A romanticized art deco heritage and ascending hotel and culture scenes merge in America’s new Boom Town.
By Tom Austin
November 17, 2016
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In the 1970s, growing up in the subtropical village that was old Miami, the obligatory field trip culture of northern cities was never inflicted on the heedless youth. The water that surrounds, permeates, and defines the city was our sole civic culture: we all lived outside in little skiffs, sailing out to the islands in Biscayne Bay, oblivious and happy. Back then, Miami was, somewhat grudgingly, synonymous with fun-in-the-sun clichés. That all changed in 1983, when the artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude executed their monumental masterpiece “Surrounded Islands,” a string of enormous pink lily pads encircling Biscayne Bay. It seemed to bring home the Magic City’s long-overlooked, fundamentally contemporary atmosphere. In the same year, Scarface blew away any lingering notions of the region’s wholesomeness.
Design has also long been a part of its allure, acting as a historical bookmark like rings in a tree trunk. In the 1950s, Morris Lapidus, who considered his own exuberant bad taste the “architecture of joy,” created the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels, two midcentury icons that would go on to symbolize Miami modernism. In the 1980s, scrappy South Beach social life jelled around restored art deco properties such as the Cardozo Hotel, as fun and frothy as a Fred Astaire musical. On the culinary front, the era was defined by the The Strand and Wet Paint Café, the latter helmed by renowned chef Douglas Rodriguez.
Time periods are captured through different insignias. The early work of Arquitectonica became a totemic emblem of Miami Vice, highlighted by the “Skycourt,” with its Jacuzzi and lone palm tree, at the Atlantis condominium. Craig Robins, an early South Beach pioneer, discovered the new frontier of the Design District during the ’90s, creating a universe of high-end shops and restaurants led by the James Beard Award-winning Michael Schwartz, who established a beachhead in 2007 at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. In 2009, Goldman’s Wynwood Walls, a curated graffiti wonderland, fueled the transformation of an orchestrated and all-too-slick arts district, as it lended a much-needed edge to the polished environs.
These days, the great engine of pop culture and the second wave of restored art deco hotels, like the Delano, have led to the arrival of the W and Faena properties on Miami Beach. The super-charged rebirth of the Fontainebleau, which had fallen into decay, reflects the current trend of hotels packing tag teams of star chefs: The new Confidante, for instance, has both Dale Talde and Richard Hales.
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The city has always believed in transformative cultural events, and Art Basel Miami Beach has become one long, fantastic moment blurring together, from Iggy Pop’s beach concert to John Waters’s screening of Boom! Now, the fair is engrained in the Miami dreamscape, kind of like its humidity.
Deco tradition has given way to the age of starchitecture, which was ushered in with Herzog & de Meuron’s 1111 Lincoln, a parking garage that echoes Lapidus’s original origami-shaped concrete canopies on Lincoln Road. More than eight Pritzker-Prize winners have projects on Miami Beach alone. The awards themselves were conducted at the New World Center last year, a concert hall designed by Frank Gehry for the New World Symphony.
Public works projects continue to fuel Miami’s coming of age. The David Rockwell-designed Brightline train will debut in June, eventually connecting Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. Breaking ground next year is the Underline, a 10 – mile linear urban trail beneath the Metrorail. Great strides have been made since hometown boy and design devotee Micky Wolfson founded the now-internationally-recognized Wolfsonian FIU smack dab in the chaos of South Beach in the ’80s. It was a tipping point, an embrace of modernity and the pure possibility of Miami. High culture is everywhere, although Wolfson remains guarded about the future: “Culture here is an ornament, an embellishment, not part of our DNA like other cities. And without culture,we’re just occupying a skeleton of a place.”
This month, the annual rite of Art Basel Miami Beach commences. The fair’s home base, the Miami Beach Convention Center, is set to be transformed with artwork by such luminaries as Franz Ackermann, Ellen Harvey, and Sarah Morris. Meanwhile, at Design Miami, the New York-based SHoP Architects—winner of the 2016 Panerai Design Miami/Visionary Award—is creating a 3D-printed pavilion, which will move to the Design District when the week is over. Dean & DeLuca and architect Ole Scheeren, a former OMA partner, are also collaborating on the high-tech food display system “Stage.”
Located in Mid-Beach, the Faena District’s latest opening is the Faena Forum, an exhibition and performance space designed by Rem Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu. It debuts during Art Basel, along with the art processional “Tide by Tide,” featuring the Spanish artist Miralda, the Cuban art collective Los Carpinteros, and local artist Carlos Betancourt.
On the mainland, the University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum has “Donald Sultan: The Disaster Paintings,” while the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, occupying a Yann Weymouth building, has “Narciso Rodriguez: An Exercise in Minimalism” on view. Herzog & de Meuron’s Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) recently acquired more than 400 language-based artworks, including selections from English artist Tom Phillips’s famous, ongoing altered book project “A Humument.” Currently showing: “Julio Le Parc: Form-Action,” the first United States survey exhibition for the Argentine kinetic artist.
