I'm a bit too young to remember "Miami Vice" so my story today starts with a TV show from my youth, shown in a more PG-friendly timeslot. Some of you out there may fondly remember the variety show on Australian TV called "Hey, Hey It's Saturday!". And before you ask, there are no prizes for guessing which night of the week it screened....
Anyway, one of the segments on the show was called "Red Faces" and contestants of all ages and all "talents" competed against one another for cash (I think, or maybe it was just prizes). The whole point was to get through your act before Red Symonds (of "Skyhooks" fame) hit the giant gong and struck you out.
I must have watched so many contestants on "Red Faces" in my time, but one that will forever stick out is a young boy who decided he wanted to sing Will Smith's hit - of the time - "Going to Miami". The boy had the audience vote already because he was adorable but unfortunately for everyone, he was also tone deaf and had absolutley no sense of rhythm. And being the complete sadist that he was, Red Symonds refused to gong the kid. So we all had to sit there and endure the wailing, off-beat, off-tempo, and generally just OFF performance.
But even a tuneless kid on "Red Faces" in the early 90s couldn't have put me off going to Miami. I just hadn't had the occasion until this past weekend. And so to put us all in the mood for the rest of this post, do yourself a favour and click on the "Going to Miami" video - the way Will Smith intended it be heard...
There now. Don't you feel better already?
The first thing that hit me about Miami was the heat. Then the humidity and then possibly the heat again. Flying in from a city that has 'enjoyed' a winter that doesn't seem to want to quit, the intense heat of Miami was a really welcome change. I'm not one to enjoy humidity really but after Chi-town's cool, I wasn't going to complain.
But my weekend did not give me a single thing to complain about anyway. I met K at Miami airport around 2am (her plane had been delayed and it was nothing to just wait around) and we shared a cab to our fabulous accommodation, the Gansevoort South. There we met up with three of K's other NYC-based friends (2 Aussies, one Swede) and we crashed fast asleep. No surprise there.
I had battled a nasty cold last week and the air con in our hotel room left me congested and snuffly come the morning. So I woke semi-early and took myself off in search of coffee. Thankfully Cafe Bustelo had set up shop right next door to the Hotel, and I made myself at home to people-watch and ease into the weekend's warm weather.
One by one the other girls surfaced and joined me at coffee. When we were all assembled, three of us made the plan to find brunch. Off we went down Collins Ave (lined with every manner of gorgeous boutique and art deco retro hotel) and we turned onto Lincoln Avenue Mall. The pedestrian mall was overrun with restaurants, but not many of them served breakfast or brunch. Perhaps Floridians don't know about brunching, we mused. But we finally found a place and settled inside (under the air conditioner) to enjoy our first meal in Miami. It was so large, we almost didn't feel like ANOTHER meal in Miami! The portions were huge and none of us ate everything on our plates - but we agreed across the board that everything was delicious. Particularly the fruit juices - must be all that sunshine.
As the grey clouds and thunderstorm rolled in, we walked back to the Hotel with a view to swimming around for a couple of hours in the gorgeous pool - conveniently located on the same floor as our hotel room! Self-conscious as I was about laying around in a bikini, I have to confess I was very interested in being a sloth on the pool chairs with my large fashionista sunglasses and a good book (and a great margarita, if one could be arranged).
And so it was that I donned the bathing suit (and old grandma cover-up) and blazed a trail out to the pool. The heat was intense but the pool offered welcome respite and I rejoiced in the knowledge that it was perfectly okay (nay, EXPECTED) to consume one's cocktail while partially submerged in the cool waters. It was blissful.
Some minutes later, and wrinkled like the satisfied human prune that I was, I retired to the pool lounge to dry off, read my book, and close my eyes to the sensation of freshly-made strawberry margarita working its way through my bloodstream.
I found it rather amusing that the pool had a sign that said, "No Lifeguard on Duty"; however there were several pool attendants bearing cocktail trays milling around the guests. Miami is a town of interesting, if not inspiring, priorities. And really, when you're in the market for a restaurant recommendation, isn't it easier to ask a pool cocktail waitress than a lifeguard? I think so too.
Fast forward a couple of hours and we ended up at Sardinia Enoteca & Ristorante in Miami Beach, a place that boasts traditional southern Italian cuisine and great service. We didn't have a reservation and that seemed to anger the hostess, but no one else had a problem with it, and we had a wonderful dinner together.
By the time we got back to the Hotel, we were all exhausted. The combination of sleep deprivation, sun, fresh air, cocktails, great food, and big laughs had knocked us all out. So we retired to our rooms and got some sleep.
Awoken to my last day in Miami, I was again all stuffed up and snuffly thanks to an over-zealous (but highly necessary) air conditioner. K headed off to the beach for a while and I got re-acquainted with the coffee shop. Only this time, I also tried some croquetas, basically just Cuban croquettes that are quite delicious. I bought them at the coffee shop, so I'm positive they were not the most authentic or tasty morsels available in Miami; however I wanted to say I'd tried them. I had one filled with chorizo and one with ham and cheese, and coupled with my enormous coffee, they constituted quite a nice breakfast.
Having checked out at 12.30pm, we left our bags with the concierge and walked along Collins Avenue to Ocean Road, the haunt of the rich and truly fabulous. Yes we walked in the searing heat and sweaty humidity, but it was totally worth it.
We took the advice of a couple of friends and ate at The Front Porch Cafe, which is a dining institution in South Beach and located in the lobby of the Penguin Hotel. Again, we didn't have a reservation but the crowd moved fairly quickly and we were seated in less than 10 minutes. Feeling restored by a delicious cocktail and a huge breakfast/lunch, we headed off for a walk along Ocean Road, past the Versace Mansion and restaurants, bars and cafes galore.
Being bikini-phobic, one of the things that struck me almost immediately was just how confident people seemed in Miami, to walk around semi-clad and strutting their stuff - whether they had stuff to strut or not. Even the mannqueins in the store windows had larger-than-normal boobs to show you just how those skimpy fashions should be worn to best effect. It's terrible when you're envious of a store mannequin.
Reminiscent of the end of "Oceans 11", the girls left one by one, and pretty soon only Kate and I were left. Without the supervision, we were resigned to bar hopping along Collins Ave, escaping from the heat into the cool of the cocktail lounges in the art deco hotels we had admired so much from the street. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
As we got back to the Hotel en route to the airport, the weather turned ugly again and we were worried our flights would be delayed. As it turned out, we got to the airport just fine and my flight was the only one with problems - somebody left the heaters on in the plane and the whole aircraft became unbearable and needed to be aired out. Figures. But I was home in bed around midnight, so happy that I got to spend a wonderful couple of days in the Miami sunshine. I may even have got a bit of a tan for my efforts and with any luck, I may have bought some of the good weather back to "sweet home Chicago" with me.