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Welcome to Miami: the city where the heat is on

Attitude explores the queer and vibrant streets of Miami Beach before getting a feel for Wynwood, Miami’s trendy up-and-coming neighbourhood.

By Alastair James

The pool deck at the Moxy Miami South Beach
The pool deck at the Moxy Miami South Beach (Image: Provided)

There’s a collective gasp as our airboat driver, Humberto, jumps over the banister of the raised walkway separating our group from a supposedly 60-year-old female alligator. What seems like sheer recklessness is of no concern to Humberto, however, who assures us he and the affectionately named ‘Mama Gator’ are so well acquainted she can recognise Humberto by the sound and vibrations of his swamp craft. 

Humberto takes one of our phones to snap some close-ups and casually bops Mama G on the snout as he explains how he can tell her apart from the others because of the ridges along her back. Later, he pats her on the belly, like you would a dog. Amazingly, the alligator remains unperturbed throughout most of the encounter as she bathes in the Florida sunshine. Eventually, she moves away in what I suspect is mild irritation.

As far as ‘wow!’ moments go, Tigertail Airboat Tours’ trip around the mangroves and marshes of Everglades National Park, on Florida’s southern tip, is just that. An easy day out from Miami, it took just 45 minutes for the high rises to melt away and for our group of LGBTQ+ journalists to arrive here. 

A small island of huts in the Everglades
A small island of huts in the Everglades (Image: Alastair James)

It’s hard to not be impressed by the vastness of the 1.5-million-acre wetlands, of which we cover a fraction. The sun glints off the water as we race over the surface. Pointing out the Cypress trees starved white by the dry winter, our guides, Houston and Jean, describe how nature comes alive with luminous colour and vibrancy in the wet summer months. 

Great blue herons and snowy egrets soar overhead as we continue on. While wearing industrial ear covers to muffle the boat’s motor, we marvel as an osprey dives before flying off with a fresh fish for breakfast. On one of the small islands scattered throughout the park, used for centuries by Native American tribes such as the Miccosukee, we’re shown a variety of wildlife. We take turns holding the baby alligator — named Birthmark for the distinguishing blemish on the lower part of its mouth — as well as some adorable baby softshell turtles and a more aggressive alligator-snapping turtle. Regardless of its miniature size, it has serious attitude, craning its neck backwards in an attempt to take a bite out of Humberto. Very cute but very deadly.

'Birthmark' the baby alligator
‘Birthmark’ the baby alligator (Image: Alastair James)

Houston, who is Miccosukee and part of the Otter Clan, details the history of his culture with the Everglades, which in Miccosukee are called Kahayatle (meaning ‘the light in the water at sunset’). He mourns the impact of pollution, climate change, and mankind, which have forced many of his community away. “We maintain the villages, but we don’t live out here anymore,” he says. 

When it comes to the challenges of maintaining the delicate balance of the national park, Jean explains that keeping the flow of natural freshwater, which stops the saltwater from encroaching, is a major struggle. Apart from that, apathy and lack of awareness is a concern. “Sometimes people just don’t know [about the Everglades]. Houston and I like to say: ‘If you don’t know, you can’t care.’” Both Jean and Houston are members of the Love to Everglades movement, which fights to protect the land. They’re keen for people to come and visit. They lament that despite a good mix of visitors, those who live nearby appear to take it for granted. 

The Everglades in the dry winter season
The Everglades in the dry winter season (Image: Alastair James)

Houston also identifies as LGBTQ+. This has spurred him on to make queer people feel welcome. As well as hikes for the trans community, they’ve begun queer swamp walks, which are proving popular. “The first gathering had about 55 LGBTQ, fabulous, awesome people walking around the woods together. It was so popular the second one had 70 people,” he says. “That was super meaningful for me to bring my community out here and let them know they belong here and that it’s for them.” 

Before we leave, we take a moment to pause and absorb where we are. Besides local wildlife and the wind whistling through the airboat fan, it’s silent. The sense of peace and tranquillity cleanses us as we reflect on how rare it is to enjoy such natural wonders. 

