Miami's Design District Has The Best Of Everything
Through a meticulous curation process, Miami’s Design District has become a vibrant hub of luxury, combining retail, art, architecture and fine dining
In the minds of most, Miami means beach scenes, neon-lit Deco hotels and thumping nightclubs in the core of South Beach. And for good reason—it was the most vibrant scene in town for decades. That’s all changed. These days some of the best finds in the city lie in pockets outside the normal tourist haunts. Here, our staff breaks down the Magic City’s most dynamic areas, and how to enjoy them.
Wynwood / Midtown / Design District
Wynwood, in the early aughts, was a desolate warehouse district home to only a handful of galleries. Then, street art happened, with Tony Goldman’s Wynwood Walls and world-renowned artists including Shepard Fairey, as well as locals like FL.Mingo, pasting and painting powerful imagery all over the neighborhood. Today, the area is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of fresh new street art, jetsetters and selfie-taking foot traffic igniting a food, drink and retail renaissance.
Panther Coffee, with their house-roasted terroir-focused beans, led the early charge, leading to a food scene that has taken flight—there were four James Beard semifinalists within three blocks of one another this year. They include heavy-hitting chef Brad Kilgore, who turned this food desert into an elevated dining destination with Alter, an industrial chic space whipping up refined New American fare with artful presentations; Kyu, a modern Asian barbecue hotspot whose Korean fried chicken attracts a cult following; and Zak the Baker, a vibrant Jewish deli serving freshly baked loaves, pickled vegetables and kosher sandwiches.
For a more outdoorsy grub experience, head north to 29th Street for The Wynwood Yard—literally a gravel lot with a welcoming bar serving local brews, and food trucks such as Kuenko (Japanese-Spanish donburi-style rice bowls), and Mr. Bing (whimsical shaved ice cream). Upping the game at the Yard, Charcoal, a group of shipping container rejiggered into an eatery, serves grilled meat and seafood dishes. There are also four breweries in the district, the most recent of which is Veza Sur Brewing Co., opening this year as a grown-up’s playground teeming with beer cocktails and brews served Brazilian “chopp” style. For a more intimate atmosphere, head to microbrew specialist Boxelder’s dimly lit L-shaped bar. Gramps’ tropical dive aesthetic lures the tattooed and skinny jean crowd with weekly drag queen bingo and karaoke nights.
Don’t let big box retail like Target dissuade you from visiting Midtown, just north of Wynwood. Sugarcane, with its James Beard nomination in 2011, led to the area’s upswing with their global-inspired tapas. Now GLAM, a fast-casual vegan joint, is attracting droves of locals, as is retro Japanese gastropub Gaijin Izakaya by Cake. And male grooming salon (offering manicures) Hammer & Nails opened this spring as a respite for those lugging heavy shopping bags.
Pop a few blocks north and you’re in the Design District, one of the most rarefied high-end retail realms in the U.S., replete with shops such as Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Hermès and some of the best restaurants in the city, like award-winning chef Michael Schwartz’s flagship Michael’s Genuine and the charming Greek/Turkish eatery Mandolin. The second phase of luxe retail has seen Saint Laurent open this year, with Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and others slated this fall in an area on 41st Street called Paradise Plaza. And it’s not just retail. The Design District’s Institute of Contemporary Art reopens next month in swanky new digs with pieces from legends like Picasso and emerging contemporary artists such as Abigail DeVille. Galleries, including non-profit Locust Projects and the street-artist-friendly Primary Projects are open for perusing, and art installations by The Buckminster Fuller Institute and Zaha Hadid are posted in public areas.
Nite Owl Theater, which became Miami’s first strictly 35mm theater when it opened in August, screens reel-to-reel projections of cult classics like Re-Animator and The Evil Dead every Saturday night. For an easy bite or a jolt of caffeine, hit OTL, a pastel-colored café that opened earlier this year with some of the best people-watching in the Magic City. You might just spot Grammy Award-winning Gloria and Emilio Estefan, who are never too far from their Cuban restaurant Estefan’s Kitchen, which opened in March. - JESS SWANSON
Upper East Side / Little River / Edgewater
In the postwar boom, before Interstate 95 allowed beach-seekers to skip Biscayne Boulevard, mainland Miami was all the rage. Small but flamboyant MiMo (Miami Modern architecture) hotels lined the strip and attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. Though the area crashed in the ensuing decades (hotels offered hourly rates), these days the MiMo area is historically preserved, and the neighborhoods of the Biscayne Corridor, running from 15th Street to 85th Street, are favorites of locals.
