By Denise Mattia
Since it’s inception in the ‘20s, through the 1970s, Florida’s South Beach, was the destination for the rich and famous. It fell into decline in the ‘80s with the influx of retirees, Cuban refugees and lastly drug dealers.
Toward beginning of the millennium, investors realized the area’s potential and gave multi-million dollar facelifts to existing resorts, some of which are reminiscent of South American and European destinations. They also built modern hotels and condos and recreated a new “Gateway to the Americas.” South Beach today has become one of the most prosperous areas in the state, offering visitors a choice of luxury accommodations and a variety of restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
[slideshow id=22]Content upon arrival to sit on puffy beanbag lounges by the Kimpton’s Surfcomber pool, I sipped a frothy drink topped with an umbrella swizzle stick and admired the preserved Art Deco surroundings, while reveling in the fact that, like many North Americans, I’d gotten away for a weekend. Colleagues would arrive later that evening.
Dinner proved exceptional at Lantao, the hotel’s restaurant, which serves snacks, salads and entrees with a southeast-Asian flair. The chef’s signature dishes, Singapore Chili Prawns and Crispy Kale with spicy chili sauce, and his basil Marinated Whole Fish with sweet-tart Sambal sauce were easy on the palate. Nothing was too spicy, unless you wanted it kicked up a notch. The majority of items were reasonably priced as well.
Colleagues arrived and we decided to walk over to Lincoln Road, a couple of blocks away. It’s a colorful open-air pedestrian mall with trendy boutique shops, restaurants and nightclubs. After trying a few clubs, we settled at Club Deuce on 14th Street. It’s reminiscent of some of New York’s seedy Times Square bars before “Disney” took over. Still, it’s a fun dive that stays open until 4:30 a.m. — and there’s nothing frivolous about the size of the drinks served here. The steady stream of patrons seemed never ending when we left.
The following morning I ventured over to the beach. Kite surfers were already out, taking advantage of the morning breezes and performing summersaults above the ocean. Children built castles in the sand. I went for an invigorating swim, and then hung out under the shade of seagrape and palm trees, while watching rollerbladers and joggers go by on the wide promenade. The elevated boardwalk follows the Atlantic coastline from the Mid-Beach hotels south to 23rd Street, where the deck becomes a paved walkway. Several colleagues rented bikes and joined the cyclists. I declined in favor of walking around and taking photographs.
When they returned, we made dinner reservations at area 31, the chic restaurant on the 17th floor in EPIC, the Kimpton’s sister hotel in downtown Miami. Unlike the smaller boutique-style hotels, for which the chain is known, EPIC is a towering 54-story, 411-room hotel that’s located at the edge of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami.
The restaurant – as modern and cosmopolitan as any in New York – serves an imaginative, eclectic menu, which included a fish fry citrus aioli hors d’oeuvre that had the right amount of garlic, and an appetizer of confit pork belly – surprisingly lean – with banana-lentil salad and chili caramel. For my entrée, the yellowfin tuna was prepared with smoked black beans, shrimp guacamole, ginger juice and served on a bed of mixed greens. A decadent dessert finished off the meal and we returned to the warm welcome of our hotel.
Before my departure on Sunday I took a speed-walk down Collins Avenue and found Lets Eat Organic, where I purchased takeaway before heading back to the hotel and the airport. It had been a wonderful weekend filled with fun, food and friends.
I’m not so sure I could get acclimated to South Beach. Still, flights are reasonable and short, there’s plenty to see and do, and most of all, South Beach leaves visitors with a plan to return.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.