True story: After days in hiberntion with his folks, a gay man eagerly made tracks for South Beach. As soon as he entered the gorgeous Art Deco lobby of the Shelbourne Hotel, the first sight to greet our weary traveler were a pair of men, sporting tanned, impossibly sculpted physiques barely covered by stretched-to-the-max briefs. While a fashion photographer was snapping away, a group of young female tourists were audibly gasping at the vision before them.
"Relax," the man told them. "You'll see a lot more who look like that while you're here."
Welcome to Miami, the once-and-future byword for a certain kind of glamor. It's not celebrity driven, like L.A.; not power or position, like NYC and D.C. No, here it's all muscle and beauty and buffed bodies and immaculate grooming — given maximum exposure, whether in a hotel lobby or dance floor.
Given its current international reputation as the nexus of glamor, luxury and the most refined aspects of worldly pleasure, it's worth remembering that in the 1970s, the southern end of Miami Beach now known as South Beach was dirty, dangerous and dilapidated. For decades, one very old and very lonely widow stood up to the developers and city officials who believed that the area's salvation lay in tearing down the nation's greatest agglomeration of Art Deco buildings and replacing them with soulless modern behemoths.
Today, America's answer to the French Riviera attracts hordes of tourists of every description, many — very many — gay men. They luxuriate in fantasy poolside scenes in refurbished hotels like the Raleigh and Delano; cruise pedestrian-only (well, roller blades) Lincoln Road's elegant boutiques, light-fare outdoor cafes and, of course, each other. They may soak in some culture, at the Bass, Wolfsonian or Perez museums. But mostly, you'll find them soaking in the rays and displaying the goods at the gay beach across from Ocean Drive at 13th Street.
In a city where the tropical weather allows for more bodily display more often than any other U.S. city, the gay-straight divide — in physiques or clubbing — applies less strictly. Like so many fashionable gayborhoods, South Beach has become too expensive for many gay men. Aside from traditional gayborhoods like Coconut Grove and Coral Gables, men are populating other areas like the Design District, Midtown and Miami Shores.
They, along with Jews; African-Americans and Haitians; Eastern Europeans; Cubans; and other Latin Americans give the city its international flavor. Spanish-language TV is a major industry, with telenovela productions attracting stars like super-hunk William Levy. Miami is also a center of the dance-music industry, which meets every year for the Winter Music Conference.
Among an amazing array of gay parties, two stand out. The early-March Winter Party takes place on the beach, accompanied by long club nights in SoBe and on the mainland. The White Party, held Thanksgiving Weekend, is one of the longest-running AIDS fund-raisers in the country, an only-in-Miami mix of fantasy bodies in fantasy white outfits, the glamor of a full-scale party covered by the city's media, and an elegant, refined production. The party manages to brings business and political leaders together with buffed, oiled party boys, all there to aid the area's major local AIDS service organization.