Check out the Palace Bar final closing party on our Facebook page.
Palace Bar and its iconic drag show and brunches are in quite the pickle.
The South Beach favorite of millions of locals, tourists and celebrities alike is set to leave the place it's called home for nearly 30 years on Tuesday, July 4. The sale of the building and a mandatory 40-year recertification and renovation is forcing owner Thomas Donall, his drag queens and wait staff out of the world-renowned locale on 1200 Ocean Dr., where longtime performers like Noel Leon, Tiffany Fantasia and Shanaya Bright (the "Queen of Costumes") are known to do flips and splits on the sidewalk, stop traffic on the Drive and even emerge from the beach.
Leon showed television audiences Sunday how flexible she is on Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live" with Andy Cohen, himself a fan and a frequent customer of the venue. Leon beat popular queens Detox and Valentina in the "Lip Sync For Your Wife" challenge by doing a drop in front of Cohen, plus-size model Ashley Graham and real estate agent Ryan Serhant of "Million Dollar Listing New York."
Palace's Last Dance Sessions started at the beginning of June and end appropriately enough on a holiday known for fireworks. The bar plans to go out with a bang Tuesday, as Donall says the City of Miami Beach is helping them set up a block party on 12th Street, closing off the area between Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. The block parties have been a Palace fixture in the past for events such as Winter Party, White Party and Miami Beach Gay Pride. Donall says it's fitting the South Florida LGBT venue ends its tenure at the 1200 location the same way.
"The city is allowing us to close down the street for this massive all-out block party like we've done before for Pride and White Party," Donall said. "Only this time it's extra special because it's our last party at 1200 Ocean Dr. We have a huge schedule of events planned for the entire weekend, culminating on the Fourth of July with 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. brunches and fireworks. If the Palace has ever meant anything to you, you need to come out, show your support and help us go out in style."
In 2016, developer Steve Kassin’s Infinity Real Estate bought the building that houses Palace and 23 residential units for more than $15 million. A spokesman for Infinity said the company wanted to make enhancements to the building and improve the property’s “prominence and accessibility.”
Palace opened in February 1988 -- under the guidance of then-owner Steve Palsar -- as the lone restaurant on Ocean Drive in a sea of hotels. The eatery started a trend of other cafés and restaurants opening up and down the Drive and quickly attracted celebrities from Elton John and Madonna to the late Princess Diana and slain designer Gianni Versace, who was murdered at his mansion just a block away from Palace in 1997.
Over 29 years, Palace has reached its greatest success in the last decade with Donall at the helm. The Michigan native, a veteran designer and nightclub owner, introduced daily drag on-the-street shows, drag brunches, weekly T-Dances and free block parties for Pride, White Party and Winter Party weekends. Former resident queen and alumna Latrice Royale even made it to the top four of Season 4's "Rupaul's Drag Race."
But Donall's and Palace's contributions to the South Florida LGBT community haven't just been cocktails and men in drag; there's been more than $2 million in donations made to charitable causes such as Miami Pride, the National LGBTQ Task Force and Care Resource.
So after everything Palace has given to the local LGBT community, some patrons are up in arms about the possibility of the drag bar closing its doors forever.
"Palace has been an institution for the last 30 years," local resident Antonio Alfonso said. "If they are coming to an end, what's left of gay South Beach in my opinion is not much to entice me to drive to the beach in horrible traffic and then having to pay $20 to park. Let's face it, Miami Beach is not what it used to be and it will never be again... not if the multi-million dollar developers have a say."
Other patrons have asked what are LGBT members doing to give back to Palace now that it is being booted off Ocean Drive with no place to go.
Nya Carter and Darci Beaudreau of West Philadelphia recently visited Palace and said the venue is similar to a longtime gay haunt from back home called Woody's, which has had a "huge following and has been really popular for at least 20 years."
"Our community would be in an uproar if Woody's was closing and wasn't receiving help to relocate elsewhere. At the very least, we would be signing petitions," Carter said.
Though Donall says the City of Miami Beach has been helpful by offering to waive permits for Palace's July 4th block party, he says the city could step up a little more by assisting with the search for a new venue on Ocean Drive, which is essential for the lavish and sometimes outrageous sidewalk and street performances.
Former Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Góngora, who is running again for Commissioner in November, said though "much of these things are driven by private industry, if I were Commissioner I would've placed this item for discussion at the Commission and looked for a pop-up location for the Palace to operate until it finds a new home."
Góngora added: "It is sad that escalating rents and high prices are driving away so many of the local businesses that helped make Miami Beach the success it is today. We need to patronize our local businesses and help support them. I truly hope that the Palace finds a new home soon. The Palace is a part of so many wonderful memories and I want to ensure that it remains a part of our community for future residents and visitors to also enjoy."
As its slogan goes "every queen needs a Palace," without the Palace, what are the South Florida queens to do?
The following queens sound off:
Tiffany Fantasia, 14-year performer: "Nothing's forever. Yes, this is a mainstay, a part of our history. But so was Warsaw. So were several other nightclubs. It's a business. It happens. As I've gotten older, one thing I've noticed when it comes to owning a business, it's better to own the land than lease the space. Not to say anything against Tom or any of the previous owners, but we gays come into a neighborhood, take it over and make it look pretty and we forget to buy the land so that prices can stay stable and we're not forced out by any developer."
Noel Leon, 10-year performer: "I'm sad because this is where my family is, my friends. This location will always have a lot of memories. But there's nothing to save here. Yes, we're hopeful and confident that we will find another home, but this version of Palace is over and it's not so easy to find another home just like that. A lot of it has to do with money and permits, but there are also places who don't want drag queens around, the kind of performances we do, some girls come out a little more nude, it's a lot of things."
TP Lords, 10-year performer:
"We are losing an iconic, legendary spot where we can be out in the open, show our art and gayness and stumble upon that young gay kid who is struggling with himself and now he has a place to go to and feel welcomed and at home. This is sad. There will never be a spot like 12th Street and Ocean Drive. But we have to roll with the punches and we will be OK."
Tlo Ivy, 6-year performer:
"This surreal experience with Palace has been a blessing for me. What I'm going to miss most is the dressing room. The life we have back there is completely different from what we go through out here in front of an audience. I think as far as people saying the LGBT community isn't doing enough for us, I believe we are all doing the best we can. At the end of the day, it's all about money and dollar signs. Money talks. We all can do so much and we all got personal stuff to deal with, but the knife cuts both ways. We may be going down for now, but we are not out for the count."
Athena Dion, 7-year performer:
"When I was growing up, as a little kid, I watched 'The Birdcage' and that started my fascination and love for drag. The fact is the Palace is the legitimate real 'Birdcage,' so I feel like I've done a 360. Performing here has been a dream come true. We all have so many memories and have built so many relationships. We all have our platforms and post-Palace, we're going to do great things. I ask our fans to help us out and support the girls no matter where we end up. They work hard and built the Palace to what it is."
Owner Donall warns his followers -- including the haters -- that no matter how long they are gone, "a month, maybe two," Palace will return. "This is not farewell. It's a 'see ya soon,'" Donall said.
To receive the latest information about Palace's final show and relocation, text the word PALACE to 64600.