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Written by Tom Austin, Photos by Silvia Ros   
August 2010

Miami Beach is no longer just for club kids, so it’s safe to visit again - briefly

CovershotOnce upon a time, Miami Beach meant nightlife, midnight dinners, and liquor-fueled 4:00 a.m. frolics at clubs like Salvation - at least that’s what it meant for me.

Salvation, of course, is now an Office Depot. Some of my former playmates might mourn the loss of sacred nightclub space, but at this stage of life, an Office Depot is a lot more important to the texture of the daily routine than one more dank nightclub.

Eventually youthful degenerates grow up and quit drinking and smoking and keeping late hours. Either that or they die young.

Most of us managed the transition and grew up, and Miami Beach, to an unexpected extent, has grown up too, helped along by money, Art Basel, and the sense that the party might be, if not over, waning a bit.

The fact is that most truly hip kids now avoid the Beach like the plague. Instead they head for Biscayne Times territory: downtown Miami, Wynwood, the Design District, and the Upper Eastside.

In an odd way, the phenomenon reflects the experience of many BT readers who once lived in the emergent Miami Beach or spent copious amounts of time cavorting there. You survived the South Beach craziness, found your perfect partner, moved across the bay, bought a home, started a family, and haven’t looked back. Or even been back. Too many blurry memories, too much traffic congestion, too many parking hassles, too high a price to pay -- in stores, restaurants, and elsewhere.

Miami Beach may no longer be cool for young hipsters, but it has matured such that, more and more, there is great stuff for grownups to do while not getting ripped off by valets or dissed by surly waiters.

In short, it’s safe to go back to the Beach -- at least for a short visit. It was always deeper than we all thought, and once you confront the city without a hangover, it’s sort of interesting.

Our heads and hearts (and wallets) remain faithful to the Biscayne Corridor, but now and then it’s fun to venture abroad. So with the help of a seasoned guide (yours truly), here we go.

 

ART SMART

The Wolfsonian-FIU Museum Founded by Micky Wolfson in a former Washington Avenue storage building, the Wolfsonian is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year and has remained a beacon of intelligence amid the wasteland of Washington Avenue. The museum’s Dynamo Café is also a perfectly smart place to eat.CoverStory_1

For this year’s Art Basel, the Wolf will have Isabella Rossellini hosting their show “Speed Limits,” an exhibition that “explores the role of speed in modern life and honors the hundredth anniversary of Italian Futurism.” But the collection is a marvel at any time, encompassing 120,000 objects spanning the years 1885 to 1945 and mostly related to the decorative and propaganda arts and issues of modernity.

In addition to displays from its permanent collection, the museum currently is featuring two shows, “Advertising for Health,” which explores “nearly a century of advertising for medicine, pharmacy, and public health,” and which includes rare posters and other intriguing objects; and also “The Grand Hotels of Schultze & Weaver,” a delightful exhibit that features everything from renderings to photographs of the firm’s hotels, a list that includes the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, the Breakers in Palm Beach, and the Biltmore in Coral Gables.

On Friday evenings, the museum offers free admission. The gift shop stocks an inviting selection of clever and unique objects plus a wide range of books, while the Dynamo Café features lunch specials and “Energy Hours” with two-for-one beer and wine discounts.

The Wolfsonian-FIU, 1001 Washington Ave., 305-535-2680, www.wolfsonian.org.

Parking: A small public parking lot is located directly across Washington Avenue. A very large public garage is to the south, on 7th Street between Washington and Collins avenues.

 

The Bass Museum of Art The Bass, which will host an exhibition of London-based film artist Isaac Julien during Art Basel, is kicking it on all different levels lately, from kid-friendly attractions to way adult contemporary material. Downstairs, a new permanent exhibit, the Egyptian Gallery, contains everything from a statuette of Osiris, king of the afterlife, to a very dead mummy. The 63-inch-long man spent eternity in a coffin from the beginning of 26th Dynasty. Kids dig the black teeth and frozen smile.CoverStory_2

Upstairs, the “Human Rites” show mixes borrowed contemporary work with pieces from the Bass’s permanent collection, from a sculpture of a Buddhist monk from the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) to Rirkrit Tiravanija’s “Buddha Project,” 200 hand-carved wooden Buddha figurines arranged on stainless-steel shelves. On the staircase wall is Thomas Hirschhorn’s Necklace CNN, an eight-foot-long chain of gold wrapping paper with the CNN logo as a bling emblem.

The Bass sponsors an eclectic music series and art programs for parents and their children. Like the Wolfsonian, the museum store here brims with intelligent stuff.

Bass Museum of Art, 2121 Park Ave., 305-673-7530, www.bassmuseum.org.

Parking: A public lot sits next to the museum, and a much larger lot is across Collins Avenue. Plenty of street parking as well.

 

Collins Park Arts District This is kid wonderland. Just north of the Bass, on 22nd Street, are the offices and studios of the Miami City Ballet, with plate-glass windows that let you watch dancers rehearse. The adjacent regional branch of the Miami-Dade Public Library system was designed by famed architect Robert A. M. Stern and is a first-rate, beautiful facility with a great reading room for children.

