Updated: Jul 14, 2022
Bienvenido a Miami!
Miami is so drenched in popular culture that it’s hard to absorb the city with a clean slate. My first real memory dates to 1999 when the Denver Broncos (I grew up in Colorado Springs) trounced the Atlanta Falcons in Superbowl XXXIII. It was right around the time Will Smith released his pop rap song Miami. (For those under 30, yes Will Smith started his career as a rapper, of sorts anyway #theFreshPrinceofBelair) Two iconic figures from my childhood helped shade in my mental Tabula Rasa: Tony Montana (Scarface) and Tommy Vercetti (Grand-Theft-Auto: Vice City). Granted, there are scores of influential pop cameos from James Bond (Goldfinger) to Don Johnson (Miami Vice) that come to mind as well. Like the film icons who shine brightest here, Miami bristles in pink palatial estates, chartreuse green palm trees, yellowish mangos, and streets richly adorned with decked out supercars doused in matte black and orange chrome.
Miami is – in a word – fiery or en fuego if you prefer. The pace throttles up and down like a supercharged V8 and often rains down upon you like a tropical cyclone mere minutes before translucent skies and brilliant sun shine becalm your nerves. It is chaotic in South Beach, lively in Little Havana, and absolutely hectoring on the highways (Miamians drive like Italians!). Modes of expression range from the luxuriant in South of 5th Avenue to the rhythmic street culture in Little Haiti and Calle Ocho. The uppity crowd whose apex predators are Affluent White Females (AWFLs) (code name "awfuls") prowl astride the Brickell high-rises. For those seeking bespoke couture and overdecorated cuisine courtesy of celebrity chefs, head for the Design District. Wynwood is a dressed down hub for start-ups, restaurateurs and graffiti artists with some good eats (Salty Donuts and Mr. Baguette) and music venues (Oasis) to boot.
Miami is very much a pick-your-poison type of place. If you want fiesta there’s plenty of beach spots, sky bars, dance clubs, and cocktail lounges from which to choose. Here are recommendations in each category: If you want beaches there are spectacular vistas in South Ponte, especially at night; Juvia is probably my favorite rooftop spot even though it’s more restaurant than bar; it’s hard to beat Space if you like EDM though beware most patrons pregame with Molly. Lastly, 1-800 Lucky is a fun bar and Spanglish is a casual but chic cocktail lounge in Wynwood.
Playful and Productive
If you are the ambitious type, business is being done here, albeit in a more relaxed fashion. Miami’s Convention Center is bustling with conferences in real-estate, medicine, fashion, even the World Perfumery Congress convenes here. Who knew? Miami is forward looking on cryptocurrency and a throng of Fintech and Wall Street firms are moving here to setup shop as a result.
Bitcoin 2022 in many ways captured Miami’s odd pairings of suits and flip-flops, hippies and techies, Latinas and Gringos. An appropriate descriptor on Bitcoin 2022’s marquee might read: Revenge of the Nerds meets Baywatch. Avant-garde usually attracts weird bedfellows so there you go.
The work culture is playful and productive and more the former than the latter, as it should be. The growing startup scene tends to concentrate in Wynwood where the office space is cheaper. There are some rather fancy co-working spots like Ampersand Studio’s in Midtown. Many folks are involved in finance, though you will meet a sampling of photographers, Instagram influencers (whatever that means?), club promoters, models, industrial designers, and construction managers. The café society is the typical millennial mania for laptops, lattes and zoom meetings. Does that count as work? Vice City Bean is a solid choice but my favorite local work café is Suite Habana!
A Latin Mecca
It goes without saying that Miami is the unofficial capitol of Latin America. After all, Telemundo’s headquartered in Miami. Miami's Latin ethnicities parallels its geography. Cubans are sprinkled throughout but cluster in Little Havana along Calle Ocho. Doral is where the Columbians and Brazilians live, and Central Americans are best found in Wynwood so I have been told. Truly, you will find a Spanish speaker from everywhere in Latin and Sur America here. I have personally met Venezuelans, Dominicans, Nicaraguans, Peruvians, Columbians, Brazilians, Argentines, Guatemalans and Mexicans. A Latin American mecca if ever there was one!
There are other groups here as well, including a few pasty blancos like me migrating south to escape the cold weather and stultifying politics that have ruined so many Yankee cities. You can guess who lives in Little Haiti and there are plenty of European reps as well, Spaniards, Russians, Italians etc. Fisher Island is an exclusive private island that once served as a winter home for the Vanderbilt’s. As I understand it, residents are mostly Jewish and rumor has it several celebrities are there too – Oprah Winfrey and Andre Agassi just to name a couple. A wise choice for the rich and famous since access to the island is only by ferry.
Perhaps Miami’s most identifiable characteristic is the architectural legacy of Art Deco, a 1920’s movement noted for its geometric shapes, spherical motifs and muscular glamour. Miami's iteration is pure pink poetry. The neon lights, rounded curves, and pastel colors of its retro hotels, alley ways and streets make it a uniquely stylized experience. Driving through the Art Deco District is like jumping inside of a Georges Lepape’s poster (early illustrator for Vogue) . If you meet in the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel, consider bringing your best (or only) tuxedo or cocktail dress; without it you might feel underdressed.
For me, a city’s identity begins with its origin story and Miami’s is “long and distinguished," a theme I will expound upon in future installments. Post 1920's Art Deco Movement and celebrity iconography, Miami’s destiny would collide with Cuba's when Castro came to power in 1959. Some of you may remember the Starz series Magic City. It’s worth an episode for the glitzy visuals of Miami circa 1960s alone but also as a period piece. The mass influx of Cuban elites utterly transformed Miami into the celebrated international city we recognize today. I know what you’re thinking, “I thought Miami was just yacht parties, spring breakers and gaudy nightclubs?” Yes – it is that too, and so much more. Stay tuned for part 2.