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MIAMI ON THE MOVE

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So this is lunchtime mid-week in downtown Miami. We’re awaiting our caprese salads at a sidewalk table outside D’oro Caffe and feeling every inch like locals. This, after all, isn’t one of the area’s more famous tourist streets—in fact, it’s not even in a historically touristic area.
And yet the people-watching, the musicality of seemingly every language but English being spoken by passersby, the din of construction cranking out high-rises that soar toward the airline traffic above it all create an almost exotic mix of the familiar and strange that borders on the intoxicating.

For many, the mention of the Atlantic-hugging metropolis in South Florida conjures up images of men rocking Speedos and clubs that throb with techno delirium until sunrise. And that remains an apt description of life in sultry Miami Beach.

But the greater Miami area is itself pulsating with life in pockets that were once overlooked by long-time residents, never mind visitors. Says Paula Gomez, who’s been a Miamian for all of her 30-some years: “I feel very proud.”

With good reason. The renaissance that transformed South Beach, giving it A-list status among international LGBT vacation destinations, continues to spread across the entire metropolitan area. In just the past few years, a world-class museum (the Pérez) has opened its doors, a design district has come into its own, a hip hotel (YVE; see sidebar) has lent new cool to the formerly all-business downtown, and at least two new inner-city malls are taking shape, poised to enhance the luxury-shopping experience for designer-conscious travellers.

Take a taxi or convenient (and inexpensive) city bus to South Beach, where almost any drop-off point along vibrant Collins Avenue will be welcoming. Pick your spot on the miles of soft sand along the tropical hues of the Atlantic Ocean. Before, after or in between stints on the beach (gays rule everywhere but often cluster at 12th Street), enjoy a meal or drink at one of the many smart cafés just steps away. Their varied menus and price points are complemented by priceless people-watching.

For a rarefied version of that sport, lunch at Terrazza in the tony Shore Club. The poolside restaurant puts you in the middle of a Hollywood-meets-South American elite served bottles of Champagne at their chaise longes.

Allow an hour or two for strolling the palm- and fountain-dotted Lincoln Road. These long blocks of vehicle-free outdoor eateries and shops include several local favourites. Among them is the high-ceiling AllSaints, where the hip fashions for men and women share space with its dizzying and endearing collection of vintage sewing machines.

For dinner with an unforgettable view of Miami proper, reserve an open-air table at chic La Savina in the Mondrian South Beach Hotel. Its delectable Mediterranean-inspired menu is graced with gently seasoned char-grilled meats. Save room for an exquisite dessert and digestif to linger over with the last pink hues of daylight against the Miami skyline.

When night falls, the region’s steady music goes into overdrive. Fans of live, mostly solo singing acts savour the nightly lineups of the earthy Cabaret. Besides the crooners and belters who entertain at the grand piano, bartenders and waiters in this dimly lit lounge regularly lend their own strong voices to the engaging mix.

As night dissolves into the early morning, the area’s popular club scene heats up. Score is always good for some unbridled fun, with frequent special live performances. (An offering titled “Fifty Shades of Gay” was featured during our trip.)

Farther down bustling Washington Avenue is Twist, where there might be a drag show or two-for-one drinks as far into the morning as 3 a.m. Friday nights are generally packed. Endearing themed nights (such as “Bears & Hares”) are a staple at local hangout Hotel Gaythering.

For something a bit dressy—by South Florida’s casual standards, at least—there’s the showy LIV, in the iconic Fontainebleau hotel.

Among other Miami nightspots on LGBT radar is the cavernous Club Space; its record-launch parties are talked about for days. For the more idiosyncratic fashionista, there’s House, where patrons are admonished to “save the tank tops and tennis shoes for the beach.” At R House, tropical fruits influence the extensive drinks menu, and visitors are likely to be surrounded by more locals than tourists.

R House is located in Wynwood, which has emerged as one of Miami’s hot neighbourhoods. On once-forbidding streets, pedestrians now find such cool places as Lagniappe, a wine bar that borrows a page from New Orleans in its music, décor and friendliness. Craft-beer fans have taken to the taproom of the Wynwood Brewing Company, with its selection of award-winning ales.

