At Ver-Daddy's, flavor trumps ambiance.
At Ver-Daddy's, flavor trumps ambiance.
Necee Regis

'Hoods With the Goods in Miami

The DPM Gallery is one of dozens of arts venues in the rapidly emerging Wynwood Art District.
The DPM Gallery is one of dozens of arts venues in the rapidly emerging Wynwood Art District. (By Necee Regis)

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By Necee Regis
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 8, 2007

Ah, Miami: City of glitz and glamour, home of swaying palms and swiveling hips, the promised land of celebrity sightings and Celebrity cruises. At least that's the image of Miami in the popular imagination, and much of it is true.

There's also the other Miami, the one I like to explore. Away from the bright lights and hyperventilating crowds, in places where the casual tourist doesn't venture, is a dynamic mix of art, food and creativity. You won't need designer clothes or a VIP pass to navigate these up-and-coming neighborhoods. You will, however, need a car. Though some areas of Miami and Miami Beach are suitable for walking, these districts are spread over large areas that are hard to navigate by foot.

Wynwood

Six miles west of South Beach's trendy clubs and salty breezes, and a few blocks south of the well-groomed Design District, the neighborhood of Wynwood is a gritty hodgepodge of two-story warehouses, small apartment buildings and 1920s bungalow-style homes. The area has recently been christened the Wynwood Art District (referred to on its Web site as WAD, which may be appropriate, as a pile of greenbacks can be prerequisite to making a purchase).

Wynwood's lack of gentility hasn't kept well-heeled galleries, dealers, collectors and artists from flocking to its spacious warehouses, with new art venues multiplying faster than crack vials on broken sidewalks. At last count there were 68 venues spread over an approximate 60-block area (though half are clustered within 15 blocks), with "for rent" or "sale" signs on seemingly every other building boasting exhibition-space opportunities.

There's a festive atmosphere the second Saturday night of each month, when the community sponsors a gallery walk from 7 to 10 p.m. Otherwise, there's not a lot of foot traffic day or night, except for an occasional wandering homeless person -- although it's getting busier on Saturdays as word spreads about the burgeoning art scene.

A good place to begin your visit is the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse (591 NW 27th St., 305-576-1051, http://www.margulieswarehouse.com), a not-for-profit, 45,000-square-foot exhibition facility filled with photographs, sculpture and installation art drawn from the collection of Miami collector Martin Z. Margulies. It's currently closed for renovations but reopens in October. Look for vintage and contemporary photography and works by internationally recognized sculptors, as well as contemporary videos and installations.

From the Margulies Collection, drive east to NW Second Avenue and turn south. There are a number of galleries along this strip and on the streets east and west through NW 22nd Street.

"I think I live in Miami Noir," says Brook Dorsch, the first commercial gallery owner to move to the area. He's only half-joking. In 2000, he relocated Dorsch Gallery (151 NW 24th St., 305-576-1278, http://www.dorschgallery.com) from a 500-square-foot space downtown to a 7,000-square-foot warehouse on NW 24th Street, east of NW Second Avenue. "It was a little rough-and-tumble back then, but I could afford it," said Dorsch. "The neighborhood isn't as scary as it was. It's a destination now. Wynwood has become a critical mass. You see people on Saturdays with a map in hand looking for galleries. You didn't see that 10 years ago." Dorsch represents artists from South Florida whose work includes painting, sculpture, sound art and new media.

One pioneering art establishment opened its doors long before Dorsch arrived. The Bakehouse Art Complex (561 NW 32nd St., 305-576-2828, http://www.bakehouseartcomplex.org), a not-for-profit organization offering 70 cheap studio spaces, a gallery and classrooms for educational outreach programs, was founded in 1986.

"We found this old bakery that had been on the market for seven years. We had to renovate and retrofit it," said Helene Pancoast, one of the five founders. Today the Bakehouse is a flourishing enterprise, with paintings, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, photography and just about anything that artists can think of to use to make art, including eggshells and gummy bears. On a recent Sunday, the parking lot was full and cars lined both sides of the street as art lovers streamed inside for an anniversary exhibition.

Small restaurants and cafes are sprinkled across the district. Tikal (525 NW 29th St., 305-576-3756) is a great place to sample a banana or papaya batido (fruit and milk smoothie) and a churrasco steak. After spending hours perusing the Margulies collection, I ordered a cortadito (sweet espresso with a shot of hot milk) and relaxed on the outside patio, a decorative metal structure with wood ceiling and overhead fans. Across the street, under a searing sun and an azure sky, fanciful paintings of handbags adorned the north facade of the Mr. Pocketbook warehouse.

In the evenings, the bar scene at Circa 28 (2826 N. Miami Ave., 305-722-1858, http://www.circa28.com) brings together an eclectic mix of artists, collectors, architects, musicians and assorted hangers-on. The first floor is a casual lounge, while the funkier upstairs is a combination live-band venue, dance floor and gallery.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company


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