Miami Beach – Centennial Cocktail
For a flavour of America’s Riviera, start with one part vintage American glamour, add designer hotels and a stylish nightlife; mix with Latin energy and Caribbean culture and serve in a sub-tropical beach setting
As I sip my caipirinha, a refreshing mix of cachaça with muddled lime and sugar, I mull over my newfound knowledge of Art Deco architecture. I now know Classic Moderne from Streamline Moderne; and starburst motifs from arcadia doorways. All this from a morning’s stroll. To get a sense of the art and culture of Miami Beach I’d taken a walking tour of the Architectural Historic District. My guide was from the Miami Design Preservation League, a group of enthusiasts that have been instrumental in keeping this world-class heritage safe from the bulldozers.
Art Deco glamour
In the early twentieth century, the wealthy from across the US began to seek sun, style and sophistication on the white sandy shores of Florida. Virgin beaches and coconut palm plantations were developed into resort playgrounds for the privileged. The islands and mangrove atolls close to the shore saw expansive development with the fashionable Art Deco architecture of the era, creating communities such as Miami Beach and its South Beach (SoBe) neighbourhood. From the 1920s through to the Second World War, during the halcyon days of Miami Beach, alluring luxury apartment blocks and hotels with bold architectural lines, gleaming terrazzo floors and delicious candy colours, attracted Hollywood stars and the travelling elite.
It’s hard to believe that the 800 or more vintage buildings that now define the identity of SoBe, the southern neighbourhood of the ocean front city of Miami Beach, were so close to being the victims of the developers’ wrecking ball. Yet in the mid-1960s a decline began which was to transform this playground for the rich into a crumbling, crime-ridden area.
The island began its renaissance in the 1980s and 90s and today these emblematic buildings make up one of the largest single collections of Art Deco structures in the world. This historic district has helped Miami Beach once again regain its deserved reputation as the glamourous place to holiday.
Miami Beach, incorporated on March 26th, 1914, is now home to some of America’s hippest hotels, über cool beach clubs, acclaimed restaurants and a legendary nightlife. The evocatively named Ocean Drive is one of the most recognised streets in the world, where the vibe is sexy, vibrant, ostentatious, and yet eccentric and bohemian as well. It is also unashamedly touristy, yet Miami Beach as a whole has a genuine personality and thanks to its history, an authentic identity. Add the sensual, feel-good Caribbean and Latin American influences and its little wonder that Miami Beach has such a powerful allure for visitors.
The magic starts as soon as you head out of the airport, when the warm tropical air embraces you. Take one of the classic, all-American yellow taxicabs to your hotel and the chances are the radio will be pulsating with merengue pop or a sexy salsa tune.
Passing the glass and steel towers of downtown Miami, the multi-lane road, lined with palm trees, becomes a causeway bringing you to Miami Beach, an island city with the Biscayne Bay lagoon to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. It’s here that the architecture changes. Suddenly one reaches small neighbourhood streets, lined with low-rise blocks. Restaurants, bars and indie boutiques fill the ground floors, their colourful awnings and terrace parasols contrasting against the clean white exterior walls of the apartments and hotel rooms above.
Some buildings look like sleek ocean liners, with chrome porthole windows and elegant balcony railings. Others have vertical motifs or sleek curved corners. Various buildings are decorated with striking designs of sunbursts or palm fronds and several are painted in yellows, blues, pinks, and sunset orange; shades from pastel to exuberant.
Art is inherent in the way of life here. Not only in the historic architecture but in the culture. Miami Beach manages to seamlessly combine art and leisure. A photography exhibition in a restaurant, an acclaimed graffiti mural on a hotel, a world-class sculpture in the lobby of a luxury condominium building, or free performance art in many of the public spaces – there is always something creating a new cultural horizon. For more than ten years, Art Basel has been a regular fixture in the annual arts scene here, reinforcing Miami Beach as a hub for contemporary art. Each December the galleries, beaches, public spaces, and hotels of Miami Beach embrace the latest creativity of performers and artists from across the Americas and beyond. Despite being a small community Miami Beach also boasts world-class institutions such as the Wolfsonian-FIU art gallery and research centre; as well as the Bass Museum of Art.
Art of Mixology
My favourite though is to indulge in the classic Miami Beach art of mixology; searching for the perfect cocktail. Miami Beach has some exceptional bars, restaurants and hotels and undoubtedly some the most exciting new hotel opening in the States. So once the electric neon illuminates the streets, why not make a night of it, and enjoy a drink whilst being transported to an exciting and glamorous world?
The ‘Martini Bar’ at the iconic 1940s Raleigh Hotel is an intimate, authentic space where the mixologists prepare the classics. For something with a Latin American flavour, visit the ‘Matador Bar’ at the new Edition Hotel. A genuine art deco twist can be found at the ‘Traymore Bar’ at the fashionable Metropolitan, where it’s obligatory to have a gin cocktail made from one of their more than 30 artisan gins. The Cuban-style ‘1930s House’ at the Thompson Hotel is a vintage bungalow where the experts shake and stir to create memorable concoctions including classic mojitos. Keeping with the old school theme, try a Tequila Mockingbird at the ‘Rose Bar’, in the lobby at the beautiful 1940s Delano Hotel on Collins Avenue.
For a low-key, authentic vibe, head to Casa Claridge within the new Faena District, and enjoy a creation from one of the resident mixologists. Or for affordable, hand-crafted cocktails mixed with fresh garden herbs it has to be the ‘Broken Shaker’ at Freehand, a hip, designer hostel. Make mine a caipirinha please. After all, we’re celebrating; Miami Beach is marking its 100th birthday this spring!
Copyright Andrew Forbes – SUR in English