Miami Travel Blog

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Miami Nice

If I was forced to pick just one place in the whole wide world to sit and have a drink at then it would have to be the terrace of the Tides Hotel in South Beach, Miami. Sipping a cool, cool beer I can just make out Miami Beach itself with her pastel coloured lifeguard towers over the grassy dunes a hundred metres in front of me. Just in front of the dunes lies a hundred yards of sandy no-mans land where Rastafarians selling coconuts mix with Cubans working out on high bars who are showing off to gaggles of micro-bikinnied girls giggling in Spanglish. In front of them lies a low wall and then a tarmacced promenade down which swish and swoon an endless procession of heart-stoppingly beautiful roller-bladers. Meanwhile, directly in front of me, is the main attraction: Ocean Drive, or Ocean as it’s known here in SOBE. It’s a beach-front stretch of art-deco hotels to which it feels like the whole of hip America has come to pay homage. Obviously, this being the States, they didn’t walk here. Enormous Hummers pursue little Red Corvettes, gloriously customised orange and chrome Choppers cruise past Hispanics in low-riders their arms hanging loose out of the open windows that channel their ear-splitting soundtrack in my direction. All this, and the first time I ever came down for breakfast, the rapper Jah Rule was sitting at the table next to me with his pet lion lounging contentedly at his feet. South Beach is that kind of place. It’s the American Riviera. It’s like Cannes run by hipsters and everyone’s invited, no jacket required. It’s a place where yellow Porsches make complete sense. It’s where I can become someone else.
Five years ago, if you’d mentioned the word Florida I would have shuddered. Florida, to me, was a muddle of lobster-pink English package holidaymakers visiting god-awful amusement parks whilst being mugged by the occupants of the millions of stolen vehicles that I could watch every night on “World’s Wildest Police Chases.” Florida, I thought, was just a redneck, sunbaked, no-go zone. I was right but I hadn’t been to South Beach yet. When I was filming Trigger Happy USA a location finder recommended Miami and off we went. I remember landing and being hit by the wall of heat as we exited the plane. I remember trying to translate the endless tannoy announcements that were made exclusively in Spanish. Had I got on the wrong plane? This wasn’t America. Then we drove over the bridge crossing over from downtown Miami onto the curious island that is Miami Beach. I was blown away. This was not my America. This America had gorgeous weather, stunning slightly faded art-deco architecture and a Latin feel that took the edge off the normal in your face Americana without losing the amazing 24hour service part. This was heaven.
Then I saw The Tides. SOBE is almost totally low-rise and The Tides rises imperiously over her stunted neighbours on Ocean. The lobby has an enormous double height space with cool stone floors and three portholes puncturing the walls on each side allowing you to see the beach from the pool at the back as though you’re peering through some enormous fantasy telescope. The whole building has been re-done so that the corridor on each floor is at the back and every room in the place overlooks Ocean and the beach. If you can’t be bothered to actually go and stare at the topless hotties on the beach there is a real telescope at the window of each room. It’s perfection.
I don’t normally like city breaks. When I do end up on one I do the usual: go see the big tall thing, wander aimlessly around the big open space thing and hurry through the very old cultural thing. This done I start to get bored and normally have a big argument with my travelling companion and end up going to the cinema. It’s hardly the stuff of Hemingway. Luckily this never happens to me in South Beach. I love to take the Versace walk in the evening. His gorgeously excessive house is two blocks down from the Tides. Twice a day he would saunter down Ocean past the dancers at the Clevelander, skirting the entrance to Gloria Estefan’s uber-trendy Cuban restaurant and end up at The News Café where, apart from getting a drink and watching the world go by, you can purchase cigarettes and newspapers from everywhere in the world, and I mean everywhere. Versace would obviously then walk back home but I tend to avoid that as he was gunned down on the marble steps in front of his house and that’s not really my idea of a good night out. He was shot by some crazed stalker not a random criminal, South Beach actually feels very safe and you can’t help marvelling at how far it has come. Fans of the movie “Scarface” can have a real good look at how dilapidated and dangerous Ocean was but twenty-five or so years ago. One of the most violent scenes in the film shows Pacino drive down the strip in an old convertible and end up killing an entire household of Colombians when a drug deal goes wrong. The slow regeneration of the art-deco area and it finally being designated as a US Heritage site was what first attracted the producers of Miami Vice whose programme really kick-started the place’s ultimate revival back in the Eighties. Miami is now the fastest growing city in the United States. So I finally have something to thank Don Johnson for.
Turning off Ocean I cut through the trendy shopping street that is Collins and get to the slightly scuzzier and definitely hipper Washington. Moving north I eventually cross Lincoln Road Mall. Lincoln Road, a pedestrian only zone, vertically dissects SOBE. It’s a joy to amble down as it’s packed with bars and restaurants and people, so many people. Miami just has to be the best people-watching place in the world. Finely toned gay couples straight out of Sex and the City sidle past ultra-confident Latino lovelies in miniscule pink outfits taking the world’s smallest dogs out for their evening constitutionals. There must be a law against large dogs on the island as I have yet to see one even half the size of a cat. If it all went meltdown and SOBE somehow went back to nature then cats would be the main predators hunting down petrified packs of little tiny gay dogs. I think I spotted the future cat Fuhrer one evening. He is simply known as “the cat in the hat” by locals. An enormous grey creature, he waddles up and down the road sporting a tiny bespoke woollen hat. No-one knows much about him or why he wears the hat but if you’re a mini-dog you wouldn’t dare ask as he could kill you by sitting on you. My average evening normally ends up in one of the enormous outdoor restaurant/pool bars that back off the row of hotels on the northern end of Collins. I tend to flit between the Delano and the Shore Club. The Delano is a classic Schrager hotel masterpiece. The entrance is very theatrical with miles of flowing pillars of muslin framing the trademark enormous pieces of isolated furniture in the lobby. You pass the best sushi bar in the city and make your way past models playing pool before descending into the garden where the restaurant overlooks the pool bar. Here tables and chairs are placed in the middle of the ankle-deep end of the pool. Three or four Mohitos (the SOBE drink of choice) and you’re up for the Shore Club a block and a half further down. I’ve had problems getting in here in the past but some kind soul finally sorted me out with a Schrager VIP card which gets you into any of his bars/restaurants at the merest flash of plastic. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been given. By the Shore Club pool I flop down on an enormous bed and finish off the evening with a couple of Apple Martinis. The music is invariably inspired with a fantastically eclectic taste ranging from Supertramp to Prince. Last time I was so mellow that I greeted one song’s familiar opening riff with a loud roar that I normally reserve for real classics. When I realised that it was Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy” I had to laugh. Where else would this Eighties musical monstrosity not only make sense but even hint at credibility?
South Beach has rapidly gone from crime-ridden, run-down dump to America’s hottest destination. The place buzzes with energy and excitement as artists, musicians and fashionistas dance the night night away. For God’s sake, I’ve even been known to dance there and that hasn’t happened since I was a twenty-one year old Goth ripped to the tits on cider and black in the Electric Ballroom in Camden.
Sitting on the terrace of the Tides watching the midnight traffic parade and sipping the world’s best Café Latte I can’t help looking up into the starry sky. I never see it but I know what I’m looking for. In Scarface there’s a moment where Pacino stares up into the Miami sky and sees an enormous blimp that bears an impressive LCD display. Across the blimp scroll the words “THE WORLD IS YOURS.” In South Beach it sure feels like it.
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photo by: ellieperla