Miami is home to a dizzying number of fiercely talented drag performers, many of whom have gone on to cultivate nationally recognized brands —which is why it's all the more impressive when you can separate yourself from the pack. Few have done so as effectively as South Beach staple Tiffany T. Fantasia. Endearingly dubbed the "Mouth of the South," Fantasia has been performing for 18 years, 17 of them at her home bar, Palace (1052 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 305-531-7234). "The art of drag is the art of expression," Fantasia tells New Times. "Having the ability to express myself in this form is very healing, not only for myself but it helps people heal from whatever they are going through." You can watch Fantasia (and you better have some singles on hand ready to tip) at Palace on Wednesday and Friday nights as well as during the LGBTQ bar's storied and oft-sold-out drag brunches — she performs Friday and Sundays.

Best Drag Performer to Retire in the Past Year

Shelley Novak

Best Drag Performer to Retire in the Past Year
Photo by Jipsy

She came, she saw, she paraded around South Beach for 30 years, she conquered. Now, she has retired. Shelley Novak, the alter ego of Massachusetts-born Tommy Strangie, has been a staple in the drag community of Miami Beach since 1992, helping to pave the way for performers who blur the lines of femininity by pairing heels and gowns with body hair and five o'clock shadows. She gave us the Shelley Novak Awards, which has hung around since 1993 to recognize well-known and up-and-coming names in South Florida's drag scene. And as she leaves Miami for what she says will be last time (there have been several false alarms), she takes a piece of drag history with her. In Shelley's wake are a growing number of avant-garde artists who proudly carry on her legacy of neither shaving nor caring about what people believe drag should look like.

Best Play
Photo courtesy of Juggerknot Theatre Company

Amid the pandemic, some creatives got, well, more creative. Juggerknot Theatre Company debuted its virtual immersive theater experience, Long Distance Affair, in 2020. In 2021, the company was back for another iteration that proved even more enticing than the first. Audiences from anywhere around the globe — and we do mean anywhere — were able to join this virtual live theater show to watch performances by actors in completely different time zones. For this second installment, viewers were able to virtually visit Mumbai, Beirut, Mexico City, Lagos, Los Angeles, or Portland. In each city, a local actor staged an inspiring ten-minute performance. It's not easy to portray emotions on a physical set with audiences sitting a few feet away. Actors for Long DIstance Affair had to reach out and grab their audience through a screen. And that they did, beautifully.

Tower Theater
Photo courtesy of Tower Theater

It's hard not to smile when you look up at the marquee at Tower Theater on Calle Ocho. The silver border, the classic white sign with black letters announcing the films, the art deco style of the building's façade — it all feels like you're traveling back in time to an age of classic cinema. The theater opened in 1926, and despite renovations to keep the space in tip-top shape, she doesn't look a day over 25. Located in the heart of Little Havana, the theater is in an ideal spot to welcome both locals and visitors for some wholesome entertainment. A bonus: The place is said to be haunted by ghosts, including that of an employee who loved the theater so much he simply never left.

Silverspot Cinema
Silverspot Cinemas

If you're the type of moviegoer who enjoys fully reclinable seats and in-theater dining service from a chef-driven menu, Silverspot has a spot for you. The sprawling, multilevel theater, which opened in 2018, still flies a bit under the radar, which for those in the know means most weekends are free from hordes of movie-talking teens and ridiculously long concession lines. Crucially, the theater offers a killer happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, when cinephiles can snag beat-the-clock drink specials and discounted bar bites before the lights go down and the curtain goes up.

Miami native Kareem Tabsch loves movies — so much so that the cinephile not only owns his own art-house theater (O Cinema), but he also directs and produces films himself. His acclaimed 2018 documentary The Last Resort profiled photographers Andy Sweet and Gary Monroe and the Miami Beach Jewish retiree community they photographed in the 1970s. Last year's Mucho Mucho Amor, made in collaboration with co-director Cristina Costantini and co-producer Alex Fumero, tells the story of the late Puerto Rican astrologer and Miami icon Walter Mercado. The team received various accolades for the film, including an Emmy nomination. We hear Tabsch is now at work on a documentary about the legendary Miami pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager.

Best Miami Documentary
Photo courtesy of HBO

Directed by Miami's own Billy Corben, 537 Votes tells the wild — and entirely factual — story of how the entire 2000 presidential election came down to a mere 537 votes cast in Miami-Dade County. The 109-minute documentary features interviews with political analyst Fernand Amandi and political consultant/presidentially pardoned felon Roger Stone, among other talking heads. With a heaping helping of archival footage, it tells a chilling story of what happens when national politics meets Miami politics. The hanging chads, the recount, the protests outside of the Stephen P. Clark Center in downtown — 537 Votes has it all. The film, available for streaming on HBO, was co-produced by Alfred Spellman, Corben's longtime collaborator and cofounder of their production company, Rakontur Films. Don't be surprised if Rakontur snags this honor next year: The production company's latest documentary, a six-part miniseries titled Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami, premiered in August 2021 on Netflix — and it's a hoot from start to finish.

Best Movie Shot on Location
Photo by Gato Suaya

Many Miamians will remember feeling rage following the 2013 tragedy of artist Israel "Reefa" Hernandez, an 18-year-old Colombian immigrant who was tasered to death by a Miami Beach police officer who caught the artist spray-painting a shuttered McDonald's. Reefa tells the heartbreaking real-life story of the young artist's life in Miami, his time with friends and family, and his art aspirations, all leading up to the death that sprouted protests and rage from the community devastated by another instance of police brutality. Sticking to the story's roots, the film was shot in locations throughout Miami, including Buena Vista, Key Biscayne, Wynwood, and Miami Beach. After some pandemic-induced delays, Jessica Kavana Dornbusch's film premiered early this year at the Miami Film Festival.

Best Art Fair
©Victor Berga

During Miami Art Week, Design Miami has always been somewhat of an outlier among the fairs that pop up. While every other fair focuses on, well, art — paintings, sculpture, photography, installations, etc. — Design Miami makes a case for furniture. Except, the kind of furniture at the fair isn't the kind you find at Rooms to Go or Ikea. They are objets d'art — quite literally, art objects. Last year, Design Miami took the limitations posed by the pandemic as an opportunity to recenter itself. Art Week and its associated fairs have become something of a bloated affair, but in taking over the Moore Building, Design Miami went back to basics in highlighting the best in contemporary furniture and design. Here's hoping that when it returns in December, it retains some of that attitude.

Best Festival
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

You might think there weren't so many festivals to choose from this past year. And you'd be sort of right. But when it comes down to it, which did it best? The festival that went virtual? The festival that required proof of vaccination/negative COVID-19 tests and certifiedCOVID-19 detection dogs?Or the one that was a free-for-all super-spreader? We prefer the middle option. In fact, we love howSouth Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF)founder and directorLee Brian Schrager and his team running the 20th-anniversary edition of it didn't back down from the challenges. Instead, they embraced them, and in doing so, incorporated more than 300 chefs, mixologists, winemakers, spirits producers, artisans, and lifestyle personalities than ever before — many of them from the Miami area or nearby. As a result, SOBEWFF continued to benefitstudents of Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, as well as raise necessary and meaningful funds for thefestival's COVID relief fund through lead-up and year-round events that directly help the restaurant community and its workers.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®