But Fort Lauderdale’s rapid move up the gay social ladder hit a major stumbling block in 2008 when the investment bubble burst and real estate prices plummeted in tandem with failing global markets. Meanwhile, the same fate hit Miami, leaving many shiny new buildings tenant-free. A more affordable South Beach caught the queer eye and renewed interest in the mystique and contemporary architecture that put the city on the map in the 1930s. With foreclosures beckoning and equities dwindling, South Beach housing prices fell to premillennium levels. Faced with recession anxiety, ­locales and establishments previously sanctioned for the rich and famous reached out to the masses. Exclusive hotels such as the Raleigh and the Standard halved their rates. High-end restaurants lowered their prices. More nightclubs granted free entry and added nightly drink specials to the menu. Economic downturn had become a traveler’s and buyer’s opportunity for the recently inaccessible and overpriced.

Though the gays had been crowded out for nearly a decade, South Beach remained famous to the world at large for its celeb-favored hotels, renowned restaurants, and lively beaches crammed with hard bodies sporting chic sunglasses and fierce Speedos. Each year more international visitors arrived to sample the custom-designed pools, decked-out rooftops, meticulously chosen color schemes, and the individualistic themes of the beach’s art deco treasures. An expansion project launched by the city and eager investors during the boom times yielded billion-dollar restorations (the Fontainebleau), condo-hotel combinations (the Gansevoort), and high-end designers living out their fantasies through their work (the Mondrian South Beach). A remixed and refreshed landscape showcased masterpieces of internationally renowned architects and ­designers. Unfortunately for businesses but fortunately for consumers, poor timing of this project resulted in an ultra avant-garde South Beach with two-star price points and extraordinary real estate opportunities.

This financial phenomenon has brought the gays back to their old South Beach stomping grounds after a few years in exile. Miami’s cultural scene has continued apace, hosting international events such as Art Basel Miami Beach, now one of the world’s most important contemporary art shows. And despite the decentralization of the circuit scene, international megaparties rock South Beach year after year, with global hotties congregating for the White Party, Winter Party, and Aqua Girl.

Tags: Travel