Local Takes: Miami

Five notable locals show us how to do their town, their way.

WORDS Francisco Alvarado
January 2020
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Gui Jaroschy on South Beach. / Photography by Jessica Sample

The Magic City is known for many pleasurable things—boats, beach scenes, neon-lit deco hotels, thumping nightclubs. But in the last decade or so, the town has boomed in unexpected ways, evolving with stunning cultural institutions, an inventive food and bar scene and new clusters of creativity. The glittering skyline and year-round sunshine don’t hurt the appeal, either. In a city this dynamic, local knowledge is key.

To that end, we follow five locals, from a documentary filmmaker to a Latin songstress, as they share the authentic pockets, new hotspots and classic staples that cement their love affair with the city.

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Randy Alonso
Bar owner and entrepreneur
Lovely Downtown Diversions

In the 1950s, Randy Alonso’s grandfather and great uncle ran La Epoca, one of the largest department stores in Havana, Cuba, but lost the store when Fidel Castro nationalized private companies following the 1959 Cuban revolution. After fleeing to Miami, they reopened in downtown in 1965, on the ground floor of the Alfred I. DuPont building, the city’s first skyscraper built after the Great Depression.

As we walk through Downtown, Alonso, donning a stylish straw fedora, points to an empty space that long ago housed the store, and remembers spending weekends doing small chores for his dad, who took over the family business in the 1980s. “I would pick up pins off the floor and he would give me a couple of dollars,” Alonso says. “As a teenager, it turned into a summer job, and while I was in college in 2006, I decided to jump in full-time.”

In 2005, the family upgraded to the historic Walgreens Building, where La Epoca sold brands such as Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss to a primarily South American clientele. Back then, Alonso lived Downtown, and says the area bustled by day, but was mostly avoided at night. “I would close up the store and walk home with a hammer in my pocket,” he says. “Now, you see people walking their dogs and exercising.”


Soya & Pomodoro dining room.

We head into his longtime favorite, Soya & Pomodoro, an Italian eatery with neoclassical interior walls, owned and operated by two best friends from Pompeii. Between bites of Bolognese and sips of red wine, Alonso ruminates about this spot being one of the first restaurants to stay open after sunset. “I used to invite people to pregame at my apartment, then we would walk the desolate blocks. You got around the corner, you started hearing the trumpets and walked into this candlelit space that made you feel like you were in Havana,” Alonso says. “Here, you can’t be in a rush.”

After lunch, we jump on a pair of electric scooters and whiz down Northeast Third Avenue to Manolo and Rene Grill, a Cuban cafeteria, for cafecitos. “There’s something special about going up to a Cuban coffee counter,” Alonso says. “The ladies making coffee crack jokes with you, making you feel like part of the family.”


 The Pérez Art Museum Miami overlooks Biscayne Bay. / Getty Images

Fully caffeinated, we weave between pedestrians, bicyclists and other scooter riders on Biscayne Boulevard’s sidewalk before pulling into Maurice A. Ferré Park, a waterfront green space named after a recently departed former mayor. The park is anchored by the new Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science and the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Pérez Art Museum Miami, known for the diversity of the 20th- and 21st-century artists it features. We walk to the waterfront side of the art museum, where vertical gardens dangle overhead. “I like to come to the patio and sit in one of the Adirondack chairs,” Alonso says. “You get a great sunset.”

At the science museum, we act like a couple of kids on a field trip, rushing up to the top floor to see whitetip sharks, hammerheads, devil rays and mahi-mahi moving effortlessly in the museum’s round Gulf Stream Aquarium. Amid breathtaking panoramic views of the Downtown skyline, Alonso pets the cold leathery fins of a couple of stingrays swimming in a petting tank.


Pineapple daiquiri at Lost Boy.

In 2018, Alonso and his business partner, Chris Hudnall, opened Lost Boy, a neighborhood watering hole that combines the aesthetics of a drunken sailor’s bar, a western miner’s saloon and an English pub located in La Epoca’s original home: the DuPont building’s ground floor. We enter just in time for happy hour, but even at 4 p.m., every seat at the bar is taken and groups cluster at wooden tables. “I’m a half-Cuban dude from Coral Gables,” Alonso says in between a sip of Plantation XO rum on the rocks, “but I think I’m a cowboy.”

Nowadays, a dozen nearby restaurants and bars are open for dinner late into the evening. Alonso likes to stop in for drinks at Mama Tried, a hipster-ish bar with dark red booths a block north, and The Corner, a tiny drinking establishment with a clandestine feel and a storied history as an after-hours spot.

