I’ve been coming to South Beach for over 20 years now and the change over that time has been dramatic. It’s Party Town USA and I get there four times a year, every year. South Beach is a cultural, sporting, social, fun hotspot and is, of course, the gateway to the growing Hispanic cultural phenomenon. Whenever I visit South America I try to weekend in South Beach, and if you ever get the opportunity you should do the same. Here are 20 reasons why:
1. Girls in summer clothes
As Springsteen said, “Girls in their summer clothes in the cool of the evening light; Girls in their summer clothes pass me by”. South Beach is home to America’s most beautiful and sexiest women. It’s the St. Tropez of the US where everyone is dressed up morning, noon and night to make an impression. The sunshine brings out the best in them all including the shortest dresses, the highest heels, the tightest jeans and the tiniest bikinis. It is hedonism at its very best. (And I guess the guys are hunky, too – not my area of expertise.)
2. Art Deco Road aka Ocean Drive
South Beach has been meticulous in keeping their beautiful Art Deco heritage. The hotels throughout South Beach are fantastic examples of original, beautiful architecture. Make sure you take a walk in the morning on the beach side of the road and just look up at the architecture.
3. Lincoln Road
I love pedestrian precincts and Lincoln Road is alive with cafes, bars, outdoor restaurants, fashion outlets, palm trees and a perfect European style 5pm paseo. Again this is classic stroll territory and comes complete with the sensational Books & Books café.
4. Romero Britto
Romero is Miami’s artist. His gallery, Britto Central, on Lincoln Road is full of color, passion and energy. I have six of his pieces going back many years culminating in a giant heart which he has dedicated to The Lovemarks Company. It sits outside my office in New York. Romero originally came to my attention when he created a limited edition Pepsi can and later a Smirnoff bottle in the Britto style. He now also has a giant size pyramid in Hyde Park, London. And, on top of all that, he’s an all round good guy.
Escopazzo is my favorite Italian restaurant in the US. Giancarla Bodoni has been there for 15 years and she runs a fantastic operation, helped by her mom who looks after the money. Giancarla is in the kitchen every night and has pioneered a new style of organic, healthy Italian cooking that is the tastiest I’ve ever tried. I go there every time I’m in Miami. Escopazzo is sandwiched between a sex shop and the Playwright Pub on Washington but it has a great, buzzy front room and a terrific big back room complete with bar and internal fountain. The food and service is beyond belief.
6. Delano Hotel
The Delano is where I used to stay. In fact I’ve stayed there over 20 times including a never to be forgotten New Years Eve with my kids. The Delano was one of Phillipe Starck’s first creations and is still super cool in terms of its layout, décor, all white rooms, The Rose Bar, the giant chess set, oversized chairs and plant pots in the garden. Its restaurants have gone through many births and rebirths, including at some stage a Madonna owned enterprise, but its latest edition is the Florida Room which was designed by Lenny Kravitz and features a replica of his own Lucite piano. The Delano is the place to see and be seen with its pool acting as the hot party spot in South Beach.
7. The Boardwalk
The boardwalk runs right alongside the ocean passing the great hotels from Ocean Drive to all the new developments en route to Bal Harbour. Walking this path first thing in the morning (and it goes on and on for miles) is the nearest thing to being on Venice Beach.
8. The Setai
One of my top ten hotels in the world is The Setai, which opened in August 2005. I stay in the Residences which have wraparound ocean views and feature tranquil Indonesian colors, harmonious browns, bronzes and golds. As an additional bonus, each room has beautiful candles. The Setai has three pools with a beach bar/café for afternoon dining, a great gym, a spa, two great restaurants, and fabulous bar and courtyard for those hot Miami nights. Patrick Little, who oversees the restaurants, is an Irishman with a true flare for the business. He’s living proof that restaurants are not there to serve food, their real job is to serve people. The Setai is easily South Beach’s top spot and perfect when you want to get away from the rhythm and hum of the Delano, Shore Club and, I’m sure, the soon to be opened W.
9. Hear Music
Hear Music is on Lincoln and has a great indoor/outdoor vibe. It is also the best place to hear the latest Hispanic artists and add a little salsa to your iPod. And all this, whilst, drinking an ice cold Frappuccino.
10. Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen is the patron saint of Miami novelists. His books are inevitably set in Miami and are full of South Beach passion. Check out Double Whammy and Hoot to get yourself started.
11. Miami Vice
The classic TV series, not the idiotic movie.
12. Miami Sound Machine
I first saw Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan live in Puerto Rico with the Sound Machine in the mid-80’s. I’ve been a fan ever since and she is still the reigning Queen of South Beach.
13. The Sagamore
This is another great hotel. It’s on Collins Avenue and full of terrific art, in a generous spacious architecture with terrific light. The Sagamore is particularly hot during the Miami Basel Art Fair. Check out one of the penthouse style rooms, there are only a few of them and they open onto the pool. Not to be missed.
The Heat and Dolphins both play here. In fact, one night during a visit to Casa Casuarina (the old Versace villa) I met and had dinner with Pat Riley, the head coach of the Heat. This is a great sporting town and Dolphin Stadium in particular has a lot of action generated by the Miami Dolphin franchise. They are also real keen to host some USA Rugby down there. I’ve always been a fan of Dan Marino, one of my proudest possessions in New Zealand being a Dolphin shirt signed by this great quarterback.
15. Coconut Grove
Coconut Grove is definitely worth a visit. It’s just up the road and it’s a different world entirely. The Grove is the home of one of the most creative agencies in the US, Crispin Bogusky, and is also full of beautiful shaded lanes and villas.
16. Sultan Kebab
This is a gem of a find and is on Collins, next to The Setai. As its name implies it is a replica of thousands similar kebab shops throughout Lebanon and the Middle East. Aluminum tables, simple cooking; hummus, tahini, tabouleh, with the meats all freshly prepared, juicy and tasty. Sultan kebab is cheap, cheerful and always packed.
17. Joe’s Stone Crab
The biggest revenue restaurant in the US, Joe’s generates $29 million a year despite being closed for the 3 months when there are no Stone Crabs available. No reservations, first come, first served on seating. Get there early, you won’t regret it.
My favorite Cuban joint. Salsa upstairs, great food downstairs. Chef Maria Manzo has come across from China Grill and adds her own touches to the classic Yuca range.
19. The best club scene in the USA
……or so they tell me!!!
20. The Raleigh Bar
Small and intimate, The Raleigh is an deal way to start the night. For me it’s worth a visit to just enjoy the quiet, get away from it all feeling of the place. I don’t know if Hemingway ever drank here but, if he were around, this is where you’d find him. André Balazs, who has done such a great job with luxury hotels in Miami, has applied his magic and done the hotel up.
And, as a bonus, let’s add Flamingo Park - the best park tennis scene in Florida. Always someone waiting to give you a game...and take their chances.