It might be slap bang in the middle of the retirement state of Florida, but there’s nothing retiring about outrageous, audacious, celebrity-obsessed Miami
As a nation of proud and patient queuers, we Brits really shouldn’t approve of Miami’s elitist nightclub door policy at all. After all, waiting our turn appeals to our innate sense of fair play. But there is no such thing outside the glitzy haunts of oh-so-trendy South Beach.
Catwalk models with clipboards sort the in-crowd wheat from of the out-crowd chaff based entirely on first impressions. Legs up to your earlobes? You’re in. Named after a European capital? Let me get that velvet rope for you, Paris. Interpol could learn lessons in profiling from Miami’s bouncy bouncers.
I’m plain old Richard, with legs that end abruptly at my waist. But rolling up outside super-swish 23rd Street nightclub Mokai Lounge with the venue’s legs-up-to-her-earlobes PR chief meant the clipboard model felt obliged to wave me (and my needs-an-iron Zara for Men shirt) straight inside to enjoy the club’s frenzied Sexy Saturdays club night.
If, like me, you somehow get in despite your apparent ordinariness, it’s best to observe Miami’s strict social pecking order and stay well out of sight. And don’t, under any circumstances, even after two pineapple mohitos, demonstrate your dance moves by a window.
Barely 30 seconds into my loose approximation of Beyonce’s 'Single Ladies' routine, the manager made a beeline straight for me, angrily tapped on my shoulder and pointed to his dance floor. “Look around you, dude. Cute girl, cute girl, cute girl... and you. Nobody waiting in line outside wants to see you dancing inside. Stay away from the windows!”
My mojo now horribly AWOL, I placed my pineapple mohito gently on the bar and shuffled off to my hotel, leaving the beautiful people to dance by windows until dawn.
The window rule is, mercifully, not in place at Mynt on Collins Avenue, a spectacular after-club-club where night-owls boogie past breakfast time, futuristic hip hop club Florida Room and lavish Club Space on 11th Street, where superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold often spins techno and trance anthems.
It may be slap bang in the middle of the retirement state of Florida, but there’s nothing retiring about outrageous, audacious, magical Miami. Putting the ‘super’ into superficial, it quickly sweeps you up in its endless fun.
Be seen on SoBe
Nightlife doesn’t just revolve around bars and clubs. The hotels have fun bolted on, with the trendiest boutique hotels taking turns to take centre stage. Thursdays belong to one of South Beach’s newest hotel, the Gansevoort South (2377 Collins Avenue Miami Beach) – a postmodern palace with a 50ft shark tank in reception and sex kits in the mini bars. Its palm tree-fringed rooftop pool area hosts one of Miami’s wildest weekly club nights and guests get in for free.
Whether you are up for a big night or just nipping out for a newspaper, SoBe (South Beach) is all about being seen, being seen to be seen and being seen to be seen to be seen. So why simple go jogging when you can jog with your baby sleeping beside you in a specially-adapted aerodynamic sports pram? Or try zooming along on rollerblades, pulled by your pampered pooch. Daily life in SoBe seems so choreographed it could all be taking place on the back-lot of a Hollywood film set. Sitting at a roadside cafe you can imagine being called on to drop your snack at any second to dance along with Zac Efron.
Where to eat on SoBe
Such tiring people-watching is best done over lunch. The pavements bristle with cafés and bistros so everyone eats outdoors.
The city is half Hispanic, so restaurants dish up meals with Latin twists. Japanese hot spot Sushi Samba on Lincoln Road caters to a youngish crowd, with video walls blaring out the latest hip-hop tunes. And its flavours are as lively as the diners with dynamite dishes like seared Kobe beef, Peruvian corn and seaweed French fries. Or you can order the “omakase” ever-changing seven-course meal that fuses Spanish and Asian flavours.
If you’re after more tranquil dining try Tantra on Pennsylvania Avenue, where sensually named dishes such as French kiss salad and love apple asparagus is served in a romantically lit room.
No matter where you eat, like most American restaurants, the service and sizes delight as much as the dishes. Everything seems supersized, with super friendly service and super value to match, putting the average British restaurant to shame.
