How does South Beach’s storied nightlife continue to cultivate hard-to-please locals while still snagging the economy-driving tourists? I traveled to the tan-line capital of the world to find out.
Photo: Lauren Sivan
1. Build it for locals and the tourists will come
What Sweet Liberty (dubbed one of the best new bars in America in 2016 by Playboy) lacks in proximity to the beach it more than makes up for with creativity. The joint offers everything from everything from 75-cent blue point oyster happy hours to Drag Queen Milk Wrestling. (It’s exactly what it sounds like.) And perhaps most unique: A four-person table that’s literally behind the bar.
“It's inspired by the Chef’s Table of the '80s, a very unrehearsed style of service,” said owner John Lermayer.
“I wanted to bring guests as close to the service as possible. It's 100% transparent. As a bartender, it's great to offer a tableside experience to guests -- it allows us to connect with them and it feels great.”
As for how they continue to lure those locals?
“We do offer anyone who works in the hospitality industry 20% off their check at all times,” says Lermayer. “It's definitely helped us develop loyalty and it makes people feel good.”
2. Too much is never enough
Alan Faena’s Faena Hotel is an ode to excess that is nothing short of, well…excessive. In a really fun way. It’s three separate, outrageous bars are best encapsulated by Damien Hirst’s gold-plated, $15 million wooly mammoth skeleton situated within the resort’s garden area. “It’s the perfect mix of bros, gold diggers, trans people and salsa dancers,” added FOX LA anchor and former South Beach resident, Lauren Sivan, of the colorful clientele. “It was everything you want from a night out in Miami.”
Photo: Lauren Sivan
3. Do one thing really well
“The Forge has the best wine selection in Miami Beach,” advises producer/director, Hilhaven Lodge whiskey-owner and native son, Brett Ratner. “And their steaks are amazing.”
Sharif Malnik’s forty-year-old, perennial hotspot offers 80 wines by the glass, which attracts neighbors and traveling vinophiles alike.
4. Looks matter
South Beach’s 1920s/30s era buildings bring visitors from all over the world, and the locals take pride in their place in architectural history.
“My number one recommendation to check out is The Tides hotel,” says Art Deco Tours owner Christine Michaels of the best place sip colorful drinks in colorful buildings. “The outdoor area sits higher up, you have a nice breeze, plenty of space -- it's not cramped like other hotels.” Michaels also recommends these other Jazz Age gems:
- ZenSai “It’s inside the Essex Hotel and very cozy, intimate and dark.”
- The Betsy “Handsome bar; lobby decor bright and airy; Wealthy, elite stay at this hotel on Ocean Drive.”
- National Hotel “Later Deco style that offers indoor bar live jazz music. This lobby is entirely decorated in of the era features that were collected from all over the world. You feel transported to the 1930s.”
Photo: Lauren Sivan
5. Mixed drinks and mixed crowds go great together
“The Clevelander is quintessential South Beach,” says Miami Herald columnist, national sports radio superstar, and creator of ESPN’s Highly Questionable, Dan Le Batard, of the 79-year-old bar/hotel/Ocean Drive icon where his show films. “It’s sexy, it’s fun, it’s debauchery, it’s got all the history, and no rules…it’s very of the area.”
Christine Michaels concurs: “If you want energy with loud music, sexy dancers on weekends and people of all backgrounds, states, countries and income levels -- the Clevelander is a great melting pot.”
6. Be unique
The Setai is currently celebrating its 80th anniversary while still being as current-as-hell with regards to its youthful clientele. Come for The Bar and The Courtyard’s retractable roof and stay for one of the better poolside people watching experiences in the area.
“Creating a unique product, with quality ingredients helps us to develop a brand that has always and will continue to stand the test of time,” says Food and Beverage Director, Christian Maeder, of the undeniable pull his place has on local taxpayers and loco tourists alike. “It’s not about being gimmicky or flashy, it’s about the overall experience.”
7. Have a sense of humor
“Tourists like a spectacle, and we have had some larger than life ideas it like pulling a vintage European horse carriage down Lincoln Road while dancers carried flags with featuring the party name,” said Ryan Van Milligen, a partner in the new, Francois Frossard-designed nightclub ORA. “Locals normally like to feel special and what works best for them is offering them a door where they don't have to wait and an environment that everybody knows their name.”
And every solid scene benefits from a sense of humor. Milligen comes correct with events like their recent February 15th party titled Mistress’s Night Out. “We know some clients take out their ‘side chicks’ on the day after Valentine’s Day,” explains Van Milligen. “We created a specialty cocktail called The Angelina in honor of the other woman and people seem to be getting a kick out of this.”
Heading down South? Here are two top picks to stay and eat:
WHERE TO STAY
The super hipster/but relatively affordable Redbury Miami not only boasts a righteous rooftop swimming area but allows guests the option of hitting their across-the-street sister property’s -- the legendary, and way more expensive, Raleigh Hotel -- pool.
WHERE TO EAT
Venture outside the isle and check out Jose Andres’ latest: Bazaar Mar at SLS Brickell Their Spanish/Caribbean seafood offerings have quickly made it one of the best eateries within the 305 area code.