Miami: Deco dreaming under the Florida sun GET TO KNOW EVERY NOOK AND CRANNY OF THE THRIVING METROPOLIS Yes, Miami is a big city – a really big city – but I like to think of it as a cluster of mini cities, all vying to outdo one another in terms of fashion, glamour, popularity and overall trendiness. There is Miami Beach in all of its Art Deco splendor; Coconut Grove, where Bohemian chic never seems to go out of style; Coral Gables, with its Mediterranean-flavored villas slumbering under lush banyan trees; Little Havana, which bears more resemblance to Cuba than to its North American surroundings; and newer enclaves like the Design District, where some of South Florida’s edgiest restaurants exist alongside ultra-hip stores. A visit to Miami is like a fanciful flight to wonderland: there’s always something new to discover in this dynamic, sultry seaside destination where the weather is forever warm, and where sudden, brief thundershowers are always followed by brilliant, dazzling bursts of sunshine.
Miami Beach Miami Beach has come a long way since the mid-‘80s. The town’s once derelict Art Deco apartment buildings that not so long ago were populated by senior citizens and drug addicts have taken on a second life, and now brightly glisten, their façades colorfully renovated and their interiors housing trendy hotels or expensive condo residences.
First and foremost, of course, is Ocean drive. This most photographed of Miami streets has a spectacular lineup of Art Deco structures, all of which directly face the great Atlantic Ocean. Many of these buildings are now hotels, and virtually all of them have either a restaurant or a café located on their ground floor. These spots include the super trendy News Café, where Gianni Versace had his last 176 aïshti magazine
Comprised of 17 islands floating breathlessly on the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach is most famed for its spectacular southern tip, South Beach, where the bulk of the town’s glorious Art Deco buildings are located. Visitors to the city will find everything and more along the handful of streets that comprise South Beach.
meal before he was assassinated on the front steps of his beachfront mansion. Speaking of Versace’s former home, the place (the only house on Ocean drive) is now the exclusive and very upscale Villa by Barton G., which doubles as a boutique hotel and gourmet restaurant. Parallel to Ocean drive runs Collins avenue, on which many of South Beach’s iconic hotels are located. There’s the Asian-inspired Setai hotel (see p.180), the most glamorous of the bunch and a magnet for A-list celebrities like Heidi Klum, Usher, Janet Jackson, Bono, Jay-Z and Sheryl Crow. Then there’s Madonna’s Delano hotel, with what is perhaps one of the world’s most spectacular lobbies: guests enter through sheer white curtains that act as partitions between the various sections of the lobby and eventually lead to the now legendary pool area directly fronting the ocean. Further south along Collins avenue lie various international boutiques, all housed inside lovingly restored Art Deco structures and including Armani Exchange, Diesel, Nicole Miller, Club Monaco and Kenneth Cole. But for sheer charm, nothing beats Lincoln road. This pedestrian
thoroughfare is lined with some of South Florida’s best restaurants and most popular cafés, all of which provide outdoor seating to take advantage of Miami’s abundant sunshine and blissful ocean breezes. Carl Fisher, who first developed Miami Beach during the early 20th century, envisioned Lincoln road as the city’s answer to New York’s Fifth avenue, linking the east and west sides of the island (much like Fifth avenue links the east and west sides of Manhattan). Nearly 100 years later, Fisher would be proud to see that his dream did come to fruition: the area’s best stores, art galleries and even nightclubs live along or just off Lincoln road. The credit for Lincoln road’s current beauty goes mostly to architect Morris Lapidus, who in the ‘60s suggested turning the street into a pedestrian-only zone and creating planter beds and fountains, effectively transforming Lincoln into a sort of garden for the city. Beyond the constant buzz of the Miami Beach streets, there’s always that beach. Seemingly endless and dotted with beautiful people on virtually every day of the year (note that a designer swimsuit is the most important clothing item you can have here), the pristine stretch of powdery white sand alone carries visions of sun-filled holidays, beach bonfires and summer romance. The blue-green ocean waters, temperate in summer and pleasantly cool in winter, are a major draw for both water-sports enthusiasts and those who prefer to laze around in the ocean in hopes of achieving a golden tan. aïshti magazine 177
Presiding like a regal queen over the entire town is the Biltmore hotel (see p.184), listed as a National Landmark and designed in the same Mediterranean-revival style as the rest of Coral Gables. The University of Miami, South Florida’s prime institution of higher learning, is also located here, with a sprawling, verdant campus surrounded by lovely, picturesque villas. Coral Gables’ main shopping street, Miracle Mile, is dotted with specialty stores and virtually every kind of restaurant imaginable, 178 aïshti magazine
including French, Italian, Japanese, Cuban and American. Fashion mavens looking for the world’s best clothing brands can head to The Village at Merrick Park. This new shopping center, designed to seamlessly blend into Coral Gables’ historic architecture, is home to the likes of Burberry, Juicy Couture, Etro, Victoria’s Secret, Godiva, Jimmy Choo and Nordstrom. There are also a handful of upscale restaurants (try Asian-Mediterranean eatery Sawa) and a terrific outpost of Borders bookstore. Coconut Grove A virtual ban on pruning has transformed Coconut Grove (or “the Grove” as locals call it) into Miami’s most verdant enclave. Out of all Miami communities, the Grove feels most like a Bohemian village: tree-lined streets, which lead down to a magnificent sailing bay, are home to sidewalks cafés, niche boutiques and two seductive shopping centers (CocoWalk and Mayfair in the Grove). Musicians play Latinflavored melodies throughout the neighborhood, while the Coconut
Coral Gables If the glamour and dizzying pace of Miami Beach get too hot to handle then head to Coral Gables, officially dubbed “The City Beautiful.” Beautiful indeed. Designed by George Merrick in 1925, Coral Gables was one of America’s first fully planned communities, incorporating secluded residential enclaves and commercial areas and built entirely in a Mediterranean-inspired architectural style. Street names, most of which are Spanish – Matanzas, Alhambra, Alcazar, Catalonia, Augusto, Cordova, Granada – are etched into white coral curbstones, giving the entire town an added touch of romance. Scenic waterways, perfectly manicured lawns, lush tropical plants and gently curving roads all come together in one of Florida’s – and indeed America’s – greatest architectural and landscaping triumphs.
Grove Playhouse, with its fascinating lineup of plays, adds a touch of culture to the mix. You’ll have to drive for a few minutes to reach Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, perhaps South Florida’s most captivating structure. Formerly the home of James Deering, who strived to create his dream palace, Vizcaya was built in 1916 to resemble an Italian country villa. Today, the carefully preserved mansion and its exquisite gardens have been transformed into a visitors’ attraction, complete with an on-site boutique. Closer to the commercial heart of the Grove stands the Barnacle House, built in 1891 and giving visitors a glimpse of what life must have been like in Florida at the tail end of the 19th century. Dream on There are many other enclaves to visit while in Miami, including the newly created Design District, in which former warehouses have been transformed into designer boutiques (selling clothing and furniture) and trendy restaurants; and Little Havana along and around Calle Ocho (Eighth street), where many Cuban expats have settled and sought to recreate the mood and feeling of their beloved homeland. And perhaps this is what most captivates about Miami: its ability to offer so many different moods in a relatively small geographic area. It’s a city that keeps changing, always into something more beautiful, with each passing year. Marwan Naaman
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