|The Open Door|
|Written by Jay Beskin -- BT Contributor|
Local culture is alive and well at Bagel Cove, Aventura’s most welcoming place
About a year into cityhood, Aventura Mayor Arthur Snyder invited Kenneth Treister to make a presentation before the city commission. Treister, an acclaimed Miami architect and sculptor, was perhaps best known for his design of the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial. (Among many other project, he also designed and owned the Streets of Mayfair in Coconut Grove.) Snyder wanted to put Aventura on the map.
Treister’s proposal was to create a permanent, multicolored laser exhibit in Dumbfoundling Bay, off the tip of 188th Street (the current location of the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center). The installation, it was thought, would attract locals and tourists from far and wide. Snyder and Treister tried to sell this concept as inspired and imaginative.
Although the presentation was impressive, the commissioners thought the idea odd -- and expensive, at about $2 million. The commission turned it down flat. (I was serving as a commissioner at the time.) Snyder handled this rebuke with the equanimity typical of a seasoned politician. Treister, on the other hand, left the meeting in a complete and obvious huff, probably thinking the commissioners and their constituents were culturally deficient, backward rubes.
If Treister indeed believed that, Aventura would shortly prove him wrong, for the city was about to possess something that would truly shout its cultural character. Aventura -- at that time 25,000 people living in an area of 3.2 square miles -- would be home to four bookstores: two big-box retailers, Borders and Barnes and Noble, along with Waldenbooks in Aventura Mall and Pierre’s Bookstore, located in a strip mall in the city’s southern end and catering to French readers and Francophiles.
For Aventura to support one bookstore for every 6250 residents no doubt placed our city near the top of the literacy pyramid in the United States, to the extent bookstores are a measure of such a thing. For there to be one bookstore for every .8 square miles of city could only mean the residents of Aventura, a high proportion of whom descend from the People of the Book, valued knowledge and scholarship and worldliness.
Those who inveighed their children to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, and teachers would reconfirm their intellectual roots and grant the people of northeast Miami-Dade County access to the highest form of cultural experience.
And the bookstores hummed with continuous activity. One could seldom find an empty chair or table at either Borders or Barnes and Noble. Authors would appear for book readings and signings. Parents would bring children to hear storybooks.
But the bookstores did more than sell books. Friends would meet over coffee. Singles met for blind dates. The lonely found solace among similarly situated souls on a Friday or Saturday evening.
The bookstores became indoor urban communal spaces. They were our bars, coffee houses, intellectual salons, after-school programs, and places for the contemplative all rolled into one. That was Aventura’s gift to our community.
As of the first of this year, Barnes and Noble closed its doors. It was the last of the four bookstores to go. A notice on its door informs patrons that the nearest Barnes and Noble store is now 12 miles to the north.
Our city now has no bookstores. It’s not our fault. The bookstores were victims of e-readers, Amazon, mismanagement, unsustainable rents, redevelopment, or any combination of these.
So if we never got a light sculpture and we don’t have bookstores, do we have any other cultural amenities that might distinguish our fair city and show the world that we continue to resist our era’s cultural decay?
The answer to that question is an obvious yes. We drive past it every day. It is an open kitchen door not 20 feet from Biscayne Boulevard. Nowhere else along the Biscayne Corridor does such a door exist. It belongs to a deli called Bagel Cove.
Through that door waft aromas of the wonderful, salt-laden, chicken-fat-soaked, artery-hardening, heart-attack-inducing foods on which most of us were weaned: creamed herring, chopped liver, pastrami, brisket, blintzes, knishes, and matzoh brei. (Of course, most don’t know the aromas are there because they pass the door in hermetically sealed vehicles. But that’s not the point.)
The open door reminds us of those open kitchen doors off the alleyways of Brooklyn’s Canarsie or Chicago’s Rogers Park, neighborhoods through which flowed the scent of fresh-baked challah and bagels, and just-cooked corned beef and turkey. It seductively invites the passerby to come in and partake of our cultural heritage, our food; the food that, despite our political affiliations, level of observance, or station in life, binds us all.
Of course, there are many delis in our city besides Bagel Cove -- Mo’s Bagels & Deli, to name one. The offerings at Mo’s are not much different from Bagel Cove or a newer entry in the market, BagelWorks. But Mo’s has a more elitist atmosphere. It’s where the city’s movers and shakers have their power breakfasts and lunches. At Mo’s, you’ll see politicians, government officials, bankers, developers, and other poo-bahs schmoozing; the kind of people who are featured in the Aventura News. Candidates looking for votes almost always glad-hand their way through Mo’s.
Bagel Cove caters more to the commoner. Indeed, in a certain respect, it has tried to become the defining Aventura deli. For a long time, its offerings were named for various condos in the city, like the Mystic Pointe, Turnberry, Landmark, and Flamenco sandwiches. No dishes were named for the lower-end condos. Rather, Bagel Cove’s sandwiches were aspirational in nature, mirroring the generational longing of our ancestors for the better things in life for their descendants.
Some years ago, the owners of the Aventura Cove Shopping Center, which houses Bagel Cove, sought certain zoning approvals from the city commission. The approvals were granted upon the condition that Bagel Cove close its open kitchen door. The thought was that a city that had expended so much money and effort on the latest in urbanscape design would be blemished by an open kitchen door on Biscayne Boulevard. But the city has never sought to enforce that condition, and perhaps that is as it should be.
The door remains open. It’s the only open kitchen door on Biscayne Boulevard, thumbing its nose at its lushly landscaped and manicured surroundings as if to say that is nothing but artifice. As if to say that the true Aventura is what lies inside the door.
That door is our true cultural amenity. It harkens us back to our childhoods and beckons the visitor to share our heritage and look into our souls.
Now all we need is a cheap chop suey joint, preferably one with an open kitchen door.
Volume 14, Issue 2, April 2016
Downtown Miami’s Cultural Center keeps its eye on the arts