A wine tasting at Schnebly Redland’s Winery and Brewery later in the day proves a different type of adventure. As grapes are not native here, Schnebly experiments with avocado, lychee, and passionfruit, to name a few. The Sweet Avocado is unusual. A warm yellow in colour, it’s darker than a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc and bears notes of lemon as well as a hint of avocado. By comparison, the Kiss of Passion is clearly strawberry, while the Sparkling Lychee makes for the perfect refreshing summer drink (chilled, of course) with crisp notes of pear dancing on the palate.

Avocado wine at Schnebly Redland's Winery & Brewery
Avocado wine at Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery (Image: Alastair James)

As we head back to our base — the Moxy Miami South Beach — we stop a few doors down at the LGBT Visitor Centre to learn more about the city’s upcoming LGBTQ+ festivities, which this year include the 15th annual Miami Pride, as well as GayOcho, a free LGBTQ+ Latino arts and cultural festival on the third Sunday of February, which attracts around 80,000 people annually. 

Later, we head to Nathan’s to start our own festivities for the night. The culmination of a 10-year dream for owner Nathan, this gay bar opened in September 2020. The theme is pop culture, something Nathan has always been obsessed with. That much is clear from the moment you enter, as a large poster of Madonna greets you. Inside, there are sections dedicated to popular shows such as Will & Grace, Real Housewives, and Friends

Nathan explains, “I wanted to open Nathan’s to give everyone that safe place and feeling I had as a 17-year-old finding my first safe place. In 2023, we still need safe places for our community to be able to be themselves without fear and judgement. To know I’m responsible for providing that space, it’s priceless.”

The venue offers camp fun, and the vibe, music, and patrons are pleasantly familiar. Later, as my friends and I bop along to a medley of Madonna’s greatest hits, I notice the armed and bulletproof vest-clad security guard in the venue, which jolts me back to reality. Extreme for the UK, tragically it makes sense here, especially in the wake of the mass shooting at the Club Q nightclub in Colorado in November 2022, where five people died and around 20 were injured. Following Club Q, Nathan added a second armed security guard. “We have a responsibility to keep the community safe,” he says.

After Nathan’s, some of us venture to another popular local LGBTQ+ space, Twist. With seven different rooms playing different tunes from salsa and reggaeton to cheesy pop and house music, there’s something for everyone. One room has a large screen projector, which was playing the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show featuring J-Lo and the recently troubled Shakira. The place was unsurprisingly packed for a Friday evening, with many patrons celebrating the start of the weekend. Between that, a few drinks, and the darkened maze-like halls, it can be easy to get lost. Not ideal when on a hunt for the loos! Eventually, though, we call it a night and head to bed.

The rooftop of the Moxy Miami South Beach
The pool deck at Moxy Miami South Beach is a riot of stunning colours and patterns (Image: Provided)

Located on Miami Beach’s Washington Avenue, a stone’s throw away from the beach itself, the Moxy Miami South Beach is the perfect hotel for exploring the local area. Its design takes inspiration from the cultures and communities that have shaped Miami. Murals depict Mexican and Cuban influences, while the city’s Art Deco history is reflected in the architecture, evident from the open-plan foyer and the bar placed tantalisingly by the door. 

The rooms at the Moxy are simple and cosy, with a standard set-up of a large bed with a TV. Modern black metallic frames provide a slightly awkward way of hanging clothes, and four coat hangers probably aren’t enough if you’re in town for a long weekend as was our group’s case, or sharing a room. The bathroom is separated from the bedroom by a tiled wall and frosted glass, with a sliding door for extra privacy. Essentially, it’s just what you need and not much more. 

The Moxy offers a choice of eateries. There’s the hotel’s open-air restaurant, Serena, where on our first night we enjoy an array of delectable dips including fresh guacamole and melted queso (cheese). Of the cocktails, the fresh Pepinazo (Herradura Silver tequila, cucumber cordial and lime) is highly recommended and is the perfect way to tune into the Miami vibe. The beef tacos come fully loaded and go down a treat. In the mornings, the Moxy’s street-food booth, Los Buenos, offers breakfast burritos and tacos in sizable portions. Thankfully, they’re served in decent takeaway containers allowing for a snack later if it’s too much at breakfast.