We decide to cross the street to The Olympia Theater to catch a live jazz performance in the historic building’s lobby. “I’ve seen Buddy Guy and Ben Harper perform,” Alonso says. “In fact, the acoustics are so soft and nice, Harper stood up and went a capella. I was like, ‘Wow!’”

We cap the night with dinner at Niu Kitchen, an intimate restaurant with rustic wood decor serving a modern take on traditional Spanish tapas. The vivacious co-owner and general manager Karina Iglesias greets Alonso with a big hug. “She started out as a server at Soya & Pomodoro,” he tells me between bites of the branzino tartare. “She’s a real downtown girl.”

After downing cold white-garlic soup, and roasted chicken cannelloni with wonton, béchamel and grated Manchego, Alonso heads back to Flagler Street to check on his bar. A true downtown boy, he takes off his hat and waves goodbye.


Octavia Yearwood
Author and motivational speaker
A City’s Open Arms

On the first floor of the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, Octavia Yearwood walks around a mixed-media installation resembling an indigenous shrine equipped with a dreamcatcher. The intricate piece, the author and motivational speaker explains, is part of an exhibition called “Portals” by Salvadoran artist Guadalupe Maravilla. “He’s fantastic,” Yearwood says. “He’s talking about deportations and Latin culture. He’s created altars and costumes that play on those themes.”

An arts teacher, choreographer and motivational speaker, Yearwood enjoys immersing herself in the provocative works on temporary and permanent display at the two-year-old museum in Miami’s Design District. Though the neighborhood is home to a slate of global luxury retail brands (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada) and some of Miami’s finest restaurants, inside ICA Miami, a person’s social and economic status doesn’t determine who can appreciate the art on display, Yearwood says. Admission is free.

“I love this museum because it is deeply involved in the community,” she says. “They run a program that partners up with different organizations from Miami, including one that mentors formerly incarcerated youths.”


Palm Court at the Design District. / Photography by Robill Hill

A native of Queens, New York, Yearwood moved to Miami in 2012 after a brief stint in Atlanta. In the Magic City, she’s found her groove running dance and visual arts programming for public and private schools, dance studios and disadvantaged youth. As we ride the elevator to the second floor, Yearwood tells me she blossomed in Miami because of institutions such as ICA Miami.

“In New York, to access the art world, you may need a mentor; here that is not the case,” she says.

“This museum in particular allows you to discover art simply by not putting a dollar sign on it.”

When we exit the elevator, Yearwood’s gregarious smile widens when she spots Phillip Karp, an artist, photographer and master installer at ICA Miami. “What’s up, my guy?” she says as they embrace. “I lived with Phillip and this artistic bunch of low-key weirdos. They exposed me to new people and extraordinary works.”

Karp gives us a brief rundown on an upcoming exhibition by American-Dutch artist Sterling Ruby before we head north into Buena Vista, a tree-lined neighborhood with a small stretch of shops and restaurants on Northeast Second Avenue. We arrive at Palat, a restaurant serving Italian food with a modern twist. Yearwood recommends the grilled branzino with fire-roasted potatoes and the truffled pecorino on slices of toasted sourdough.


Grilled octopus with potato puree at Palat.

As we take our seats inside the wood-paneled dining room, Palat’s managing director, Paolo Lubello, brings us espressos. “Less than a minute here and I got my coffee the way I like it,” Yearwood says with a smile. “To me, it’s a direct reflection of how Miami took care of me when I moved here.”

We polish off our plates and head to the campus of the National YoungArts Foundation, a non-profit that nurtures and supports artistic youth from across the U.S. Though the Edgewater neighborhood in which it sits is gentrifying with luxury towers such as Missoni Baia, Biscayne Beach and Icon Bay, the complex is a visual curveball, with two of the most interesting buildings in Miami—the former Bacardi headquarters, designed by Cuban architect Enrique Gutierrez in 1963, and the Jewel Box, a floating cube structure, consisting of floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows, that serves as an event space.

“When I did my first exhibition experience at YoungArts, I was blown away by these kids half my age doing stunning work.” Yearwood says. “Being a youth advocate, having a place like this is beyond special.”


Alfred Spellman
Documentary filmmaker
Finding Old Miami Gems

Alfred Spellman, one of the creative forces behind the Cocaine Cowboys films and ESPN’s The U and Broke, chows on grilled chicken breast, carrots, broccoli and baked sweet potato at Blue Collar, a small but celebrated nouveau diner tucked inside a former 1950s motel on Biscayne Boulevard. “This was probably one of the most dangerous stretches of Miami,” Spellman says of the string of midcentury hotels. “Slowly but surely, as gentrification crept up the boulevard, the ladies of the night decreased dramatically.” It seems the perfect lunch setting for Spellman to wax poetic about old Miami neighborhoods.

Today, a bevy of restaurants and bars founded by local culinary stars anchor the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District, stretching from Northeast 50th Street to 77th Street. In the past decade, developers and real-estate investors have rehabbed mid-20th-century buildings and built new ones that conform to the Miami Modern architectural style, known for glamorous or exaggerated facades and flourishes.

Across the street, James Beard semifinalist José Mendín and his business partners run La Placita, a Puerto Rican restaurant, and a few blocks north, Colombian-born chef Cesar Zapata plates “Viet-Cajun” fare at Phuc Yea. Nearby, Jimmy’s Eastside Diner, a mainstay since the 1970s and featured in the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight, continues to dish beloved no-frills diner fare.

About a mile-and-a-half southwest, Spellman likes to pop into Miami’s vinyl mecca, Sweat Records, founded by Lauren “Lolo” Reskin and located next door to live rock venue Churchill’s Pub in Little Haiti. “Sweat Records is a defining indie cultural retailer in an era when operating brick-and-mortar stores is more difficult than ever,” Spellman says.

“It has survived gentrification, crime and hurricanes.”

We hang a right on 79th Street and head toward Miami Beach, crossing the bay into North Bay Village, a sleepy seaside island town that was a mobster enclave in the 1950s and 1960s, the goateed filmmaker explains. “It also had a reputation as an after-hours spot—there was no closing time.”

We pull into a yellow-and-green Best Western hotel, where we find Shuckers Waterfront Bar & Grill, a refreshingly unpretentious open-air restaurant specializing in raw oysters, steamed clams and Caribbean cracked conch. During happy hour, booze hounds can knock back some of the cheapest waterfront drinks in the city. “Shuckers has been a go-to spot for years,” Spellman says between sips of beer. But for a grittier experience, he recommends Happy’s Stork Lounge, inconspicuously tucked into a small strip mall about a block east. “If you are going on a tour of Miami dive bars, Happy’s has to be near the top of the list.”


Champagne bar at Le Sirenue. / Photography by Christian Horan

We head over a drawbridge and make our way to Surfside, where Spellman grew up. Today, Surfside’s home to the opulent Four Seasons at The Surf Club, a luxe 1930s Mediterranean-style enclave that once hosted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor, Tennessee Williams and the Rat Pack. From the art deco lighting to the beautifully grand Champagne Bar and Thomas Keller’s The Surf Club Restaurant, its glamour has been painstakingly restored. “You go there if you want to be real bougie,” Spellman notes. “It’s probably one of the most impressive restoration jobs I’ve seen.”

Further south, on 71st Street, we enjoy Miami’s high-low mix by sauntering into On the Rocks, a hole-in-the-wall bar that opens at 8 a.m. and serves last call at 5 a.m. It seems like the kind of place where it’s easy to be anonymous, or make temporary friends. A bartender with a Russian accent as thick as Borscht serves us two cold beers. “The most charming thing about On the Rocks is the smell of cigarette smoke that just hits you in the face when you walk in,” Spellman says. We finish our beers and call it a day hours before last call.


Gui Jaroschy
Mixologist
The Icons of South Beach

Gui Jaroschy relaxes at the end of the white wood bar at Delano South Beach hotel’s pool deck, as hotel guests in European-style swim trunks and bikinis sunbathe along the banks of a long infinity pool. Back in 2006, the shaggy-haired mixologist began his career slinging drinks at this storied 1940s art deco hotel on South Beach. “This is what Miami Beach feels like,” he says of the palms, the elegant deco and the pending debauchery. “It’s got that luxury feel but people can party here with a sense of anonymity...you can let it all hang out.”

Jaroschy has since become one of the nation’s top bartenders, concocting libations at the Broken Shaker, the award-winning garden bar at the Freehand Hotel, and later for the chic hostel Generator, both just a few miles north on Miami Beach. Now Jaroschy is the corporate beverage director for sbe, a national firm that owns, operates or licenses nearly 200 culinary and nightlife venues and 29 hotels, including the Delano, SLS South Beach and Mondrian South Beach (all popular among the revolving door of celebrities who visit and live in the Magic City).