At the northern end (Upper East Side), be sure to check out the Vagabond Hotel, not only for its quintessential MiMo lines and clever room revamps, but also its dining and gay-friendly Sunday pool party. A few blocks away, The Anderson bar has earned a reputation as the mainland go-to for rad ’80s nostalgia and dark corners in which to make mistakes. Drinks such as the Beets By Bro (mezcal, fresh beet juice, lime bitters, sage) come from the famed Broken Shaker crew, while tunes range from Smiths cover bands to DJs spinning ’90s hip-hop.
Miami’s pizza awakening has reached the Upper East Side with Paulie Gee’s, a Southern outpost of the lionized Brooklyn eatery, where you can geek out over dough with owner Jason Weisberg. Nearby, Ironside Pizza, tucked into an industrial strip-turned-design-hub, also offers excellent pies and no corkage fee.
West of the Biscayne/MiMo strip you’ll find the Little River/Little Haiti neighborhood, an unpolished mix of residential and warehouse blocks where some of Miami’s best art galleries have cropped up since fleeing rent hikes in Wynwood. Nina Johnson bought her eponymous gallery space on 63rd Street and NW 2nd Avenue, as did Emerson Dorsch a few blocks south, while nearby Spinello Projects and Bill Brady Miami bring cultural cachet to a warehouse conversion development known as Little River // Miami.
Little River // Miami is also home to Imperial Moto Café, which dishes out local coffee, tea, clothes and high-end motorcycle gear, and in the coming months, celebrated Melrose Avenue women’s lifestyle boutique TenOverSix will move in with an array of design and fashion offerings such as Rachel Comey tunic dresses and colorful hand-woven Truss totes from Oaxaca, Mexico. For the boys, there’s by-appointment-only Fabrice Tardieu, whose high-end kicks have adorned the feet of Common, Will Smith and Dwyane Wade.
Hop a few blocks south and you’re in the heart of Little Haiti, where the spartan Clive’s Café, another Wynwood escapee, dishes Jamaican faves such as curried goat, cow foot and what many say is the best jerk chicken in town. Local foodies are also waiting impatiently for the early winter (hopefully) opening of Wessel’s Tropical BarBQ, where James Beard nominee Kris Wessel promises Florida, Caribbean and American South flavors worked into wood-fired heritage pork, oxtail, goat and wild boar.
Biscayne Boulevard runs south to Downtown Miami, but on the way, you’ll find the Edgewater neighborhood, where an explosion of bayfront condos has prompted food offerings worth your attention. Michael Schwartz is slated to open Amara at Paraiso right on the bay this month, with a beach club setting and Latin American and coastal flavors. A bit further south, you’ll find Mignonette, run by a chef and a food blogger who used to argue about food until they joined forces to operate a raw bar with plenty of TLC, and offer fried clams good enough to conjure the Maine coast. - BILL KEARNEY
South Beach / Mid Beach / Surfside
Miami Beach, with its constant need to please travelers, is always getting a facelift, particularly in the heart of South Beach. But the last few years have seen pockets of excellent food and retail pop up in areas outside of the melee.
Fine dining reigns in the well-heeled and somewhat subdued residential neighborhood South of Fifth. At the effortlessly chic Forte dei Marmi, Michelin-starred chef Antonio Mellino has brought his sublimely simple Italian fare to a 1938 deco structure on Ocean Drive. Around the corner lies what is arguably South Beach’s best new restaurant, Upland, a Manhattan spinoff that provides a glowing showcase for Justin Smillie’s California-inspired cuisine. A few blocks away, Lobster Bar Sea Grille provides a grand setting for its oceanic specialties, from Alaskan red king crab legs and Greek Mediterranean sea bream to the signature five-pound chili lobster with grilled shishito peppers (landlubbers can happily opt for a dry-aged porterhouse steak).
Less about massive clubs than it was in the past, South Beach has a new crop of bars. Jezebel Bar + Kitchen is a cozy lounge just off Lincoln Road that feels sophisticated on a Thursday night, but is casual enough to show NFL games on Sunday. A few blocks west, taco eatery Bodega has a hidden door that leads to a speakeasy-style space with potent drinks, while next door, comfort meets nostalgia at Ricky’s, a lounge that attracts an ebullient crowd with throwback arcade games, neon lighting and specialty slices from New York sensation Artichoke Pizza. Once a pizza wasteland, South Beach now enjoys a boom with standouts including Mister 01, a clandestine pizzeria hidden in an office building, and Lucali, a Brooklyn favorite that locals often combine with a visit to the nearby Bay Club in the somewhat off-the-beaten-path Sunset Harbour neighborhood.
