Miami Nice :: Heralding the Winter Party

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by Steve Weinstein

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, ┬íno 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.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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