As Wynwood becomes ever more Sonof-SoHo-esque, the commercial march of contemporary art has conquered Hialeah and Little Haiti, which, thankfully, is still full of strolling RaRa bands and shops for voudon. The latest to relocate are the galleries Emerson Dorsch, which debuted with “Elisabeth Condon: New Paintings,” and Nina Johnson, formerly Gallery Diet, now occupying an austere compound deigned by Charlap Hyman & Herrero.
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South Florida has been flooded with the talents of star chefs: Jean-Georges Vongerichten of the Matador Room at Ian Schrager’s Edition Hotel has kept the fever going. Most recently, downtown’s new SLS Brickell contains Michael Schwartz’s Fi’lia and Bazaar Mar by José Andrés. Chef Brad Kilgore presents a modern take on dinner and a show at Brava by Brad Kilgore, housed in the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts by architect César Pelli. Known for his imaginative creations at Alter in Wynwood, he turns out an artful French-inflected menu served inside an elegant space done up in sunflower-yellow sofas and installations of flower blossoms. Nearby, the Robert McKinley-designed Marion is a color-splashed Mediterranean brasserie with a tropical aesthetic. McKinley sourced the vintage lamps at Parisian flea markets and the wicker furniture from French heritage brand Drucker; a handlaid mosaic of broken marble and terrazzo serves as the floor. On the 40th floor atop the Brickell newcomer, East Hotel, Sugar is an Asian-influenced garden lounge by Studio Collective. Come night, fashionable guests roam the patio landscaped with Star Jasmine and Japanese Privet trees and the low-lit interior bar lined in Brazilian teak wood. In Wynwood, two veterans of Zuma have created a stir with Kyu, an exotic Asian barbecue spot. An exterior Geisha mural by local artists Andrew Antonaccio and Filio Galvez welcomes patrons into a warehouse-like space where chef Michael Lewis mans an open-plan kitchen, plating wood-fired shortribs. One of the stars of the vegan world, Matthew Kenney, is behind Plant Food + Wine, situated within Wynwood’s Sacred Space, a multi-use venue dedicated to holistic living. Miami architect Rene Gonzalez adorned the interiors with sustainably sourced bamboo, bronze mirror panels, and propeller-esque chandeliers.
Upland Miami on South Beach is a joint effort by Stephen Starr and chef Justin Smillie. As with the New York outpost, Roman and Williams fashioned the bistro-style design, which features hand-blown glass lighting fixtures, forest green banquettes, and a fig leaf mural by Wayne Pate. The menu ranges from crispy duck wings with lemon and yuzu kosho to roasted short rib for two. Old-school mainstay Osteria del Teatro recently upgraded to a new home inside the Marlin Hotel, a 1939 L. Murray Dixon art deco gem. The dining room is outfitted in high-backed metallic seating and cinematic artwork that nods to its history as a stomping ground for the theater crowd. A massive ocean mural presides over Watr, the new rooftop restaurant at the eco-minded 1 Hotel, designed by New York’s Meyer Davis Studio. It capitalizes on the current obsession with Polynesian-inspired cuisine. Following in the wake of the zeitgeist-shifting Broken Shaker, Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company balances Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life on the sound system with arcane cocktails like The Pace Car, made with Blanc vermouth and grapefruit bitters.
The wave of hotel debuts continues to crest, expanding into new territory. In Surfside, the Surf Club Four Seasons Hotel opens early next year, merging Russell Pancoast’s 1930 building—once a wonderfully faded private social haunt—and three gleaming towers by Richard Meier. French architect Joseph Dirand was commissioned for the interiors, freshening up the loggia “Peacock Alley” that was once home to such icons as Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, and Winston Churchill. The Yabu Pushelberg-designed St. Regis in nearby Bal Harbour has recently added the Greek restaurant Atlantikos and a lobby lounge with a suspended cloud sculpture by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle. Contemporary art also fills the 216 rooms, including works by Japanese artist Hirotoshi Sawada and local graffitist Santiago Rubino. Another art-forward stay, The Betsy, has greatly improved after a recent expansion. Aside from new guestrooms, new additions include Poeti, a restaurant helmed by noted chef Laurent Tourondel, and a globular public sculpture.
The Morris Lapidus-designed landmark Eden Roc now houses the new Nobu Hotel Miami Beach. With Robert De Niro as a celebrity partner and David Rockwell recalibrating the interiors, the lobby features artworks by Julian Schnabel and Enoc Perez, as well as a commissioned installation, “Florida Set,” by Josh Smith. Among the social space highlights are an outpost of Helene Henderson’s beloved Malibu Farm and a glittering satellite of the Nobu sushi restaurants, adorned in washi paper and golden cherry blossom accents. Further down Collins Avenue, the heritage Traymore Hotel was reimagined by Italian designer Paola Navone as the 74-room Como Metropolitan Miami Beach, the brand’s first U.S. outpost. True to form, she imbued the spaces with her signature eclectic style: speckled black-and-white terrazzo floors, muted peppermint hues, and orb lighting fixtures. The W South Beach has the forever lively Mr. Chow, Andrew Carmellini’s nicely-pitched The Dutch Miami, and a new penthouse and suite designed by Anna Busta of Busta Design Studio. Its sister property, W Miami, recently took over the Viceroy downtown, close to the 125-room ME Miami, where fashion photographs by Alberto van Stokkum are displayed on the walls, and the 14th floor pool overlooks PAMM.
