The Show Must Go On: Thomas Donall Says Raising the Curtain at The Palace Can’t Come Soon Enough By Mick Sandoval
Thomas Donall, owner of the Palace Restaurant and Bar on Ocean Drive, looks back fondly on how brisk business was before COVID-19 changed the world as we know it. “Our Friday, Saturday and Sunday brunches were packed as were our legendary Sunday tea dances and all the events happening at the rooftop pool bar,” he recalls.
They had even just expanded shows with new drag performers. Then on March 19, all non-essential businesses in Miami-Dade were ordered to close due to coronavirus. “I thought that after a few weeks, we'd be back to normal. No one could have anticipated that we would be in this quarantine for so long,” he says.
We spoke with him to learn how he and his famous drag performers has been faring since the shutdown.
Were you prepared for the pandemic or did it catch you completely by surprise? Thomas Donall: I can say with certainty that this pandemic caught everyone by surprise. When you reflect on President Trump’s initial announcements, he was far too casual about how serious this really was. I think this set the entire country up for far more than anyone had realized. Surprised? You bet; I would never have expected to experience anything like this in my lifetime.
What impact has the pandemic had on Palace? Like every other business in the country, being closed has been devastating. The bills don’t stop and without our regular daily income, everyone at the Palace is feeling the squeeze. Unfortunately, I had to lay off almost my entire staff. It was heartbreaking, as the Palace is the sole source of income for many of them. We are a family here, staff and performers included. Honestly, I miss everyone.
Can you compare this to any other struggle the Palace has gone through in its 30+ years? It reminds me of when we had to close our location at 1200 Ocean Dr. While I knew we had to close because that building needed desperate renovation, I never expected it would be so difficult to find a new home for the Palace. It was one of the biggest struggles in my life. All my employees were out of jobs, the community had one less venue to gather and celebrate together. I felt that I had let everyone down. It was a very low point in my life and my career. Fortunately, after looking at dozens of properties, we finally found our new home here, at 1052 Ocean Dr. This location really became the rebirth of the Palace and set us up in a whole new direction, to bigger and better things.
They say every trial has a lesson. What is the biggest lesson you have learned from the pandemic? I don’t know that anyone can fully prepare for something like this. This experience has been very humbling. It shows that in the blink of an eye, anything can change, and everything can be taken away without notice, including our freedom. My advice to everyone is to make sure that you’re saving for a rainy day. Whether you’re a business owner or an employee, we all need to make sure we have some bucks saved in the bank for unexpected events like this.
What can the community do to help The Palace? I’m glad you asked. Right now, we just need the community to keep the Palace and our staff on their minds and in their hearts. Please support the virtual Saturday and Sunday brunch performances Tp Lords, Tiffany Fantasia and our talent are hosting on Instagram (@palacesobe). We also started a gofundme (www.gofundme.com/f/raise-money-for-palace-bar- miami-staff) to help raise much-needed cash for our performers, bartenders, servers, and the front and back of the house staff members. We encourage our patrons to contribute, if they can.
Are you taking this time to prepare for Palace’s big re-opening? Yes, while we are closed, we are taking the opportunity to do updates and improvements to Palace. The entire bar has been cleaned from top to bottom, inside and out. Everything is getting a makeover. This past weekend, we painted the outside façade, the floors on both terraces and the tables. We also painted the performer’s dressing rooms so they have a nice place to return to when the shows are back on.
The Palace curtain will rise again. How will you celebrate? With new music, outfits, and performance routines! My entire staff is anxious to open and rock the house down again. For me, it is more than the meals and the shows. It will be the thrill of having all of my family back together again.
Palace is located at 1052 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. For more information, visit Palacesouthbeach.com