A Taster's Journey is a newsletter on food, wine and travel. After 15 years of studying, tasting, teaching, and selling wine, I created this newsletter to not only share my passion about wine, but of food and travel as well. Each month I hope to share wines that I am drinking, food that is in season, restaurants that I have enjoyed, and places I have traveled. Enjoy!"

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South beach, Miami

June 29th, 2005

The Beach at Dawn

The Beach at Dawn

South Beach, the art deco beach haven of the 1930’s, has reinvented itself into a chic, happening getaway. Although South Beach offers beautiful white sandy beaches and plenty of sunshine, its major attraction is the nightlife. Party time starts at happy hour and runs straight through till dawn. If you enjoy the beach, and want to listen to some music and dance till the rooster crows, then South Beach will be just what you are looking for.

I found South Beach unique and amazing at the same time. Usually when you think of warm weather beach resorts, you think of people visiting for a week to get a tan and catch some R&R, but South Beach is a destination where many visitors will go for a long weekend and return several times in the same year. South Beach is a community in Miami about 2 miles long that stretches along the Atlantic Ocean. The beach is perhaps a quarter mile deep and goes on as far as the eye can see. The white sand is a startling contrast to the light green ocean, almost like a granny smith apple with vanilla ice cream. The sand is interesting because halfway towards the ocean there is a path where the sand has been compressed making it a nice medium for riding your bike or taking a jog. This path is filled with a steady stream of exercise enthusiasts, although it is less busy during midday when the sun is hottest.

The beach is very colorful because it is lined with cabanas stands where the

Beach Cabanas

Beach Cabanas

different hotels distribute towels, beach chairs, and umbrellas to their guests. Each of these beach huts is a different color to correspond with the hotel colors. Early in the morning the beach is empty except for these cabanas that look like bright tents on an abandon desert, but by noon the beach is filled with bright umbrellas nicely contrasting with the tan bodies. While most sun gods and goddesses lay back and pay homage to the sun, a few more energetic souls rent wave runners or ride a parasail, which is a parachute that floats fifty feet above the ocean while being pulled by a boat. Even though there are a few boats, the beach is generally pretty tranquil. You can hear the waves crashing against the sand, and you almost get mesmerized by rows upon rows of colorful beach chairs impeccably set up by the hotels.

Collins Avenue is the main street in northern South Beach that runs along the ocean, and it’s lined with hotels. While this area of town was slums during the early 1980’s, it has gone through a rapid resurrection. These older art deco hotels have been totally refurbished, and the area is now booming. The Delano was probably the best known of the hotels along Collins that was transformed into a new ultra chic oasis. The pool, the bar, and the restaurant are all very

Pool Chaise at the Ritz

Pool Chaise at the Ritz

cool. But all the hotels along this stretch have a similar layout, the entry is on Collins Avenue, and behind the hotel is a pool and a bar area that looks out onto the ocean. The Ritz Carlton just finished a massive renovation, and it has a huge pool area, with a hot tub, couches poolside, and even some pool chaise lounges that look more like a bed fit for a king than a simple pool chair. But welcome to South Beach where excess is the norm.

Ocean Drive is the other main strip in South Beach. Probably the best known property on this street is the Versace mansion, called Casa Casuarina, which is now rented out for private functions. This fortress is right on the main street along side all the other hotels, but it’s a massive villa that looks like it was transported from Italy, very over-the-top, but interesting to see. The hotels on Ocean Drive are actually across the street from the beach. The Victor is the newest hotel to open just a few months ago, and it successfully transformed itself into a chic destination spot. The Cleveland is another hotel here that is rather unique in that it has a huge pool and is known for live bands playing nightly by the pool.

Ocean Drive reminds me of ” la passeggiata” in Italy, that tradition in the smaller towns of Italy where everyone walks back and forth along the main street, typically after dinner. On Ocean Drive once the clock strikes five, people leave the beach and descend on the bars to begin happy hour. All the hotels and restaurants are offering reduced price drinks, and there is a procession of people up and down Ocean Drive trying to decide which will be the best place to begin their evening. The other section of South Beach that is filled with bars is Lincoln Road. People go from the bars to dinner and then to the night clubs. I was in the Delano one evening having a drink and overheard two girls from Dallas discussing their escapades for the night before. After a late dinner at Nobu (one of the better restaurants), they went to Mansion and danced all night and got home at 7am. It was at that moment I knew I would not be qualified to give first hand feedback on the nightclub scene since I wake up before they even go to bed. But since this was their seventh trip to South Beach in the last three years, I feel comfortable in saying that Mansion seems like a hot club. Their other favorite club was Pearl.

South Beach has a huge restaurant scene, but I think it is based more on glitz than good food. Jeffrey Chodorow is a restaurateur from New York that owns over 20 restaurants where a quirky theme seems to be the number one priority, and he opened a couple offshoots of his New York restaurants here: China Grill and Tuscan Steak. Emeril’s is another example of this trend. Ocean Drive must have a dozen restaurants, but they all look the same. The menus are posted on the sidewalk, plates of food are displayed to illustrate their special of the day, and the owners are on the sidewalk hawking passersby to try their food. Is this a circus or a culinary destination? So although places like Talula, Nobu and Prime 112 are known for good food, I wouldn’t get my expectations too high.

South Beach should be commended for the way it’s transformed itself into such a popular destination. It’s certainly one of the “hottest” vacation spots in the United States. So, if you like plenty of sunshine, a pretty beach, and love to party, then South Beach is for you!

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