrote: “Simply put..... amazing! The staff, the drinks and the food. South beach definitely needed this!”
Joanna James on Facebook said: “I'm glad it's here! Gay life is alive and well in Miami Beach! Check it out!”
Chino Rikan on Facebook wrote: “Just the right mix of class and sex appeal. The drinks are awesome and the food is amazing. Staff is friendly and entertaining. [This is] my new go-to spot.”
Though Molto is for the gay community, performer Tlo Ivy says the venue is "open to all – straight people, bisexual people, lesbians. Whatever you want to be, blue, yellow, green, however, you’re welcomed.”
“As the new up and coming gay joint in South Beach, I want everyone to come and experience this new spot open to our gay community," Ivy said. "We have specials all the time, happy hour. Our drinks and food are cheap. The food is amazing. Our specialty is Italian food. Hopefully, we blow up and become the next new spot.”
Co-owner Ortega reiterates the same.
"My goal is for the locals on South Beach to have a place to come to and for anyone in the LGBT community or anyone who supports the LGBT community can come over and over again," Ortega said. "We kind of popped up out of nowhere and it’s bringing a new energy to South Beach."
IF YOU GO:
* Address: 1237 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach.
* Hours of operation: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
"We will soon be having a breakfast buffet for $19.99; all you can eat every day, which will open us up at 8 a.m.," co-owner Raymond Ortega said.
* Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 3-8 p.m.
* Mondays: Industry Night with Tlo Ivy; 2 for 1 well drinks for people in the biz and for South Beach locals; pop-up shows by Tlo Ivy.
* Tuesdays: Dragtini Tuesday with Noel Leon; $8 martini menu all night; pop-up shows by Noel Leon.
* Wednesdays: #MuchWoman Dinner and a Show, $29.99; performances by Noel Leon; special guest seating at 7:30 p.m.; show starts at 8 p.m.
* Thursdays: #AlleyMuch Thursdays with Ray Ortega and Noah Wyche; DJ starts spinning at 9 p.m.; hip-hop, top 40, house; drag shows throughout the night from the house divas.
* Fridays: #HappyFridays; happy hour extended until 9 p.m.; DJ starts at 9 p.m. with Fernand Cute or Dj Latrice Perry; hosted by Missy Meyakie Le Paige and Fantasia Royale.
* Saturdays: The Kiki Brunch with the whole cast of Molto; $29.99 unlimited drinks and food; video mix DJ from 4-9 p.m.; resident DJ from 9 p.m.-3 a.m.
* Sundays: Much T-dance with special drinks and DJ from 5-10 p.m.