Another once-sleepy part of this modern boomtown is the Brickell area. Businessmen and -women lunch in the sunlight by day, then groove to Latin and other rhythms by night. At the Blue Martini, for one, the revues exude the energy of

Las Vegas and the carefree spirit of a city revelling in its own renaissance.

(For information, contact the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.gmcvb.com.)

 

IN THE HEART OF IT ALL

Make no mistake, the neighbourhood that’s home to the sleek YVE Hotel is crowded, a bit noisy and, by day, can be somewhat tricky to navigate by car. Welcome to the new Miami!

YVE sits like a giant ice cube of a structure in the middle of old—or what pass for old—buildings along Biscayne Boulevard, in the middle of downtown. With Bayfront Park and the Port of Miami cruise terminals just beyond, you won’t feel pinned in by the high-rises lapping the sky almost all around you. While the city views have their own appeal, rooms facing the water not only afford a sense of place but can be simply breathtaking at any hour.

The intimate lobby, where an array of international guests settle into sofas lining the walls, is heavy with the buzz of big social and business plans. It’s like a gathering in New York’s Soho with slightly less self-importance. Because of the hotel’s partnership with a local gallery, a wait for friends can be a time for perusing the artwork on the walls of the lobby and an adjoining staircase.

While there is no concierge, per se, front-desk and bell staff are eager to assist with everything from taxis to tea-dance suggestions. The hospitality extends to the unpretentious Biscayne Tavern, just off the lobby. Happy hours are just that, with generous—and generously priced—drinks accompanied by tasty appetizers. The restaurant is open for all three meals, and morning coffee is complimentary.

Suites can be more generous, but regular guestrooms are not huge. There’s nothing extraneous about the furnishings.

(But then, how often do you need enough seating for a handful of visitors?) The tight squeezes, especially in the bathroom, could make things a challenge if you’re not in at least decent shape.

What you might sacrifice in spaciousness will be more than recouped in a stay that gives you a taste of a proud city changing right before your eyes (www.yvehotelmiami.com).

 

IN THE ART OF IT ALL

When one thinks of Miami, who doesn’t think of sun, beaches and a party scene that crackles until light peeks over the Atlantic Ocean? True, that’s the region’s inescapable—and well-deserved—image. But the home of the internationally acclaimed Art Basel is enjoying an increasingly high profile on the cultural scene. A sampling:

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens Often described as “the finest private house ever built in America,” Vizcaya has 34 rooms containing more than 2,500 works of art and pieces of fine furniture. Its 25 acres of lush gardens feature a notable orchid collection. A few hours at this bayside haven affords a relaxing antidote to the engagingly fast-paced city into which it’s nestled (www.vizcaya.org).

Gallery Scene
Galleries representing all manner of works abound. In the Design District alone, there are more than a dozen boutique museums and showrooms for largely contemporary offerings (www.miamidesigndistrict.net). Among the popular South Beach galleries is the Williams McCall, home to new tropical-influenced works by the painter John Dowd—whose “Florida Landscape (after the rains)” is pictured above (www.williamsmccallgallery.com).

Art Deco District  It’s well worth taking a break from Miami Beach’s sun and games to tour one of the world’s largest concentrations

of Art Deco architecture. The pinks, limes and other pastel colours are accented by portals and other design elements that evoke the luxury cruise ships of another era. A casual walk on your own past the 1930s-built hotels along Collins Avenue, as well as the treasures on its residential side streets, will give you the flavour of the details that defined the decorative form. But for more of the district’s storied history and context, there are guided tours available, with one of the most comprehensive organized by the Miami Design Preservation League (www.mdpl.org).

MDC Museum of Art + Design This downtown treasure brims with meaning for Miami’s large Cuban community. Almost 90 years old, the grand Mediterranean Revival structure, with its noble, soaring tower,  became the processing headquarters for Cubans who fled to America in the 1960s. Today, visitors are free to roam the museum’s airy and ornate galleries, where a photographic exhibition highlighting Cuban-American celebrities is on view through August (www.mdcmoad.org).

Pérez Art Museum Miami The strikingly designed behemoth on Biscayne Bay houses a trove of 20th- and 21st-century works from the Americas, Western Europe and Africa. The former Center for Fine Arts was relocated to its current Herzog & de Meuron-designed home and opened less than two years ago in a $100 million-plus building with an 1,800-strong collection, including works by Diego Rivera and other Latin-American artists (pamm.org).

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