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Collins Park itself is undergoing a landscape overhaul, which is nearing completion. When done it will offer a clear vista from the Bass Museum to the ocean and the boardwalk along the sand. By the way, that boardwalk, which begins at 46th Street, has been extended southward to include a broad, lovely stretch from 22nd Street down to Lummus Park at 14th Street. Bicycles are permitted on the new section, allowing for a traffic-free ride all the way down to 5th Street.

Parking: Use the expansive new public lot off Collins Avenue between 21st and 22nd streets.

 

CLASSICAL GAS

The New World Symphony Later this year the NWS will move into its new, Frank Gehry-designed concert hall and campus just north of Lincoln Road. The 100,000-square-foot complex is Gehry’s first project in Florida, and it also includes his high-tech parking garage with an advanced LED lighting system woven into a steel-mesh skin.

Outside the NWS building, a 7000-square-foot projection wall will loom over an adjacent 2.5-acre park designed by the renowned Dutch firm West 8. Throughout the season, NWS concerts will be broadcast live and free in the park via robotic HD cameras mounted in the concert hall.

After a series of parties during Art Basel, the building will have an official opening week of festivities commencing January 25, 2011, during which London-based filmmaker Tal Rosner and video artist Casey Reas will present their specially commissioned art video, utilizing the projection wall.

Gehry’s low-key NWS design is a marked departure from his Guggenheim Museum Bilbao or Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. At this point in his career, Gehry says, he’d rather be “doing classical-music venues than anything else.”

The NWS campus also reflects Gehry and musical director Michael Tilson Thomas’s strong belief in the potential that advanced technology holds for the future of classical music. The new center will have some 17 miles of fiber-optic cable for Internet2, allowing for real-time collaboration with composers, musicians, and conductors around the world -- a lab for creating hybrid forms of classical music and a truly global musical meeting house.CoverStory_5

The Gehry building and the West 8 park will instantly change the South Beach landscape for civilized people, creating a remarkable setting for sophisticated music and art, pouring over a city that is shaking off its lingering sun and fun clichés.

New World Symphony, 305-673-3330, www.nws.edu.

Parking: There’s the old public garage west of the NWS complex, the vast lot across from the convention center, and soon, Gehry’s own garage.

 

WALK THIS WAY

South Pointe Park On the southern tip of Miami Beach, at the foot of Washington Avenue, the formerly hardscrabble, 19-acre park has been transformed by Hargreaves Associates, known for Chicago’s Parkview West. With some $22 million at their disposal, the designers created a waterfront green space unlike any other in South Florida. It opened in March of last year. From the serpentine trails through artfully arranged dune grass to sweeping vistas from the park’s new “green mountain” to kids’ fantastical water features to the off-leash doggie area to the broad Government Cut walkway and its colorful LED light towers -- South Pointe Park is now a feast for the senses and a terrific place to wander and explore. (The outdoor patio at Smith & Wollensky restaurant remains the best place to take in all the passing strollers and cruise ships.)CoverStory_6

From here you can walk to the Miami Beach Marina, then loop back and make the jaunt up to Ocean Drive. At sunset, when those Art Deco gems are backlit by the setting sun, it’s still one of the most beautiful panoramas in America.

South Pointe Park, 1 Washington Ave., 305-673-7006, miamibeachfl.gov/parksandrecreation.

Parking: A 200-car public lot is at the park’s entrance. Another public lot sits at the foot of Ocean Drive.

 

Lincoln Road Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Road is indisputably the town center of South Beach. The promenade was designed, of course, by the late Morris Lapidus of Fontainebleau and Eden Roc fame. And now two great architecture firms have buildings to complement Lapidus’s vision, Gehry Partners and Herzog & de Meuron, the lauded Swiss team that has designed the Miami Art Museum’s future home.CoverStory_7

Gehry’s New World Symphony building sits at the eastern end of the Road. At the western end is Herzog & de Meuron’s contribution, an open-air, sculptural, gravity-defying parking garage and retail center. Jacques Herzog describes the building as quintessential Miami Beach: “All muscle without cloth.” The top floor boasts a 25,000-square-foot event area with nonstop views. At ground level, acclaimed landscape architect Raymond Jungles has created a soothing garden with cypress trees, ponds and fountains, and thousands of Pedra Portuguese stones. Artist Dan Graham, who had a retrospective at the Whitney last fall, added his kidney-shaped, interactive glass sculpture Morris, a kid-friendly piece meant to evoke the lines of the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc, and to honor the visionary of Miami Beach.

Midway along the Road is the great independent bookstore Books & Books, which has moved to a stylish interior space, keeping its ever-popular café on the mall. This is a great place to practice Miami’s principal sport -- people-watching -- and to eat well. Chef Bernard Matz is also a handy historical reference to Miami Beach. In the mid-1980s, he was owner of the pioneering Wet Paint Café, located in the building next door and the restaurant that launched chef Douglas Rodriguez.