Indeed, if anywhere feels like old South Beach, it’s Sunset Harbour, with its unique boutiques, from the fashion-forward women’s clothier Frankie to the upscale vintage store What Goes Around Comes Around, specializing in rare Chanel, Vuitton and the like. Nearby, a new seafood-themed eatery, Stiltsville Fish Bar, offers raw plates, shrimp ’n’ grits and whole fish fried or steamed.
A decade ago, Mid Beach (from 23rd Street to 41st Street) was an afterthought. Ian Schrager’s buzzy Edition hotel energized the area with the Spanish/Caribbean-flavored Matador Room and the more casual Market, which sends out deceptively simple dishes such as burrata with Meyer lemon jam and pizza with black truffle and fontina. Looking for after-dark high jinks? Hit the property’s Basement, a vibrant nightspot featuring not only a bowling alley but also an (original) ice-skating rink.
Much has been gushed about the Faena Hotel and its corresponding Arts District a few blocks to the north, but the property—envisioned by flamboyant Argentine provocateur Alan Faena—has definitively raised the hospitality bar for Miami. From the lobby’s lushly opulent murals and gold-leaf columns to artist Damien Hirst’s gold-painted skeleton of a woolly mammoth positioned near the beach, the environment is like a stage set, on which guests can create their own individual narratives.
In pleasantly removed Surfside, just north of the Miami Beach border, Four Seasons The Surf Club has beautifully restored a 1930 Mediterranean Revival structure, which houses an outpost of Le Sirenuse, the iconic dining haunt on Italy’s Amalfi Coast (don’t miss the restaurant’s exquisite Champagne Bar), as well as an upcoming restaurant from culinary superstar Thomas Keller, set to open in 2018. Guests retire to sleek towers designed by Pritzker Prize-winner Richard Meier. - ERIC NEWILL
Downtown / Brickell / Miami River
Ten years ago, Downtown Miami was known for its sooty electronics shops and jewelry brokers. Now all that has changed, thanks to big leaps in culture, condos and cuisine. The most significant boon to Downtown is the completion of Museum Park, which is home to the stunning Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and the brand-new Frost Science museum, which completes a constellation of walking-distance cultural hubs, including the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. PAMM is worth a visit, not only for the art, but also for the beautiful Herzog & de Meuron design, which incorporates a broad museum “front porch” looking out onto breezy Biscayne Bay. Steps away, Frost Science opened in May and boasts, among other things, a 500,000-gallon Gulf Stream aquarium and a 250-seat, state-of-the-art planetarium.
When hunger calls, options include Arson, a small space with intense, charcoal-grilled flavors by chef Deme Lomas of the much-loved Spain-focused NIU Kitchen just blocks away. Another new addition a stroll away is All Day café, whose excellent coffee and avocado tartine is worth the walk, or for an easy art-meets-caffeine experience, hit La Muse Café in the Epic Hotel. Downtown nightlife can be found at the The Langford Hotel, which embraces prewar design and rooftop city views at Pawn Broker lounge. Downtown’s even getting a bit of hip retail, with Supply & Advise, a specialty menswear shop inspired by vintage military and work wear, and Neushop, a spartan space that functions as a design studio and pop-up workshop, but also as a retail shop for affordable and functional men’s and women’s apparel—think simple styles in many hues.
Head south over the Miami River to Brickell, where Miami’s financial district transformed so much in the last two years that it feels as if Miami’s center of gravity has shifted. Primary in that shift is the behemoth Brickell City Centre, the 4.9-million-square-foot, $1.05 billion mixed-use complex comprised of two residential towers, two mid-rise office buildings, EAST, Miami hotel and a supercharged, multi-level open-air mall with 124 storefronts. Anchored by a 107,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue, the mall brings 14 brands like Baldinini footwear and Acqua di Parma fragrances to the U.S. for the first time, and features the CMX luxury cinemas from Mexico, already making ripples for its impressive technology.
Atop EAST, Miami, soak in stunning views at the outdoor 40th-floor bar, Sugar, or dine downstairs on the fifth floor at Quinto La Huella, the first outpost of Uruguay’s famed beachfront restaurant, which uses a parrilla to flame-cook outstanding dishes.
Brickell’s building boom continues to the south at SLS Brickell, a condo-hotel hybrid with Philippe Starck design and restaurants by a pair of James Beard award-winning chefs, José Andrés at Bazaar Mar and Michael Schwartz at Fi’lia. More noted for his social media videos, Turkish chef Nusret Gokce, a.k.a. “Salt Bae,” opened Nusr-et, his first steakhouse in the states, last month. For late-night fun, people watching and over-the-top dining, hit Komodo, the swanky Southeast Asian multilevel space owned by famed Miami nightlife king David Grutman.
