I’ve just returned from Miami Beach. Despite the fact that I’m pretty much allergic to the rest of Florida – and really not a beach person – this is one of my favourite places in the world.
South Beach, or SoBe as it’s known, is a truly fabulous blend of the best America has to offer, with stunning Art Deco architecture and a cool, relaxed Cuban vibe. The weather is generally great and it has, without a doubt, the best people-watching options in the world.
When I first went there, back in the early noughties, my base was Tides Hotel. This is one of the few moderately high-rise buildings on Ocean Drive, SoBe’s stylish epicentre. I’d sit on the terrace having breakfast and watch the world dance, roll and cruise by. For me, this is the only place in the world where a lime green Lamborghini makes sense.
While there, I cycle around with nowhere to go and loads of time to get there. SoBe has the rare ability to bring me to a curious state… I think it’s known as ‘relaxed’. This is something that almost never happens to me, which is why I treasure this beach community so much. Of course, there are other places that blend this beach/city vibe – Rio comes to mind – but nothing beats South Beach.
I’ll be honest with you: I think much of my relaxation comes via the food options here. I can have a Cuban breakfast at a café in Lincoln Road Mall and a light Mexican lunch at Taquiza (the best tacos in town). But no trip would be complete without a meal at Joe’s Stone Crab. This is an extraordinary restaurant, and reputed to be one of the first on the Beach. You can’t book. You just turn up, put your name on a list, and wait. It’s worth it, though. Once you’re ‘tabled’ you can eat your own body weight in seriously delicious food while being served by some of the most impressive waiting staff that I’ve ever encountered.
You’ll not be surprised to hear, then, that my ultimate SoBe experience came during a meal. It happened many years ago, on just my third day there. I was having breakfast at Tides when there was a great commotion nearby. The noise was followed by the arrival at the table next to me of the boxer Mike Tyson, with an entourage of around eight. I had only just taken this in when the lift from the penthouse opened and out came the rapper Ja Rule and his pet lion, complete with a diamond collar. Rule, as I now call him, proceeded to sit at the table to the other side of me. What followed was some quite glorious eavesdropping and, for the record, that lion stole one of my croissants. I made out like this was no big thing. I was starting to feel at home in SoBe.