Each year I escape the unpredictable yet chaotic British winters at Christmas for my annual visit to see the family in Orlando. To many it may seem like a dream come true, to me it often represents a lonesome existence, surrounded by the fakery and over enthusiasm to please of suburban USA. Saying that there is a charm to the tree lined streets and idyllic housing communities.
This year I thought I’d switch it up a bit and do things slightly differently. I decided once I’d stuffed myself silly with the traditional multicultural feast on Christmas day, I’d set out on a lonesome road trip for 2 days to Miami. One day would be spent with my adopted Jewish family (they’re not my real family; they are good friends who seem to have taken to me as their son. So technically I am now a black Jew, I am completely politically correct now… I digress). The second day will be spent in my car driving round trying to see as much of Miami as I could in a day. Miami is a huge cultural hub, and a destination for the young and ostentatious. So if you had a couple of days to kill or even a few hours, where could you go? Well here is my guide….
The drive from Orlando to Miami is just under 4 hours. I’ve rented many cars before in America usually going for the cheapest and most reliable, predictably though on the day of collection a lovely attendant always seems to have me walking away with the keys to a convertible of some sort (mainly a Ford Mustang). I must admit I’ve had a bit of a penchant for these American muscle cars since seeing Steve Martin in Bullet when I was about 16. To me they are the symbol of American chic and its motoring legacy. But once inside I can’t help but feel like an overeager boy racer getting the keys to his first motor. Once again though an hour later history repeated its self, I accepted defeat and began my trip.
I arrived in Miami and met my Jewish friend, we had a below par meal so average I forget the name of the restaurant - but the fun was to begin. As nightfall approached the words “South Beach” were being passed around through text and phone calls, Collins Avenue was to be the settings for the evening’s festivities. I’ve always envisaged Miami being a little like Ibiza, Sun, sea, music, booties shaking with a splash of class on the rocks ‘shaken’ not stirred. We met friends at a hotel called the ‘W’ which, if the Westfield Shopping Centre in London were a hotel, this would be it. In parts classy with rooms both spacious and modern. Yet with a mixture of overly wealthy clientele, and hangers on like me who spent money they had not really got. The lobby teemed with wealthy JAP’s (Jewish American princesses) and top totty from across the continents all of whom seem to be reincarnations of the popular TV show The Hills. As a lad from Birmingham I was slightly in awe of this environment but simultaneously a callow cloud circulated the room, if looks could kill I was nearing death at this point.
The evening carried on and we moved on to club Liv. One thing that needs to be said about Miami is that if you want to find the hotspots and exclusive nights, hotels seem to be the destination of the young rich and beautiful. The more desirable the hotel, the better the clientele and club nights. At this point I had become sensitised to the constant drove of blazers and mini dresses drenched in expensive colognes and perfumes. The drinks were becoming even more expensive - $32 dollars for two Vodka and Cokes? I just wanted to get even more inebriated and not think of the impending bank status check the morning after. Liv ‘lived’ up to Miami’s hype with sexily dressed women hunting for their billionaire ticket to a life of comfort. Everyone dancing under a well-lit grand ball room with the latest sound system and furnishings to match, all wrapped under a dim purple strobe light. I felt completely out of my depth but similarly found comfort in pretending I was one of the wealthy elite whose massive drink bills were mere chicken change. I spoke to oil baron’s daughters, hotel heirs and heiresses all of who the wealth their parents possessed was unimaginable. Time for bed day two was a day to relax and really see what Miami had to offer in a day from food to sights:
Breakfast : The Big Pink, 57 Collins Avenue
On the less busy parts of Collins Avenue, I stumbled across this spot whilst looking for somewhere to have breakfast. Great value for money with amazing staff, serving all the calorific American breakfast classics, I went for the Waffles with syrup butter bacon and strawberries washed down with a black coffee. Typically Miami pink tables, pink VW Beetles parked outside and many locals always a good sign.
From there to 1116 Ocean Drive Versace House-Casa Casuarina not so amazing but worth seeing, it is now a members only club, if you talk to the doorman and give a bit of the old English charm you might be able to see the bottom floor. I love fashion so this was quite pleasurable for me. Big imposing flower pots bearing iconic Medusa heads symbolic of the legacy of the former residents.
I hopped in the Mustang and drove to Coconut Grove via Venetian Islands. Coconut Grove, an old bohemian neighbourhood, I spoke to a woman reading a book waiting for the bus who seemed to struggle to tell me anything particularly interesting about the area. Avoid Coconut Walk, simply a few shops and unambitious restaurants, but walk a little further through the Grove and it becomes a haven for chic cafés and restaurants all providing decent food. The cultural hub used to be the Playhouse, which is no more but worth a look. Also Commodore Plaza, a street just slightly off the main road with the Ivy restaurant. Did not eat there but the lovely colonial building really stands out on the street. Old colonial homes also in the area include Viscaya Museum and Gardens well worth the walk. Fans of architecture might be impressed with the Gaudiesc Mayfair hotel. The grove is a decent area if you have kids and want to leave the hustle and vanity of South Beach.
Lunch: New York Roma Pizza 2985 Mcfarlane Rd, Coconut Grove
Cheap and cheerful slightly greasy restaurant/takeway just the way I like it. Good slices too. Well worth a sit down to savour the taste, washed down with an American ‘Bud Light’.
With stomach swollen with Pizza I drove through to Biscanye Blvd home to the AA arena (home of Miami Heat basketball team). Bayfront Park also great for a walk and views of the ocean look out for free yoga days well worth the relaxation. Nearby is the Gesu Catholic church on 118 NorthEast 2nd Street. Stunning religious architecture, first built in 1896, like a piece of South America dropped amidst the growing modernity of the city, simply beautiful.
Super: The Delano, 1685 Collins Avenue Miami Beach, FL 33139
I stopped off at the luxurious Delano Hotel to relax and finish off a great day, a hot tip from a good friend. If I were to have my last supper with God this would be the place and I’d be 10 minutes early. The typical art deco frame to this building is a façade to a world only to be described as magical. This itself is an event on its own. From its minimalist country style relaxed gardens, to the ultra-modern furnishings and heavenly white drapes in the lobby that leads you to the bar. Each and every nook and cranny is a work of art. Its informal atmosphere is a contrast to a lot of hotels in Miami, you are instantly made to feel welcome by the door staff. It’s well worth a visit just to have a drink with the lady (gentleman) or during the day with the kids. Pricey though, glass of Sauvignon Blanc $14. New York Steak and Chips was orgasmic, but had to be at $39 (note to self - try not to have white wine with steak again). I was there for a short while I have a feeling there was still more to discover at the Delano and also Miami, I’ll save that for the next unpredictable and chaotic British Winter.
by Andy Akinwolere