Why Miami Is the Greatest Town Ever
By Jon Warech
It's no secret Miami is in the middle of a massive cultural, economic, and all-around cool-factor renaissance. And with the dawn of a new year, whether you live here or visit, there's no better time to be in the city. Here is why Miami is the Greatest. Town. Ever.
Model beach volleyball tournament, team Wilhelmina vs. Runways, April 2012.
Soaring high above South Beach on the 40th floor of the Setai is a four-bedroom, five-bath, 10,000 square foot penthouse suite, where past the Steinway piano and beyond the butler's quarters there is a a master bedroom that features handmade Swiss-designed Duxiana king-size bed with Italian 400 thread count linens and plush Ploh pillows from Singapore. It's the kind of place where Beyoncé, Leo, Tom and Gisele, Bono, and other mononymous stars stay, and for 32k a night, you can stay there, too, and have the best night's sleep of your life. But you won't.
It's 1 a.m. and you'll look out the window and see it all—sandy beaches, a Fontainbleau ramping up for a big night, and on the horizon, Midtown, Wynwood, a booming downtown, and Brickell. It's the dawn of a new Miami. So no, if you're spending the weekend in The Setai penthouse, you won't have the best night's sleep of your life, but only because you won't sleep.
The ultimate in contradictions, Miami is an all-hours, high-octane city with a laidback attitude and a casual magnificence. Picturesque sunrises accompanied by egg-white omelettes and açai bowls at 7 a.m. cap the evening, and on some mornings you can see the moon setting to the west. Our highways are the scenic routes, and our seasons are based on stone crabs.
We are a multicultural, multilingual, multigenerational town, and the rest of the world should envy us. Here’s why: We live where everyone else vacations—in paradise.
Confetti drops on the crowd at LIV during an appearance by DJ Sander Van Doorn, January 2013.
THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS
Arguably the best nightclub scene in the world, Miami is where clubs like LIV host everyone from Diddy to Lil Wayne, and where Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban popped open a $90,000 bottle of Champagne after he won the championship in 2011; Story, where the Heat celebrated their championship; and Mansion, where Jay-Z and Rihanna hung until 4:30 a.m. after his concert. Set, Wall, and SL bring the headlining DJs and an ultra-VIP, bottle-service vibe to a more intimate crowd of jet-setters. (At SL, Drake recently put on an impromptu performance for a capacity crowd of 200 people.)
And the velvet-rope treatment is endless, with everything from a personally engraved bottle of Dom Pérignon delivered from the heavens by a robotic “bottle fairy” at Set, to pink and black Lelo vibrators on hand in case the bass from the speakers isn’t enough to turn you on at Mokai. Really. Nearly every club has a team of people that can put you in a Rolls-Royce or a private jet when the sun comes up. Even on a Monday. Even at 5 AM.
Diddy at LIV at the Fontainebleau, New Year's Eve 2009.
But in a city where bigger is better—where jeroboam is the new magnum and every night at LIV feels like New Year’s Eve—Miami can also do intimate. You can serenely sip a Hop Scotch Sour at the cozy 244-square-foot Martini Bar at The Raleigh hotel for a classic South Florida early bird special at 5 p.m. or a Make It Nice at the 600-square-foot James Beard Foundation Award-nominated The Broken Shaker, a spot that’s on the cutting edge of mixology nationally.
You can sample a duck McMuffin or the braised brisket Corben (named after regular customer and Cocaine Cowboys director Billy Corben) among an indoor/outdoor capacity “crowd” of just 38 at Blue Collar, on the Upper East Side. Or you can slip into something a little more romantic, like the rooftop at Juvia in the Herzog & de Meuron-designed 1111 Lincoln Road building (quite possibly the world’s most famous parking garage), with views that will give any date a happy ending.
Wayne Boich, chairman and CEO of Boich Group of Companies, who has headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, and mines in Montana, chooses to call Miami home, the obvious of the three choices for a billionaire. “It’s very cool, very chill, and also feels very private,” he explains. Sometimes privacy is paramount, which is why you’ll find the who’s who hanging out at private clubs like Soho Beach House, the Miami branch of a members-only worldwide club that hosts some of the best parties in town. There’s also high-class hoopla at Casa Tua, the late-night stomping ground for the likes of Kate Hudson and Eva Longoria.
The beach at Soho Beach House.
“You go to Casa Tua because you know that all of your cool friends are going to be up there,” says Loren Ridinger, senior vice president of shop.com and Market America, of the James Avenue spot that is also just 25 yards from the bourbon-sipping, 1940s-loving crowd at The Regent Cocktail Club. “To me, the Soho Beach House is the best Soho House anywhere, and I’ve been to them all.”
Salmon sashimi with caviar at Katsuya.
