Every year, at the peak of winter, I leave New York to spend a week in Miami. It’s not a vacation; I work virtually, continuing my daily routine as if I was in the office. I just move my office south. It’s one of those few benefits I gained from going to the University of Miami: I can discuss football at great length, I’ve mastered (and since given up) the fine art of tanning, and I have a number of friends who remained in Miami — with guest rooms.
I can tell by the way my colleagues air-quote “working” that they assume I’m on South Beach, taking conference calls from the chaise while sipping a mojito. But I’m nowhere near the beach. For me, being in Miami is simply about being outside, where the only layers I need are SPF. And then, I rarely go out during the day. I look forward to the evenings, dining al fresco and enjoying the fact that I’m not trudging through snow. And I have that mojito.
Even then, I avoid South Beach. For me, it’s like going to Times Square. Sure, the walkability of South Beach makes it understandable as to why you wouldn’t venture to other neighborhoods. But if you’re going a second time, I highly recommend checking out some other neighborhoods in Miami.
For cocktails at sunset, there’s Scotty’s Landing. It’s a local secret, difficult to find if you don’t know where to look, but it’s just on Pan American Drive at the corner of Coconut Grove. It’s far from fancy — it’s little more than a wooden shack with plastic tables and chairs, but it sits on the dock overlooking the marina. You can sip a cocktail, listen to the steel drums and watch the boats as they come in. However, after being a Miami staple for more than 20 years, Scotty’s is being torn down to make way for luxury condos. If it’s gone by the time you get there, try the nearby Monty’s Raw Bar on South Bayshore Drive.
Michael’s Genuine has long been one of my favorites. The selection of locally sourced, fresh foods drives an inventive menu. Plates come in a small, medium and large sizes, and it’s best to order a mix for sharing. I once went for brunch (also amazing) with a group of four, and we ordered literally one of everything, and two of some. With options like duck confit with orange marmalade and spiced pumpkin seeds or crispy sweet and spicy pork belly with kimchi, how does one choose?
Eating House is another place you’ll want to try. A more recent addition to Miami’s culinary scene, Eating House is easily overlooked in its older neighborhood. Coral Gables is not boring; it has its share of restaurants, shops and bars in walking distance, but it doesn’t have the Art Basel hipness of the Design District and Wynwood (where I recommend Wynwood Kitchen & Bar). It also doesn’t have many tables outside, and you may have to (gasp) dine indoors. Still, Eating House is my current favorite restaurant in Miami. Their bason-truffle pasta carbonara is reason enough to rent a car.
If you’re looking for seafood, The River Seafood & Oyster Bar on South Miami Avenue is one of the best places for the freshest catch. Go upstairs to the top deck for outdoor dining with a view of the river and, more interesting, the city at night. Their menu changes with what’s available, of course, but you can always find a wide variety of oysters, fish and more. My favorites are the ceviche and the bacon-wrapped cobia. I should add that if you’re looking for something more upscale, Seasalt and Pepper recently opened nearby. It’s much more glamorous, with prices to match.
After dinner, you can head back toward your hotel on the beach for a cocktail stop at Blackbird Ordinary. Located in the Brickell area on 1st Avenue near SW 7th, Blackbird features a huge back patio with music and expertly crafted drinks. Try the signature Blackbird, but be forewarned: one easily turns into two or more.
For more music, you can check out Tobacco Road around the corner from Blackbird. It’s a dive, yes, but opened in 1912, this is the oldest bar in Miami, even operating once as a speakeasy during prohibition. Despite its lack of luxe, it’s still popular with the locals both for its history and lack of the pretentiousness claiming much of Miami — it may, too, claim this spot. The bar has been on-again-off-again slated for demolition. Probably for more condos.
If you do head back to South Beach, I have a couple of recommendations there, as well. SoundScape at the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center offers a 7,000-square-foot projection wall where they screen films on the beach on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Bring a blanket and a bottle of wine.
Off the main strip of South Beach on Indian Creek Drive is the Freehand hostel, which has a lovely backyard and an amazing bar — The Broken Shaker. This is the Miami version of a speakeasy, with the mixology to match. Let other tourists grind at Nikki Beach, go here instead.
And if you’re looking for a late-night snack, or maybe an early breakfast, the 11th Street Diner is open 24 hours. It’s an old-style, road-side diner from the front, but what appeals to me is the back patio where, overgrown with plants, it feels a little more secluded from the rest of the strip, almost like you’re in Key West.
And let me tell you, there are hidden gems in Key West too — but that’s a topic for another Second-Time Travel.