travel

A different kind of Winter Wonderland! The annual Miami Beach party is more than just Speedo-clad men

The Winter Party 2019 is set to be held at the end of February raising funds for the National LGBTQ Task Force

2019-02-05

This article first appeared in Attitude's February Travel issue 305. Words by Anthony Gilet.

I remember my first time in Miami vividly. Driving across the bridge to South Beach, the sun-soaked views of the island city and its bay were breathtaking. On this, my second trip to the city, I was just as captivated as before.

Something about it just feels like home. The dream home you move into after marrying a wealthy plastic surgeon, that is. I am in town for Winter Festival, an annual celebration that sees 10,000 Speedo-clad gay men descend on Miami Beach.

How unfortunate for me… I’m greeted with a smile as I check into The Betsy, an art-deco hotel right on Ocean Drive, which is so close to the beach that falling out the wrong side of your Lyft would leave you with a sandy fanny.

But much more than its locale, The Betsy’s authentic interior — embellished with works of art — is home to a number of the city’s creatives, especially writers.

Famished from the flight, I head to Juvia, a Peruvian, Japanese and French roof-top restaurant on renowned shopper’s haven: Lincoln Road. It offers great views of South Beach, the perfect spot for a date… if I wasn’t so painfully single.

Flavourful sushi and charcoaled meat dominate the menu although the creamy fish risotto is highly recommended. I happily wash it down with the signature cocktails.

After popping back to the hotel for a quick outfi t change (duh), I venture down to the opening club night, at the aptly named Heat. It’s so hot that I’m surrounded by men undressing themselves.

Sadly, I have to take my jet-lagged arse home just as things really start to heat up. I am up bright and early the next morning for an LGBT+ history tour of Miami Beach.

It’s touching to see how far society has come in a city where gays were once arrested. Nowadays, the police lead the Pride parade in solidarity.

Miami is often overlooked as a gaycation staple which is a bit odd given that it’s the home of The White Party, Latin Pride, Da Brother (a gay cruise for men of colour) and Aqua (an annual lesbian celebration).

Our tour guide explains how it was the gay community that preserved the iconic art-deco architecture when it was under threat; we homos will die for an aesthetic.

After soaking up some of the city’s culture, it’s most definitely time to soak up some rays at the Under One Sun pool party — I just follow the breadcrumb trail of oiled-up torsos.

Vibrant decorations drape the path up to a huge pool where a burlesque dancer swirls around in a giant martini glass; defi nitely a look for my next birthday. As the sun beats down on the revellers, and the bass envelopes them, it’s impossible not to get lost in euphoria.

I take a welcome break from the party to grab some grub at renowned Red, The Steakhouse. As a meat-lover (no pun intended), little surprise I am left salivating. The meatballs are unarguably the tastiest balls I have all trip (so far) and the charcoal grilled lamb, beef and chicken are a carnivore’s dream. 

Pescatarians should be assured that the prawns bathed in a creamy white wine sauce also make my mouth water, as do the closing-act cheesecakes.

Once we finish eating (and I adjust my belt down a loop), I swing by the second night-time party of the weekend.

The next morning, and despite the hangover, I don’t want to waste time lying in bed, so I drag myself all of 20ft across to the peaceful beach to enjoy the calm before the storm that is Winter Festival’s famous beach party.

At 9am, it’s the perfect place to meditate and unwind before hopping over to brunch in Downtown Miami, where the graff iti art is so bold and impressive it has Brooklyn shook. As a RuPaul’s Drag Race (and “bottomless”) super fan, I am looking forward to Bar’s Drag Brunch.

Category is: legless by midday! And I am not disappointed as a handful of talented queens kick, twirl, jump-split and death-drop while I just strive to stay upright. The beach party is everything it had been hyped as, jam-packed with sexy music lovers dressed in their skimpy best.

A light breeze allows us to tear up the dancefl oor — or slather over hunky guys like sun-tan lotion — without melting. Tip: you’ll have the time of your life, but your trainers won’t!

Wanting to experience as much of Miami as possible, I check out of the Betsy and into the InterContinental Miami, instantly recognisable from its dancing LED silhouette on the side of the building.

Boasting a grand marble reception, the “best cocktails in the city”, extensive spa, and a gym that allows you to borrow workout gear (saving you valuable packing space), I am in heaven.

Almost literally, being on the 26th fl oor. The views are unparalleled, making sunrise far prettier to wake-up to than I am. To rescue myself from my hangover, I head to The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science.

With a four-storey aquarium, it is just the tranquil spot I need after drinking an entire brewery. You’ll see everything from corals and clown fi sh to hammer-head sharks.

Our guide invites me to touch the stingrays and starfi sh. (Which isn’t a euphemism, you dirty skank.) That afternoon, I opt for some fresh air and food on a walking tour of Little Havana, an area of downtown packed with culture: an over-50s domino park, an ice cream parlour, and a theatre dating from the 1970s that residents fought to protect.

Little Havana has an overwhelming sense of community, while true characters roam the streets. I chow down on authentic Cuban sandwiches (amazing) while sipping Cuban coff ee shots (aka liquid cocaine), before buzzing my way over to Ball & Chain for mojitos and live music.

While in the cultural head-space, I visit The Bass, downtown’s newest art museum and home to the intriguing works of Ugo Rondinone, one of which — Vocabulary of Solitude — features 45 brightly dressed clown fi gures consumed by personal thought, casting a veil of macabre upon its viewer.

Let’s just say, if you’re scared of clowns… bring a nappy. Mika Rottenberg’s trippy acid visuals, absurdly random installations and violently flicking real-life ponytails are another highlight. The Met Art Museum is also worth a visit for its intriguing displays.

Cautious not to overdose on culture, I head for happy hour. Not just any happy hour, obviously: Cycle Party pairs light peddling with heavy drinking: my kind of cardio.

A party of 15 people cycles to as many bars as possible in two hours, while listening to the latest jams being pumped out. Cue everyone thinking they’re Ariana in the Side to Side video.

All that cardio is thirsty work, so to further quench our thirst we head to Palace for drag dinner, daquiri fish bowls and dick. It’s abundantly clear how Palace has racked up a reputation as the drag home of Miami.

It’s the last stop on my whirlwind tour of Miami during party season. While for many gay men the city may have a rep as a party destination, my visit surprises me, finding out how there is plenty to be enjoyed away from a mirror ball.

I look forward to exploring it even more once I’ve moved in with my wealthy plastic surgeon. 

You can buy tickets for the week-long festival here.