South Pointe Park on South Beach.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, South Beach was a celebrity-packed nightlife destination. “I would leave my house around 5:45 in the morning to go to work and watch people stumbling out of nightclubs and bars,” he recalls. Today, Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road remain flocked with tourists, but South Beach’s offerings have grown more sophisticated with the emergence of four- and five-star resorts, such as the sleek neutral-hued Miami Beach Edition and the ornate, Baz Luhrmann-designed Faena House Miami Beach. Nightlife might not be as club-focused and raucous as it once was, he notes, “but hotels are interesting because you have people already there—it’s a built-in audience.”

We hike through the heart of South Beach on pedestrian-filled Collins Avenue and make a right on 14th Street, where a happy crowd in beach attire gather at the tile counter of La Sandwicherie, an open-air eatery that’s been serving massive subs since 1988. “The sandwiches are perfect after a day at the beach,” Jaroschy says. “It’s just a cool scene out here...You are intrigued as to why 50 people are standing outside.”

Across the street, Jaroschy notes, Mac’s Club Deuce has been serving booze and adding to the beach’s lore for nearly 100 years. The oldest bar in Miami Beach is open 21 hours-a-day, starting at 8 a.m., and is famous for treating celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain and Matt Damon just as it would its slipper-wearing regulars. Bring cash, though, he adds—the Deuce has a no-credit-card policy.


Art deco buildings line Ocean Drive.

We stroll down Washington Avenue past a strip of shops—pizza, smoothie, smoke, taco, sushi—and head into what looks like a Spanish Renaissance fortress, the Wolfsonian-FIU, one of two major museums on Miami Beach (the other, The Bass, is a contemporary art museum about a mile north). The museum’s collection is comprised of nearly 200,000 works from the height of the industrial revolution until the end of WWII, including furniture, ceramics, posters and paintings.

“This is one of those places that catches people off guard,” Jaroschy says. “You don’t expect something so special tucked between pizza places and tourists.” We pass through one of the ongoing exhibitions, “Art and Design in the Modern Age: Selections from the Wolfsonian Collection.” “It has everything from housewares to industrial machines to propaganda,” Jaroschy says. “It’s just a really cool exhibit to get a sense of that era.”

Jaroschy’s years in the service industry mean he’s got friends all over the place. For dinner, we cross the bay to the mainland’s Design District. Once desolate, the neighborhood now hums with shoppers seeking Celine, Dior and Saint Laurent. Jaroschy beelines to Politan Row Miami, a chef-centric food hall. Within no time his buddies send out a spread of hot mixed noodles with sausage and pho, Vietnamese chicken slaw, fresh shrimp rolls, tiradito and sushi. “You walk into this super high-end luxury mall and get home-cooking made by friends,” says Jaroschy. “Miami is a very undercover hospitable town with cool people.”


Manuela “Manu” Manzo
Singer-songwriter
Laid-back and Local

Manu Manzo reclines in a wicker chair in the tropical-themed bar just past the pool at Soho Beach House, where the Venezuelan-born musician takes full advantage of the perks that come with being a member of the private club. It’s just after sunset and string lights softly illuminate the corner we’ve commandeered near the entrance to the beach. We munch on flatbread pizza and pan-seared snapper tacos while the server delivers the Picante cocktail she’s ordered for me—a heady dance of top-shelf tequila, pineapple and red chili pepper. “It’s got the perfect kick,” she says with a smile. “You are going to love it.”

A sultry-voiced songstress with raven hair, Manzo released her first Spanish-language EP in 2015, the same year she was nominated for Best New Artist at the Latin Grammy Awards. A year later, she signed her first publishing deal with Peermusic. Since then, she’s collaborated with some of the biggest names in Spanish-language pop music, such as reggaeton star Feid and crooner Larry Coll. In October, she released her third EP, Después de las 12, in which she experiments with reggaeton, trap and electronic music genres. It’s a big evolution in the singer’s nascent career as she navigates stardom in her adopted city of Miami, where she has lived since she was 11.

Amid her hectic work schedule, Manzo relies on Soho Beach House’s high-end amenities to relax and unwind. After finishing the bites and drinks, Manzo takes me up to the eighth-floor terrace featuring vistas of the ocean to the east and the Miami skyline to the west. “This is a killer view,” Manzo says. “At sunset, the sky is pink, purple and yellow. It’s my favorite part of the whole house.”


Colorful murals line Wynwood Walls.

We hop inside Manzo’s Mercedes-Benz SUV for a 10-minute ride across Biscayne Bay to Wynwood, arguably the city’s most popular neighborhood, made famous by its resplendent street art. Manzo parks in front of Wynwood Kitchen and Bar, a restaurant established by the late Tony Goldman, a pioneering developer who converted several rundown warehouses in the neighborhood into retail and gallery spaces in the early 2000s.

