The Grand Return of Palace and its Queens

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The drag queens of Palace. Photo courtesy of Jose Cassola.

Who says you can't go home again? Author Thomas Wolfe's most famous novel explored the notion that if you try to return to a place you remember from the past, it won't be the same as you remember it.

Well, Palace Bar will not be the same when it officially reopens at its new location, 1052 Ocean Drive, currently the site of Amarillo Restaurant Bar and Grill. But Palace owner Thomas Donall says that's a good thing.

"This place is twice as large as the other location. It's perfect for the Palace. I'm excited," Donall said.

The new site is much more spacious with a dance floor area and a larger terrace and awnings for the drag queens to perform and spill out into the street with their sidewalk and traffic-stopping performances.

"The new place is great. It's a bigger space with removable awnings," Donall said. "Everything is more open with a deep upper terrace. The doors are nano doors that open up with a larger dance floor space."

During the down time since the drag bar closed its 1200 Ocean Drive location on July 4, other venues capitalized on Palace's absence by offering drag performances of their own.

R House Wynwood increased its monthly drag shows at Sunday brunch to a weekly event with hostess Athena Dion; promoter Tony Ferro started a T-dance pool party with drag performers at the Washington Park Hotel across from Twist, then a similar T-dance at the Campton Yard on South Beach; W Miami in Brickell did a "Whisper Out Loud" event, a mixer for LGBT professionals, on October and November with drag shows; and Señor Frogs hired Tiffany Fantasia to replace Elaine Lancaster as hostess of their drag brunch on Sundays.

Meanwhile, as a way to keep the Palace name alive and give the drag bar's regulars a place to go on the weekends Palace held weekend T-dance parties on the rooftop of the Clevelander from August to October.

He said Palace's new location took more than four months to secure because of licensing and permits with the City of Miami Beach and dealings with Amarillo.

"It's been a lot of work to get things done. It's not easy to buy someone out to get a space on Ocean Drive. That's prime real estate. No one wants to give that up," Donall said. "We've also had a lot of hold up because of licensing and permits. We're finishing up the paperwork to transfer the liquor licenses and other licensing from Amarillo to Palace and waiting for some other things to happen before we officially reopen."

Donall said the holdup also had to do with finding the right place on Ocean Drive. He said there was a possibility to open near Fifth Street "but that would've been too far. This is the best we could offer. It's close to the beach, close to 12th Street, where we were for 29 years. We're next to the Clevelander. There's a lot of energy in that area. This is better for us and everybody around us."

On closing the old iconic location at 1200 Ocean Drive, Donall said it was unfortunate but he had to do it.

"It would've taken at least a year and a half to renovate the old place. We didn't want to wait that long," Donall said. "I felt like if I didn't do this now, it was never going to happen. I had to do this for the community. There's nothing like Palace on Ocean Drive."

Donall said he's "really excited to give other great talent the opportunity to be a part of the Palace team."

"We have 50, 60 girls that want to work at the new Palace that didn't have the opportunity before at the old location," Donall said. "One drag queen is flying up from New York for Thanksgiving weekend. So we're going to start off with the talent we have, but we have room for more."

The owners and managers at other gay bars on South Beach, including Score and Molto, are happy Palace is returning.

"It's fantastic Palace is reopening back on Ocean Drive," said Sam Yovan, manager at Score. "A staple in the LGBT community on Ocean Drive, I'm so happy for Tom and that the famous queens finally have their home back. Every queen needs a Palace."

Raymond Ortega, co-owner of Molto – which recently opened up on Lincoln Road – was Donall's lead bartender at Palace. He and "some of the original drag queens that made Palace what it is," Ortega said, wish Donall and Palace much luck and success at the new location.

"I only wish the best for Palace. I hope nothing but much success to everyone involved," Ortega said. "I love that there are more gay venues on South Beach for locals and tourists. This is much needed."

Some of the veteran queens guaranteed to come back to the new location are Tiffany Fantasia, TP Lords and Missy Meyakie Le Paige.

"The new place is very colorful and larger," Fantasia said. "Yes, I will be a part of the new Palace. Can't wait for everyone to come and see the new place."

Le Paige said she is returning because of the people, her fans and her family.

"It was home. It was home for me for nine years," Le Paige said. "I just feel like I want to give what the people have been waiting for. I want to give back to them; what they have been patiently waiting for so long and it's finally here. So I'm excited to give back to them and show so much love and get so much love from them."

Le Paige says the new Palace, which is known for their block parties and "everybody coming out and having a good time with the music, the drinks and the shows...it is beautiful, more spacious, a lot of room." She said a highlight for her has always been families bringing their children to the drag shows and she's looking forward to be able to do that again.

"For me, getting a chance to interact with the children, that's my highlight," Le Paige said. "The little babies they come to me, they're so beautiful and they give me money. I get to bring them on and make them a part of my act in my show. A big shout out to the families, the moms and dads who teach their children to not judge us, but to love. It's all about love. It's not about color or race or sexual orientation. It's all about coming together and loving one another."

Le Paige said she is excited to come back and she's "sure the place is going to be packed. I'm going to see so many familiar faces that I haven't had a chance to see. And it will be a chance to come back with my girls, and hopefully all of our girls will be able to come back and we can all work together again. For me, the goal is to get everybody that was once at the Palace to make it complete and make it family again."

Shanaya Bright, a native Colombian now living in New York, spent 15 of the 19 years she has been living in the U.S. as a drag performer at Palace. She said she's happy Palace is returning because "the community, tourists and gay youth need it," she said. "Palace was a marvelous place for straights and gays alike to come together and be one community."

Joel Krik, an old patron of Palace, wasn't aware the drag bar was returning. He said he is happy to hear the queens are coming back.

"I used to go to Palace pretty much every Saturday and it was a really, really good time. It drew such a diverse mix of people. I really appreciated that," Krik said. "It was such a loss these past few months. We really lost an institution but going forward with their return, it's a great opportunity for us to reconnect. It has been a huge absence and there's been no place during the day, especially like Palace, to have brunch and enjoy a mixed crowd like that."

New Yorker Justin Cangiano, a drag queen from Long Island named Syn, and his boyfriend Louie Pabon have never been to Palace but they've heard of how iconic the venue is.

"We've heard of Palace through social media, other drag queens, word of mouth, all over New York. Everyone talks about it," Cangiano said. "All the queens are gag. They turn the shows out," added Pabon.

Owner Donall hopes the new Palace will be open by this weekend or the start of next week "in time to give thanks for Thanksgiving. We just might not have a turkey to thaw out in time," he laughs.

 


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