As with Soho House, Miami has become the destination for any top venue that jet-setters appreciate in New York, LA, or even London, but with its own Miami spin. You can party at Hyde, but ours comes with a pool, beach, and a day and night scene at the SLS Hotel that you can’t find out west. You can dine at Catch, Katsuya South Beach, Cipriani Downtown Miami, Hakkasan, or Scarpetta—we’ve got it all and without the LA smog or New York freeze. We even have Serafina, but with a special amenity: “Serafina will actually deliver out to your boat,” says Ridinger, who can be seen cruising around the waters with her husband on their megayacht, Utopia III.
Not into delivery? Park your yacht outside Zuma and head inside for a 1 p.m. bottomless Saturday brunch that starts at $95 and rises depending on your Champagne cravings, all to the tune of an in-house DJ spinning an indie-funk-house mix.
Associate Curator Diana Nawi giving a tour to Core Creative donors at PAMM for an exclusive pre-opening first look last November.
Of course, everything in Miami comes with a DJ. Hundreds if not thousands play the Winter Music Conference, our internationally adored head-thumping house-music party that, along with Ultra Music Festival, catapulted the careers of deadmau5, Tiësto, Hardwell, David Guetta, and all of the Swedish House Mafia guys in front of 330,000 attendees annually.
The Miami Heat has the world-renowned DJ Irie spinning just steps from the court at every home game. “I need to be right in the thick of the action,” Irie says as to why he’s center stage. “I need to feel the energy and the vibe to program the music accordingly.”
That’s why Irie lives in Miami—we are the thick of the action, and the action never stops. You can get a filet mignon or miso cod in the lounge at Gotham Steak after midnight, or head to Gigi in Midtown, which serves noodles and barbecue to the young and hip until 5 am from Thursday to Saturday (the Miami weekend). Downtown, Space bangs house music until halfway through the afternoon, with “it’s so bright out” being the most often heard phrase upon exiting, while E11even—a $40 million international cabaret and multifaceted nightclub—will never close once it opens. Yes, there will be cabaret dancing at 10 am on a Tuesday.
“New York may be the original city that never sleeps, but Miami is the new city that never sleeps,” says Irie, who, post-Heat game, will deejay any number of parties around town when he’s in Miami. “I watch the sunrise after work on the Lido deck at Standard Hotel.”
DRESSING THE PART
If you’re going to show up at the hottest venues in town, you’ll need to dress the part 24/7. South Beach has Oxygene, Base, Alchemist, Jessie Boutique—“like heaven,” according to The Real Housewives of Miami star and founder of skincare line SkinfinityMD, Lisa Hochstein—and The Webster, which carries one-of-a-kind designs from high-end labels and, according to David Helwani, founder of Twenty Tees and LaPina by David Helwani, is an “incomparable shopping experience that offers the best of the best in a perfectly curated mix.”
You can also head to Aventura Mall for custom-made men’s Louis Vuitton footwear—an LV service that does not exist elsewhere in the US-or pop over to uber-chic Bal Harbour Shops (ranked No.1 worldwide in productivity based on sales per square foot), where stores such as Stella McCartney, Prada, Gucci, and Lalique keep Miami’s denizens on-trend. “What I love about walking around Bal Harbour is that I feel very inspired with fashion because all the top designers are there,” says Alina Villasante, owner of Peace Love World, a multi-million dollar clothing brand that started in her Venetian Islands home in 2009 and now has everyone from the NBA to the NFL reaching out for licensing deals.
With a 250,000-square-foot expansion planned for 2016 at Bal Harbour Shops, the blossoming Design District, and the $1.05 billion Brickell City Centre set for a 2015 completion, it’s an intra-city battle for your credit card, but that’s why you have several.
Jim Lambie’s Zobop installation at the Bass Museum of Art, September 2011.
CULTURE VULTURE HEAVEN
“Miami is just a place where everybody wants to be,” says Hochstein. “We have the best of everything. We have the best beaches, the best restaurants, the best nightlife, the best people.” Finally we can add culture to that list.
Joining the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Bass Museum of Art, and The Wolfsonian is the Pérez Art Museum Miami, a $220 million public contemporary art museum that overlooks Biscayne Bay and is concrete proof that Miami is now a year-round art mecca. “People will be surprised at the beauty of the building, both inside and out, and the importance of the exhibitions,” says Jorge M. Pérez, chairman and CEO of The Related Group, who put the “P” (and $40 million) in PAMM. “It will become a great museum.” He’s being modest. The fact is, if this museum is everything it’s supposed to be, it will be a place that moves the needle in the art world on a global scale.
Down the street from PAMM is another work of art by the name of LeBron James, who not only took his “talents to South Beach” but also delivered back-to-back championships. The Heat is part of our cultural scene. Miami loves celebrating and lives for icons, so being in the house to witness greatness on a nightly basis has become a ritual that transcends sports. AmericanAirlines Arena is the place to be seen. Social status in Miami is now derived from seat location.
The Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade and LeBron James celebrate their win over the San Antonio Spurs at the NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena, June 30, 2013.
