LGBTQ South Florida

This South Beach drag landmark is saying goodbye to Ocean Drive, at least for now

Final Drag Brunch at the Palace

The final day of the Drag Brunch at The Palace on Ocean Drive was held on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. The wildly popular event was the last before the venue shutters due to rising rent costs.
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The final day of the Drag Brunch at The Palace on Ocean Drive was held on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. The wildly popular event was the last before the venue shutters due to rising rent costs.

There’s only one place on Ocean Drive where you can find the perfect drag show.

For almost 30 years, Palace Bar reigned as the pioneer of the drag brunch trend and home to some of the fiercest drag queens. But after July Fourth, its landmark location on the corner of Ocean and 12th Street will officially close.

Popular? On Saturday, Palace owner Thomas Donall posted a quick Facebook video of drag star Elishaly D’witshes carrying on with tourists on Ocean Drive. As of Wednesday, the 39-second video has had more than three million views.

Donall says he negotiated for months with Infinity Real Estate, which bought the building that houses Palace, but they couldn’t reach an agreement to keep the first-floor bar and restaurant.

“The new rent is so high that we’d never survive,” Donall said.

For Dale Stine, a member of the Miami Beach city LGBTQ Advisory Committee, the Palace was like an old friend he could always count on. Everyone knew that the Palace was the place to meet, he said.

“But now because of greed, it’s not reliable anymore,” Stine said. “It’s sad for me, but it’s even sadder for the community. It signifies the changing of an era. To see it thrive and be this robust bastion of fun then have to leave, it’s sad. Where are all the queens going to go when they leave the Beach?”

To say goodbye to the old building, the fiercest of all drag queens will return to the Palace for one last traffic-stopping show called a “Large And In Charge T-Dance Starring Latrice Royale.”

Before Royale became a national superstar on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” she was the bar’s reigning queen. It was a video of her performing “You Make Me Feel Good” at the bar that got her noticed by RuPaul, she said.

Thursday night, she’ll be back on the beach to say goodbye the best way she can.

“I wish I was coming back under better circumstances. It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s become a South Beach icon. All over the world, they know the Palace.”

Royale admitted she’s worried that a new location — still not settled on — won’t be the same.

“There’s no other place that offers a show like that,” she said, recalling moments when her performance spilled out onto Ocean Drive.

Not everyone has always appreciated the queens’ loud street performances.

In 2010, Palace’s next-door-neighbor, The Tides South Beach hotel, complained to the city of Miami Beach about late-night noise from the drag shows.

Several Palace drag queens including Royale, Tiffany Fantasia and Champagne Bordeaux then attended a Miami Beach Planning and Zoning board meeting to defend their workplace. A few compromises were reached, included the Palace agreeing to end outdoor performances earlier at night.

The diversity of people who come to Palace shows that there’s more acceptance in the world and that love is still prominent, she said.

“It’s great to see people open their minds and recognize that drag is art,” she said.

What grabs her heart the most, though, is when parents bring their children. The kids walk the runway, happy to be there and to be a part of the performance, Royale said.

Before he became owner 10 years ago, Donall used to visit Palace and knows how important it is to the community.

“The Palace has outgrown it in a way, so the opportunity to have a bigger space is good,” he said.

The iconic restaurant and bar is not just for the gay community, he said, but a place where people from all walks of life eat and laugh together.

“It makes me feel very happy to see people coming together and having a great time,” Donall said. “You don’t get that feeling every day.”

Donall promises that the Palace’s closing doesn’t mark the end. He’s looking for another location on the Beach where the iconic drag shows and Sunday “Brunchic” can survive. His goal is to reopen in a new space in two months.

Until then, the queens and staff are giving their all to make sure the original Palace goes out with a bang. There will be events from Thursday right up until the final block party on July Fourth.

“I am working very hard to find a new location for the Palace,” he said. “It’s not the ending. This gives us the opportunity to get even bigger and better for the next generation.”

If you go

What: Drag star Latrice Royale returns to Palace Bar once more before it closes

When: 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday

Where:1200 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach

Free admission; drink and food menu available

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