When the book about South Beach in the gay Nineties is finally written (and what a story it will be), there most certainly should be a chapter dedicated to the one and only Shelley Novak. The hirsute, zaftig drag queen has been hosting her Shelley Novak Awards for the past eleven years. Eleven years! "And I've been doing drag for fifteen years. I don't think anybody I know has made that kind of commitment to anything! I know marriages that haven't lasted that long," quips the blunt-spoken Bostonian. Her awards ceremony is always ribald and ridiculous, fluffy and fun, with a couple of outrageous musical performances tossed in for flavor. "If anything, it becomes like a Friars Club Roast, but it does get taken very seriously. I try to nominate people who I know will get up onstage and break down in tears," chuckles Novak. Besides hosting South Beach's longest-lasting awards ceremony for drag queens, Shelley takes part in the education of the gay community by hosting her own monthly film-screening series, Shelley Novak's Hollywood. Before she stepped into the dazzling spotlight at crobar to hand out awards this year, Novak stood in the darkness of the Miami Beach Cinematheque, to host a suitably reverent tribute to her recently deceased namesake, Shelley Winters. Winters and Novak shared more than a first name. Both were talented yet overlooked for their more svelte and glamorous counterparts. And it's because of actresses like Shelley Winters -- and her other namesake, Kim Novak -- that Shelley Novak continues to proudly carry a torch for almost-forgotten film stars. "The reason I do Shelley Novak's Hollywood is because there was a generation lost," the adorable, self-depreciating cross-dresser reveals. "When I was a young gay kid in 1985, I had all these older gay guys introducing me to John Waters and David Lynch, and because of AIDS, that generation died. For the kids now, there's nobody to look up to for advice, or to teach them old Hollywood, or camp value, or what books to read," she explains. Novak does her part to keep the drag flame burning, welcoming young queens into the circle while simultaneously recognizing the courage and longevity of old warhorses like Henrietta, who's been dressing up since the Fifties. Always an awarder and almost never an awardee, this playfully modest South Beach institution maybe should just write a book of her own.
During the Twenties, farmers and other locals who made fortunes in the land boom built this verdant, vibrant neighborhood, sparing no expense on architecture. The houses remain -- framed by NE Second Avenue, NW Sixth Avenue/I-95, the Design District, and Little Haiti -- with all of their chimneys, porticos, balustrades, alcoves, wrought-iron fences, cement fences, wrought-iron-and-cement fences, and plenty of other tasteful and fascinating ornamentation. A couple of decades ago, the area became a magnet for immigrants -- some of the larger homes were converted into rooming houses. The future looked dim for historic preservation, but as sometimes happens in such circumstances, the new arrivals rebuilt Buena Vista, creating a neighborhood with the emphasis on neighbor. Trees abound, lawns are mown and hedges trimmed, people ride bikes and kids play outside. East Buena Vista (the portion between North Miami Avenue and NE Second Avenue) tends to be a bit more upscale, but the entire residential respite from the nearby commercial and cultural chaos is remarkably pleasant and peaceful. The folks in Buena Vista clearly have faith in the future, which is the most important thing for any neighborhood.
The venues and themes may change, but the dress code stays the same. "We command the following attire at our fetish events," the masters say on the Website. Rubber. Vinyl. Military uniforms. And, yes, leather: fabulous, skintight, slick, and sexy leather. (There are more attire allowances, but you have to check them out for yourself.) The parties have been a monthly hit for nearly a decade, largely because the rules themselves create the fantasy -- the freedom within boundaries (or bondage). If leather is your thing, enjoy.
Before the Cuban revolution, La Época was a major department store on the island. Although it still occupies a physical location in central Havana (as a dollar store of all things), the brand -- along with much of the essence of Cuba -- made the trip across the straits and settled in downtown Miami on NE Second Avenue. For 40 years, el exilio flocked to the packed store, even after the shopping district lost much of its vibrancy. This past December, though, La Época moved over to the old Walgreen's location on Flagler. Many will remember the 1936 Streamline Moderne structure as the site of a popular cafeteria; however, now the contents of La Época are spread across three of the exquisite building's five floors. The increase in elbow room is certainly welcome, but more important, this underscores that the downtown resurgence isn't a pipe dream.
Just meandering toward Doral's driving range on a sunny South Florida day will put you in the golfing mood. From the flowers to the fountains, the palms swaying and that endless landscape of beautiful Bermuda, it's the perfect setting to start swinging. And speaking of grass, Doral is actually one of the few Miami courses that allow you to practice on the grass. So you can avoid the feeling of carpet under your club and concentrate on firing at the flags.
For a town that prides itself on its architecture, Miami Beach often seems to have lost its way in historic preservation. Demolition-by-neglect appears to be a favorite tactic of property owners, so when the City of Miami Beach promised to renovate the Colony Theater, interested residents and artists emitted a collective sigh of relief. The small 1934 Art Deco structure is demure by Beach standards. It was built for the Paramount chain at the quiet end of Lincoln Road, which probably saved it from the wrecking ball. After renovations in the Seventies, the 465-seat theater became a focal point for performing arts groups as well as films. But it fell into disrepair again until a new fixup was approved in 2002. Unfortunately, as often happens with government contracts, the renovation went way over budget and schedule. Instead of $1.5 million and one year, the project stumbled over obstacles that set the final price tag around $6.5 million and pushed back the opening date three years. The renovations were extensive: The floor was restored and a new three-story wing was added to the backstage area. In order to highlight the exquisite façade, the entrance was shifted to face Lincoln Road, and the lobby was redone, including restoration of murals. The place reopened this past February. Despite the troubles and costs, residents and art lovers are happy to have it back. It's way better than another cookie-cutter condo.
This winter festival concentrates on socially conscious documentaries, the kind of fare that often otherwise goes unseen in the local community. Unlike the better-known Full Frame Festival in Durham, North Carolina, The Florida Room handpicks its films along a theme. This year it was "The State of Our Water." The acclaimed PBS Point of View film Thirst and other films such as Bottle This! and The Miami River told stories about the privatization, pollution, and politics floating around the water issue. In other years, festival themes have tackled identity and diversity, politics and unsung heroes. Cofounder Rhonda Mitrani, who worked in postproduction for Miramax, is also a director whose film Cuba Mia aired on PBS; plus she's a busy video artist and a screenwriter. Cofounder Juan Carlos Zald’var is a New York University-trained director and video installation artist whose work has appeared in galleries and on PBS and the Independent Film Channel. If documentary can help change the world, it's good to have these two workhorses shepherding the way.
On June 1, when Joe Arriola surrenders the illustrious job of Miami city manager, we recommend he try his hand as a media critic. In the January 2006 edition of Miami Monthly magazine, Arriola showed off his screed-writing ability in a column lambasting the Miami Herald's coverage of Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts' plan to open a five-star hotel on Watson Island. "How this business deal was spun into the city cavorting [sic] with and giving land to communists is an interesting story -- it's what happens when cheap McCarthyism, lazy reporting, and brainless editorial decisions intermingle," Arriola wrote. He concluded his diatribe against Miami's only daily with the following excerpt: "Despite all its Pulitzer Prize-winning glory, the Herald today seems more reminiscent of a cheap supermarket tabloid lacking the vision and the wherewithal to mature alongside the rest of Miami." We suggest that Miami's only daily hire Arriola, whose mouth is more than big enough to fill the void left by the now dearly departed columnist who once worked at New Times.
Mark "Prince Markie Dee" Morales has serious street cred. Aficionados of the old school will recognize him as an original member of the Fat Boys, one of the first groups to inject self-deprecating humor into hip-hop. In the Nineties, Markie Dee took off the goofy glasses and racked up some major music-producing credits. Tracks by Shabba Ranks, Destiny's Child, Mariah Carey, and Mary J. Blige stud his overflowing resumé. These days Markie Dee is better known as the prince of 103.5 The Beat, jamming the airwaves from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. every weekday alongside Mr. Mauricio. And although he sometimes goes back in time and spins tracks from the era when "Wipeout" was in regular rotation on MTV, more often Markie Dee is introducing tracks by Ne-Yo, Nelly, and Dem Franchise Boyz. "I'm a regular jock, you know? Every once in a while we'll play the old-school joints, but I just play what people wanna hear," the erstwhile Fat Boy explains. Markie Dee loves giving the people what they want. Listeners can hear the glee in his voice during the "Fat Four at Four," the giveaway segment of his daily show where he assigns arbitrary weights to the most requested songs. The listener who correctly adds the weights wins cool prizes like concert tickets and CDs. Hearing the notoriously chunky radio jock say "Beyoncé weighs 927 pounds!" is just good fun. Markie Dee concedes that interacting with happily screaming listeners is his favorite part of the job. "I like getting on the phone with fans, getting one on one and communicating with them," he says. Though Markie Dee could be exploiting his instantly recognizable public persona, his experience in the business has left him older and wiser. He spends most of his off-air time doing promotions and charity work on behalf of the station. His future plans include a nationally syndicated old-school show with BET host Big Tigger. He has an Internet show on www.ontoptv.com, and he's finishing up the pilot for a television game show called Pay Your Dues that sounds like a hip-hop combination of Rock & Roll Jeopardy and American Idol. He hopes to have the show picked up by BET or MTV and bring his career full circle. Even without the television exposure that helped make him a star, Markie Dee is known and loved throughout the city. "Everyone pretty much knows who I am. I get recognized a lot, but sometimes I'll be at Chili's ordering some food, and the waitress will be like, "Hey, your voice sounds familiar! Oh, you're Markie Dee! That's what's up!"
Nine years ago Nick D'Annunzio, young and shy, was sitting at a dark table in Shadow Lounge when a group of pretty young ladies walked in. One of them, Tara Solomon, ended up sitting next to him. "She had the most amazing legs, but I didn't want to, you know, say that, so I said, 'I love your shoes.' Then I was like, 'Great, now she thinks I'm gay,'" says D'Annunzio. With similar career ambitions in the public-relations world, they quickly became friends, and Nick tried for months to make a move on Tara, "but she wouldn't give me anything to go on," he says. "So finally I was like, I'm just gonna ignore her. So I'm at this party for Ocean Drive and she's there, and I'm ignoring her the whole time. Finally I feel this tap on my back, and I was like, Now I got her...." D'Annunzio and Solomon's romance was quickly mixed with business when they were asked to do PR work for Wet Seal, a women's clothing store that then had about 500 locations worldwide. "We didn't even have an office at the time," D'Annunzio says, so together they formed TARA, Ink, which now represents companies like Cadillac, Guess Jeans, and T-Mobile. "Working together actually brings us closer. We never, ever fight when it comes to work; her strengths are my weaknesses." D'Annunzio and Solomon have been engaged for two and a half years. They say they plan to marry soon, when they're less busy.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®