Visit Miami’s buzzing queer scene this winter

The Gaythering staff
The Gaythering team (left to right): Melissa Hernandez, bartender; Alexander Guerra, co-owner, and Angel Johnson, front desk
Heather Cassell

LGBTQ global artists and big gay bashes make Miami an ideal adventure for any sun-chasing culture vulture this winter.

The fun kicks off with Miami Art Week (November 29-December 4), which encompasses the famed Art Basel (December 1-3 and June 15-18, 2023), that takes over South Beach. This will be the largest exhibition Miami has done yet, with 20 large-scale projects, 29 galleries, and 35 speakers, according to Art Basel organizers.

This year’s Art Basel showcases several queer, non-binary, and feminist artists in the Meridians sector curated by Magalí Arriola, director of Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. Among the artists Arriola is exhibiting are non-binary South African visual activist, humanitarian, and photographer Zanele Muholi, who will reveal their latest trajectory of their artistic expression through sculpture. Black gay artist Christopher Myers will reveal a new suite of stained-glass paintings in lightboxes. Queer artist rafa esparza “will impersonate a lowrider cyborg turned into a 25-cent ride-machine.” Cauleen Smith will create a visual environment, which will include her film, “Sojourner” (2018-2022), whose title pays homage to the feminist abolitionist. This is Arriola’s third year curating this sector of Art Basel.

Queering art week further, Art Gaysel is in Miami Beach at The Gaythering and Futurama is in Little Havana.

South Beach’s gay boutique hotel, The Gaythering, opens its 25 rooms to 30 LGBTQ artists (mostly gay) from around the world during Art Basel. I got a glimpse of what to expect for the eighth edition of Gaysel during my stay recently. The hotel hosted Queer Easels, a pop-up art show produced by Patrick Louis that featured three artists’ works, including Louis’ paintings. Mexican artist Erick Medina painted a new work live and Ukrainian artist Mykola Kurliuk exhibited works that were evacuated in an elaborate six-week operation to the United States. Works sold supported the artists’ causes.

“I love to see how excited the patrons get,” said Alexander Guerra, 39, a Miami native who owns The Gaythering with his life and business partner, Stephan Ginez. “People return even though they can’t stay with us to come to the fair.”

Guerra is proud of his passion project, which is taking over all three floors of the hotel for the third consecutive year and has garnered some savvy art collectors.

Some art exhibits not to be missed this winter are three new exhibits focused on feminism, Venezuelan Jewish Life, and the environment. They are on view now through April 2023 at the Jewish Museum of Florida and The Wolfsonian’s “Plotting Power: Maps and the Modern Age” and “Turn the Beat Around.”

A great way to get immersed into the South Beach neighborhood is to take South Beach’s LGBTQ history tour or the Art Deco architecture walking tours led by gay tour guide Howard Brayer. The tours start at the Art Deco Welcome Center. South Beach is home to one of the world’s largest collections of preserved Art Deco architecture, with more than 800 buildings. Brayer notes the preservation efforts were led by Barbara Baer Capitman, a straight Jewish woman, and openly gay Jewish man Leonard Horowitz, in the 1970s. Their campaign laid the foundation for South Beach’s queer heyday. Gays were instrumental in reviving the historic buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s and South Beach’s popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. Remnants of the era remain at Palace Bar and Twist Bar, and the Versace Mansion (now a luxury hotel and restaurant, The Villa Casa Casuarina).

Miami doesn’t have a central gayborhood, like its neighbor to the north, Fort Lauderdale. The city’s queer community is well integrated into the city’s fabric. LGBTQ people and businesses can be found from South Beach to Little Havana to Wynwood to the Design District — four of Miami’s more than 40 neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is unique with its own flair, and half of the neighborhoods are worth exploring with art and culture, dining, nightlife, and shopping.

“There are just a lot of areas in Miami-Dade County and they’re all LGBTQIA-friendly,” said Damian Pardo, the 59-year-old gay Hispanic man who is the co-founder of Gay8 Festival (GayOcho), Miami’s LGBTQ Latinx festival, hosted every February in Little Havana.

Gay8 Festival Co-Founder Damian Pardo, left, with a friend and festival supporter, Sanchez Marco, right.
Gay8 Festival Co-Founder Damian Pardo, left, with a friend and festival supporter, Sanchez Marco, right.Facebook

In South Beach, newer establishments, The Gaythering and AxelBeach Miami, which opened within the last decade, are attempting to revive the beach neighborhood as the city’s queer hub.

