Why It's Cool to be a Local in Miami
by jon warech
Sure, Miami is over the top with Champagne, Lambos, and courtside seats for celebs, but there's a local side with its own circuit of coolness. Welcome to the other Miami.
DecoBike roam the streets of Miami.
People come from all over the world to live it up in our town. They rent Lamborghinis, eat filet mignon next to Shaquille O’Neal at Prime 112, and pop bottles of Dom Pérignon until 4 AM while raging alongside Calvin Harris at LIV. Then they come back during the next Art Basel, New Year’s Eve, Super Bowl, or spring break, and they do it all again. It’s always a party here and everyone’s invited (unless of course you’re not). We’ve hosted Super Bowls and MTV Video Music Awards. We have Real Housewives and Million Dollar Listings. We remake shot girls into supermodels and turned LeBron James into a champion. Twice. And like so many visitors, he left after he got what he wanted.
Sure, the Magic City has become the reveler’s go-to for megaparties the world over—a legacy we’ll happily continue to carry on—but we’ve always had our own personality, our own spots to escape, and our own local-focused cool factor, maybe today more than ever.
Despite appearances, Miami is not a big city (ranked the number 16 TV market, behind Minneapolis-St. Paul). Amid the bright lights and luxury towers, it’s an oceanside community that craves art, music, and occasionally a cocktail that costs less than $25. This 72-hour beach town escape grew into a breakfast club of creatives, nerds, gym trainers-turned-real-estate moguls, and born-and-raised locals who’ve created social scenes and subcultures. Somewhere along the lines, Miami also became a place to call home, without valet parking.
“The Miami local is one of many faces,” says Miami Beach native Dan Binkiewicz, co-owner of the dive Purdy Lounge in Miami Beach and Blackbird Ordinary in Brickell. He opened Purdy Lounge in Sunset Harbour 14 years ago, when that section of South Beach had little else to offer besides tow trucks and impounded cars. “When we opened, it was an industrial area—a couple doors down, they were making nail polish.” These days, it’s packed with Pubbelly restaurants, fitness fads, and a sense of insidery community. “Now it’s a neighborhood,” says Binkiewicz. And it’s about a mile and a half from the buzz of Collins Avenue and the beach, meaning it takes effort to get there.
Local-friendly bars like Purdy Lounge, Abbey Brewing Company, The Room, and Mac’s Club Deuce have been around for years, surviving in a club town by not being clubs. But now newcomers such as Radio Bar, Foxhole, and Regent Cocktail Club have joined in, making for a bit of a Cheers revolution on the Beach—no confetti, no DJs wearing giant mouse heads, and no planes flying overhead announcing tonight’s musical acts. And according to Jared Galbut and Keith Menin—cousins and principals of Menin Hospitality who own, among other things, Radio Bar and The Gale South Beach & Regent Hotel (home to local favorites Rec Room and Regent Cocktail Club)—they are a hit. “We actually do even better with most of our venues during the summer,” says Galbut. “All of the locals love coming out when the beach is dying down a bit.”
Smaller restaurants have found their niche as well. Step into chef Michael Pirolo’s intimate Macchialina on Alton Road, and you’ll be greeted like one of the family by partner—and chef Pirolo’s better half—Jen Chaefsky. In South of Fifth, if you walk too fast down Washington Avenue, you might miss some of the best ceviche in town at My Ceviche. Locals know to place their order at the window and take a seat at the nextdoor SoBe Hostel to enjoy the aji amarillo shrimp and an ice-cold Pacifico. If you’re in the mood for a chilled glass of après-sun rosé, the breezy patio of The Local House on Ocean Drive is just steps from Third Street beach—the quieter end of South Beach’s sands, where locals rule. The truth is, some of the best parts of Miami aren’t flashy. Joe’s Stone Crab has lasted (or should we say triumphed?) over 100 years, and it’s only open half the year.
Cocktails at Radio Bar.
Restaurants and bars designed more for Miamians are so popular that owners of Foxhole and the new Korean barbecue restaurant Drunken Dragon don’t even attempt to make their venues easy to find. “Foxhole is in an alleyway with no lights or signage,” says co-owner Navin Chatani of the West Avenue adjacent bar. “You’d never imagine it was there. It’s a word-of-mouth place.” Chatani and partners Angel Febres, Jarred Grant, and Conrad Gomez have all been in this business on the beach for 20 years, know tons of folks, and are still heavily involved with some of the hottest clubs in Miami, so word travels fast. It’s why on any given night you can find “everything from realtors to the artsy types in flip-flops or three-piece suits” taking dates to Drunken Dragon and leaving with someone else’s date from Foxhole. (It is still Miami, after all.)
DJ Shadow at III Points last year.
The less-is-more, simple approach has spawned spots like the Freehand Miami—a hip Miami Beach hostel that houses tourists, but is buttressed, and made more interesting, by locals. Around the clock, guests lounge by the pool, play ping-pong and bocce, and sip cocktails at Freehand’s Broken Shaker, where the drink menu changes every 10 days or so. “It’s like hanging out in your friend’s backyard,” says Roy Alpert, who oversees Freehand and has been in the Miami hospitality scene for a decade. “We have travelers who come in and instantly feel the Miami culture. That mix creates a special environment.”
Cross the causeway and this culture resonates even more. Ball & Chain hopes to help Calle Ocho make a comeback, Blackbird Ordinary keeps Brickell hip, and the art and music scene has Wynwood blossoming into the place to party. The art focused kids who roam there today wouldn’t have had a place to go 10 years ago, yet now they’re the prime audience. Live music runs the show at places like Bardot, Lagniappe, and Gramps, where every Wednesday night courtesy of the Secret Celluloid Society they also throw on an old-school movie at Shirley’s, the movie theater in the back room. Every place has a grittier, hipster vibe, but each spot is very different—including Brick House, where at a Friday happy hour you’ll find an array of characters sipping $4 Jameson and playing Cards Against Humanity.
“There’s a lot of eye candy in Wynwood—and by that I mean art and stylish people,” says Supermarket Creative’s Michelle Leshem, whose marketing and branding company fits right in in Wynwood. “There are way more locals that are living on this side of the tracks, so it’s easier to sustain a local crowd more than it was years ago.” The Electric Pickle Co., a dance hall devoted to noncommercial deep and tech house, was a pioneer when it opened in 2009. Little did they know that within five years there’d be half a dozen more bars in the hood, and even a brewery (with another one slated). “The clubs are small and intimate—it’s nightlife simplified,” says Leshem, who points out that no matter where people party, it’s comfort that they want.
“Ultimately everyone wants that feeling of a home base—that Cheers feeling,” she says. “Even the die-hard fans that go to LIV, Adore, and Story every weekend feel that there. In Wynwood the places are small, so it’s easier to establish that feeling while also supporting burgeoning talent.” Miami, in general, is small, even though at times it seems like the biggest place on the planet. And whether you’re strolling around Sunset Harbour, barhopping in Wynwood, or even sitting at Dave Grutman’s table at LIV, it’s nice to know that somewhere in Miami there’s a place you can walk into where everybody knows your name.
photography by maria lankina
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.