Sunday, June 22, 2008

Golden Dreams

“I want the security standing right over there!” the short and hairy fat man bellowed from the center of the dining room. Everyone turned to stare—the diners, the waiters, the busboys. It was just the effect he wanted. But no one recognized him. Likewise, no one recognized any of the three unassuming middle-aged women who stood around his small square table. The hairy fat man puffed up in his pleated four-pocket shirt, yanked a gargantuan stogie from the crook of his maw and jabbed it at the humbled maitre d'. “No autographs, either. Understand? And no pictures!”

The fat man rocked back on his heels and jammed the stogie back into his loud mouth. The three unassuming middle-aged women shrugged off their purses and waited for someone to pull back their chairs. I, of course, immediately took out our camera and snapped a flash picture. But not of the fat man. He would have wanted that.

Either Miami Beach is a strange place or Diane and I had become bumpkins from the Florida Keys. It was difficult to say. But sitting in Joe’s Stone Crab, an intimate but sprawling little restaurant, the very flavor of South Beach revealed itself to me. In my hands was a focused but confused ala carte menu; serving us was a cadre of aggressive professional male waiters with dour smiles; and sitting beside us was a loudmouth commoner with a celebrity attitude. No one looked like they were actually enjoying themselves. But everyone was making the scene. I should also say that the fabled stone crab, while fabulous looking and perfectly textured, was just okay.

Luckily, no meal is meant to last and soon enough we were out the door, stuffed to the gills with crab, and looking to make the next scene. And what a scene it is. All you have to do is pick one. Might I suggest:

The movie set on Ocean Drive

… where any hack can stand-in for a director.

Or perhaps you’d rather dine on some upscale deep fried tourist fare. You’ll pay extra for a table on the sidewalk, but it’s worth it. You might even be in a Hollywood movie, because on this walk of fame you are the star!

If fame is not to your liking, might I suggest glamour. This dish is no pan and all flash. Dress the part and take a stroll up Collins Street, a block and a world away from Ocean Drive. You’ll find one deco-era hotel-bar after another. Take your time. Linger. Make as many scenes as you desire.

The names are as simple to remember as are the hotels fabulous to be in.

The President, St. Moritz, Algiers, Paris, Royal, Cadet, Blue Moon, Avalon, Ritz-Carlton; Nobu, Rosiella, Aura, Spris, Poraku, Puerto Sagua, Vix, Wish …

… and the fabulousness goes on and on and on. Which is also to say it was a very long night.

In the harsh light of morning, though no less trendy South Beach changes into something a bit more reasonable, if not brutally honest.

After a stint on the famed (and worthy) Miami Beach, we dined in a deco diner and perused the exhibitions at the Wolfsonian museum, a showcase dedicated to the study of—what else?—the modern era (1885-1945).

Of course Miami is more than the deco dazzle of South Beach. It is also a never-ending tangle of fast-moving traffic on like-sounding street names. The result is guaranteed to confuse and confound any outsider. Just ask me. (1st Ave. crosses 1st St., which then becomes 11th Dr., which then leads to 1st Rd. … good luck to you.) Nonetheless, we somehow managed to find Little Havana

… and the Biltmore Hotel…

… and our way out of town.

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