Serena at the Moxy Miami South Beach
Bright hues and skies match at Moxy Miami South Beach’s rooftop bar, Serena (Image: Provided)

Buoyed by coffee and food the morning after our night out at Twist, we venture out on an LGBTQ+ history walking tour led by local resident George Neary. As a former associate vice president of cultural tourism for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, George is very knowledgeable about the area and provides interesting insight into the Art Deco architecture and rise of Miami as a holiday destination. LGBTQ+ history was a little scarce, however, save for a short trip to Twist. Somehow it looks different during the day… 

Our trip concludes at the Palace Bar, billed as the number-one LGBTQ+ bar on Miami Beach. This slice of gay heaven offers drag brunches unlike anything else this writer has experienced before. Over several hours, Palace regulars Tiffany T. Fantasia, Elishaly D’witshes, T.lo Ivy, and Shanaya Bright display their various skills including death-defying stunts, flips and slides, and spot-on lip syncs to the deafening cheers of the assembled crowd. 

No grease required for climbing drag queen Elishaly D'witshes at Miami Beach's The Palace
No grease required for climbing drag queen Elishaly D’witshes at Miami Beach’s The Palace (Image: Alastair James)

Miami Beach feels just right for LGBTQ+s. With a number of bars, safe spaces, and a visitor centre which can be used by anyone for almost anything, the community is actively caring for itself. At a time when our rights are coming under attack after years of what many may have hoped was permanent progress, it’s reassuring that places like this exist. 

We leave the palm tree-lined boulevards and sands of Miami Beach to discover the up-and-coming district of Wynwood. Although gentrification is underway, there’s still a sense of grit and authenticity to the neighbourhood. The low-lying buildings overshadowed by the opposing skyscrapers of downtown Miami are plastered from cracked pavement to rooftop in all manner of graffiti and colours. Walking around, you’ll be stunned by the range of art, from geometric shapes to mammoth portraits covering whole buildings. Trendy retailers, eclectic bars and artisan eateries point to the area’s increasing draw and youthful and energetic pulse.

Even the lifts at the Arlo Wynwood are splashed with kaleidoscopic colour
Even the lifts at the Arlo Wynwood are splashed with kaleidoscopic colour (Image: Alastair James)

To fully immerse ourselves, we switch hotels to the Arlo Wynwood, which opened in November 2022. The standard king room is comfortable, with a marshmallow-soft bed and styled with simple and modern white-oak furnishings. This nine-floor, 217-room hotel offers plenty of communal spaces which are welcoming to everyone thanks to the neutral and fresh vibe. Colourful accents such as the designs in the lifts, the lighting, and more than 250 works of art see the vibrancy of Wynwood smartly incorporated into the hotel.

Artists Douglas Hoekzema, a.k.a. Hoxxoh, Felici Asteinza, and Joey Fillastre have impressively contributed to the artworks on two sides of the hotel that stretch from the ground to the ninth floor, helping the building blend into its surroundings. Inside, communal spaces are bathed in warm hues of orange and purple at night, while the open-air section of the Higher Ground cocktail lounge is illuminated in an orange glow, creating an atmosphere that’s sexy and moody. Head up to the top floor for expansive views of Wynwood and Miami, as well as a heated 76-metre pool.

Hoxxoh's 14,000-square-foot mural on the side of the Arlo Wynwood in Miami
Hoxxoh’s 14,000-square-foot mural on the side of the Arlo Wynwood in Miami (Image: Provided)

For dinner, we’re treated to a taster menu in the hotel restaurant, MaryGold’s. Chef Bradley Kilgore and his team rustle up delights including sweet brioche with sourdough butter, savoury beignets with jerk oxtail, and sharp lemon meringue toasted in front of us. All are devoured and chased down with fruity wines (no avocado wine here!) and variations of classic cocktails like the exquisite coconut and kumquat Old Fashioned courtesy of the award-winning Bar Lab. 

