Gangsters and Millionaires in Miami

Miami, the city of gangsters and millionaires, (or so I am told by the tour guide who delights in telling us about the rum trade that once flourished during the prohibition and points out the house that Al Capone once lived in). Honestly, it seems not much has changed, but both have gotten richer, and better at hiding it.

Miami at times, feels as if you are in South America, with everyone around you speaking Spanish it transports you from the stereotypical visions of America, to a multi-cultural cosmopolitan city in the sunshine. Many tourists forget that Miami is in fact a city, that it has a thriving city life and various neighbourhoods encapsulating local communities and cultures, just like any other major city; London, Paris, Berlin, Delhi, with each varying neighbourhood bringing its unique attraction. Rather, tourists picture the artificial beauty that resides in Miami Beach, the beautiful people, plush hotels and numerous dining experiences on offer, as if Miami beach is a microcosm of all the gloriously rich and gorgeous people in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some gorgeous people in Miami Beach, pruned and permed to perfection, but tourists also flood here in their thousands soaking up the sunshine and perusing the funky vintage shops on Washington Avenue for a good bargain. No visit is complete to Miami Beach without visiting the iconic Ocean Drive. Whether you choose to cycle, drive in a convertible, ride a Segway, roller blade or even wander along, Ocean Drive is a must to experience the relaxed attitude and soak up the Miami lifestyle.

At the end of Ocean Drive, we decided to stop off at Nikki Beach Miami, an international beach club encompassing food, drink, music and entertainment into one. Being frequent visitors to the residence in Marbella, we were intrigued to see how the glamourous Nikki Beach Miami would differ. Apart from the seal like surfers that pounded the waves nearby and the layout of the beach club, it turns out not much differed- you can still expect great service, white sofas in the sunshine and refreshing Mojitos.

If wanting to escape from the bouts of bad weather, wander into The Bass Museum of Art. Whilst I was there, Pascale Marthine Tayou’s exhibit “Beautiful” was running, which was an interesting blend of the museum’s more permanent pieces and his own cultural pieces added into the installation. Each exhibit was unique and does make you question the traditional norms of art and the values of contemporary art, so it is worth a visit.

Another neighbourhood, quite similar to the atmosphere of South Beach and Miami Beach, is one of Coral Grove, as if where those that visit Miami Beach actually reside. Houses and flats are nestled into quiet leafy suburbs amongst parades of luxury shops and quaint cafes on corners and restaurants serving brunch all day. Quayside Marina is wonderful to walk around and spot the various boats calmly bobbing along the horizon, although there is little to do in the quay itself but stretch your legs and breathe fresh sea air.

My favourite neighbourhood in Miami is Little Havana, where visitors feel as if they have been taken to the heart of Cuba. Old men sit in the street and converse about the weather in front of colourful mosaic tiled pathways and natter over a game of dominoes in Maximo Gomez Park, sheltering away from the strength of the wind. As many tourists come to visit Calle Ocho, there are numerous cigar companies lined up to the attention of any smoker that walks past or any tourist that fancies some novelty gifts. Cuba Ocho is an extraordinary bar filled with memorabilia and pieces of history, transforming this quiet watering hole, to a community space filled with art, which is wonderful to explore. Many order a fresh ice cream from the Azucar Ice Cream company or attend a salsa lesson on a Thursday or Saturday at the traditional salsa bar Ball and Chain, that brings rhythms and routines like nowhere else in Miami. If you want a truly authentic Salsa experience, Ball and Chain is the venue to learn some moves and submerse yourself into the music and way of life of Salsa.

Wynwood is also another fascinating area of Miami, originally an industrial district filled with warehouses, these warehouses have been converted into art spaces and craft breweries, the walls adorned with street art to entertain, amuse and engage, and the streets filled with quirky clothes shops. The best way to see all of the street art is to either walk around the entire district (if you have the energy) or hire a motorised golf buggy which allows you to explore the area of Wynwood at your leisure. Expect to jostle for space to gain that perfect picture at Wynwood walls and hip restaurants and art installations are a plenty.

Visiting Miami, home to numerous world famous clubs that are open every night of the week until 6am with my Mum meant; rather than focusing our attention on dancefloors, we focused it on food (which is fine by me!) And just like the variety and quality of clubs, their selection of dining was incredible (sorry New Orleans, Miami beats you on this area).

In Wynwood, Black Panther is known for its fresh tasting coffee carefully selected for flavour from a number of different countries. Order your Peruvian latte or Moroccan tea here and sit out in their leafy gardens soaking up the sunshine with the other hipsters and digital nomads. Coyo Taco is a delicious street food stall where tacos and burritos are sold aplenty (and margaritas are served in their hidden bar too!) Harry’s Pizzeria in the design district also serves wonderful (you may have guessed) pizzas.

In Downton Miami, CVI.CHE is a unique Peruvian restaurant that conjures up fresh seafood with a selection of various sauces perfect for any varying taste bud. Many dishes aren’t for the faint hearted so arrive here with determination to try something new.

At South Beach, there are a number of restaurants along the beach front that are similar in style, selling fishbowl cocktails to please tourists and massive portions of sea food, we ate at Majestic for their Lobster Ravoli and cocktails ironically named South Beach (when in Rome).

YUCA restaurant and lounge is a lovely restaurant in South Beach to go to for both lunch and dinner for traditional Cuban dishes, expect electronic violins to be played whilst you dine on braised soft meat that melts in your mouth.

But my favourite restaurant in Miami, hands down is The Forge. Set in a traditional landmark of a blacksmiths work space, the restaurant has been totally transformed to a glitzy dining experience filled with ornate wood carvings, glamorous chandeliers and oh my the toilets- fit for a toilet queen! Service was attentive and the food was outstanding. Having a NY strip with a sweet potato mash with a dusting of cinnamon layer and served with a side order of creamed spinach with egg was enough to make your mouth water. But then topped off by a blacksmith pie: a cookie crust, chocolate ganache and vanilla custard? I think I may have passed out and woken up in food heaven.

Thanks Miami for making me fat.