I’ve never been a fan of Southern Florida, particularly Miami. The times I’ve visited were filled with cheesey nightclubs full of posers, the overly imbibed and druggy weirdness. And those were business trips. So, when given the opportunity to go again I jumped on it. I was eager to know a different metropolitan Miami, and I found it.
During the city portion of my trip I stayed at the new b2, an affordable boutique hotel across from the wharf and on the main drag. The b2 has modern appeal, killer views at its front and a neighborhood with an earthy Cuban feel at its back. I was advised to head to the touristy wharf area for a coffee and bite to eat—but touristy is never my first choice, so I ventured into the neighborhood behind the hotel instead.
I found a series of stores selling everything from neon go-go outfits to shoe stores that would make a drag queen squeal in reverence to the gods of gaudiness. The food ranged from juice shops to open-air, counter-only cafes with a Cuban-based menu and a line down the block. Without a doubt this area is a slice of real urban Miami and a great opportunity to grab a pressed sandwich, soak in the Latin vibe and find the nightclub outfit of your dreams.
The downtown section of Miami reminded me of a movie studio backlot tour: a lot of pretty façades covering up gritty reality and the mechanics of daily life. That is not a bad thing, particularly if you fancy a bit of grit and reality in your travels. I was there mid-day and I felt as safe as I have in most major cities, particularly because I was careful with my purse and did my best to blend into the crowd. I was later told by a local that the area is not ideal for tourists after dark and that taxis and private cars carrying visitors have been approached in muggings.
The b2’s gastro pub, Biscayne Tavern, has a menu that would please just about any carnivore and has thirty choices of beer to wash it all down. Chef Will Biscoe has even managed to magically turn bacon into to a bouquet of sweets offered as a starter called candied swine. They do have salads—one of which includes duck eggs and jowl bacon, so save your daily diet points because you’ll happily use them on one meal at Biscayne Tavern. If you’re opposed to eating meat they will accommodate you by altering the dishes. As for sweets: Do not skip the lightly salted chocolate chip cookies. If you’ve had your fill of carcass and can’t shove another thing in your gob, at least get some of these crazy good cookies to go.
The b2—spa treatment
A highlight at the b2 was a deep tissue message by masseuse Keti Djuric. I’ve had some rough experiences that left me feeling ill, bruised and unable to walk after a deep tissue message—this was completely the opposite. Also, for those that prefer variety: The B chain (b2, B and soon-to-be-opened Orlando B) offers a spa menu á la carte and you can design your time as you’d like. So mix it up if you wish—deep tissue with a side of hot stones, acupressure with a slathering of aromatherapy, or all of the above.
Miami drinks without little umbrellas
Black Bird Ordinary is a funky, eclectic bar without trying too hard. It’s what many of us non-Miamians may consider the anti-Miami establishment. Lots of vinyl booth seating and kitschy décor. Not a high-end $20-a-drink nightclub where Louboutin and Dior are a commonality. And that’s why it’s a great find. There’s a large walled-in back patio with a stage for local acts where you can take in the Miami skyline and enjoy the typically warm weather. The locals are friendly and welcoming and pretension is left at the door.
Gyrating go-go girls and boys on Miami nightclub platforms? Nope. Slava’s Snowshow at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is odd, but whimsically entertaining at the same time. Think Blue Man Group with clowns and a Despicable Me minion humor. The stagecraft is old school, but lets the imagination fly. The show is comprised of a series of vaudevillian-style vignettes—most funny and a few poignant—that culminate in a memory-making finale. The audience, children and adults alike, loved the interactive and tactile aspects of the performance.
Backstreets of art
A must-experience is the new(ish) Wynwood Art District, created and growing in the heart of a poor Miami neighborhood. Even a simple drive through this area is an eye-boggling experience. The buildings on these once-destitute streets act as canvasses for masterful monumental art. As is true with most contemporary art spots the scene is ever-changing as the gallery (neighborhood) is embellished with a continual influx of new art.
Helpful tip: If you like to have the freedom of a car when touring, but don’t want the hefty cost of typical car rentals, car2go is an option that won’t break the bank and allows you to rent for only the time you need. You pick up and drop off at stands located throughout Miami and an app can be downloaded from the website to make finding the locations easier. The company runs in other cities throughout the U.S.
For more on the Miami area—and Fort Lauderdale, just 25 miles north of Miami—click here.