You want to really enjoy a Heat game? Try following in actress Gabrielle Union’s footsteps on game day. The girlfriend of Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade does a beach workout north of The Bath Club before lunching on deviled eggs and short ribs at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District and “pre-gaming” at City Hall Restaurant before the game. “It’s our ritual,” she says of City Hall. “We started going the year they won, so it has been pretty lucky.” Union spends halftime and post-game at Hyde American Airlines Arena with the likes of Lenny Kravitz and David Beckham—because obviously Miami has a nightclub inside the arena. “It is the who’s who, and one of the best parties in town,” she says of the club where cryogenic systems fog the room while confetti drops and Patrón shots go down like Ray Allen threes. And that’s just at 7 p.m.
After the Heat win, fans crowd into team favorite Prime One Twelve, which redefined the steakhouse by ditching the stuffiness and creating a high-energy scene where eyes are wandering to see what celebrity or socialite is at the neighboring table.
Sunday pool party at Hyde Beach at the SLS Hotel, October 2013.
LA DOLCE VITA
Simply put, “Our city is better than their city,” confirms Steve Sawitz, referring to whatever city that may be. As the co-owner of Joe’s Stone Crab, the establishment that stands atop the list of what makes us better, he would know. Every year, people wait in high anticipation for that fateful mid-October day when stone-crab season officially begins after a five-month hiatus. And with 100 years of tradition and a product indigenous to Florida, Joe’s is where everyone from J. Edgar Hoover and Al Capone to presidents like Bill Clinton and both George Bushes have dined.
A front-door system that gives priority to regulars is a time-honored tradition that Sawitz says “has that Goodfellas feel to it.” His advice for out-of-towners: “Get there early, eat your dinner, and have dessert outside in the patio garden; light up a cigar, have an after-dinner drink, and watch the people. It’s so much fun.”
“People watching” is practically a profession in Miami. With modeling agencies like Wilhelmina, Next, and Elite rooted here, and visitors from all over the world tanning and toning their bodies to perfection, Miami is a town of models watching other models. “I’ll have lunch at Meat Market on Lincoln Road and people watch,” says Wilhelmina model Alyssa Arce. “I go to Equinox and it’s filled with beautiful people.” Adriana Lima, Elle Macpherson, and Anna Kournikova are just some of the specimens who call Miami home, while others just can’t get away. Ocean Drive cover star Hannah Davis canceled her scheduled flight to stay an extra day after her OD photo shoot to linger by the Fontainebleau pool because that’s what supermodels do in Miami.
Circus-like revelry at Mansion, July 2012.
Pretty is woven into Miami’s DNA, both in its people and the landscape. Simply rent an umbrella or jetski from various Boucher Brothers spots along the public beach or watch the sunset from the Mondrian—home of the Wilhelmina offices—while gazing across Biscayne Bay at the Star Island home where Diddy hosted that New Year’s Eve afterparty you’ll tell your kids and grandkids about someday.
You can also cross the causeway and live city life in Brickell, plunk down $950 on leather sunglasses at Dior Homme and put them on a luxury wall system you scooped up for $4,000 at Ornare in the Design District (currently undergoing a $1 billion expansion aimed at making it the Rodeo Drive of the East Coast), and discover a budding art scene in Wynwood, where the art on the streets can often be just as spectacular as that inside the galleries. “Just like my parents and grandparents watched Miami Beach grow, I’m witnessing Wynwood and the Design District blossom every day,” says Ashley Turchin, gallery manager for the Peter Tunney Experiment in Wynwood Walls.
Martini Bar at The Raleigh.
All this is very exhausting, there’s no doubt. That’s why guys like George Lindemann, president of the board of directors at the Bass Museum of Art, likes to step away and enjoy the simple things like the Miami Beach Boardwalk. “Where else can you find a two-mile stretch of soft wood to jog on?” he says. “And it’s raised just enough to see the waves breaking. The Boardwalk is always free, and it’s not a secret.”
But that’s the beauty of Miami: You can rage at LIV at 4 AM or sit on the sand and listen to the serene sounds of the ocean. You can get a juice from JugoFresh, a fresh drip from Panther Coffee, or gulp down a frozen piña colada on Ocean Drive. You can rent a Ferrari, or you can rent a Deco Bike. You can join a private club, or you can party with the masses. You can do whatever you want in Miami—from the extravagant to the elegantly simple—because in Miami, paradise is found.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF JUVIA (JUVIA); THE SETAI, MIAMI BEACH (SETAI TERRACE); THE WEBSTER (WEBSTER EXTERIOR); WORLDREDEYE.COM (SOHO BEACH HOUSE BBQ, BEACH VOLLEYBALL, LIV, NAWI); JEFF GALE (WYNWOOD WALL); CLAUDIA URIBE (SOHO BEACH HOUSE BEACH); JAMES MERRELL (KATSUYA), COURTESY OF SCARPETTA (SCARPETTA); SETH BROWARNIK/ WORLDREDEYE.COM (DIDDY); OPPOSITE: WORLDREDEYE.COM (MANSION); KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES (WADE); WORLDREDEYE.COM (HYDE BEACH); OPPOSITE: WORLDREDEYE.COM (INSTALLATION)
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.