I began my day in true South Beach style with an early morning run along the beach. Actually, I didn't actually run on the beach, I stuck to the beachside path that runs the length of it. I wasn't alone: keeping fit and looking good is high on the agenda for South Beach residents, and I've never seen so many beautifully-toned women and perfectly buffed men, all with fabulous tans and kitted out with the top Nike and Adidas gear, checking each other out as they jogged, or roller skated, or skate boarded past.
Feeling like I deserved it, I met Warren and Freddie at Jerry's Famous Deli for a late breakfast/brunch. It's a huge diner on Collins, with red leather booths, giant Art Deco-style chandeliers, a fabulous bakery section, and a real Miami feel. The menu is huge and the mature waiters know it off by heart and rattle it off like they've worked at Jerry's their whole lives (perhaps they have). Shamed by all those beautiful people I'd seen on my morning run, I ordered a fruit salad but then quickly added a waffle - I have no will power. Freddie had scrambled egg and sausage and Warren had eggs benedict (he always does). The fruit salad was so big I had to take a doggy bag and the freshly squeezed orange juice was the best I have ever tasted.
Jerry's is on Collins Avenue and runs parallel with Ocean Drive, which runs along the beach. Both are home to many of South Beach's famous art deco buildings, now converted into trendy hotels or restaurants or bars. Our hotel, the Catalina, is on Collins too, two or three blocks up between 17th and 18th. Like many US cities, South Beach is based on a grid system so it's easy to find your way around. I've been to South Beach four or maybe five times, the last time around eight years ago, and each time there seems to be an influx of new places, a new bar or a hotel that's THE place to be. It's a transient place.
Apparently, new laws have recently come into force to protect Miami's Art Deco history and prevents developers changing the architecture or even changing the names of buildings. This explains why the night before we had checked into the Catalina, but had actually slept in a building with a sign saying "The Dorset". South Beach Group, which owns the Catalina, opened a hotel and then acquired the buildings either side but, to protect their history, had kept their names. So, the Catalina is actually made up of the Dorset, the Catalina (in the middle) and Maxine's. The group also owns around eight other hotels and hostels in South Beach and has more in the pipeline. The Catalina is geared towards the young, image-conscious traveller and has all the frills of a boutique hotel, but with a wide range of room types, from full-service luxury to more affordable rooms, cleverly marketed as 'petite' or 'budget'. The most compact rooms are just $85 a night (rack rate).
Ours was a larger, plusher one, with an ensuite walk-in shower, sink and separate toilet. The bed was so big that when Warren snored I had to shuffle along the mattress to kick him. It didn't have a view (unless you count being able to see directly into the bedroom of the people staying in the building next door), and it was a bit too dimly lit, but apart from that it was great. Hotel bedrooms in South Beach are notoriously pokey, but when most people are here to party, why would they care?
No matter which room type you have booked at the Catalina, you get full use of the hotel's facilities, and these are in abundance. Thanks to it being spread over three buildings, there are three restaurants, three bars, a library and two pools, one a ground level pool at Maxine's with giant bamboos and a koi fish pond and another on the roof of our building.
We spent the afternoon at the rooftop pool, Freddie playing around with the floating bean bags while Warren and I luxuriated on the sun beds, each bed big enough for two and fitted with a special sprinkle system of cooling spray to help you cope with the Miami heat. The pool itself was cold, but that's what you'd need in the hotter months. It was heaven, until the bar staff decided to turn up the volume of the speaker systems, replacing the chill out music with drum and base and hard house and cranking it up to party mode. Cocktail hour was approaching and the younger crowd were was to gather. It was time to exit.
We showered and changed and headed down to Ocean Drive, which was now lit up with pink and blue neon signs, the palm trees covered in fairy lights. Ocean Drive is lined with restaurants, all in fierce competition, and you have to dodge the persistent maitre d's trying to tempt you in with smiles and the promise of a street-front table.
We knew it was a tourist trap, but we were cajoled by the bargain $12 steaks on the menu at the Carlisle, so we took a table for three on the pavement, perfect for people watching, and ate a mediocre meal but in very pleasant surroundings. A few blocks down a flamenco show was in full swing and in the other direction a drag Queen was strutting her stuff, cheered on by the crowd. As we walked back to the hotel, at around 9.30pm, most people were just venturing out, their night just beginning. On my previous visits to South Beach, in my mid-20s, I would have been joining them, but with a three-year-old in tow, it was time for us to retreat. Luckily, an old University friend lives in Miami and her two teenage daughters had already agreed to babysit the following night, so we went to bed knowing our time to party would come.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013