Miami Beach

South Beach’s Palace Bar is back, and the famous drag queens will get more glam

Drag artist T-Lo collected tips during the “Last Party-Last Dance” brunch at The Palace Bar on Ocean Drive on the original location’s July 4, 2017, closing day.
Drag artist T-Lo collected tips during the “Last Party-Last Dance” brunch at The Palace Bar on Ocean Drive on the original location’s July 4, 2017, closing day.

Life’s been a drag for regulars at the popular Palace Bar on South Beach since its surprise closing on July 4.

But for its fans, it should be another holiday feeling when the new Palace opens on 10th Street and Ocean Drive before Thanksgiving, just two blocks from the original location on 12th Street.

Palace Bar Fantasia
Drag artist Fantasia Royale at the “Last Party-Last Dance” at Palace Bar on its closing day on July 4, 2017. PEDRO PORTAL

The new spot replaces the Amarillo South Beach bar and grill but is larger, and the drag queen shows and brunches and rallies that made the old Palace a hit are all expected to find a roomier and more glamorous place.

“What’s great about this property is it has things that are similar to the Palace but it’s bigger and it has walls that open up on both sides,” said owner Thomas Donall. This means a larger terrace with awnings for the shows, a better dance floor area that will be framed by glass walls for a ritzier setting, all in a newer building.

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.

Donall plans to put in a new sound and lighting system for the DJs, add more drag performers — both local and national — and aim for more events, with an eye on partnering with the city during Art Deco Weekend and Art Basel.

“I’m very excited. This is the space I’ve been looking at for more than seven months,” Donall said. “I couldn’t ask for a better place on Ocean Drive.”

For three decades the original Palace Bar was the meeting place for South Florida’s LGBTQ community. The venue — most certainly not to be confused with the Palace assisted living retirement communities in Kendall and Coral Gables — pioneered the drag brunch trend on South Beach.

The Palace Bar was home to some of the region’s most beloved drag queens, such as Royale, a star on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on Logo TV, as well as Tiffany Fantasia and Champagne Bordeaux. Billed as the only gay bar on bustling Ocean Drive, the venue’s slogan, “because every queen needs a palace,” encapsulated its charm.

It was a camp delight that lured not only the drag performers who replicated artists like Madonna, Liza and Barbra, but the actual Madonna who popped over to the Palace to dine when she had a home across the causeway in the 1990s, during her “Erotica” and “Evita” incarnations.

Madonna Evita
Madonna as Eva Peron in 1996. In this era, the pop star was seen brunching at South Beach’s Ocean Drive hot spot, Palace Bar. PR News Photo

Palace Bar, which also hosted outreach programs for those living with HIV, gay rights rallies and served as host for a tribute to honor victims of the Orlando Pulse shooting victims in 2016, didn’t close for lack of customers. Rather, its closing was due to a hike in rent, Donall told the Miami Herald in June.

Soon as Donall can clear the last few permitting hurdles with the city, the Palace should be good to go, he said.

“It’s been one of the biggest challenges of my life to get this space. It’s hard here,” he said. “But if I don’t bite the bullet it won’t happen. After 11 years working to take the Palace to a new level and putting in all this time and effort into branding it I don’t want to give up on the Beach. We need to stick our neck out for the community.”

Donall is encouraged by the results of Tuesday’s municipal elections in which Miami Beach voters rejected rolling back hours of alcohol sales on Ocean Drive to 2 a.m. from the traditional 5 a.m. last call and the reelection of former commissioner Michael Góngora, who favored a 5 a.m. close.

“We need to keep this Beach alive and that’s what made South Beach what it is — the entertainment,” Donall said. “They want this entertainment here.”

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen