Tuesday 16 January 2018

Lust for life in Miami - 'The wildest city I have ever travelled to'

'The playhouse of the Eastern seaboard'

Miami at dusk. Photo: Deposit
Miami at dusk. Photo: Deposit
Art for heart's sake: Ever-changing and extravagant murals are a way of life in the upmarket Miami neighbourhood of Wynwood
Dining out on Ocean Drive
Don't ask: Joe & Co in Coca Cola

Joe Corcoran

Friday evening and the air is warm. I'm in a rooftop bar on Ocean Drive, toasting a $100 glass of Japanese whisky as a wave of rainbow-coloured LED lights rushes over the cityscape.

It's Miami Lights Up The Night - a finely coordinated tribute to the victims of last year's Orlando shooting, which also kicks off the opening night of Miami's first ever Pride festival. Spirits are high, not just in my glass. A live jazz band plays in the corner.

It's the kind of venue that in any other city, on any other night, you wouldn't dream of leaving - had you been lucky enough to find a seat. But then Miami isn't like other places. It is the playhouse of the Eastern seaboard. Where nights elsewhere reach their pinnacle, nights here are just getting started.

Jump ahead seven hours.

After hitting 15 of the finest clubs the city has to offer, I find myself in a small smoke-filled dive bar deep in little Havana, toasting one final drink as the sun begins to rise and the first batch of surfers splits the morning waves, a block up the street.

I'd left the hotel the evening before with a group of at least 20 journalists, business magnates and diplomats of all ages, flown in from across Europe to celebrate WOW air's first trip to their newest US destination of choice. By now only four of us remain, huddled around the table, each man with a glass in hand, the same exhausted grin spread wide across his face.

Dining out on Ocean Drive
Dining out on Ocean Drive

"To Miami, boys," the businessman next to me says.

"To Miami!" we all respond.

This is the wildest night of partying I have ever experienced. This is the wildest city I have ever travelled to. This is Miami. The City of Magic.

Of course there is more to the place than just good booze.

The uptown neighbourhood of Wynwood boasts an international haven for top quality mural art morphing and changing daily as the style's greatest masters are flown in to create complex new works on every building in sight, challenging the community and each other to constantly up the ante, and create something even more beautiful than what went up before.

The result, best explored by bicycle on a sunny day, is an epic visual fantasia, an open air gallery to rival any in the world, set inside a beatnik village, where time seems to slow down to a cool ambling pace for the duration of your visit.

Don't ask: Joe & Co in Coca Cola
Don't ask: Joe & Co in Coca Cola

For those who prefer things a little more upscale, the design district, not 10 minutes away, offers perhaps the country's finest selection of fashion boutiques, cafes, galleries and restaurants outside of New York or Los Angeles.

Community organisers here schedule regular festivities open to the general public as well, including luxury wine tastings and courtyard concerts by the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

Undoubtedly the city's prime tourist hotspot is Miami Beach, an island unto itself located just off the city proper. Whether they know it or not, it is usually here that people picture when they think of Miami. Lined up and down its four-mile strip with gently swaying palm trees and tropical water shoreline, the Beach plays home to any number of famous landmarks - such as the Versace Mansion, the Bass Museum of Art and the Wolfsonian Research Centre, to name but a few.

It's here you'll find all of the city's best accommodation. I stayed at the Grand Beach Hotel on Collins Avenue. Though the hotel's leisure facilities include two heated jacuzzis and three swimming pools for me it was impossible not be drawn down past these each morning, on to the more than 200ft of scenic Atlantic beach which my room overlooked.

It's hard to overstate the importance of beach culture to Miami. Almost everybody I met during my stay was an avid surfer, swimmer or diver, and during daylight hours the beach is as alive and busy as anywhere in town. For those looking to venture out a little farther than the shoreline, Thriller Miami Speedboat Adventures offers a range of high octane coastal sightseeing tours seven days a week.

In recent times the beach has also cultivated a unique and delicious cuisine which draws inspiration from its prominent Cuban and Haitian communities, preparing their traditional dishes with the kinds of quality ingredients such food demands, but which economic difficulties dictate are scarce in their countries of origin.

Popular lunch spots are so abundant that a walking culinary tour business has sprung up, allowing visitors to take in some sun while sampling courses from a selection of five or six different spots depending on the day. For more formal dinner arrangements, among a bevy of five-star restaurants, the shorefront seafood venue, A Fish Called Avalon, and the garden oasis of the Villa Azur Lounge come highly recommended.

Art for heart's sake: Ever-changing and extravagant murals are a way of life in the upmarket Miami neighbourhood of Wynwood
Art for heart's sake: Ever-changing and extravagant murals are a way of life in the upmarket Miami neighbourhood of Wynwood

Make no mistake about it though, these daytime activities are there to complement a night-time city.

America is a country that does everything bigger, so when Americans pick a place to party wild, you can bet it will offer an experience like no other.

WOW air's arrival in the city was a bonafide diplomatic touchstone, complete with press conferences and appearances from a host of local politicians.

Clearly they saw it as an important development for the Miami tourist industry.

As the airline's CEO himself said, given its prime mid Atlantic location, WOW has a unique and unprecedented ability to provide flights between Europe and the USA at a fraction of the normal price.

Their current aggressive market expansion might well change the face of European holidaying altogether - especially for those of us in our responsibility-free years.

Miami offers a dynamic new destination for the Ibiza crowd to consider. One which improves on the standard Mediterranean party town in just about every department imaginable.

Getting  there

WOW air (wowair.ie) flies from Dublin to Miami three times weekly from €169.99. The airline offer low fare transatlantic travel to 10 US destinations, via Reykjavik.

The WOW stopover option allows passengers to explore Iceland on either leg of their transatlantic journey for an unlimited time.

Joe stayed at the Grand Beach Hotel Miami Beach, 4835 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida 33140.

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