Greetings From South Beach

By Gary Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 14, 2001

The rest of Miami may have accepted the arrival of Sunday morning, but the Crobar crowd was clinging to Saturday night. Out front, a queue of indefatigable partygoers, still bouncing in place to the beat of the previous club on the circuit, was nudging the velvet rope for a taste of the action. Inside, hard-driving dancers were grooving to a high-blast techno sound. Hey, wasn't that guy over there, with the Jean-Claude Van Damme pecs and Ricky Martin legs, the hunk from the beach? And weren't those the two blondes who'd peeled off their bikini tops with puckish abandon?

No, the Buffed and the Beautiful have not abandoned South Beach.

Sure, this sun-splattered corner of paradise has taken some blows. The Material Girl, a longtime fixture, betrayed the hedonists she helped lure to these parts for a post-SoBe phase of wifedom and motherhood. Mega-hotels like Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, sniffing gold on these shores, have elbowed in alongside the pastel art deco properties that give this small enclave its color and tropical charm. Outlets for T.G.I. Friday's, the Gap and other chains have followed, bringing their generic look of Anywhere, USA.

Flashy models who once prowled Ocean Drive -- SoBe's main drag -- as if it were some kind of catwalk are playing it cooler. "They used to jump at invitations to parties," said Cheryl Andrews, a Miami publicist. "Now they want $100 an hour before they set foot in the door."

Worst of all, suburban yuppies are trying desperately to get a piece of this scene. They arrive from places like Teaneck, N.J., for the weekend, hoping for a peek at a Hollywood starlet, a bite or two of anything fusion, a sip of something bubbly or some other symbol of New Millennium hipdom.

Despite all that, I discovered on my own recent visit, the glittery ensemble of gays, supermodels and actors who put this enclave of South Florida on the map of fabulous people is keeping the party lights burning. And yes, it's possible for visitors to edge in on their action.

Okay, there's a catch. Five years ago, when I first arrived in SoBe, the trail of the trendy was easy to track. It started with pisco sours at the Delano Hotel bar, led straight to a spicy lobster dinner at Yuca, and eventually ended at the Strand, where the place would rock to house music till everyone would nod off in mid-dance. But since then, such places have all but surrendered to the influx of yuppies.

These days, you've got to work a little harder to find the cutting-edge scene.

The Hotel

Deciding where to stay is crucial. For one thing, many hotel lobbies double as bars or clubs that attract a local following. And concierges also dole out complimentary passes and tips about the hottest clubs. Problem is, the arrival of the new breed of deep-pocketed tourists has made chic but affordable pads tough to find, particularly in high season.

I opted for the Townhouse, a funky new low-rise designed by Jonathan Morr, creator of the popular Bond Street restaurant in New York. Styled for a hip young clientele, this is the kind of place where everything from lobby sofas to beds is covered in snow-white fabric, a row of apple-red bicycles is parked in the lobby and the chic-Spartan guest rooms come equipped with condoms and beach balls.

It's one of a string of new hotels such as the Hotel or the Wave that accent playfulness over glamour. There are board games in the lobby for rainy days, a sushi bar downstairs and a sprawling roof for sunbathing.

"We're trying to create a basic, fun place with a beachy feel, away from the glitter and fuss at some other places," Morr told me during a chat in the lobby. "Isn't that what a weekend at the beach should be about?"

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2001 The Washington Post Company