Miami restaurant settles with DeSantis administration to end drag show complaint

R House agreed to pay a $10,000 fine.
Kat Wilderness performs for guests during a drag brunch at R House Wynwood in Miami in April 2022.
Kat Wilderness performs for guests during a drag brunch at R House Wynwood in Miami in April 2022. [ DANIEL A. VARELA | Miami Herald ]
Published Sept. 19, 2023|Updated Sept. 20, 2023

MIAMI — A Miami restaurant has settled a legal dispute over a drag queen show with the state of Florida, ending a yearlong case that became tinged with partisan politics as Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the venue of trying to sexualize children.

The owners of the restaurant, R House, agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to end the dispute. In a statement Tuesday, the owners said the payment of the fine “did not result from the finding of any violation of any administrative or criminal laws.

“We are very happy that the settlement contains no admission or finding of guilt for R House,” the restaurant’s owners said in the statement. “Furthermore, we are also pleased to confirm that the State’s extensive undercover investigation of R House found no unlawful sexually explicit content at R House shows.”

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which filed the complaint against the restaurant in July 2022, did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment. In its complaint, state regulators had accused the restaurant of exposing minors to “sexually explicit drag shows” and violating Florida’s decency laws.

The state agency, which is part of the DeSantis administration, sought to revoke the restaurant’s liquor license, a move DeSantis said would “basically” put R House out of business.

R House remains in business, though its owners said litigating the case had been “an arduous, exhausting journey.” The case against R House also marked the first in a series of complaints the state would later file against two other venues for hosting drag queen shows.

Those cases — against the Hyatt Regency Miami and the historic Plaza Live theater in Orlando — are ongoing. But records show that in the Orlando case, state regulators filed their complaint even though they had found no evidence of lewd acts at the drag show.

In the case of R House, the dispute stemmed from a video on social media that showed a drag performer leading a young girl during a brunch performance. The performer said the parent had asked her to take the girl’s hand and walk with her because it was her birthday. The performer accepted, walked with the child briefly and then returned her to her parents.

On Tuesday, R House owners said their drag show performances were “never specifically intended for minors,” but that a few parents in the past had “felt they were uniquely qualified to evaluate what was appropriate entertainment for their children and brought their family to our shows.”

“Be that as it may, in January 2023, we did introduce a mandatory age limit of 18+ and will continue that moving forward,” they said. “We are a small independently-owned business and never wanted to become a lightning rod for divisive political or cultural issues but unfortunately that is exactly what happened.”

“We are so very grateful this challenging chapter in our lives can be put behind us.”