South Beach has changed a lot in the past century. From a massive Army training ground to a seaside retirement community to project housing and home to salty locals and young surf rats, Miami Beach’s Art Deco District has experienced many eras. But few iterations of South Beach were as colorful and glamorous as the heyday of gay.
It was the influx of queer newcomers moving to South Beach that helped breathe new life into the area, creating something new that for a time in the '80s and '90s felt a little like a tropical Provincetown or a pastel West Hollywood. Few things captured and immortalized that moment in the city’s history as well as the 1996 film The Birdcage, which centers on the owner of a South Beach drag club and his partner, who is also the star of the show in the club, having their son’s fiancée and her ultra-conservative parents over for dinner. The tagline for the movie was “Come as you are,” and it showed a vision of South Beach that was queer, bohemian, open, and unpretentious.
Now, Karla Croqueta, one of the reigning queens of Miami’s drag scene, is intent on bringing some of that sparkle back to South Beach through her own monthly cabaret matinee at the bar Sweet Liberty, fittingly called the Birdcage Brunch. Croqueta will curate and perform in the revue, which is set to debut this Sunday, August 4.
“The Birdcage Brunch is gonna be this loud, crazy, colorful, extravagant, cabaret-style brunch put together mainly by drag performers,” Croqueta says. “And I say 'mainly' because, every now and again, we’ll have burlesque performers or contortionists or acrobats or jugglers.”
Of course, South Beach has plenty of queer institutions that are still going strong, from Twist to Palace. There are even more on the other side of the bay — including weekly, monthly, and annual events such as Double Stubble, Counter Corner, Gender Blender, and Wigwood — shining a spotlight on Miami’s vibrant drag scene and queer communities. But Croqueta says the Birdcage Brunch offers something different.
“It’s going to be a very interactive and immersive show, which is what makes it different than other drag shows,” she explains. “Other drag shows, they come out, they perform in the aisle, that’s it. We’re going to have a lot of audience participation; there’s going to be a lot of bumping and grinding on people; there’s going to be live singing... There’s a lot of really cool, really different nuances... that make it stand out from everything else, but it’s also like an inclusive kind of brunch. Like, no brunch really includes drag kings, and we have the elite drag kings that are going to be performing at this one, and they are phenomenal.”
Croqueta, who has worked with Sweet Liberty in the past, describes the project as “the renaissance of trying to bring all sorts of drag back to South Beach.” She says the revue gives her a chance to revive a bit of the lively drag scene for which South Beach was best known not so long ago.
“I feel like South Beach has kind of lost a lot of its glitz and glam, and people kind of look down on South Beach... I think this is going to bring back a kick to the old times, to what it used to be, to what I remember going to when I was a kid,” she says. “I remember my dad and my mom taking me to the Beach when I was a kid, and we would walk down Ocean [Drive] and there were drag queens everywhere. There were shows everywhere. I felt like Mango's was everywhere... that show that happens on the side of the street and there’s people dancing in feathers and costumes... That doesn’t exist much anymore.”
The brunch, scheduled for every second Sunday of the month, will offer two seatings, at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. À la carte options are available with bottomless prosecco and rosé for $30, making it one of the more affordable drag brunches in town. Though seats require a reservation, there is no charge for entry, so anybody can stop by and see a show for free.
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“If you didn’t want to spend a dollar — obviously, we encourage you to spend money — you don’t have to spend any money, which makes it, in my eyes, a queer-inclusive space,” Croqueta explains. “The thing about being queer is sometimes you don’t have any fucking money and your backings and your funds are really low. And why should you not experiences this?... What if this is your first time coming to a show where there’s a trans woman doing burlesque or there’s these three drag kings? These are all new experiences, so why should you have to miss out on them?”
For Miami’s 2019 Ultimate Drag Queen, it’s an opportunity to curate the kind of drag and burlesque experience she says has been missing from the Beach for some time.
“I’m ecstatic,” she says. “It’s going to be fun and inviting, and it’s gonna be so mainstream-meets-queer, and it’s going to be a space for everyone to feel free and let loose.”
The Birdcage Brunch. 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, August 4, at Sweet Liberty, 237 20th St., Suite B, Miami Beach; 305-763-8217; mysweetliberty.com. Seating at the bar is first-come, first-served; tables can be reserved via mysweetliberty.com.