Away from the beach, Little Havana’s bustling corridor on 8th Street (or Calle Ocho) has been home to some notable LGBTQ businesses. The corridor appears to be in transition, but new gay-owned businesses, such as gay Venezuelan floral artist and designer Carlos Marin, have moved in. Little Havana’s woman-owned Futurama art gallery and boutique, a mainstay on the street, features nearly 10 LGBTQ artists among the 30 artists displayed at the gallery. Many queer artists at the gallery are Cuban or of Cuban descent, like LGBTQ artists Janette Allegue, Felix A. Avila, and Santos E. Mendez, said Futurama owner, Pati Vargas, an ally, during a tour of the gallery.

The Gay8 Festival, now in its eighth year, will feature 100 performers on three main stages and 12 smaller stages February 19, 2023.

Not too far from Little Havana is Wynwood, a hipster neighborhood known for its graffiti art. The neighborhood features the Wynwood Walls and is also home to R House Wynwood, the gay-owned indoor/outdoor bar and restaurant. R House features an energetic drag brunch with bottomless mimosas and a family style intercontinental buffet of breakfast favorites. Reservations are a must.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in the historic Coconut Grove along Biscayne Bay’s shoreline is a historic estate with a gay past. The mansion continues to be popular with Miami’s LGBTQ locals and visitors for parties or simply to enjoy its beautiful gardens.

Many of the museums and outdoor art exhibits can easily be accessed at a 55% discount for tickets using the Go Miami VIP Pass.

Where to party

Miami is a big city within 55.25 square miles, which means there’s always a party happening somewhere. In South Beach, the hot spots are Gaythering, Twist Bar, the Palace Bar, or one of AxelBeach’s bars. In Miami Gardens, there’s Club BOi at the Villa Nightclub, a nightclub for Black and gay men of color. In one of Miami’s historic neighborhoods, Coral Gables, Azucar NightClub spices up nights with hot Latin beats, cabarets, and drag competitions.

Miami producers know how to throw a party. Several longstanding parties are celebrating milestones next year. The city’s Winter Party Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary from March 1-7, 2023. Miami Beach Pride (April 15-16, 2023) and girl party Sweet Heat Miami (May 16-22, 2023) are celebrating 15th anniversaries.

Where to eat

South Beach hot spots for eating and partying include Serena Rooftop Restaurant at Moxy Miami and Pane & Vino restaurant offer good food and atmosphere. Serena is a trendy spot with many celebrations and a really good Mariachi band. Pane & Vino is a charming intimate authentic Italian spot for a romantic night out.

For authentic Mexican food on the beach, La Cerveceria de Barrio is the spot. For a quick, simple beach burger and fries, head to lesbian-owned Cheeseburger Baby.

Brunch can be found at R House in Wynwood and the 11th Street Diner. The diner serves delicious classic American fare at any hour in a historic Art Deco dining car in South Beach. Next door to Twist, the diner is perfectly located for a late-night bite.

Wynwood Walls
The Wynwood Walls’ Museum of Graffiti features more than 35 hand-sprayed murals, two street-art galleries, and retail shops in Miami’s hip graffiti art district.Heather Cassell

Where to stay

I was the guest of AxelBeach Miami and The Gaythering, South Beach’s two LGBTQ hotels. Each hotel has its advantages, depending on what you are looking for during your Miami vacation.

AxelBeach is a 160-room hotel housed in one of South Beach’s historic Art Deco buildings steps away from South Beach’s white sandy beach with its own beach club, an outdoor pool, a steam room, three bars onsite, and large rooms. There’s a plethora of dining options steps away on Ocean Avenue and Españolia Way.

Tucked away at the end of a short street by the bay, The Gaythering offers instant community with its cozy bar, patio, and sauna (just for boys). The hotel’s bar and many events are also gathering places for locals. The 25-room hotel features spacious rooms with king beds, sitting areas, and open kitchens (no stoves). The hotel is a block away from a row of restaurants and high-end shopping.

Getting around

Fly into Miami International Airport. If you are used to driving in large cities like New York, San Francisco, or Chicago, you will feel at home driving and parking in Miami. However, GPS directions and signage don’t match up, especially at interchanges and exits. Use the system and your intuition or simply hail a ride share.

Popular neighborhoods are mostly 15-to-30 minutes away by car depending on traffic.

Miami Beach offers a free trolley and easy public transportation for those who do not want to drive.