If these walls could talk, they’d tell you how becoming Miami’s #1 LGBTQ+ bar and restaurant was no small feat. But after three decades of unforgettable parties — including South Beach’s righteous heyday as a ‘90s gay mecca — Palace was bound to become a legend. After all, “Every Queen needs a Palace”, and we’ve been home to the most glamorous performers and drag queens in all of South Florida since 1988.
In February of 1988, Steve Palsar launched the original Palace at 1200 Ocean Drive. Miami was a much different city at the time. It was older, grittier, gang-ridden; as depicted on TV’s Miami Vice, which happened to be shooting on Ocean Drive when Palsar first came upon 1200 Ocean Dr., his “little slice of heaven,” as he called it. There were no other restaurants on the drive at the time and everyone thought Palsar was crazy to introduce one, but he did. Palace was the first on Ocean Drive and would usher in a whole new era that would eventually lead to cafes up and down the street.
In the 90s, Palace started catering to the city’s gay population. The community had adopted the 12th Street Beach across the street as their own, and soon the party carried over, with Palace hosting T-dances in it’s parking lot. Around that time, designer Gianni Versace moved to Ocean Drive, a block away from Palace, and became a regular fixture. He would bring his celebrity friends to eat, too. Stars like Luciano Pavarotti, Elton John, Madonna and Princess Diana were frequently spotted and as Ocean Drive became a hot spot for fashion models, with new photoshoots and music videos being shot every day.
By the time Thomas Donall, a nightclub owner and designer from Michigan, took over Palace in 2007, the restaurant and bar was in decline. “The kitchen was outdated, the sound was bad,” he remembers. “It needed major renovation and I was semi-retired. I wasn’t sure I was up for the task but I knew I could rebrand the place and have it do great things for the community.” Donall introduced daily drag on-the-street shows at Palace and launched its popular drag brunch. He started regular T-Dances and during Pride and White Party Weekends, he created free block parties that eventually grew so large, the city had to shut down the entire street to accommodate the crowds. He also gave back financially to the community. Since his tenure, Palace has contributed over $2 million to charitable causes including Task Force, Care Resources, Miami Pride, and Meals on Wheels.
In 2009, the LGBTQ+ Community Committee for the City of Miami Beach allowed Palace to decorate the 12th street corner sign and crosswalk with rainbow colors, marking the location as a South Beach landmark and a meeting place for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2016, Palace hosted a special ceremony honoring victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Over the years, such events have helped highlight our message of equality and cemented our status as an LGBTQ+ safe haven, thanks in part to our location across from South Beach’s most popular gay beach.
In July of 2017, The Palace closed its doors at 1200 Ocean Drive after the building was sold to developer, Steve Kassin’s Infinity Real Estate bought the building that houses Palace as well as 31 residential units, for over $15 million. At the time of the sale, an executive for Infinity said the company planned to “enhance the property, including improving the building’s prominence and accessibility. Donall made clear that instead of closing temporarily during the building’s renovations, Palace would change locations permanently.
In November of 2017, after a short hiatus, Palace Bar reopened at it’s new location, 1052 Ocean Drive, and is once again home to glittering queens and drag performances and every so often you’ll spot a few frequent celebs such as Nene Leakes, Andy Cohen, Ross Matthews, Gus Kenworthy, Perez Hilton & Lisa Vanderpump dining with friends. Today, everyone is invited to experience the incomparable hospitality and entertainment of Miami Beach’s most inclusive bar and restaurant, three decades in the making!