I was there on opening day of Books & Books 20 years ago, and at the recent 20th anniversary party as well. I once had an office in the space where the new store is located, and even now, I’m a regular. Why change a good thing? Despite the crowds and parking challenges, Lincoln Road is still worth the trip.

Parking: There are public lots behind Epicure market on Alton Road, surface lots along the Road’s north side, and also the new Herzog & de Meuron garage, which is underutilized -- so far.

 

WEEKEND RETREAT

Since the 1950s, Miami Beach has been a city of big, brash hotels. The cast is always changing: The Fontainebleau unveiled its billion-dollar makeover in November 2008; the W Hotel opened its doors last year, as did the Grand Beach Hotel; and the exclusive Soho Beach House, the Florida outpost of the London-based hotel/club, will open this October just south of the Fontainebleau and could change the game.

In the meantime, many Beach hotels and their spas are prospecting close to home for customers to keep head counts up in a down economy. In fact, they’re looking squarely at BT territory and those of you who are still considering summertime staycations. Here are a few possibilities for civil lobby life.


Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa Situated at the former Carillon Hotel, completely retooled by Arquitectonica and opened in late 2008, Canyon Ranch is an all-inclusive lifestyle intensive-care unit, with a 70,000-square-foot “Wellness Spa,” an Aquavana thermal suite, a full-blown medical staff, delicious and healthy food, and a serene ambiance -- unlike many other hotels in Miami Beach. Throughout the summer, they’re offering special room-rate packages for locals. Canyon Ranch, 6801 Collins Ave., 305-514-7000, www.canyonranch.com.

Parking: Onsite valet.

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The Palms Hotel & Spa A lodging with a AAA Four Diamond rating, the Palms spent $20 million being re-engineered by famed local architect Allan Shulman, and remains a real gem. Amenities include an Aveda Spa, the Essensia restaurant (rave reviews), and a fun Tiki bar by the pool. Perfect for a getaway, especially as the hotel is now offering discounts for Florida residents. The Palms, 3025 Collins Ave., 305-534-0505, www.thepalmshotel.com.

Parking: Onsite valet.

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The Setai

This is a playground for fans of international opulence, with two great restaurants, the Restaurant at the Setai and the Setai Grill. Service in Miami Beach can be a bit slack, but the Setai runs a tight ship. On the other hand, the stunning central courtyard and its reflecting pool could be anywhere in the high-roller world, and has nothing at all to do with Miami. The Setai, 2001 Collins Ave., 305-520-6000, www.setai.com.

Parking: Onsite valet or use the big public lot at 21st Street.

 


The Betsy

The Betsy, which opened last year in the old Betsy Ross Hotel, is a small (63 rooms and suites), luxury boutique inn for grown-ups. It has a sleek basement nightclub, a rooftop spa and “wellness garden” with ocean views, and a fantastic restaurant, BLT Steak. Lately it has evolved into a kind of cultural salon, with appearances by authors, filmmakers, and such. The Betsy, 1440 Ocean Dr., 305-531-6100, www.thebetsyhotel.com.

Parking: Onsite valet or use the public garage at 13th Street and Collins Avenue.

 


The Hotel

A Miami Beach classic. Designer Todd Oldham just finished an extension of The Hotel above the News Café, overlooking Ocean Drive, Lummus Park, and the ocean beyond. Oldham also revamped the AAA Four Diamond Wish restaurant, and the patio there is one lovely setting. The rooftop pool and Spire Lounge have atmosphere to burn. The Hotel, 810 Collins Ave., 305-531-2222, www.thehotelofsouthbeach.com.

Parking: Onsite valet or use the public garage at 7th Street between Collins and Washington avenues.

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The Standard Miami

In a city of agitation, The Standard, a luxury spa hotel created by Andre Balazs on the site of the old Lido Spa, is all about staying calm. It’s a pared-down, Swedish-style retreat amid the hoopla of Miami Beach, one of Balazs’s smartest efforts. The quiet property near the western end of the Venetian Causeway doesn’t compete with the tranquil vistas of Biscayne Bay, and the waterfront Lido Restaurant and Bayside Grill are blessed refuges of healthy food that can inspire an entire day of positive thinking. Better yet, they also have a new happy hour with cheap drinks.

The Standard, 40 Island Ave., Miami Beach, 305-673-1717, www.standardhotels.com/miami.

Parking: Onsite valet with summer discounts or surface parking across the street.

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Fontainebleau Miami Beach The iconic Beach behemoth reopened awhile back after zillions were dropped on renovations, and now it is lobbing out everything: top-flight restaurants like Gotham Steak, Scarpetta, and Hakkasan, the 40,000-square-foot Lapis spa, a Kids Adventures program, and lots more. In these tough times, the hotel is also offering an array of summer specials for locals, including $35 prix-fixe dinners, and is recasting itself as a family resort.

Fontainebleau, 4441 Collins Ave., 305-538-2000, www.fontainebleau.com.

Parking: Onsite valet or use the large public lot north of the adjacent Eden Roc Hotel.

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