With historic bars, homegrown breweries and a restaurant scene worthy of a culinary capital, Miami proves there’s more to its charm than parties and piña coladas.
By Ciara LaVelle
Don’t let its location next to the University of Miami fool you— Titanic Restaurant & Brewery (Coral Gables, titanicbrewery.com) is no underclassmen’s chug-fest. In addition to its own brews, this casual spot offers a healthy list of microbrews from around the country and above-average pub food like shrimp skewers and seafood chowder. The brewers and owners often serve as bartenders as well, serving up six-tumbler samplers of brews like Boiler Room Nut Brown Ale and Captain Smith’s Rye. Lunching execs from the area’s offices nosh at Gordon Biersch (Downtown, gordonbiersch.com), but there’s a good reason to visit this financial district brewery even if you’re not a suit: Gordon Biersch brews six beers in German style, from the light, hoppy golden export to a bitter, coffee-flavored schwarzbier, and its restaurant offers plenty of worthy pairings, including the “Brewer’s Feast” of gourmet appetizers like kobe sliders and Southwest egg rolls, and gorgonzola bone-in ribeye, a house specialty. North of downtown, Big Bear Brewing Company (Coral Springs, bigbearbrewingco.com) offers five varying handcrafted ales alongside a menu of hearty “Floribbean”-style dishes like mojo citrus chicken and jerk chicken salad with mango. And with its own homemade Bruin root beer, kids and adults alike can reap the benefits of homebrewing. Florida Beer Company (Melbourne, floridabeer.com) lives up to its name, unlike most “local” Miami brews that aren’t local at all; the company brews three hours north of the city and ships statewide. Some, like Hurricane Reef and Key West, are available throughout Miami in bars and bottleshops; others are contract-brewed for individual bars, such as The Abbey Brewing’s The Immaculate IPA.
This hidden gem isn’t a brewery—it’s an offshoot of Florida Beer Co. Though The Abbey Brewing Company (Miami Beach, abbeybrewinginc.com) beer isn’t brewed on site, micros like Dan’s Double and The Immaculate IPA are good enough “imports” to compete with the bar’s vast lineup of domestic and international brews. Tiny, wood-paneled and smoky, The Abbey blends a culture of fine beer with dive bar ambiance—one that becomes more charming the longer you stay. Across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Luna Star Cafe (North Miami, lunastarcafe.com.) is something of a thinking man’s bar, with walls that serve as a rotating art gallery and live folk and bluegrass music most nights. Its beer selection is every bit as cultured, with more than 100 imports and microbrews and not a Bud Light in sight. Located smack in the middle of Lincoln Road’s hip, touristy walking mall, Zeke’s (South Beach, 305.672.3118) is the antithesis of the flashy, fantastico scene for which Miami is known. While the area’s fashionistas are busy parading from shop to shop, low-key locals head to Zeke’s patio for the people-watching as much as its selection of over 100 beers for $4 each. Churchill’s Pub (Design District, churchillspub.com) is one of Miami’s music scene staples, Churchill’s lets local acts cut their teeth in its dingy, punk-rock den. This dive and its slashed-shirted, dreadlocked clientele is about as far as you’ll get from the beach’s posh nightclubs, and it’s an essential experience for anyone looking for the other side of the city. A former speakeasy that holds the oldest liquor license in Miami proper, Tobacco Road (Downtown, tobacco-road.com) claims to have served gangster Al Capone back in its outlaw days. Today, you’ll find plenty of history on the walls in the form of vintage black and white photos and band posters, plus a small second-floor music venue and an outdoor seating area perfect for enjoying the home-smoked ribs.
A legendary South Beach dining experience, Joe’s Stone Crab’s (Miami Beach, joesstonecrab.com)
claim to fame is its sweet stone crab legs and tangy mustard sauce. They’re such a commodity, in fact, that even with reservations, diners sometimes wait hours for a table. If you don’t feel like standing around, Joe’s takeout window is right next door. Barton G.’s (Miami Beach, bartong.com) food is delicious, but presentation is the restaurant’s specialty. Almost every dish has a trick up its sleeve, especially the desserts, sized for a small army and arriving with showy flourishes like crackling Fourth of July sparklers or carnival games. Not to be missed: the restaurant’s signature nitrogen-frozen martinis, overflowing with smoke. If you want authentic key lime flavor, Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory (South Miami, blondgiraffe.com) is the place. The company’s based in Key West, but its South Miami outpost offers the same sweet-and-sour pies whole or by the slice, as well as a don’t-miss delicacy: chocolate-dipped frozen key lime pie on a stick, every bit as decadent as it sounds. A bistro café with French singers on the stereo and menu items scrawled on a blackboard, Le Bouchon du Grove (Coconut Grove, lebouchondugrove.com) would fit in on the streets of Paris. And its food lives up to France’s high standards, with classic dishes like steamed mussels and fries or peppercorn steak crowding every red-checkered table. American palates are always sated by Dogma Grill’s (MiMo District, dogmagrill.com) 100-percent natural, no by-product hot dogs and soy dogs, all served straight off the grill in a warmed bun and piled high with almost anything you can think of—bacon, avocado and coleslaw not excluded.
