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Miami Many Accented Party

May 12, 2002

Miami's Many-Accented Party

ONE needs only to hear the accented English spoken everywhere in Miami, or smell the mud-thick coffee wafting from the counter windows of Cuban diners, or watch the parade of cruise ships from the Port of Miami to the Atlantic Ocean most afternoons, to feel in the midst of an international hub. The population on the streets is a hodgepodge of immigrant cultures — people from Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica, from Colombia, Argentina and Brazil — and a sampling of more than 10 million visitors a year, about half of them foreigners. But surprisingly, it can take some work to fully absorb the area's international flavor, because what the world knows as Miami is really Miami-Dade County, with more than 30 municipalities besides the city of Miami spread over 2,000 square miles. In Little Haiti, a neighborhood that sprawls over dozens of blocks north of downtown Miami, points of interest for a tourist require a drive rather than a stroll. Little Havana, to the southwest of downtown, known for its bustling Southwest Eighth Street, or Calle Ocho — with restaurants, fruit stands, botanicas and shopping centers — is less expansive, but just a tad. It is possible to park near Domino Park, the corner of Eighth Street and Southwest 15th Avenue, and eat some arroz con frijoles negros at the homey Exquisito restaurant, buy a stogie at Las Villas cigar shop and browse for souvenirs like coasters with Cuba's coat of arms at Little Havana to Go.
But for New York-style walking in a compact area with an international feel, the South Beach section of Miami Beach wins hands down. There, you can stay in a European-owned hotel like Hotel Ocean on Ocean Drive near 12th Street, where the restaurant Les Deux Fontaines has French waiters and fado music. Or be served burritos or teriyaki salmon by an Argentine waiter at Nexx Restaurant on Lincoln Road, and have the car parked by a valet from Brazil. Or sunbathe topless at certain spots on the beach along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, then while away the afternoon nibbling on sushi under white canopies at Nikki Beach, a St-Tropez-style club. On a recent visit — admittedly during spring break — teenagers and 20-somethings turned Ocean Drive more into American Graffiti than the America's Riviera touted by tourism officials. But it was still a joy to explore this Art Deco neighborhood, particularly in the mornings. Strolling along Ocean Drive and its intersecting streets on a Saturday morning — past a jogger here, a Rollerblader there and the small breakfast crowds under umbrellas at outdoor tables — I first stopped for a shot of Cuban coffee and some guava pastry at the counter window of Family Food Market No. 2 on Collins Avenue and 11th Street. There is always a group of customers, usually Spanish-speaking, drinking or munching away on the sidewalk there. Wide awake, I spent the next hour window shopping along Collins and Ocean Avenues. This is more a place of chain stores like Nine West and Guess than international designer boutiques. For those, well-heeled shoppers head for the Bal Harbour Shops some 90 blocks, or six miles, north, where designs by Versace, Valentino and Prada as well as pricey abstract art are displayed amid ponds and tropical flora. Any walk around South Beach usually comes to a stop in front of the 1930 Mediterranean Revival-style mansion Casa Casuarina, on Ocean Drive near 11th Street. It was on its steps that the fashion designer Gianni Versace was fatally shot in 1997. The new owner, Peter Loftin, a North Carolina telecommunications executive, plans to turn it into an exclusive club similar to Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. A few blocks away, the Mediterranean vein continues in the 1920's one-block village known as Espa˜ola Way, which on weekends holds an arts and crafts market with a wide array of goods, from Peruvian leather to custom-made candles encrusted with sea shells. This block, between Washington and Drexel Avenues next to 15th Street, is framed by low buildings with red tile roofs, and this summer, a plaza with medjool date palms and a two-tier fountain imported from Spain is scheduled for completion at Espa˜ola and Drexel to add to the Spanish architectural feel. For a more authentic village, I drove 20 minutes along the MacArthur Causeway, which links Miami Beach and Miami, to Little Havana, a neighborhood that over the last 15 years or so has diversified beyond Cuban to include recent arrivals from other parts of Latin America. In the two years since I last visited Little Havana, it has also enjoyed an artistic renaissance. Along the streets with names honoring Cuban patriots, artists' studios and performance spaces and hip clubs and restaurants have injected new life into an area better known for the traditional hangouts of older Cuban exiles. There is P.S. 742, a performance space in a nondescript concrete building at Sixth Street and 12th Avenue that one recent Saturday night featured a band that fused Cuban standards like "Guantanamera" with pop and rock and that drew a mostly Latin, bohemian-looking crowd of all ages. Next door on 12th Avenue, 6G Art Space is known for its Friday night rumba jam sessions, which draw such well-known percussionists as Daniel Ponce.

