A Bunch on Brunch
Miami Beach was the first stop of our holiday and thanks to jet lag I woke up at 4am. Feeling alarmingly fresh I braved an early morning shuffle down the boardwalk to get my bearings. The morning breeze, the fellow joggers and the businesses springing to life made for a taste of life as a local. Despite being littered with colour-coded loungers from the huge hotels glowering over the beach, if anything about Miami Beach is unspoiled, it’s the beach. It’s immense: miles and miles of white sand and an endless promenade are rather poetically separated by a narrow band of grassy dunes.
Once I’d freshened up, a great (and very large) brunch was had by all at Oliver’s Bistro on the corner of West Avenue and 9th Street. Pancakes, hash browns and maple syrup galore. I realised a life-long ambition and said I wanted my eggs over easy. Yum. We had to get an Uber there (they’re everywhere in Miami) but staying off the main tourist strip meant that prices were reasonable. If you’re even a bit like me, however, bargain prices on food mean you’ll get carried away with the drinks. ‘Yippee!’ we thought, ‘We’re in Miami! Let’s have mimosas! Let’s have another! Four of us – eight mimosas! Wee hee! Let’s get the bill!’. 250 dollars. Boo hoo.
Our hotel was on 34th Street. In Miami Beach as the numbers of the blocks get lower things get livelier. That said, even 12th Street beach, the epicentre of the splashy gay action, was relatively low-key. I found myself feeling faintly disappointed as we toddled down there after brunch.
Given how full-on Miami’s nightlife and café culture is, I was expecting a party beach, but found little else than a rainbow flag and some overpriced loungers for hire. No pumping beats oozing from chic bars; no hotties in Aussie Bums. In fact, with signs warning us of dangerous marine life and that it’s illegal to drink alcohol, it felt a bit like someone had just called the Fun Police. One boon is that 12th Street beach is right in front of the historic district, which is worth a look as it contains (Fun Fact!) the highest concentration of art deco buildings in the world.
Dinner’s a Winner
There’s a cornucopia of eateries in Miami Beach. I’d had some top tips from a regular Miami-goer and so kept well away from the vultures pushing watered-down cocktails for 50 dollars in the restaurants near the beach. We had dinner at Cibo Wine Bar on South Pointe Drive, more a restaurant than a bar, which manages to be both cavernous and intimate. It had a high end feel but didn’t break the bank, serving snazzy cocktails and reasonably-priced classic Italian-American fayre. Cibo’s most notable and entirely unexpected feature was the Wine Angel. Cibo sells (being a wine bar) many, many wines. The wine cellar is a sight to behold, mainly because it’s more a wine wall which the Wine Angel literally abseils up and down as she finds the right vintage. She dangles upside down and lets you take photos with her. Apparently did the stunts in Mission Impossible II. It was all terribly exciting, if a little pointless.
As it has no terrace Cibo exemplifies the main problem with dining indoors in Florida and leads me nicely into a Top Tip! – when selecting your Florida travel capsule wardrobe, bring knitwear for indoor dining. What other travel blogs won’t tell you is that air conditioners have extra settings in Florida. One notch below the usual lowest setting we’ll call STUN. Universally deployed in bars and shops, STUN setting creates a sudden, petrifying wall of cold as you walk in, leaving you stiff as a board and encased in a fine layer of frost. Restaurants, on the other hand, go for an alternative setting, which we’ll call SNEAKY FREEZE. This creates a gentle, yet icy, wafting breeze, so that twenty minutes after arriving you’re fashioning a poncho from the tablecloth for additional insulation and ordering a coffee just so you can hug the cup.
Late Night Delight
The Norwegian Boyfriend’s sister had a hot tip for a post-dinner drink from a chap who worked at our hotel. ‘You must go to Purdy Lounge’ he said. ‘It’s frequented by locals – unpretentious, welcoming and reasonably-priced.’ We were thrilled. Strangely, as we arrived we noticed all the windows were curtained. Slightly perturbed but trusting in the concierge’s recommendation, the Norwegian Boyfriend’s sister smoothed down her dress, cleared her throat and disappeared inside. She re-emerged eight seconds later, silent, but vigorously shaking her head. I’m not sure what she saw in there but we never speak of it and she’s worn a slightly haunted look ever since.
A slightly more successful drink was had at Palace Bar, which is in a prime spot behind the gay beach. People watching was its biggest (and possibly only) attraction. We saw a local walking his parrot. I considered posing for a photo with it but I was wearing a new Ralph Lauren number and didn’t want Polly the parrot to crap on it. I did, however, want her to crap on the stroppy waiter, the aggressive drag queen and the slack-jawed families in Hawaiian shirts who waddled past every 30 seconds and gawked at us as they did so. Sadly, Polly didn’t oblige.
Things got a lot better at SoBe’s number one late night gay hotspot, Twist, a low key (straight friendly) club on Washington Avenue. I was a few mojitos in by this point and beginning to feel loose. The pleasant bar at the front put me in mind of an English pub. Behind this an even pleasanter indoor/outdoor area led to a bar in a sort of Samoan hut. It was here that Pusilla, Twist’s resident cat-human Colombian drag queen, was getting the evening’s entertainment under way. As often in gay American nightspots, there were go-go dancers; a beautiful Italian chap among their number. I didn’t quite catch his name but like to think of him as Sergio. As the night wore on the go-go segment segued into a bare your ass contest, whereby four of Twist’s clients, goaded into it by Pusilla, got their cheeks out on stage in the hope of winning 75 dollars in drinks. Things started quite badly as the first guy to get it out should’ve kept it under wraps: pimples, skid marks, the lot. Things really took a turn for the worse when Julie from California joined in; she introduced herself with the immortal words ‘My name’s Julie and I have a tampon in.’ We looked away soon after that, but not before Pusilla complimented the Norwegian Boyfriend’s sister on her sequin bolero. She gave it away the next day.
Later, some geek started to chat up the Norwegian Boyfriend (used to it, didn’t mind that) but I did mind when Sergio started to chat him up. It became clear after some minutes, however, that Sergio was in fact offering us both some sort of tandem lap dance. I’m sorry, Sergio, I may no longer be 23 but I can still get it without paying for it. Even if we had been tempted, I fear we’d have been left feeling deflated. I saw some chap having a lap dance at about 3am. He was shoved up against a wall on a bar stool while Sergio talked dirty and jiggled his Diesel briefs in the poor guy’s face. Not my idea of a fun way to part with a hundred dollars and besides, I’d already drunk about that much in mojitos. That turned out to be a bad investment too, as I sprayed the shower room with them when we got back to the hotel. It’d been a long day.