Sand, Sex and Style on South Beach, the Sexiest City in America

January 24th, 20147:13 am @

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Sexy girl on Miami Beach

You don’t have to look far to confirm that Miami Beach is the sexiest city in America but 30 years ago this place was a slum.

It was awful, one of the most disgraceful examples of urban blight imaginable.  Block after block of gorgeous buildings gone to seed, paint peeling, plaster crumbling, porches sagging, weeds, filth and decay.  And there on the porches impoverished retirees clinging to the last vestiges of life, sick, dying, tubes sticking out of them, slumped in their wheelchairs.

It was a warehouse for the sick and infirm and a playground for junkies and gangsters.  South American cocaine ran like blood through its parks and alleys.  To think it could ever come back to life was a stretch.  But then a miracle happened.

Malcolm Logan on Miami Beach

Sonny Crockett defined a new look that became known as Miami style. Miami Vice brought the unique appeal of Miami Beach to the attention of the nation and sparked a revival.

Crockett and Tubbs

A miracle in the form of a television show.  In 1984 Miami Vice aired for the first time.  The show was groundbreaking in many ways.  It was one of the first to use rock music in the soundtrack.  It was one of the first to broadcast in stereo.  It was one of the first to incorporate the quick cut editing of music videos.  And it was one of the first to be shot entirely on location in a city other than Los Angeles.

Miami Vice was shot in Miami Beach, and more specifically in that impoverished area near the south end, near Lummus Park, where Ocean Drive met 2nd Street, a place that would become internationally famous in time.

The Berkely Shore Hotel on Miami Beach

Art deco hotels: colorful confections of stacked concrete and glass touched up with whimsical ornaments and filigrees.

But when Miami Vice shot there it was a cesspool of decadence and crime, so hopeless you could buy property there for a song – and what properties they were!  Curvaceous, streamlined art deco masterpieces from the Art Moderne movement of the 1930’s, colorful confections of stacked concrete and glass touched up with whimsical ornaments and filigrees, and glowing neon lights now dusty and dying, flickering out, until alert investors saw that show and saw an opportunity.

No Place Else Like It

In the mid-1980’s they started moving in, fashion industry professionals, gays and lesbians, real estate developers and venture capitalists.  The neon flickered back on.

Swim suit models at the Nikki Beach Club in Miami Beach

A walk down Ocean Drive will turn heads as those impossibly slender and beautiful young creatures from the pages of Vogue or Elle go strolling by.

All through the 90’s the buildings were repainted, rehabbed, refurbished, the streets were repaired, the sidewalks widened, the storefronts resuscitated.

Sleepy retirement hotels awoke to new lives as swank bars and thumping night clubs.  The mile long stretch of white sand beach before Lummus Park, once the haunt of prowling drug dealers and prostate junkies, sprouted colorful umbrellas and posh cabanas and became the go-to-place for the international jet set, and the place got a new name: South Beach.  And Miami Beach became the sexiest city in America.

To go there is to enter another world, for no place else in America is quite like South Beach.  In some ways its more like Europe with its mélange of languages, its topless beaches, its class driven pretensions, its gratuities included.  At the same time it’s unmistakably American with its relentless optimism and restless becoming.

Doing it right means going to the heart of it, rubbing elbows with the beautiful people.  Consequently, no visit is complete without a visit to the stylish bars in the art deco hotels that line Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive.

The SLS Hotel Miami Beach

The Phillipe Starck designed SLS Hotel is “a creative cocktail of sophistication and playfulness”.

The Ultimate Oasis

One of the swankiest is the newly remodeled Setai, an Asian-themed 120-room hotel featuring a tranquil courtyard surrounding a 200 foot serenity pond, a zen-like refuge from the bouncy exuberance of South Beach.

In 2013 The Setai was named the Best Hotel in Miami by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine.  But don’t make that reservation just yet.  Like most hotels on South Beach it’s not cheap.  A room here will set you back  $575 a night.  Yes, we’ve come a long way from the early 1980’s when $575 would practically have bought you the whole building!

The Raleigh Hotel on Miami Beach

The Raleigh Hotel.  Grace and elegance defined.

Just down the street from The Setai is the The Delano.  Long a favorite of visitors to South Beach, The Delano calls itself the “the ultimate oasis of sensuality and soul”, a bit of hyperbole that can be forgiven when you walk through the soaring glass doors onto the back veranda and take in the long stretch of cerulean blue pool.  Opulent bungalows with billowy white curtains and moss-green marble line either side and at the end a comfortable poolside bar serves drinks to members of the public (and other mere mortals) after 5pm.

Rarefied Air

Malcolm Logan in front of the art deco hotels on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach

The bath of colorful neon that spills out from the art deco hotels on Ocean Drive is uniquely Miami.

When Thomas Kramer, a German real estate developer bought the southern tip of South Beach in the early 1990’s for $45 million some doubted his ability to attract sufficient investors to the area.  In retrospect such misgivings seem laughable but then it’s easy to pick out the winning horse after the race is run.  Kramer and others like him were able to look into the future and see the unique appeal of South Beach and predict that high end hoteliers like the Morgan Group, owners of The Delano, and Sam Nazarian, owner of the SLS would flock to the area.

