“Our plan behind the Hotel Gaythering was to create a gay gathering,” said Alex Guerra, co-owner of the hotel. “We knew we wanted our space to be unpretentious. We wanted anyone to be able to come in here: from a neighbor in his pajamas who decided to come in for a drink to someone who’s been working all day long and ended up at the bar in a business suit. Everyone is completely welcome here.”
When Alex and his partner, Stephan Ginez, purchased the building that would house Miami Beach’s Hotel Gaythering 10 years ago, there were four gay bars on Lincoln Road. By the time Hotel Gaythering opened four years later (on Valentine’s Day 2014) they were the “only gays in the village” according to Alex. Once the gay mecca of the world, Miami Beach was changing and gay-specific spaces were closing at a rapid rate.
“People were lonely and weren’t connecting anymore because of Grindr,” Alex said. “Creating a place for our community to interact with each other has always been our motto.” And that, they did.
Fast forward six years to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down… well, pretty much life as we know it all over the world.
The pandemic forced Hotel Gaythering to close its sauna (a men’s-only play-positive space) and bar, which hosted different nightly events that brought together a diverse coalition of cohorts. The hotel stayed open for guests until March 23, but is now completely closed until further notice.
Committed to their mission, however, the minds behind Hotel Gaythering are figuring out ways to continue connecting the community they’ve helped to create—somewhat ironically—by steering the events to apps, streaming and social media.
When the bar shut down last Sunday (March 15), Alex and Karla Croqueta, the drag queen who hosts the Gaythering’s Monday karaoke party, were forced to improvise. The result was an Instagram Live feed, hosted from Señorita Croqueta’s living room. The chat guests typed their requests and, when it was their turn, Karla used the split-screen option to simultaneously showcase the lyrics on her feed and allow the karaoke singer his/her stage.
“It was so amazing she did it for two hours,” said Alex. “People were singing in their bedroom, living room; one guy went out to his car so his mother wouldn’t hear him; people quarantined together did a duet. The engagement was out of control.”
For Wednesday trivia night, the Gaythering worked with Evan Raymond, the developer of The Bar Trivia App, to allow team captains to answer the questions on the app, while the individual team members zoomed (my early prediction for “Merriam Webster’s Word of the Year” 2020) together. According to Alex, a busy trivia night at the hotel brings together about 14 teams. Last Wednesday’s experiment resulted in 600 viewers and 34 teams.
Guests can also tip the entertainers directly via Venmo or similar cash apps. “We’re not monetizing this at all for ourselves. But we now have these entertainers with all the bars closed and nowhere to work. We have a staff that is relying on us.”
Hotel Gaythering is planning to stream DJ sets on weekends and create a new lip-sync battle event. They are also partnering with local talent and business to create a Virtual Pub Crawl on April 5, the day Miami Beach Pride was to be held. Pride events have been postponed due to the health crisis.
“To be honest this might be our only platform for the next month, two months, who knows,” said Alex. “We’re trying to keep our community strong, trying to keep our regulars, our previous guests and future guests engaged, and giving them an escape for a couple of hours from what feels like the world ending.”
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