“When this place opened, it was one of the first spots we liked coming to because they have tequeños and empanadas,” Manzo says.

“It gives you that little taste of home.”

We cross into the courtyard known as Wynwood Walls, a series of art murals that are regularly updated to feature new works by globally renowned street artists such as Ron English, Shepard Fairey and The London Police. “This is one of those O.G. places with staying power,” Manzo says. “The art is constantly changing. These are different ones from the last time I came here.

Today, Wynwood has a spot for everybody, Manzo says, as we stroll the main drag, Northwest Second Avenue, before hitting side streets. She points out mainstays like hipster bar and dance joint Wood Tavern, and newcomers Centro, The Dirty Rabbit and Vandalo. “These are places where you can come party, and it’s not as expensive as South Beach,” she says. “You can come in your sneakers and have fun.”


Cielito's hibiscus flower paleta.

To satisfy our sugar cravings, we trek to Cielito, an artisan ice cream popsicle store founded by Colombian treat makers, in the zebra-striped Wynwood Building. “The paletas [popsicles] are super-sick,” says Manzo of the more than four dozen varieties. She typically orders the passion fruit, but today opts for pineapple embedded with jalapeno slices and sprinkled with tahini. “That’s yummy.”

To end our evening, Manzo takes me to nearby Midtown to Lagniappe, a dimly lit boîte with a large outdoor garden. “Lagniappe has been the spot forever,” Manzo says. “You come here on a nice date, with the entire family, including your dog, or by yourself.” We grab a bottle of chilled white wine and find a table. A jazz band begins playing, and Manzo sways to the building interplay of drum, trumpet and bass.


MORE LOCAL TAKES

Patricia Engel, author

The bookstore Books & Books is an independently and locally owned Miami gem. At the flagship store on Aragon Avenue, you’ll find writers and readers browsing or gathered in the patio over a meal or glass of wine. I feel like I got a second master’s degree in creative writing at this store!

Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, filmmaker and journalist

Whenever I can, I make a Saturday pilgrimage to L.C. Roti Shop in Miami Gardens. Roti is the ultimate comfort food, and its split-pea dough filled with succulent curried chicken, shrimp, duck, chickpeas and potato is the next best thing to a direct flight back home to the islands.

Nina Johnson, owner of Nina Johnson Gallery

Gregory’s Diner is a tasteful renovation at the restaurant space at the Vagabond Hotel. It’s perfect for date night with cocktails and caviar or pancake breakfast with the kids. I’m obsessed with the turkey dinner with stuffing and gravy, but you can only get it after 4 p.m.

Sandra Ramos, Cuban-born Miami artist

The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse is a hidden jewel still unknown to many of the city’s inhabitants. The warehouse has a magnificent selection of works by great contemporary international artists that are essential for understanding the art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Gavin McKenzie, owner of McKenzie Construction

Head straight to Everglades National Park, where fishing guides can take you out of Flamingo Marina into the backcountry for fishing, reptile and birdwatching, or simply soaking up the natural beauty. All are exquisite ways to spend a day in this magical, primordial place. There’s nothing else like it on the planet.



Getty / Barry Winiker

Cuban Commute

Finding Little Havana’s charms

My ToursByLocals guide, Steve Bridges, picks me up and we head toward Little Havana, the historic neighborhood defined by Cuban exiles who’ve called it home for the last 60 years. We drive east on Calle Ocho (Eighth Street), passing Cuban restaurants Versailles and La Carreta, each with classic ventanitas where crowds gather for croquetas, strong cafecitos and, on occasion, political discourse.

“As you’re looking at Little Havana, you’re looking at a snapshot in time,” says Bridges, noting that the area is undergoing rapid change. An example of that change: the relatively new Ella’s Oyster Bar, where we people-watch and enjoy fried oysters, coconut milk cherry rice and mojitos. Across the street, Mofongo serves up Puerto Rican cuisine alongside Ernest Hemingway-themed Sala’o Cuban Bar and Pescaderia.

Back on the sidewalk I catch a waft of a passerby’s cigar as we pass Ball & Chain, a live music venue with some of the best salsa action in town. We hop back into the car and drive past Domino Park, where retirees pack a gazebo to play dominoes. Two blocks east, Bridges points out a monument topped with a burning flame honoring fallen Bay of Pigs soldiers, and further down, under a broad shady tree, an elegant 10-foot plaque depicting the island of Cuba. Despite the neighborhood’s evolving character, Bridges tells me exile families still gather here to show new generations where they came from. —Celia Almeida
toursbylocals.com

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