A weekend in Miami: America’s magic city

    20 June 2019

    It was already dark when we walked up to Miami’s beachfront Broadmoor Hotel.  Heat emanated pleasingly from the baked asphalt, palm trees swayed in the night breeze and the tropical humidity provided an unmistakeable sense of being on vacation. Broadmoor is one of the last remaining examples of Deco architecture on the North strip complete with sun-faded pastels, neon signage and a welcoming Taco joint ‘Taquiza’ on the ground floor.

    It wasn’t until we attempted to check in with the receptionist in the lobby that something seemed to be slightly amiss. “Our key cards aren’t working,” one frustrated man grumbled. “Neither are ours!” another couple complained. Our receptionist, unconcerned and certainly no stranger to fielding customer complaints, shot back playfully, “Well, maybe our doors know something about you that we don’t.” Without missing a beat she then turned back to us with a wry smile, ‘Anything I can help you with?’

    Miami skyline at night

    Miami skyline at night

    Room 312 of the Broadmoor had a decidedly Fawlty Towers feel. The tables were laminate, defunct light switches left large swathes of the room in darkness and our ocean view revealed other dauntingly opaque hotel windows illuminated intermittently by flickering television static. It was the discovery of an upturned cockroach in the bathroom, however, that finally had us repacking and checking into the audaciously priced ‘Surf Club’ by the Four Seasons ten minutes up the coast.

    We woke to a stylish white lacquered room but on opening the blackout curtains revealed the true wonder of Miami; an expanse of extraordinarily still turquoise water sparkling above Miami Beach’s famous white sand and again a strong sense of the heat of the place.  Feeling extremely pleased about this last minute relocation and with the weather now truly impeccable we wandered down to the Surf Club’s ‘Le Sirenuse;’ a restaurant that bridges a green glass Deco bar manned by potted palm trees and an outside terrace with wicker chairs and pastel cushions. The crowd was a combination of preppy East coast families and mocha-coloured sunseekers in expensive linens and both seemed similarly delighted to have ended up here. After a combination of Tartare di Tonno Rosso and a hearty Insalata di Fagioli Bianchi I felt fortified enough to explore Miami solo.

    Where to shop

    Fly Boutique, Wynwood

    Having been warned by my friend living in the El Portal District that only tourists linger at Cicconi’s at Soho House or the Matador room at The Edition, I booked an Uber to head to Mainland Miami. First stop was Wynwood Miami’s ex-Garment District and hub for Caribbean immigrants which has seen its disused factories and neglected warehouses recently transformed into a Shoreditch-type redevelopment area bursting with antique stores, retail outlets and art galleries.

    The central hub of Wynwood is an outdoor street art gallery space called ‘Wynwood Walls’ where murals by the Japanese artist Aiko sit alongside Cryptik/DALeast’s depictions of the Dalai Lama surrounded by detailed calligraphy.  The effect is impressive if not a tad spoiled by rampant instagrammers posing in front of the tagged walls and the area is better enjoyed wandering further along NW 2nd Avenue. Here you can find Nomad Tribe, an ethical retail store with a blaring sound system, or Frangipani, which stocks boho classics such as the brand Star Mela and Spiritual Gangster billed as outerwear for ‘high vibration living’. Wynwood Diner is also worth a visit for an iced latte in a vintage jam jar and a bout of Pacman on their ancient arcade machine.

    The Little River district a little north of Wynwood delivers a more authentic sense of the Mainland.  Although hipsters and transplants still fill the newly opened food court Citadel it feels a little less curated and I happily munched through a serving of crispy shrimp potstickers and Chinese eggplant from Palmar’s pop-up on the ground floor.  The highlight of the area for me was the vintage store Fly Boutique. A light stroll from Citadel the shop is stuffed with costume jewellery, old Chanel bags and brocade Nehru jackets. It is not inexpensive but at least the clothes are not neatly lined up alongside books featuring the title, ‘Read This If You Want to Become Instagram Famous,’ in gold lettering as they were in Wynwood’s Frangipani.

    Go Cuban

    Miami’s Cuban District known as Little Havana

    After a quick change back at the hotel we were ready for a Cuban inspired evening. I had been tempted by the Italian restaurant Casa Tua on Miami Beach but in an effort to avoid anything too mainstream we headed instead to the Puerto Sagua, an old school Cuban diner on South Beach renowned amongst Miami locals for its croquettes and Oxtail stew.  It is a tad stark but my Cuban ‘Hatuey’ beer was delicious and after a couple of Cuban sandwiches felt Miami enough to head to Calle Ocho, the Hispanic heart of Little Havana in West Downtown. The aim was to salsa at the live music venue Ball and Chain, however my boyfriend took one look at the venue’s hired salsa dancer bedecked in red sequins and a headset and point blank refused to step inside.  We spent the evening wandering down the stretch peering into cigar shops such as Little Havana Cigar Factory, where the cigars are hand rolled inside the polished wooden store.  The evening ended outside the local staple Lung Yai Thai Tapas, where we shared a saké outside with some Miami locals who made me promise not to critique their beloved home town.

    By Design

    Facade of a multi-storey car park in the Design District

    The next day, with the sunshine still beaming, I headed to the Design District.  Possibly the most unusual part of Miami for me, the area is unapologetically ostentatious with public sculptures like Yoga Friedman’s Space-Chain Phantasy and a multi-storey carpark designed by Nicolas Buff featuring gold and silver replica cars suspended from the walls. The shops in turn all have a Miami twist epitomised by the speciality nail salon Vanity Projects which sniffs at a conventional manicure and instead specialises in bewilderingly intricate nail designs in its contemporary concrete-walled site.  The Zadig & Voltaire shop was also not content with simply selling clothing but was equipped with a full camera crew filming the self-proclaimed Graffiti Queen Jormi tagging merchandise for customers.

    The Institute of Contemporary Art and the De La Cruz Collection are both free of charge and conveniently located next to each other in the heart of the district. The ICA is currently showing the work of Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, whose multi-coloured ceramic totems seem purpose built for the aesthetics of Miami’s Design District, whilst De La Cruz houses the work of Ana Mendieta whose earth sculptures of the female form are fascinating. I then rounded out a few hours of culture with a turmeric latte at the pastel-coloured café OTL, where you can sit and watch Miami locals exit yellow Lamborghinis and totter into pimped out Hermes store.

    It does get to you though. The over-the-topness of it all. I had only been in Miami two days and my clothes felt plain and awkward. I found myself buying florescent bejewelled bracelets from Alice and Olivia and waiting bare-legged whilst the in-house embroidery lady at Faena Bazaar embellished my Zara jeans with designs that were comparable in price to the jeans themselves. Nothing I bought in Miami I will ever wear again and nothing I wear really fits in Miami but it doesn’t really matter. The Magic city has a particular magic all of its own. It is pretty explicit about it and, in the words of Ben Okri, magic becomes art when it has nothing to hide.