The SLS is one of the newest 5-star luxury hotels on South Beach.  Advertised as “a creative cocktail of sophistication and playfulness”, the Phillipe Starck designed interior is indeed a whimsical melange of Latin and Asian motifs that sacrifices nothing when it comes to style.  To bask in its elegance, if only for awhile, is sublime.

A musician plays at the Nikki Beach Club in Miami

At the Nikki Beach Club on South Beach models, celebrities and jet setters lounge on day beds and listen to live music while sipping champagne.

And you can bask in its elegance.  Though it’s true that lodging at one of these hotels will blow the vacation budgets of most people in short order, their bars and restaurants are open to all comers.  You might want to skip the flip-flops and cargo shorts when you patronize one of these places but if you make a modicum of effort to bump up your style, you’ll soon find yourself breathing the rarefied air of the rich and the influential.

And where money and style hold sway, sex is not far behind.  Since the early 90’s when the fashion industry discovered South Beach, the area has been a magnet for models and photographers.  A walk down Ocean Drive will turn many a head as those impossibly slender and beautiful young creatures from the pages of Vogue or Elle go strolling past.  Just where are they going, you might ask.  Well, a good bet is Nikki Beach Club.

Two lithesome girls frolic on the beach in Miami.

Two lithesome beauties on Miami Beach. Here you’ll find premium people watching of the very best kind.

Ground Zero for the Beautiful People

Nikki Beach Club, located at the south end of Ocean Drive, is an indoor-outdoor nightclub set in the sugary white sand beneath the swaying palms of South Beach.  Models, jet setters and celebrities lounge on day beds and relax in cabanas drinking champagne and cocktails, listening to DJ’s and live music, and noshing on award winning gourmet cuisine.

If you want in but don’t want to wait behind a velvet rope, check out the Sunday brunch.  Everyone is welcome – as long as they’re willing to pony up the $50 price tag before drinks – but the spread is lavish, including sushi, paella, and stir fry, along with the usual fare of waffles, omelletes and crepes.  While you’re dining, you can feast your eyes on the eye candy, which is everywhere at this ground zero for the beautiful people.

Photographer and model on Miami Beach

With its white sand beaches and gentle surf, South Beach has become a magnet for models and photographers.

But premium people watching of the very best kind can be had entirely gratis just a few blocks away.  Walk along the surf on South Beach and you’ll see another reason why Miami Beach is the sexiest city in America.

The beach is lined by lithesome beauties and buff fellows from all over Asia, Europe and South America.  After New York and Los Angeles, Miami is one of the premier North American destinations for international travelers, and when international travelers come to Miami, they come to Miami Beach.

Pool vs Bar and Bar Wins

The Clevelander Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida

For a taste of genuine South Beach nightlife, one would be hard pressed to do better than The Clevelander.

At night the art deco hotels that line Ocean Drive spring to life with al fresco dining, poolside bars and frenetic night clubs.  The party scene on South Beach rivals any to be found anywhere in the world, yet the bath of colorful neon that spills out from the hotels is uniquely Miami and one of the signature appeals of the place.

For a taste of genuine South Beach nightlife, one would be hard pressed to do better than The Clevelander.  This quaint art deco hotel at 10th Street and Ocean Drive has been all but eclipsed by its massive poolside bar which has expanded over the years, gobbling up the hotel’s footprint, until even the pool itself has become an afterthought.  Nevertheless, the party rages nightly at The Clevelander with drinks and dancing until the wee hours and everywhere beautiful, sexy people.

Girl on Miami Beach

Miami Beach: Once a rundown slum, now without question the sexiest city in America.

It’s hard to believe that this was once a slum, this haven of 5-star luxury hotels, international jetsetters, and comely models, this resort of celebrities and the spectacularly wealthy.   It’s hard to imagine that, not so long ago, these lovely properties with their stylish architecture, which is so uniquely Miami, were abandoned and desecrated, left for dead, and could be had for a song.  It’s hard to believe that anyone ever doubted it could be revived, and that it took a television show and a few courageous investors to realize its potential and plant the seeds that allowed Miami Beach to become the sexiest city in America.

 

Check it out…

The Setai HotelThe Setai Hotel
2001 Collins Ave
Miami Beach, FL  33139
(305) 520-6000

Website

 

 

 

The Delano HotelThe Delano Hotel
1685 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL  33139
(305) 672-2000

Website

 

 

 

SLS Hotel South BeachSLS Hotel South Beach
1701 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL  33139
(305) 674-1701

Website

 

 

 

Nikki Beach Club MiamiThe Nikki Beach Club
1 Ocean Drive South
Miami Beach, FL  33139
(305) 538-1380

Website

 

 

 

Cleveland Hotel MiamiThe Clevelander Hotel and Bar
1020 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, FL  33139
(305) 532-4006

Website

 

 

See the Video of this Trip…

Miami Beach Video

 

My American Odyssey Destination Map

Previous stop on the odyssey: Smithland, KY //
Next stop on the odyssey:  Ft. Myers, FL

View My American Odyssey Destination Map in a full screen map

 

Image credits:

All images and video by Malcolm Logan