Cutting through both areas is the Miami River, where the banks have become the next area ripe for development (David Beckham has planned a soccer stadium here). Known best for its two rival fish purveyors—Casablanca and Garcia’s—the River district now features two rival yacht- and champagne-intensive seafood restaurants, Seaspice and Kiki on the River. But it’s the homey Crust, nestled inside a former 1950s private residence, that steals the show, delivering unforgettable pastas, pizzas and shrimp cakes by Chef Klime Kovaceski and wife Anita. - FRED GONZALEZ
Little Havana / Coconut Grove / Key Biscayne
These outliers seem worlds away from the hubbub of downtown and Miami Beach, but that’s part of their charm. While Little Havana exudes traditions, the last couple of years have seen an uptick in offerings. It’s best to simply stroll down Calle Ocho and soak up the colorful atmosphere from the local shops and eateries. After working up an appetite, pop into Cuban staple El Rey de las Fritas for a burger, known as a frita. El Rey tops juicy patties with super-crispy shoestring fries, then stuffs it all into a fluffy Cuban roll. Or try the recently opened Ella’s Oyster Bar, which serves delicious, fresh and shareable seafood like crab croquettas and oysters Rockefeller miles from the beach. Little Havana has also seen a spate of Asian fare, the latest and hottest being the tiny Lung Yai Thai Tapas. Get there early, and expect lines before diving into small plates worth the cramped quarters.
For something boozier (and one of the city’s best happy hours), head a few blocks west to the new and nautical-themed Bar Nancy, where this elevated hole-in-the-wall serves craft cocktails without any stuffy ’tude.
Whatever you do, don’t set sail from Little Havana without docking at Ball & Chain. Credited with sparking the area’s winning streak, this lively lounge features over 100 hours of live music each week. There’s nothing more quintessentially Miami than sipping mojitos while listening to a salsa band perform on a pineapple-shaped stage.
Once a hippie enclave in the 1960s, Coconut Grove is a quaint tree-lined area with a new pep in its step. Skip the de rigueur mall-ish spots and instead shoe hunt for Balenciaga and Attico at the chic boutique The Griffin or spy jetsetter-themed luggage and other accessories at the kitschy travel store First Flight Out. For grub, chef Michael Beltran fuses his Cuban roots with new American style at Ariete (don’t miss the short rib), or you can absorb the outdoors while noshing on baked crab dip and crispy yucca at Glass & Vine, which overlooks Peacock Park and offers glimpses of Biscayne Bay. If gluttony (and nostalgia) are in order, indulge at Vicky’s House Milkshake Bar and Tasting Room, where the space is decked out like an ’80s kitchen. The Golden Girls milkshake features bits of toffee, Golden Grahams cereal, banana and—of course—cheesecake.
It’s tough to believe the quiet beaches of Key Biscayne are actually connected to Miami. If partying isn’t on your itinerary, staying at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne provides the natural wonders of Miami without the wild scene. The resort’s new Lightkeepers restaurant serves one of the most decadent brunches in South Florida, featuring endless champagne and a caviar station. Work off those all-you-can-eat crab claws at the new Virginia Key Outdoor Center, where you can rent paddleboards and kayaks. Of course, a visit wouldn’t be complete without stopping for a selfie at the iconic Cape Florida Lighthouse. - DERRIK J. LANG
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Award-winning barman John Lermayer of Sweet Liberty picks the town’s best drinks
Lermayer sticks with the classic mojito at the Cuban throwback Ball & Chain. “The bar is what a Cuban bar should be.”
The Blackbird at Blackbird Ordinary is a punchy combo of sweet tea, vodka, lemonade and blackberries. “Absolute genius cocktail,” says Lermayer.
Seek out the Hirsh’s Kiss (bourbon, cocoa nib-infused Disaronno, lemon, blackberry, and black tea syrup) at Beaker & Gray. “Despite the suspect name, the cocktail is delicious,” he says.
Upper East Side
When at The Anderson bar, nab the whiskey/coconut water combo called the 51st State, a favorite among a menu of standout cocktails. Simply put: “You won’t regret it.”
On the Horizon
Miami’s food future is bright
Miami’s food hall drought is coming to a thunderous end with a staggering seven new concepts in development. Brickell City Centre’s Italian concept, La Centrale (Dec 2017), will take up 40,000 square feet and compete with Treats Food Hall (Winter 2017; Aventura), The Citadel (Spring 2018; Little River), St. Roch Market (Spring 2018; Design District) and the Wynwood Food Hall (Winter 2019). On the Beach, media company Time Out will debut its first American version of Time Out Market this spring, just blocks away from the planned Lincoln Eatery (Fall 2018).
