Like most of America’s big cities, Miami has a wonderful mix of cultures. It’s also been a welcome home for Cuban immigrants since the Revolution of 1959. Though it’s always been popular for tourism, Miami has also been enjoying a wonderful revival, making it one of the country’s most vibrant and exciting destinations. Hotels and businesses that were once deteriorating, have been reborn. Even the pastel colors of Miami have had an influence on some of the latest fashions.
Miami has also become the “business office” home to many of the major Central American cigar makers, some of whom have opened new factories, or contributed to the city’s economy in other ways. I can think of dozens of places to stay, dine, and party, but space just won’t allow it, so, I’ve narrowed it down as best I could.
1144 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, Florida33139
As seen from the street, with its flamingo pink exterior and elegant lines, Hotel Victor boasts the ultimate in Miami Beach art deco style. Once inside, the décor is a mix of Mediterranean, Moroccan and Indian influences. The rooms are large with beautiful ocean views, very hip interior design and architecture. Many rooms overlook the pool, at which a DJ starts spinning music just before 11:00 AM. As the day progresses, the DJ begins cranking it up a notch at a time, and by evening, you’ve got one of the best pool parties going. People congregate around the bar, some smoke cigars, while others dance. It’s one of the hippest scenes in the city.
4441 Collins AvenueMiami Beach, Florida33140
Hotel Reservations: 800-548-8886 / 305-535-3283
One of Miami’s most famous landmark hotels, the Fontainebleau has just had a multi-million dollar renovation. It’s a bit off the beaten path of SouthBeach, but its resort-like atmosphere makes it one of the few places you can check-in and never have to leave. The hotel has over 1,500 guestrooms, all luxurious, comfortable, well-appointed, and very private. Many of the guestrooms have amazing views of both the ocean and the city, especially at night. The Fontainebleau also has four great restaurants, a nightclub, three bars, three lounges, three pools, a state-of-the-art Lapis™ Spa, and much more. If you’re looking for a hotel that’s quiet and relaxing, yet also offers plenty of great nightlife, stay at the Fontainebleau. I like to call it, “Spring break for adults.”
The Epic Hotel
270 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Miami, FL 33131
Reservations: (866) 760-3742
Located in the financial district of South Florida, I usually recommend this boutique hotel for business travelers. Situated at the edge of the Miami River overlooking Biscayne Bay it’s close to a lot of boutiques, restaurants, and nightlife. Its location also makes it less stressful, since guests don’t have to deal with the SouthBeach traffic, crowds of tourists, and other distractions. It’s also where many professional sports teams stay when they’re in town. Though smoking is not permitted inside the hotel, the large balconies provide a stunning view of the city, and a comfortable place to kick back and enjoy a good cigar.
Since the weather is great year-round, you can smoke at just about all of Miami’s hotel rooftop or terrace bars. At this writing, Area 31, which serves local and modern-American cuisine on the 16th floor is temporarily closed for a design makeover, but the outdoor terrace bar is still open for business.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel
One Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, Florida33139
Info/Reservations: (786) 276-4000 http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/SouthBeach/Default.htm
If you’re looking for “chic sophistication,” The Ritz-Carlton is a complete restoration of the original 1953 Morris Lapidus-designed building with newly renovated rooms that capture the beauty and charm of SouthBeach. The hotel suites are spacious providing a warm and comfortable ambiance. The décor is sleek and contemporary inspired by Miami’s classic blue, seat mist green and coral colors, further enhanced by the hotel’s impressive artwork. Another plus is its close proximity to Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road where you’ll find some of the best shopping, dining, and nightlife in the city.
The Ritz-Carlton also tends to be more smoker-friendly than other hotels. Ashtrays are easy to find and you can enjoy a cigar at the Dilido Beach Club. It’s one of the only oceanfront restaurants and lounges on SouthBeach serving fresh seafood, lamb and steak dishes, salads, sandwiches, and awesome cocktails. If you’re there in the late afternoon you’ll get a magnificent view of the sunset.
For evening dining, try Bistro One LR. This hip, cozy little spot serves Spanish Riviera-inspired dishes including fresh local seafood, amazing steaks, unusual desserts, and an extensive wine list. You can choose to dine indoors, or if you want to smoke a cigar, dine al fresco where you’ll enjoy a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Epic Hotel
Reservations: 305 577 0277
Zuma, one of the best restaurants in Miami, is in the Epic Hotel. Sushi and cedar wood fried Tsubo Miso Gake Hinadori, and No Oven Yaki are just a few of the great Asian fusion specialties. Inspired by izakaya, the informal Japanese dining style, the environment is fun and lively. It’s also one of the spots where you’ll find the “in-crowd;” beautiful women, celebrities, businessmen, and the like. The place rocks continuously from happy hour to last-call. You can choose to eat indoors or outdoors on the patio that overlooks the water. Zuma is also one of the few restaurants that has an indoor bar where smoking is permitted.
35 S. Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL33131
Reservations: (305) 373-0063
For lovers of traditional Italian fare, Il Gabbiano starts with a giant parmesan wheel to whet your appetite, plus antipasti and after-dinner Limoncello are served on the house. I recommend the Veal Milanese-outstanding! They also serve some amazing pasta dishes. With its inspired menu, extensive wine list, and great service Il Gabbiano boasts true Italian class, including a romantic outdoor terrace where you can look out at Biscayne Bay.
1952 W Flagler St, Miami, FL33135
Located on West Flagler Street in “Old Havana” this little dive of a place is one of my all-time Miami favorites. Owned and operated by native Cubans, the Garcia Brothers, who emigrated to Miami in 1964. There are no tables or chairs, so you eat standing at the counter. Among their specialties are fresh, jumbo, deep-fried shrimp that you can savor with a number of tasty sauces. Other specialties include fish head soup and stews made from freshly caught fish. You can also select your own fish such as yellow tail or red snapper, and they fry it up right in front of you. It’s the freshest and most delicious seafood you’ll ever eat. At lunch hour, the place is packed, and you practically have to crawl to the counter to be served, but it’s worth the wait. If you’re looking for an authentic Cuban fish fry joint, you can’t beat La Camaronera.
3343 E. Oakland Park Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL33308
Info and Reservations: (954) 561-2554
Opens at 6:00pm seven days a week
Owned by chef Steve Martorano, a native of South Philadelphia, Café Martorano in Ft.Lauderdale is genuine South Philly home-style Italian at its best. It’s a little bit of a drive from Miami, but worth the trip, and this year they’re celebrating their 20th Anniversary. They also have a new location in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Seminole, FL. Both restaurants offer an inviting, high-energy atmosphere, modern interior, and a true “welcome to the family” vibe.
Inside, the walls are lined with photos of famous Italians, including gangsters, and other retro-like paraphernalia. There are numerous HDTVs that continuously play the best and craziest scenes from Steve’s favorite gangster movies like Goodfellas and The Godfather, sporting events, and more. It’s also not unusual to see celebrities like Adam Sandler, Madonna, or actors from the original Sopranos TV series dining there. Later in the evening, it’s dance time to classic R&B and rock music. Café Martorano used to be one of the hardest reservations
BARS & LOUNGES
Miami has changed over the years. It’s got some great new clubs, but some of the best clubs and lounges are in the city’s hotels. Smoking in Miami is pretty much limited to outdoors, but most of the bars and restaurants have patios or terraces for lighting-up. Several lounges are rooftop bars offering spectacular views of the city.
The Raleigh Pool Bar
The Raleigh Hotel, Miami Beach
1775 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Surrounded by a beautiful garden, the Raleigh Pool Bar is one of Miami Beach’s most popular bars. You can hangout at the Pool Bar in your bathing suit during the day or dressed in your hippest threads at night. You can also enjoy a cigar while you’re there. If you’re looking for something less hectic and more intimate, check out the Raleigh’s Martini Bar.
FDR at The Delano Hotel
1685 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL33139
Named for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR at Delano is a subterranean space with a sense of old world elegance and comfort where you can party in style. Combining the sophistication and allure of this classic hotel with the glitziness of SouthBeach, if you’re looking for an “ideal night out” in SouthBeach, FDR is a must. The DJ’s are all pros and play just about every genre of music, from new artists to club favorites. FDR also has a second room where you can see live music acts in a more intimate setting.
Skybar at The Shore Club Hotel
1901 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL33139
The Skybar is also one of the hipper places to hangout in SouthBeach. The décor consists of intense, cobalt blue walls, fountains, trellises, and colorful tropical gardens. Music is provided by some of the best DJ’s in town while you chill out with one of the Skybar’s house specialty cocktails. The Skybar is divided into three rooms:
The Redroom, with its red lacquered teak floor and a unique décor where you can sit and relax in its silk-covered French Antique Napoleon III slipper chairs.
The Redroom Garden, conceived as an outdoor living room laden with colorful flowers and an eclectic mix of Asian-style furniture.
Another great thing to do in Miami is to take a walk along the Lincoln Road Mall. There are a couple of cigar shops and lounges along the way, plus you can choose to eat at over 50 restaurants. You’ll also find plenty of bars, and you can even smoke a fresh-rolled cigars as you walk along the avenue. If you’re really into the restaurant & bar scene, Lincoln Road is very cool.
Little Havana and Calle Ocho
Anytime you see a Cuban café on Calle Ocho (8th Street), give it a try and you won’t get a bad meal. Ask for the pulled pork or pollo al la plancha with white rice and black beans.
Up and down Flagler Street is where you’ll find all the little cigar shops. The people are very friendly, so just walk in and say hello. You’ll also see a lot of torceadors making fresh-rolled cigars. Pick one up, then pop-in to one of the little cafes for a cup of rich Cuban coffee and follow it up with some rice and beans. It’s a cigar lover’s paradise.