Bouncing around with Kim Kardashian
After so many calories, an afternoon siesta on the hot SoBe sand will be in order. Here again the beautiful, free-to-dance-by-windows wheat comes to be seen (or should that be BeSe?) by the kindly-put-down-your-mohito-and-leave chaff. If you’re really luck you’ll even catch a glimpse of socialite Kim Kardashian bouncing around in a two-piece bikini. Watching Miami’s beach life is simply the most fun you can have lying down in public.
The most fun you can have standing up in public is zooming down Ocean Drive on a Segway – a self-balancing two-wheel transporter that makes you feel as if you are hang-gliding along the ground. For around £50 a guided eight-mile one-hour tour is the perfect way to take in the promenade.
Alternatively, see the neighbourhood from 2,000ft up. A hour-long flight in a Cessna from Hollywood North Perry airport takes in the Miami Seaquarium, where you can spot Lolita the killer whale in the (she’s that big), from your seat in the clouds, the Miami Dolphin’s football stadium (Carol City, Florida) and Indian Creek Golf Island on Fisher Island – America’s most exclusive zip code (33109) and home to Beyonce, Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey.
Also on the flight path, although a little less luxurious, is Stiltsville – a cluster of wooden houses on stilts sitting in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Built during the prohibition era to facilitate off-shore boozing and gambling, they are now being restored for public use.
Lavish homes need lavish shops and Bal Harbour on Collins Avenue is a jewel-box of a mall. More Fendi than Aldi, its palm-tree lined entrance leads to ultra-posh Valentino, Prada and Chane boutiques. There all one hundred top-end stores (Dolce & Gabbana selected Bal Harbour to open its first shop outside New York). Taking more money than any other American mall, it makes Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue look like a high street pound store.
Beyonce's favourite brunch
The mall is also a top dining location thanks to restaurants like Carpaccio with its home-cooked Italian food, (a favourite brunch location for Beyonce) and Lea’s Tea Room, famed for its French pastries and super-sized sandwiches.
An ideal escape from the frenetic city buzz can be found just a 30-minute drive along the coast in Aventura. The Fairmount Turnberry Isle Resort and Club (19999 West Country Club Drive) - recently reopened after a £75million transformation. Luxuriously set in more than 300 tropical acres it is famed for its two 18-hole championship golf courses, designed by four-time major championship winner Raymond Floyd. The beautifully manicured course includes a cascading crystal waterfall on the 18th green.
The resort also offers floodlit tennis courts, a huge lagoon pool, cabanas with flat-screen TVs, a waterslide and lazy river water ride and remarkable dining options, including its Bourbon Steak restaurant owned by local celebrity chef Michael Mina.
If all that isn’t relaxing enough for you, try the resort’s Willow Stream Spa. Its 75 tantalising therapies, including a “golf performance treatment” are bound to rub you up the right way – and may even shave a few strokes off your handicap.
Gianni Versace's former palace
You’ll have to return to the city to see Miami’s (if not America's) most opulent address. Casa Casuarina on Ocean Drive is the former home of fashion designer Gianni Versace, who was gunned down outside the front door in 1997.
Until recently visitors had to be content with peeking though the railings and taking pictures of themselves lying ghoulishly prostrate on the pavement where he fell. New owner, billionaire Peter Loftin, has opened it up to selective half-hour tours giving 30 people a day the chance to glimpse its marble and stone Spanish-style courtyard, 24-carat-gold plated waterfall, ten- thousand-piece renaissance-style mosaic and four-carat-gold flaked swimming pool.
It’s modelled on the 16th-century Alcazar de Colon in Santa Damingo, the oldest still-standing house in the western hemisphere which was once home to Christopher Columbus’ son Diego. Gianni used to invite Madonna and Elton John for sleepovers here, but if you’re not a music or fashion icon a room for the night will set you back £6,000.
Casa Casuarina’s marble gold-plated toilet is hardly bog standard. In fact only three have ever been made – the other two are owned by a Saudi prince and rapper 50 Cent. It’s about as brash and over-the-top as a device used to answer nature’s call can be. Which makes it perfectly suited to the city it’s in.
Yes, Miami is celebrity and status obsessed – and you may well resolve to change your name by deed poll to a trendy European capital city before you return. But beneath its superficial veneer lies incredible value, luxurious comfort and relentless fun. Magical Miami keeps making you offers you cannot refuse, whatever your name.