Arlo Wynwood's MaryGold's restaurant
Arlo Wynwood’s MaryGold’s restaurant (Image: Provided)

Fully refreshed, the next morning we head out to the local Museum of Graffiti, which, as the name indicates, explores and celebrates the history and evolution of a long-demonised art form from the 60s to the present day. Set in a small space, it’s well worth a visit and takes around 45 minutes if you stop to read everything.

Following that, we head around the corner to R House for another drag brunch. Run by British expat Owen Bale and his husband Rocco, this popular LGBTQ+ space offers a different but equally talented set of performers who entertain a crowd of LGBTQ+s, allies, and hen parties. “The demand to experience modern drag shows is huge and this side of the business has grown beyond all our expectations,” comments Owen. Frankly, I’ll go to as many drag brunches as you want me to as long as the bottomless mimosas and mojitos keep flowing!

Serving up sass with the queens of R House, Miami
Serving up sass with the queens of R House, Miami (Image: Provided)

Next, we make for Superblue, an interactive art gallery that sees artists Es Devlin, teamLab, and James Turrell play with light and sound to create a multisensory journey through spectacular installations. Devlin’s trippy hall of mirrors, entitled Forest of Us, invites people to explore a contrast between the individual and the group, from the reflective maze to spectral projections of visitors. Meanwhile, teamLab’s work changes as people interact with their art, creating a unique bond with the visitor. Touch the walls and plants will move through their lifecycle in stunning displays of colour. teamLab are also behind the massless cloud experience, where organic soap foam is used to create cloud structures inside a cold chamber. Visitors can interact with them as they wish, creating an innovative piece. Finally, James Turrell’s work sees the walls and floors mesh together, playing with our depth perception. 

Alastair James explores teamLab's floral art at Superblue, Miami
Alastair James explores teamLab’s floral art at Superblue, Miami (Image: Alastair James)

Magic Mike Live: The Tour is our final night’s entertainment. Miami is the first stop on the tour’s maiden voyage around North America and sees the action of the popular movies brought to life. The production values are amazing, and the dancers (stunning in every aspect) even more so. There’s also more of a story than expected as we follow the evolution of Mike from timid bartender to ripping-his-shirt-off-dancing-in-water heartthrob.

Interestingly, it doesn’t feel particularly inclusive for an LGBTQ+ audience despite Miami apparently being the show’s top market for the community in terms of support. I receive the occasional pat from a strong hand as a dancer passes by, but only the women get lap dances. The show, like the movies, is aimed at a female audience — that much is obvious. Although women do make up the majority of the audience, there are a significant number of male groups there. Still, it’s an enjoyable show and hopefully it will evolve as it continues. 

Our last day starts with a trip to the nearby Design District. Here, you’ll find all the luxury brands such as Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and Hermes. While free to walk around and enjoy the art installations like Urs Fischer’s faithful recreation of a Miami Beach bus stop in Bus Stop, 2017, it is essentially a luxury-brand shopping district and perhaps not the most inclusive. Our guide, Maria Ruiz, assures us that “there is something for everyone,” including during Pride month, but recognises there’s always more that can be done to make all communities feel welcome. 

Urs Fischer's famous Bus Stop, 2017 in The Design District of Miami
Urs Fischer’s famous Bus Stop, 2017 in The Design District of Miami (Image: Alastair James)

As I head to the airport, I think that it was a no-brainer to say yes to a five-day LGBTQ+ press trip to Miami in January — not least to escape the cold and wet of London for a little while. The colours, the culture and the vibrancy of Miami and Miami Beach will all stay with me. As will the glorious sunlight, the enjoyable mid-20-degree heat, and being able to wear shorts in January. In fact, I can already hear Miami calling me back for more. 

Magic Mike Live: The Tour is in Miami until April 2023. For tour updates go to; Attitude flew with Virgin Atlantic which flies direct between London Heathrow and Miami: