Events Nightlife The Mixer Timeline

Susanne Bartsch Is Back On Top (Virtually)


Susanne Bartsch

Is Back On Top (Virtually)

A notorious NYC party producer has taken to the internet to keep the rhythm going despite the coronavirus pandemic

It has been roughly two months now since the unthinkable happened: the city that never sleeps found itself in a veritable coma amid mass shutdowns aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

As people fled New York City and countless lives that once thrived on the crowded rituals of urban life were upended by the pandemic, America’s most populous and vibrant metropolis was drastically and perhaps permanently altered. The MTA emptied out, the bright lights of Times Square danced for no one, and the throngs of nocturnal creatures that propelled the working hours of the city around the clock were robbed of their sanctuaries.

It was almost inconceivable in January that the virus that had thrown China into a state of utter panic would ever overwhelm New York City. For many, the alarming early coverage of COVID-19 was simply another online spectacle depicting a catastrophe an ocean away. Six months ago, New York was alive as ever on New Year’s Eve with its usual flurry of raucous parties packed with people hopeful for a new year and a new decade. No one could have known what was coming.

One hundred years ago, America and the rest of the world were gripped by a different pandemic, the Spanish Flu, a virulent influenza virus estimated to have infected approximately 500 million people, a third of the world’s population at the time. From April of 1918 until December of 1920, the virus killed as many as 100 million people, with more people dead in 24 weeks than HIV/AIDS killed in 24 years. The virus came in three waves and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, created the most severe pandemic in history. After the postwar economic boom delivered Americans into a more prosperous era, the virus became a distant memory – until now.

Aquaria, April 23

Top health officials have predicted that COVID-19, much like the Spanish Flu, will come in waves, leaving Americans mired in perpetual uncertainty. For industries such as nightlife that thrive on crowds of people, the ultimatum is clear: adapt or die out. With the virus spreading rapidly worldwide, the internet is the last redoubt. Enter Susanne Bartsch. As downtown queer nightlife’s perennial maven and one of New York City’s most notorious party producers, Bartsch has taken to the internet to keep the rhythm going. This year’s season of On Top, Bartsch’s much-anticipated summer/fall party that usually takes place at the Standard Hotel in Chelsea, was relocated to Zoom, an online video conference platform where club kids and drag artists from all over the world have begun to use their aesthetic tastes to create an extradimensional cyber party under the auspices of Bartschland.

“People at The Standard don’t even know when they’re opening, and it’s already about to be June,”

Bartsch said.

“It’s devastating. It’s very uncertain, very, very uncertain.”

But party producers aren’t the only ones hurting in nightlife. By keeping the party online, DJs, hosts, and entertainers are given another opportunity to make money. Bartsch said her 2020 calendar has been completely wiped clean, an indicator of what so many others in the industry are probably facing as well.

“From Las Vegas to Vienna, I’ve lost every job there is,”

she said.

“Other than bringing together the community and supporting this nightlife community, it’s also to help and pay people so they’re able to buy food for the week.”

This week marks the online party’s seventh Thursday installment after its launch on April 16, and each week brings with it a different set of competitive look themes and a rotating cast of hosts, guest hosts, and entertainers. In addition to the usual staples such as glamour superstar Amanda Lepore, makeup mastermind Ryan Burke, downtown it girl Linux, performance art genius Thee Suburbia, burlesque bombshell Lola Von Rox, and a cast of other provocative personalities (Gottmik, CT Hedden, Jeffrey Scott, Kiss, Candy Warhol, Muffy, Chlamydia, Mateo Palacio, Adventure Dave, and Bob Bottle to name a few), Bartsch also books special guest talent that has already included RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Aquaria, Crystal Methyd, Detox, Nicky Doll née Karlize, Brooke Lynn Hytes, and LA trans idols Gigi Gorgeous and Love Bailey, among others. DJs have included crowd favorites such as Vito Fun, Mazurbate, Tom Peters, Ty Sunderland, Aquaria, Amber Valentine, Tommie Sunshine, and London party impresario Jodie Harsh. This week, Bartsch is adding Trinity the Tuck to the roster, which promises to make for an interesting evening.

Fashion photographer Steven Klein celebrating his Birthday, April 30

Though we are separated by distance together, the remote platform has given artists the opportunity to customize their virtual surroundings in a way that augments their sartorial and cosmetic looks. Bartsch’s parties have always served as a gallery space for artists to showcase work on their bodies, and now that space extends to their virtual presentation as well. Whether it be libertine displays of communal nudity or watching renowned fashion photographer Steven Klein blow out the candles on his birthday cake, each week has brought something fresh in what is quickly becoming a new global age of New York nightlife. There are still online after-parties. People still get high. DJ sets still guide the sonic tempo of the night. The events bring all the trappings of a regular party with none of the crowded congestion one might experience in the Le Bain bathroom (God bless it) during mid-May.

This may be the first online party of its kind – one that took an existing weekly party that became impossible in the face of the pandemic and preserved it in cyberspace, where for the first time anyone with an internet connection can attend from anywhere in the world. Queer nightlife is something special that needs to be preserved during these times of blinding uncertainty. In New York City, which became the pandemic’s epicenter in a meteoric contamination, nightlife will probably be facing a depression for some time to come, especially if the virus moves in unpredictable waves and makes event planning and coordination impossible.

Still we press on. Even though the NYC Pride Parade was cancelled this year, along with the gauntlet of regular Pride events, mark your calendars for June 28. Bartsch is planning an international online Pride party on Zoom titled “On Top of the World: Pride,” featuring a bevy of headliners such as Allie X and talent from cities all over the world, including New York, LA, London, Tokyo, Paris, and Berlin.

“I never even did a FaceTime call before all this,”

Bartsch said.

“I’m going all the way.”

These times are historic, and so the ways that we choose to party and continue to celebrate life will take on a historic significance as well. The relationship between party and partygoer will be more symbiotic than ever. The parties offer respite to those taking quarantine seriously and give glamorous people everywhere a continuing opportunity to show up and show out. In exchange, we have to keep logging in and supporting these endeavors. As we now know well, nothing is promised. But we can still fight for the right to party. 

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Events Festivals Nightlife Timeline

Wigwood IV: Contributing to Miami’s LGBTQ+ History



Wigwood is a 3-day, biggest South Florida queer performance festival.


Queef Latina (Day 2)

Wigwood Miami celebrated its fourth installment at the beginning of the new decade (February 7-9). The festival usually takes place the first weekend of February and, in our point of view, serves as the official opener for the must-attend LGBTQ+ events of the year. The reasoning for Wigwood taking place at this particular time of the year is actually very sound. A bearded drag queen Queef Latina, who is also a tailoring and sewing instructor and the winner of Miami New Times Best Drag Performer of 2019, is the creator and director of the festival.

She half-jokes,

“The reason why I decided to start Wigwood in early February is because I don’t want to be hot in drag. This is the perfect time to be in Miami weather-wise.”

It couldn’t be more true: in January everyone is still getting over their New Year’s blues and slumber, while in February people start to become more alive and look for things to get themselves into, especially if it warrants them to get out of the colder parts of the US and head over down to South Florida’s biggest queer performance festival. The flights to Miami in February are also very affordable, even though this time of the year is considered to be the high season. I purchased a one-way ticket from New York for less than $100.

Wigwood festival became Queef Latina’s brainchild when she moved back to South Florida, after 6 years of living in NYC. Queef cites the early years of the Bushwig festival as an inspiration. She loved how intimate it felt and she wanted to carry over the sentiment to her found-again home in South Florida. She approached Adam Gersten of Gramps about creating Miami’s own event that would mostly cater to the local queer community, and the rest is history.

Queef gives credit to her “drag husband” and best friend, local artist Sleeper, for inspiring her to keep on creating more safe spaces for Miami queers. Sleeper started the legendary Counter Corner party back in 2014, alongside Juleisy y Karla, creating the first queer space which “made people feel comfortable.”

In 2019, HistoryMiami Museum held an exhibition named “Queer Miami,” curated by Miami native Julio Capó Jr., purposefully coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The exhibit went back a century to showcase the pivotal moments in Miami’s LGBTQ history. 

“In 1930s Miami was called the Magic City, you could come here and see drag shows, they would be even advertised in the paper,”

Queef mentioned what she learned from the “Queer Miami” exhibit.

In the ‘70s, Miami’s queer progress was stunted by a powerful adversary – Florida Orange juice spokesperson and singer Anita Bryant, who started a campaign named “Save The Children” opposing Metro-Dade County’s new anti-discrimination ordinance.

She famously referred to gay people as “human garbage” and stated that,

“If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail-biters.”

“When South Beach was kind of crumbling and falling apart in the ‘80s and 90s and it was very dangerous, that was the queer hub. That’s when Adora started doing drag, there would be foam parties, and there was Warsaw and all these other great clubs, but then, as South Beach started becoming gentrified and developed, there was a big push, especially by a lot of rich sports people that were trying to kick out all the gays from South Beach. The reason Wilton Manors exists and is so gay, is because all these gays that were kicked out from South Beach relocated there. South Beach still has a gay scene, but it’s not as cool as what we do. For many years we would get a lot of hatred from the South Beach scene and the South Beach queens. And now, we’ve actually booked some South Beach girls. I tried to book them ever since the first year, and every year they either didn’t respond or they didn’t want to do it,”

says Queef, inadvertently weaving Wigwood’s history into Miami’s.

Miss Toto & FKA Twink (Day 1)

Glam Hag (Day 2)

Vex The Thing (pink face) shares excitement with friends after being kissed by Landon Cider (Day 1)

“It’s this old school mentality, where they are like ‘We are professionals, because we are entertainers and you are just a bunch of kids running around and you don’t look like a woman, you look like a monster.’ Eventually I started not giving a fuck and being like ‘Well we don’t want to be you, we want you to be with us, because we are inclusive, but I am not trying to look like a woman, I have a beard. I want to look glamorous, I want to look beautiful, but I am not trying to pass.’”

Maybe all the press and recognition that Wigwood received over the course of its existence served as a catalyst for South Beach girls to finally partake in the Miami festival. Two days before the first day of Wigwood, a new issue of Miami New Times came out with Queef gracing its cover, pouting seductively, while striking a high-fashion pose. The article’s headline, “Queer & Here!,” jumps out from the front page.

“A few years ago, if you would have told me that a bearded drag queen … forget it, a drag queen period … would be on the cover of a Miami newspaper that can reach anyone’s household, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

It seems that the “monsters” are rapidly taking over Miami’s gay scene and making it queer as fuck – hence the “Invasive Species” theme of this year’s festival.

“In Miami there’s surprisingly no queer bars and there’s very few gay bars. All of the queer parties that we have are in straight venues,”

Queef says, noting that her friend and hairstylist Patrick came up with that concept.

“Queers in Miami are the invasive species, because we are constantly invading these non-queer, non-gay spaces.”

Queef Latina is also adamant about calling Wigwood a queer party, not a gay party,

“We are trying to show that this isn’t a gay party, it’s a queer party – there is a difference. At a queer party you have a lot more transgender, non-binary people, a lot of people in drag. If you go in drag to a gay party, you are going to be hated on. It’s pretentious and not very welcoming, that’s what a gay party for me is … A queer party is come how you are, whether you are big, hairy, super skinny, or missing an arm – you are accepted. It’s a different mentality. What I like about queer parties is there’s a lot of women. It doesn’t have to be gay. I like that there’s women – all my girl cousins come to Wigwood, they feel safe, comfortable, they have fun. It’s basically about inclusivity.”

Topatio (Day 2)

When Queef says inclusive, she means it. Even from a monetary standpoint, the 3-day weekend pass cost only $35 this year. She says that she’s never turned away someone who couldn’t afford the ticket.

“Honestly I just do this for my friends. I have yet to make money from this, I barely even break even. But it’s not even about making money. I try to keep it accessible, cuz I know all the queers are broke,” she laughs, “If it’s too expensive, people are not going to come, or the people that I want to come aren’t going to come. I’m not trying to throw a party for people I don’t know. I throw this party for my friends, and I want all of my friends to come and hang out with me.”

In comparison, the Afropunk festival that first started in 2005 as a block party and was free to attend, in 2019 charged a whopping $180 for a Saturday VIP ticket during its Brooklyn edition. Queef Latina refuses to hike up the ticket prices, sell VIP tickets, or sell bottles. Making money is not the goal; making everyone feel equal is the priority.

Unquestionably, Queef is beloved in the community, and a bunch of people make a beeline to greet her on the first day of the event at Club Space. She says that if next year her friends don’t want to do the party, she simply won’t do it.

At some point during the night she walks out on stage, clutching the microphone, and humbly says,

“I just wanted to say that this party is for you guys.”

Love is in the air and it’s palpable. Is this what Queef was referring to when speaking of the first few years of Bushwig?

Someone’s adorable child (Day 3)

After the last day of Wigwood, a relaxing hotel pool party, a bunch of event attendees and performers ended up at Queef’s house, dubbed “The House of Shame,” for the after-party.

“Oh, so she wasn’t lying, she does know all these people,”

I thought.

A few drag performers that flew in for the festival from other cities in the US felt welcome and right at home, some of them even crashing at Queef’s pad.

“So Queef, how many drag children do you have?”

I lost count of the people clinging to her figurative skirt over the course of the house afterparty.

“I have 7 drag children, I told you I really am queer Miami’s mommy,”

she smiles.

Can it be that Queef Latina is one of the pioneers rewriting or adding to LGBTQ+ history in South Florida? Who knows, but it is highly likely she is already on her way in doing so. 


Looking Back At Miami’s First Controversial Wynwood Pride

In 2019, Miami’s 1st Wynwood Pride split local talent into 2 opposing camps. In 2020, the festival is back in digital form.

Alexey Kim