More Food and Drink
Known for dazzling cocktails, Broken Shaker alum Brian Griffiths will be whetting appetites with Old Florida-inspired restaurant Over Under in downtown Miami (Spring 2018). Next door, former denim boutique Lost Boy Dry Goods is revamping into a casual pub (Winter 2017). And Little River continues to attract new concepts like the Durham-based caffeine gurus of Counter Culture Coffee (Spring 2018) and Imperial Moto Café (Fall 2017), which will dish out local coffee, tea, clothes, and high-end motorcycle gear.
The Design District’s getting some big food names in the coming year to match the luxury— Alter’s Brad Kilgore is opening a Japanese-influenced cocktail bar and wood-fired American bistro while Michelin-star chef Joel Robuchon will open four concepts including a fine dining restaurant, a casual lounge, café and an outdoor dining terrace.
In Little Havana, the Tower Hotel (early 2018) aims to recapture the same vintage glamour of its neighbor, nightclub Ball & Chain, via a renovated building originally opened as a hotel in 1920. Meanwhile, a new 10-story, 120-room boutique hotel (Early 2018) will give Design District shoppers somewhere to repose between sprees.
Want to stay a bit longer? New and pending condo projects offer options in different areas
The SLS Brickell Hotel & Residences has common spaces and hotel rooms designed by Philippe Starck, 133 SLS hotel rooms, 450 SLS-branded condo spaces and food concepts from both José Andrés and Michael Schwartz.
Due in early 2018, the 53-story Gran Paraiso sits on Biscayne Bay with amenities that include a bowling alley, private waterfront club, and landscaping by Enzo Enea.
Slated to top off in spring 2018, Hyde Midtown has 60 hotel rooms and 410 condo units. Amenities include a seventh-floor tennis court, outdoor putting green, fitness facilities and spas, as well as access to the beach club at SLS South Beach.
The three-tower Park Grove, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning OMA/Rem Koolhaas, is enhanced by a Jaume Plensa sculpture and artwork by Michele Oka Doner, and includes a 28-seat private screening room, private wine storage, poolside cabanas and views of Biscayne Bay.
Due in 2020, the riverfront One River Point has two 60-story residential towers, a private members’ Sky Club and a waterfront restaurant.
Designed by Enrique Norten, and topping off in 2019, the 38-story 2000 Ocean will have only 64 units, with views of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounding beaches and the Intracoastal Waterway.
Beach by Mood
Looking to party? Chill? Swim? Miami’s got beaches for all of the above
Everything seems to slow down a bit once you cross the bridge to Key Biscayne, and the beaches at both Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, with their gentle surf and grassy dunes, complete the escape.
Ice cream, shopping and public art are all within walking distance of the family-friendly Surfside beach. Did we mention the free Bollywood beach bash on the first Friday of the month?
Craving quintessential South Beach in all its glory? It’s 24/7 Spring Break at the LGBTQ-friendly 12th Street strip of sand.
Haulover Beach Park is one of Miami’s most popular (and one of the few) dog-friendly beaches (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
Surf’s (Sometimes) Up
South of Fifth/South Pointe Park, with a bent toward locals, has a bit of a surf break (weather-dependent), and you can watch ginormous cruise ships come and go through Government Cut.
Miami’s character changes when big events come to town. Below, the happenings that define the Magic City
Miami Book Fair
Downtown Miami morphs into a massive outdoor bookstore and lecture series with renown authors. This year, expect former Vice President Joe Biden, venerable newsman Dan Rather, and many more literary figures: Nov. 12-19.
Art Basel Miami Beach
The international art fair brings 268 of the world’s most respected galleries to the Miami Beach Convention Center, showing the likes of Dara Friedman, Ed Atkins, and spawning over 20 satellite fairs all over town: Dec. 7-10.
Miami International Boat Show
Whether you’re interest in buying a new boat or just staring longingly at gorgeous yachts, the Boat Show is a must-attend for any marine buff: Feb. 15-19.
South Beach Wine and Food Festival
Famous chefs, foodies, and hungry Miamians gorge under massive tents on the beach, attend exclusive dinners, and party into the night. Feb 21-25.
The biggest names in tennis, and the most intense international fans, flock to the 305 for scorching matches on the Crandon Park’s purple courts: Mar 19-Apr 1.
Ultra Music Festival
Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018, this Super Bowl of EDM attracts every DJ that matters to its mind-blowing stages in Bayfront Park. Recent years have seen pop superstars like Bieber and Ariana Grande stop by for surprise performances. Mar. 23-25.