The flash-and-trash of the late Gianni Versace seized the pop universe, but South Beach is home to various strains of fashion intelligence. In the 1960s, the fashion and interior designer Barbara Hulanicki cofounded Biba, an iconic Swinging London boutique that’s highlighted in the current V&A Museum show “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966- 1970.” Now, her fashion illustrations of “Biba dollies” are available at Little Havana’s Conde Contemporary and her V&A-published books—The Biba Years and From A to Biba—are sold at Books & Books in South Beach. Another fashion figure, costume design extraordinaire Patricia Field, has shifted into representing artist-designed, one–of-a-kind pieces. For her Art Basel debut, she’s taking over Wynwood’s White Dot Gallery through December, selling clothes created by artists like Scooter LaForge and Jody Morlock. Nearby, the art-filled Maison Marie Saint Pierre carries the Montreal-based designer’s men’s and womenswear lines, as well as her accessories and furniture.
Downtown’s new Arquitectonica-designed, 4.9 million-square-foot Brickell City Centre is the current toast of the retail world, with tenants ranging from shoe label Giuseppe Zanotti to eyewear brand Illesteva. The Paris-based Hugh Dutton of Hugh Dutton Associates—known for engineering an acclaimed courtyard trellis at the Louvre—fashioned the “Climate Ribbon,” a glass-and-steel trellis that shades the 650,000-square-foot outdoor shopping area.
On South Beach, the Webster Miami, set in a former 1939 Henry Hohauser art deco hotel, carries Balenciaga and exclusive Art Basel collaborations. At Herzog & de Meuron’s 1111 Lincoln Road, the forward-looking Alchemist has the pulse of the latest cult brands such as Vetements and Haider Ackermann. Designed by Rene Gonzalez, the boutique won a national AIA Design Award in 2011. For a look at Gonzalez’s latest project, seek out RGA Rocket, in his nearby Prairie Avenue residence, during Art Basel. On offer: objects from talents such as Emmanuel Babled and Germans Ermics.
INSIDER: PATRICIA FIELD
COSTUME DESIGNER AND PROPRIETOR OF A POP-UP STORE IN WYNWOOD
“Miami has so many hyped-up restaurants, but I like simple food and peace. There’s an understated vibe at The Standard Spa, Miami Beach; eating by the water is really relaxing. Two places that have been on South Beach forever are still good: the News Café for breakfast and the papers, and David’s Café, a Cuban restaurant where we used to have food fights.”
“Years ago, I would fly down to Miami to buy pieces, like a 1920s palm tree-shaped lamp, for Sex and the City and my other projects. I still like the Lincoln Road Antique & Collectibles Market on Sundays, as well as some of the more eccentric thrift shops such as Flea Market USA in Hialeah, a crazy strip mall just for thrift stores.”
INSIDER: RENE GONZALEZ
“Downtown is a place of contrasts—gritty but full of historic architectural gems like the Alfred I. du Pont Building. The Miami Center for Architecture and Design offers tours of the du Pont and other great buildings.”
“You can still step up to a classic Cuban ventanita for a cafecito in downtown, which also has some exceptional restaurants tucked away in unexpected locations: NIU Kitchen for Spanish cuisine, and Italian food at Soya e Pomodoro.”
“Visitors should always see the city by boat and insist on a visit to Stiltsville. This surreal community of houses, elevated over Biscayne Bay, dates back to the Prohibition era, and embodies Miami’s delicate coexistence between nature and architecture.”
INSIDER: BARBARA HULANICKI
CO-FOUNDER OF BIBA, SOUTH BEACH-BASED FASHION AND INTERIOR DESIGNER
“Miami is exploding with condos, but they all seem to have very dull architecture. My new hobby is watching the progress of the interesting One Thousand Museum from the terrace of PAMM. The late Zaha Hadid’s design is endlessly intertwining, like very complicated knitting. I hope she’s watching it grow.”
“All the old deco buildings on South Beach now have honkytonk cafes, groaning with umbrellas and giant alcoholic creations. But Soho Beach House has a great Sunday brunch. Another favorite of mine is The Continental, which has a wonderful 1950s-style décor.”
“For tacky shopping—purple wigs, revealing Kardashian shmatas, and hooker shoes— try NW Fifth Avenue in west Wynwood. Soon it will be Lux Condoland, but for now they actually have a gold nude statue of Mr. Trump on top of a building.”