Florida goes after liquor license of Miami hotel over drag show

The state said minors were present at a Christmas-themed show.
The publicity image for the ‘Drag Queen Christmas’ show at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
The publicity image for the ‘Drag Queen Christmas’ show at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. [ Broward Center for the Performing Arts ]
Published March 14|Updated March 15

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is seeking to revoke the Hyatt Regency Miami’s liquor license because an affiliated facility hosted a Christmas-themed drag queen show in which the state claimed minors were present.

The event — “A Drag Queen Christmas” — was held on Dec. 27 at the James L. Knight Center, a 4,500-seat auditorium affiliated with the hotel that typically hosts concerts, graduation ceremonies and other events. The December show was hosted by Nina West, a star from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and minors were required to be accompanied by an adult to attend.

In a 17-page administrative complaint, state regulators said the venue’s admission policies allowed minors to attend the event and as a result, they were exposed to performers who were “wearing sexually suggestive clothing and prosthetic female genitalia.”

“The nature of the show’s performances, particularly when conducted in the presence of young children, corrupts the public morals and outrages the sense of public decency,” according to the complaint, filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Administrative complaints such as the one filed Tuesday can take time to resolve before any penalty is issued.

“These types of cases can take up to a year and a half to two years to resolve,” said Louis J. Terminello, an attorney with Greenspoon Marder and former investigator with Florida’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco who now teaches about alcoholic beverage law at the University of Miami School of Law.

Terminello, who is not involved in the Hyatt case, said the revocation of a license is the most severe penalty that could result from a violation after an administrative hearing, review from regulators, and a final appeal.

The state filed a nearly identical administrative complaint last August against a Miami restaurant, R House, over drag queen weekend brunch. That case remains open and the bar is still operating and serving liquor. In December, state regulators were also scrutinizing events across the state, including Fort Lauderdale, over complaints against the same holiday show held at the Hyatt.

Related: Florida moves to revoke Orlando event venue's liquor license after drag queen show

The decision to target the Hyatt Regency Miami on Tuesday comes as the DeSantis administration and the Republican-led Legislature intensify the crackdown on drag queen shows that allow minors in the audience.

DeSantis, who is laying the groundwork for a potential presidential campaign, has turned culture war fights in the state into a prominent feature of his platform. In a statement Tuesday, the governor’s office said the decision to revoke the Miami hotel’s liquor license was made because “sexually explicit content is not appropriate to display to children and doing so violates the law.”

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In the complaint, state regulators cite their ability to revoke the liquor license of an establishment that breaks laws against “public nuisances” — citing one statute that makes it a second-degree misdemeanor to be engaged in “nuisances that tend to annoy the community, injure the health of the citizens in general, or corrupt the public morals.”

It also cited a criminal law against disorderly conduct, and one against the “unlawful exposure of sexual organs” — a first-degree misdemeanor, a crime if done in a “vulgar or indecent manner.” First-degree misdemeanors, in Florida, are generally punishable by up to a year in jail, while committing a second-degree misdemeanor can lead to a term of up to 60 days behind bars.

This year, Republican lawmakers are trying to strengthen state laws that would allow regulators to make it easier to punish venues that host drag queen shows in cases where children are present.

Under a Senate proposal titled Protection of Children, state regulators would have the power to fine an establishment up to $10,000 if it admits a child to an “adult live performance,” which would include any show with a live audience that, among other things, depicts “lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

The proposed legislation, filed by Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, comes after some conservative activists have called on DeSantis and other Republicans to crack down on drag queen performances — even going as far as to call on them to “jail” the performers.

DeSantis was first pressured to clamp down on these shows last August after a video surfaced on TikTok showing a drag queen clad in a bright yellow G-string and nipple covers leading a young girl around at Miami’s R House during a weekend brunch.

The state also filed a complaint against R House to revoke its liquor license.

On Tuesday, R House ownership said in a statement that the case remains open and that it continues “working towards a resolution. R House continues to operate and still has its liquor license.”

It is unclear what the outcome will be at the Hyatt Regency Miami hotel, which is located on land owned by the city of Miami that has been leased to Hyatt for 44 years.

“We can confirm the hotel’s liquor license remains in effect and has not been revoked. We are reviewing this complaint and will address the situation directly with the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation as part of administrative review process,” Amir Blattner, general manager, Hyatt Regency Miami, said in a statement Tuesday evening.

Blattner added that the James L. Knight Center, including programming and ticketing, is managed by a third-party operator. The hotel is the food and beverage concessionaire at the James L. Knight Center, Blattner said.

For years, the site has been considered prime real estate for redevelopment, and Hyatt has partnered with developers to pursue a major overhaul on the land.

In November, voters authorized city administrators to negotiate a 99-year lease extension that would pave the way for a $1.5 billion redevelopment of the land. The project would include 480 feet of beautified space to the Miami Riverwalk, a three-tower complex with hotel rooms and apartments that would alter Miami’s skyline, and about 190,000 square feet of meeting space.

Under the redevelopment plan, the existing building, completed in 1982, will be replaced with the three-tower complex.

This story was updated on Wednesday, March 15, to include comments from Hyatt Regency Miami.