The audience shows its approval by making it rain dollar bills. Later, Austin will bring each birthday celebrant onstage for a picture and a cupcake with a candle and then admire each bachelorette's "bling" while making a few "blow job on your honeymoon" jokes and mildly upselling cocktails. ("Remember, the more you drink, the more like a woman I'll look.") At the end of the show, the audience gathers at the photo booth for complimentary snaps before spilling out into the night, giggling and singing.
Drag has been around for centuries. Shakespeare's plays were initially acted only by men, meaning the first Juliet and Lady Macbeth were men. In the 1950s, comedian Milton Berle brought drag into American households via television, and in 1996, Nathan Lane and Robin Williams portrayed co-owners of a Miami Beach nightclub that featured drag performances in The Birdcage. In that movie, the two teach a conservative politician to accept their lifestyle and even try on drag for himself.
Recently, in a backward version of life imitating art, conservative politicians have waged war on drag in Florida and elsewhere.
Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the Protection of Children Bill (SB 1438), which allows the state to "fine, suspend, or revoke the license of any public lodging establishment or public food service establishment if the establishment admits a child to an adult live performance." Though the law does not define an "adult live performance," owners of restaurants and bars that host drag shows feel they are targets.
Ana Navarro, political pundit and cohost of ABC television's The View, explains the implications of this law. "It means drag shows now have the burden of making sure nobody under the age of 18 goes through the door," she tells New Times. They need extra staff and security at the door. It means that if any parent chooses brings a minor, the drag show can be penalized."
A longtime ally of the LGBTQ community, Navarro wonders why parents aren't also held accountable for their children. "If a minor at a drag show is such an evil thing, why didn't DeSantis propose a law penalizing parents who freely choose to take their kids to performances? Isn't it the parents who have responsibility for their kids? Going after parents wouldn't serve his political purposes, though. It's all about his manufactured culture war targeting LGBTQ, whether it's books, drag queens, or Mickey Mouse."
Restaurateurs who host drag shows have good reason to feel singled out in a state rife with casinos, strip clubs, and risqué revues.
In July 2022, DeSantis filed an administrative complaint against R House (2727 NW Second Ave., Miami), stating, "The nature of the performances described above, particularly when conducted in the presence of young children, corrupts the public morals and outrages the sense of public decency." R House responded and could not comment on the status of the negotiations.
A few days ago, Hamburger Mary's in Orlando filed a federal lawsuit against the State of Florida, asking that the law be temporarily stopped. "In addition to the loss of [customers] canceling, the establishment has had to ban children from the family-friendly performances because they simply cannot take the chance that their business or liquor licenses would be suspended for hosting a drag show where children attend," the suit alleges.
This week, the Human Rights Campaign issued a travel advisory for Florida, outlining "the devastating impacts of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ community," though falling short of suggesting people not visit the Sunshine State.
These current events have put a damper on South Florida's drag community.
Restaurants and bars that rely on drag shows for the lion's share of their business have changed their rules. Restaurants that offered family-friendly daytime brunches are now adults-only, requiring the confirmation of being 18 and over to secure an online reservation. When asked to comment on the current climate, all of the restaurateurs and managers contacted by New Times declined to speak about the current climate, fearing possible retaliation by both the State of Florida and individuals.
What they did want to share was that drag shows are simply meant to provide entertainment by a group of highly skilled and talented performers dedicated to their art form.
Palace Bar owner Thomas Donall likens the shows at his iconic Ocean Drive venue (1052 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach) to pure energy. "There's such creativity in the clothes, the songs, the makeup, and the music. It's truly fun in the sun of Florida."
Owen Bale, who owns Wynwood's R House with his husband, Rocco Carulli, describes the intense behind-the-scenes work required to stage the restaurant's drag shows. "There are so many aspects to being a drag queen. They have to learn amazing makeup artistry. They have to learn to sew. The queens sit together for hours and sew."
For the performers, Bale adds, it's not all "sparkle and bangles," to borrow a phrase from "I Am What I Am" from the Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles. "To be a drag queen in this world is not easy socially, but they do it because they're highly passionate people who love to perform."
Michael Dean, who portrays Cher at Lips in Fort Lauderdale, wants to celebrate the art form that is drag. "It's a celebration of the divas we love and are inspired by. It's all about the art form. It's not meant to do anything other than entertain. It lets people escape for a while."
Ana Navarro has attended Miami drag shows accompanied by A-Listers like Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Billy Porter, and Whoopi Goldberg. Last week, Navarro took her husband (former chairman of the Florida Republican Party) Al Cárdenas, to a drag brunch. "Drag performers are artists who put a lot of time and effort into their looks and acts," she says. "When I'm at a drag show, I sing, I dance, I laugh, I clap, and I drink margaritas. What is there not to love? If being exposed to drag turned you gay, I'd be Liberace."
Navarro has a suggestion for those who seek to have an amazing day or evening out and be an ally to the LGBTQ community. "If you want to support drag, show up, take your friends, spend money, host your celebrations there, and post about it so as to amplify the message."
These three South Florida venues host drag shows complete with delicious food, enticing cocktails, and gorgeous queens for you to enjoy.
Lips1421 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
floridadragshow.com Lips has been hosting drag shows for 15 years in Fort Lauderdale, with different shows and events every evening and weekend brunch. The experience is immersive, and servers are part of the shows. The shows range from drag queen bingo to Lips' Divas show, which features a tribute to favorite celebrities. Prix fixe and a la carte dinners are served at the nightly shows from Tuesday to Sunday, and drag brunch is offered on weekends. Reservations are required.
Palace Bar1052 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach
palacesouthbeach.com At 35 years young and counting, the Palace is one of the most iconic establishments on Ocean Drive. Here, drag queens take the show beyond the Palace walls and onto the sidewalk, luring tourists and locals alike for the afternoon of their lives. Top-tier performers like Tiffany Fantasia, Joanna James, and Fantasia Royale Gaga take the stage for nightly dinner shows, brunch, and lunch drag performances. Reservations are recommended.
R House2727 NW Second Ave., Miami
rhousewynwood.com Athena Dion and friends offer an interactive drag show that features nonstop sets by talented queens. The entire restaurant and outdoor patio serve as the stage and runway, so there's not a bad seat in the house. Be prepared to chair dance and even participate in various contests and dances. R House offers drag dinner shows Friday and Saturday evenings and a weekend drag brunch.