The Standard (Miami Beach, standardhotels.com), situated on the Venetian Causeway between downtown and the over-the-top Ocean Drive scene, is hip yet unpretentious, boasting one of the best spas in Miami Beach. The vibe here is mod but not overbearing; for proof it doesn’t take itself too seriously, look to its Love-life Bingo nights, a mildly dirty twist on the favorite Florida pastime. Not long ago, South Beach was known more for quaint vacation bungalows than glitz and glamour. The Pelican (Miami Beach, pelicanhotel.com) is a throwback to those days, with rooms decorated with thrift store and antique treasures. But some things never change; its Ocean Drive location can’t be beat. With its elegant coral-color tower rising above pristine lawns, The Biltmore (Coral Gables, biltmorehotel.com) is one of the most storied spots in South Florida. Debuting in the Jazz Age, the resort hosted the world’s elite, from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Bing Crosby. Today, it’s a registered historic site with 18 holes of golf and more than 100 wines by the glass at the Cellar Club wine bar. Where exclusivity is concerned, it’s hard to top Fisher Island Hotel & Resort (Fisher Island, fisherislandclub.com), a private island resort accessible only via the resort’s own ferry. The hotel here is part of one of Miami’s most affluent communities, so it’s not surprising that suites here come with hot tubs and views of the Atlantic Ocean or the Miami skyline. Casa Casuarina (Miami Beach, casacasuarina.com), also known as the Versace Mansion, is the former residence of clothing designer Gianni Versace. Now it’s a 10-suite hotel all done up in the designer’s extravagant style. The price tag on the 1930s mansion makes even one night here a pipe dream for most, but for the lavish surroundings it’s worth every penny.
Serving Port of Miami cruise passengers and Miami Heat fans going to a game at the stadium next door, Bayside Marketplace (Downtown, baysidemarketplace.com) appeals to tourists and locals alike. Local musicians and street performers entertain passersby outside its shops and restaurants, while down along the docks, visitors can charter boats for cruises or deep-sea fishing excursions. The Miami Design Preservation League’s Art Deco Tour (South Beach, mdpl.org) leads 90-minute walking tours daily through the heart of the city’s most colorful architecture, showing off styles like Mediterranean Revival, MiMo (Miami Modern) and, yes, Art Deco. It’s a great introduction to South Beach, visiting plenty of hotels and restaurants worth a second look when the tour’s over. Miami’s artists’ community comes alive every second Saturday of the month for ArtWalk (Design District/Wynwood, artcircuits.com). Galleries throughout the Design District and Wynwood open their doors for nighttime parties. These “Second Saturdays” are the best way to explore Miami’s gallery scene, and also make for a cheap night out (drinks and snacks are almost always free). The strolling mall of Lincoln Road (South Beach, lincolnroad.org) is second only to Ocean Drive when it comes to South Beach’s spots to see and be seen. Though it’s lined with boutiques, galleries and restaurants, Lincoln Road’s greatest commodities are the people strutting from shop to shop, from ritzy club-goers to rowdy spring breakers. Sit down for a meal outside and order a drink—the entertainment is free. Key Biscayne (Key Biscayne, keybiscayne.fl.gov) is Miami’s natural side, a taste of the Keys 20 minutes from the center of the city. At Crandon Park, visitors can rent kayaks and snorkeling equipment or charter a sunset cruise. Not far from the park, Jimbo’s is a squatter’s settlement-turned-local hangout, with bocce courts and cheap beer served out of the cooler.
Exquisito (Little Havana, 305.643.0227) is a small restaurant that holds its own in Little Havana’s overcrowded Cuban dining scene by focusing on the classics: fried plantains, rice and beans, and meats flavored with mojo and chimichurri—all done exquisitely. And with enormous servings priced at around $10 per meal, it’s also one of the best values in the city. Set on scenic, Spanish colonial Espanola Way, Tapas y Tintos (Miami Beach, tapasytintos.com) turns every meal into a self-made tasting menu with its variety of small plates. Guests can eat outside in gently lit European ambiance, or in the dining lounge to live Latin music. Ceviche is a popular tropical delicacy in Miami, and for sheer variety, there’s no better place than the ceviche spoon bar at Jaguar (Coconut Grove, jaguarspot.com). Diners can be as adventurous as they want, with squid, swordfish and tuna incarnations, or stick with a classic piece of meat from the latam grill. Argentinian steakhouses abound in Miami, most offering an “all you can eat for one high price” buffet. Scorch (North Miami Beach, 305.949.5588) is an intimate, cost-effective alternative: expertly grilled steak, pork and ribs in a small setting. Service is a la carte, but with Scorch’s huge portions and low prices, diners here still save compared to warehouse-sized buffets. And if you find yourself in a food coma, get a caffeine boost via a café con leche at David’s Café (Miami Beach, davidscafe.com)—or simply stuff yourself silly again with empanadas, media noches and other Cuban treats served 24 hours a day.[Top photo: Carsten Reisinger]