Gal With a Suitcase
Our intrepid year-round traveller races from Miami’s Old World Jewish delis to its newest crop of hotels, which are pulling in New York-caliber restauranteurs in droves.
My love affair with southern Florida spans three decades (doesn’t everyone’s grandmother live here?) and the Sunshine State’s most notorious city never fails to surprise or delight. The transformation of Miami Beach over the last few decades has been astounding. Gone are most of the kitschy neon Jewish delis like Rascal House and Wolfie’s. Instead, you’ll find the Fontainebleau with a billion-dollar face lift (Lady Gaga performed there on New Year’s Eve), a gleaming outpost of nearly every swish New York eatery, and, mixed in with the blue-hairs, a crop of relocated twenty- and thirty-somethings from Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and chillier climes up north.
Now, before you get all worked up about “your Miami,” take note: this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide. Think of it instead as a few choice pointers that could make your long-weekend getaway a little more hedonistic.
I’d venture that Miami is second only to L.A. when it comes to friendly voyeurism.
For starters, consider staying at one of the new hotels. The Clevelander and Shore Club feel very 2005. You can do better. The same rules apply for eating: branch out. Miami cuisine is delicious and caloric—and that’s not even taking into account the people-watching. I’d venture that Miami is second only to L.A. when it comes to friendly voyeurism.
Lastly, consider the intention of your getaway. Are you looking to relax, or do you want to go clubbing with 10,000 people? GWS falls somewhere in the middle—I like to rest, but I also want to rev things up with some late-night dining among the bronzed masses. If you’re like me, read on.
The chic new W Hotel took my breath away. And I know what you’re thinking—didn’t we poo-poo the W once it became the official chain of conference attendees and jetset wannabes? We did, but this one is different. Roughly six months old, the new construction (built from the ground up as opposed to a typical refurb) is stunning. It offers 312 guestrooms and bungalows, all with that delicious signature W bed; their “ Woof/Meow” program, for those bringing a furry companion; five bars, including my personal favorite, the Living Room bar; Mr. Chow; a spa; and everything you could ever want in a pool. It’s a little north of the main strip, which I think works to its advantage. Rooms from about $500.
2201 Collins Avenue Miami Beach, 33139 305-938-3000
If you’re not particularly interested in “the scene,” consider a restorative stay up Collins Avenue at Canyon Ranch Miami Beach. Opened in November 2008, this is the third outpost of the famed Tucson-based wellness spa founded by Mel Zuckerman thirty years ago. Home to both a hotel and private residences, the six-acre beachfront property is home to a 70,000 square-foot spa that offers sixty pages of descriptive treatments exclusively aimed (at least in my case) at refreshing a tired body, whether that body is fourteen or eighty-four. Try the stone pedicure and the muscle melt, and ensure granola and banana-bread make your breakfast order. Custom-designed packages are also available.
6801 Collins Avenue Miami Beach, 33141 305-514-7000
And although it’s not here yet, be on the lookout for Soho House’s forthcoming Miami Beach outpost slated to open in 2010, sure to become an instant hotspot.
All the happening restaurants are now in Miami—or should I say, on South Beach. Nobu, Hakkasan, BLT Steak, Capital Grille, Asia de Cuba, Mr. Chow—the list goes on and on. In my opinion, though, nobody does South Beach like Myles Chefetz. He’s given us Nemo, Shoji Sushi, Big Pink (set in an old garage; I adore it for late-night noshing), and the new Prime Italian (I’d skip it.) And, of course, the always fascinating Prime 112. Where else can you see people in half shirts taking down a succulent filet mignon? Myles gets everything right at Prime 112—the atmosphere, the red leather, the Rat Pack sensibility, the just-snooty-enough servers and hostesses. And did I mention the food? The steaks are unreal, the sides epic, and, good God, do not leave here without trying the s’mores. I’d risk going up a pant-size for this dessert alone.
112 Ocean Drive Miami Beach, 33139 305-532-8112
Barton G The Restaurant, named for event-planner extraordinaire Barton G. Weiss, is another long-time favorite. Tucked away on the bay side of Miami Beach, this brainchild of a well-known caterer has undergone many transformations since the heyday of Miami Beach in the ‘20s. Each carefully curated dish arrives like an edible sculpture. Eating outside in the orchid garden is a must—the al fresco ambiance is half the magic, and it’s much stiffer inside. The menu changes often, but if they have it, try the Good Ol’ Southern Fried Chicken, and if you can squeeze in the milkshake dessert, do it. It’s $28 and comes complete with its own blender.
1427 West Ave Miami, 33139 305-672-8881
Two of my regular haunts in Miami are delis. One you may know, which is Jerry’s Famous Deli, and the other, Mo’s Bagel & Deli, you will not—unless you’re between the ages of 75 and 90. Let’s start with Jerry’s. First, it is huge. The lighting is all wrong and the servers chew gum. But if you like pastrami—or, in my case, turkey pastrami—this is your spot. Mo’s, on the other hand, nearly gave my boyfriend a heart attack. He hated it. How could he? My Miami-based friend Michael and I literally treat a visit here like a trip to Mecca. Let’s just say that Mo’s is an acquired taste. It’s in a strip mall in Aventura, and lists its dress code as “jeans and a t-shirt.” What’s more, the clientele is almost exclusively Jewish and remarkably old—think walkers. There is even an organ player on Friday nights. But Manischewitz, does it deliver. Mounds of tuna salad, white fish salad, potato pancakes, knishes, corned beef—you name your kosher indulgence and it is here. My dying meal would be the tuna salad on a toasted onion bagel. Open every day of the year, with an average price point of $9 per person.
Jerry’s Famous Deli 1450 Collins Avenue Miami Beach, 33139 305-534-3244
Mo’s Bagel & Deli 2780 NE 187th St. Aventura, 33180 305-936-8555
You should know about the Boucher Brothers ahead of your next trip. These boys have a stranglehold on Miami’s watersports scene. They can arrange a jetskiing tour for two people or twenty, a banana boat for the kids, or parasailing for the adventurous. Need a catamaran or a yacht? They do that too. Rates vary, and you can pick up tours and rentals from convenient points on the beach.
420 Lincoln Road Miami Beach, 33139 305-535-8177
Two days ago, the American Airlines Arena turned ten. Over the past decade, it’s proved a huge boost to downtown Miami’s urban reconstruction. Consider a visit if there’s an event here while you’re in Florida. AA Arena is home to the World Champion Miami Heat (GWS was there during the 2006 playoff season), big-ticket events like the MTV Video Music Awards, and even the odd Beyoncé or Britney Spears performance. The arena also features the innovative MiamiMediaMesh, an energy-efficient digital façade that covers 3, 400 square feet of the building’s exterior, which locals call Times Square South.
Skip Joe’s Stone Crab. For years I have visited this 97-year-old institution, which all the old-time Floridians mention as a “must-visit destination.” Yet every time I eat here I leave disappointed. You can’t book in advance, the crabs are almost always frozen, and, on the whole, the ambiance has taken a nose-dive toward gross. It’s expensive, tacky, and absolutely not worth it.
Lincoln Road is a street that no one who lives in Miami would ever visit. It was created as a tourist trap, lined with expensive and unoriginal restaurants and shops filled with crap. Stroll down Ocean Drive if you’re looking to people watch; it’s far more interesting and at least you get the sea breeze.
Jolie Hunt travels on her own dime for more than 50% of the year. She is the global head of public relations for Thomson Reuters, appointed April 2008. Prior to that she served as global director of corporate and business affairs for IBM Corporation. She was the director of PR for the Financial Times. She lives between New York and London.