Miami Nice :: Heralding the Winter Party
Life’s a beach, all right, especially when you’re partying alongside a couple of thousand other men and women on a specially built dance floor steps from the Atlantic Ocean. As a veteran who has wearied himself on dance floors from Sydney to Vienna, Montreal to Palm Springs, and all points in between, I speak from experience: Miami’s Winter Party ranks somewhere at the top of the list.
Anyone who has experienced this mammoth event, which includes not only the dance floor, speakers and DJ booth but bars, kiosks, stage areas and shady resting spots, understands why people from all over the world consider it a "must." Beyond the Winter Party itself, which this year takes place Sunday, March 10, from noon to 7 p.m., a week’s worth of activities comprise a shopping trip, an art excursion, a jazz brunch -- and, oh yes, plenty of dance parties.
The order of the DJs for the Winter Party itself is still up in the air. But I suspect that Brett Henrichsen, known for his upbeat, peppy selections, will open, with Joe Gauthreaux, who can veer a bit harder, carrying the music into the sunset. For the other events, several DJ slots remain open, as do a few venues. But the schedule is set, and it represents a range that belies the myth that Circuit parties are limited to hard-bodied muscle boys spending day after day on the dance floor.
A Rainbow of Events
ArtScape, an exhibition and auction on March 7, befits a city that has become known for its galleries and gargantuan art fair, Art Basel. The next night highlights another cultural sphere in which Miami has become justly world famous. A shopping spree naturally focuses on Lincoln Road, the South Beach pedestrian-exclusive street where chic boutiques sell only-in-Miami Art Deco-inspired merchandise. For women planning to attend the Winter Party (yes, there are scores of women), prepping for the rigors of all that dancing in the sun should include lots of mimosas or Bloody Marys consumed at the March 10 Jazz Brunch. The leather crowd gets its own event, "Sweat." The location is still to be announced, but you can count on it happening in Fort Lauderdale, which is much more leather-oriented than its sister city half an hour to the south.
The dance parties are taking place on and off the beach. Buses will be provided to take those staying in South Beach hotels to and from the downtown Miami clubs. Many parties will take place on the beach. They include Thursday’s "Ignite" at Score on Lincoln Road, with international superstars Chris Cox and Tony Moran; the March 9, daytime pool party, being held once again at gorgeous Deco host Hotel Shelborne; and "WE Party:Formula-Boiling Point," the after-party Sunday night at Mansion.
The latter is a real coup for the Winter Party. Mansion, along with Cameo, is one of the last big rooms in South Beach. Organized jointly with Henrichsen’s Masterbeat group, it brings the WE Party, one the sexiest parties in Spain (and that’s saying a lot!), and Madrid DJ Manuel Diego. It’s entirely appropriate that the Winter Party, which will include "Pa’Ella," a Latin dance night March 8, increasingly has a salsa flavor and caliente temperature, since Miami is America’s gateway to Latin America and its most Hispanic major metropolis. In keeping with that influence, "Under One Sun," the Saturday pool party, will offer Rafael Calvente, a Brazilian DJ well known there for spinning Heaven and Hell, a gay dance mega-event in Bahia, Brazil.
Securing Mansion and Diego may bring another plus, in that it could deter certain parties from planning a concurrent event. In past years, the Winter Party (as well as the Thanksgiving Weekend White Party, also held in Miami) has had to compete for patrons. Privately held, and with none of the income going to any White Party beneficiaries (or to any other charity, for that matter), these parties have divided the crowd and become an unfortunate distraction. So here’s hoping that the good guys win the night!
A Party With a Purpose
The Winter Party happens in early March or, occasionally, late February. The scheduling allows winter-weary northerners to take advantage of Miami heat and optimal weather conditions. Late winter is the best time to visit: Hurricane season is over, and it’s warmer than in late fall or early winter.
Still, planning the Winter Party is like moving figures on a chessboard. Gay partiers are hardly the only ones who consider Miami Beach a preferred destination to escape the late-winter slush. Event Chair Derek Yee explained that the Winter Music Conference and Ultra, the massive dance-music conference that eats up every club in town, is a major consideration; this year, WMC takes place March 15. Yee also had to consider the Food and Wine Festival, being held Feb. 21 to Feb. 24.
It’s important to keep in mind that attending the Winter Party is more than a lot of fun. It’s a major fundraiser for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and local LGBT organizations. The Dade Community Foundation, an umbrella philanthropic group, distributes the money generated, with about two-thirds going back to the community and the other third to the Task Force.
The Winter Party has become a cornerstone for the Task Force, one of the most important national LGBT groups fighting for our rights. If the Task Force isn’t as well known as some other organizations, it’s probably because it focuses on building grassroots involvement. You could say "think nationally, act locally" is its mantra. Local, Miami-based organizations that have benefited from the Winter Party include LGBT youth groups, AIDS organizations, programs for seniors and a hell of a lot more.
This is the Winter Party’s 20th anniversary. In a difficult economy that has forced many nationally based dance parties to fold, it’s nice to see one of the finest, the most fun and most beneficial to our community continue to thrive -- and, I should add, attract some of the hottest bodies on the planet.
The Ins and Outs of Attending
If you’re thinking of attending the Winter Party, the best time to plan is right now. Hotels in South Beach are crowded this time of year, as are flights. One hint: Hotels on the mainland are generally more reasonable. If you don’t mind driving, a hotel in an out-of-the-way neighborhood can be downright cheap. How much time are you going to spend in your room, anyway?
That means renting a car, however, which can be a liability in space-starved South Beach. Consider Miami Beach a sunnier version of Manhattan: Even municipal parking lots often put out "Full" signs. Valet parking is the only way to go at most clubs and restaurants. Traffic can be a nightmare (especially Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Boulevard). As for street parking, as they say on Calle Ocho, ¡no puede ser! Parking is limited to residents with neighborhood stickers. If you’re going to a party off the beach, sharing a taxi is a possibility, as are the buses provided by the Winter Party organization. Although nobody seems to take advantage of it except the locals, the Collins Avenue bus is a nice option, especially considering the length of South Beach streets. A nice way to tool around is by bicycle; there are several bike rental businesses on Washington and Collins.
If you needed another incentive, prices for all party packages go up in mid-January. Definitely purchase a pass. The Winter Party helpfully sells passes based on the number of events, rather than events themselves, on its website. A Gold Pass, for example, includes five events and is only $235 if purchased by Jan. 15. As if being in your early 20s weren’t enough of a leg up in youth-centric Miami, anyone 21 to 25 can buy a "New Generation" pass with access to three events for only $125.