What's New In... Miami, Florida
PASSPORT Magazine|February 2018

Miami is one of the most progressive cities in America, and it steadily grows at a rapid rate. According to the official Greater Miami  Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.miamiandbeaches.com), there were 15.7 million visitors in 2016, a substantial increase from the 13.9 in 2012.

Jimmy Im

The great recession of 2008 was only a hiccup for new condos and residential towers famously staggered in construction, yet now fully erected, adding to an ever-expanding skyline. Emerging neighborhoods like Downtown Miami, South of Fifth, and Wynwood are now arguably fixtures. Construction cranes are still ubiquitous, though the silver lining is the birth of excellent new spots that contribute to the gay-friendly city.

You will no longer find construction at historic Espanola Way, an unassuming, pedestrian-only street right off Collins (between 14th and 16th streets), that underwent heavy renovations this past year. Originally built in the 1920s as an artist’s colony, Espanola Way is a vibrant hub of thriving, alfresco restaurants and cafés, flooded nightly with locals, including many hand-holding gay couples (it’s central to gay establishments). To preserve the history, aesthetic and integrity of Espanola Way, the City of Miami Beach completed a $2.5 million revitalization project unveiled in May, a much-needed facelift that didn’t compromise the lively atmosphere. Espanola Way is home to some of the most eclectic restaurants in Miami (like Cuban restaurant Havana 1957 and Pane e Vino, where staff cut pasta right in the storefront window). The newest restaurant, Mare Mio (447 Espanola Way, Tel: 305-397-8950. www.maremiorestaurant. com) has been a welcome addition with its excellent, fresh seafood. The intimate, no-frills spot with indoor and outdoor seating is helmed by Claudio Giordano, a restaurant industry veteran who launched local haunts La Bussola and Claudius. At Mare Mio, diners can personally select fresh, daily catch from a display and order it steamed, grilled, sashimi, or fried.

Espanola Way is geared to attract more traffic with renovations of The Clay and two new hotels, including El Paseo Hotel (405 Espanola Way, Tel: 855-417-8483. www.elpaseohotel.com). Open less than a year, the Spanish-French Revival, 71-room property skews budget-friendly and feels residential, spanning seven “villas” with intimate courtyards along El Paseo. All sundrenched suites are equipped with French balconies overlooking the vibrant street, styled with modern furnishings like colorful pillows and retro-Miami prints with simple touches for flair (including Spanish quotes painted onto the wall). Employees put a lot of pride in the hotel—figuratively, too, as 80 percent of staff identify as LGBT. While the hotel is bare-boned (there’s no pool, elevator, restaurant, or fitness center), guests have beach club access that includes towels and lounge chairs. El Paseo is also the only hotel in Miami to loan Snapchat Spectacles. Via Bluetooth, guests can pair the sunglasses to their Snapchat with the touch of a button.

Guests looking to splurge can stay at The Betsy South Beach (1440 Ocean Drive, Tel: 305-531-6100. www.thebetsyhotel.com), a AAA-Four Diamond hotel originally built in 1942 by famed L. Murray Dixon (the architect responsible for art deco classics like The Raleigh and The Tides). Located in South Beach, The Betsy is the most luxurious hotel on iconic Ocean Drive, offering a high degree of comfort with exceptional service. In January 2017, just in time for its 75th anniversary celebration, the hotel unveiled a groundbreaking, multi-million renovation and expansion that included the takeover of Carlton Hotel on Collins Avenue next door. The two buildings are connected by a visually crafted egg art installation. The expansion doubled the room inventory (now 128 rooms), and guests can choose between the original Colonial Wing with lobby, LT Steak & Seafood, and ground pool oasis, or the new Art Deco Wing with modern rooms with balconies. The new wing features a gorgeous library, conservatory, fitness center, and rooftop pool that, amazingly, is a bridge that connects the two buildings.

Farther up the white-sand beach, Loews Miami Beach Hotel (1601Collins Avenue, Tel: 877-876-7871. www.loewsmiamibeach.com) did an impressive job with its whopping, $50 million renovation. Return visitors will discover a brand-new experience, including a modern poolscape, upgraded rooms, and a swank and stunning lobby that no longer feels dated. Guests will find nothing has changed at Exhale Spa, and this is a good thing. Exhale is one of the best spa sanctuaries in the city with steam, sauna, whirlpool, and top therapists. For another excellent destination spa, I recommend heading 30 minutes north to Turnberry Isle, a five-star property that recently unveiled a 20,000-square-foot ames Spa & Wellness (19999 West Country Club Drive, Tel: 305932-6200. www.amewellness.com). The separate men/women’s facilities include a unique Himalayan Salt Room (instead of a sauna), where guests can feel purified and rejuvenated from deep exhalations. Among dozens of pampering treatments, the Amethyst Himalayan Massage takes place on a bed of quartz sand, which is known to withdraw impurities and heal. The experience is worth the commute, especially if you make it a whole evening with dinner at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steaks, a steakhouse with some of the city’s finest cuts and unsuspecting quirks (instead of a basket of bread, guests receive an assortment of seasoned French fries with house-made dipping sauces).

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