Another much talked-about development in Little Havana is the Thursday night party known as Fuacata at Hoy Como Ayer, a small Southwest Eighth Street club where the Canadian D.J. Andrew Yeomanson mixes Afro-Cuban rhythms with hip-hop, reggae and other sounds accompanied by an improvising trio of saxophone, trombone and timbales and packs the house with a young crowd of Miamians. Calle Ocho is known for Cuban home-cooking restaurants like Versailles and La Carreta. But there is now an inventive culinary addition called Tet´, a bright and cozy restaurant at 1444 Southwest Eighth Street that is beautifully decorated with paintings and ceramic pieces by local artists. On a recent visit, the menu was decidedly non-Cuban — I ate squid stuffed with crab Louis with a side of black ink linguini — while a two-man band played mellow Latin standards on keyboard and sax. Art, by Cubans and other Latin Americans, is plentiful at both museums and private galleries. The city of Coral Gables, adjacent to Little Havana, is known for its concentration of galleries along Ponce de Leon Boulevard with vast collections of work from Latin American masters and new artists. Some of the best-known galleries include Elite Fine Art and Cernuda Arte. The area fills up with browsers on the first Friday of every month from 7 to 10 o'clock for a gallery night. Little Havana has Cultural Fridays on the last Friday of the month along Calle Ocho between Southwest 14th and 17th Avenues. For about three hours starting at 6 p.m., businesses remain open for art exhibitions, antiques sales and cigar making while local folkloric groups play from a portable stage. Participants include the Latin American Art Museum, which exhibits emerging artists and houses several independent galleries selling work for $50 to $160,000. Despite its name and emphasis on art from Latin America, the museum welcomes artists from all over the world. Much of the charm of Little Havana, however, is found in such institutions as the many tabacaleras, or cigar factories, where old Cuban experts hand-roll tobacco grown with Cuban seed in places like Central America and the Dominican Republic. At one, Tabacalera Las Villas, at 1528 Southwest Eighth Street, the tables where the cigars are made were empty on an early Saturday afternoon — the rollers are old and only work in the mornings, the owner, Pedro Bello, 73, explained. But other tables displayed Mr. Bello's two brands in open boxes: Havana Sunrise ($6 to $8 each) and Pedro Bello ($12 to $15 each.) The Cubans are not the only ones to have transplanted a bit of their country in Miami soil. The voodoo spirits and bright colors of Haiti are in evidence at Jakmel Art Gallery and Cultural Center at 2301 Biscayne Boulevard, between Little Haiti and downtown Miami, not far from the American Airlines Arena. The gallery is in a two-story house adorned with a mural of the ocean framed by verdant mountains. It is owned by Jude Papaloko, 37, a painter, sculptor and mixed-media artist who opens his exhibitions with both a party and a voodoo ceremony in the gallery's backyard. In a recent show, "Behind the Mask," his steel sculptures and acrylics on canvas mostly depicted voodoo gods and goddesses represented in forms the artist said came to him in dreams. (The pieces sell from $500 to $55,000.) Mr. Papaloko offered to drive with me about 30 blocks north to Botanica Halouba at Northeast 54th Street and First Avenue, a large store in Little Haiti where shoppers can buy clothes, candles and voodoo books and dolls to the beat of drumming background music. There, visitors can find beautifully beaded Haitian voodoo flags for $150 to $160 and have a consultation or card reading with Papa Paul, a voodoo priest who has turned the back of his store into a temple. But Miami is about its beaches more than anything else, and a perfect end to my short visit awaited just minutes away back in Miami Beach. At the south end of Ocean Drive, a public beach club, Nikki Beach, has a European atmosphere, with 12 bars, a restaurant, dance floors, a mostly French service staff and access to the public beach. From my vantage point at an outdoor table under a white canopy hanging from palm trees, I could see sun-bathers lying in a large circle of chairs or by tepee huts, often with a drink in hand. Off in a corner, a massage therapist was working the back of a well-muscled man. On weekends, the club is open from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m., and the clientele is half local and half tourists, from New Yorkers to Saudi Arabians, according to the owner, Jack Penrod. By late afternoon on Sundays, the attire evolves from swimsuits to cool casual wear for a weekly party that draws up to 6,000 revelers. The place has so much Riviera flavor, in fact, that Mr. Penrod is planning to open a branch in St.-Tropez.   Visitor Information Music and Art P.S. 742, a performance space at 1165 Southwest Sixth Street, presents dance, music, theater and performance art on most Fridays and Saturdays. Information: (305) 324-0585. 6G Art Space, 533 Southwest 12th Avenue (entrance on Sixth Street), (786) 543-6222, has Friday night rumba. Doors open 9:30; $5 cover. Gallery night opens more than a dozen Coral Gable galleries on Ponce de Leon Boulevard and nearby from 7 to 10 p.m. on the first Friday of the month. Information: (305) 444-4493. Cultural Fridays in Little Havana are the last Friday of the month from 6 to 9 p.m. on Southwest Eighth Street (Calle Ocho) between Southwest 14th and Southwest 17th Avenues. Information: (305) 644-9555. Latin American Art Museum, 2206 Southwest Eighth Street, (305) 644-1127,, is closed Sunday and Monday. Free. Jakmel Art Gallery and Cultural Center, 2301 Biscayne Boulevard, (305) 573-1631, is open daily 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Music and poetry readings start at 8 Saturday nights, $5. Where to Shop Tabacalera Las Villas, 1528 Southwest Eighth Street, (866) 858-2822, is open daily. Little Havana to Go, 1442 Southwest Eighth Street, (305) 857-9720, is closed Sunday. Botanica Halouba, Northeast 54th Street and First Avenue, (305) 751-7485, is open daily. Elite Fine Art, 3140 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables; (305) 448-3800 is open Monday to Friday. Cernuda Arte, 3155 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables; (305) 461-1050 is open Tuesday to Saturday. Night Life Tet´, 1444 Southwest Eighth Street, (305) 858-8801, serves a fusion of Italian and Caribbean cuisines. Dinner Wednesday through Saturday; lunch Monday through Friday. Dinner for two with wine, about $80. Hoy Como Ayer, 2212 Southwest Eighth Street, (305) 541-2631, holds its Fuacata party on Thursday. Doors open at 9 p.m., music starts at 10:30. Cover, $5. Nikki Beach, 1 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach; (305) 538-1231;, is open 11 A.M. to 5 A.M., except Tuesday through Thursday, when it closes at 5 p.m. The restaurant features a raw bar, sushi and entrees like satay chicken and baked snapper on a bed of shaved fennel and wakame. Dinner for two with wine, about $150. Massages cost $40 a half-hour, $75 an hour.

MIREYA NAVARRO reports on Latin culture for The Times.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times CompanyPermissionsPrivacy Policy

Copyright 2001 The New York Times CompanyPrivacy Information

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