As we made our way north from Key West we stopped for lunch and a fond last look at Islamorada. I don’t think even Odysseus could resist the siren song of Lor-e-lei, where you can snack on conch fritters and commune with the restaurant’s mascot, “Hoppy”, the Great Egret.
The sky darkened a bit as we left the sunny Keys behind and made our way toward Miami. Spitting raindrops reminded us that we were well into “shoulder season”, when summer monsoons drench the Florida coast. Undeterred, we threaded our way through the Miami highway maze and checked in at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach.
Urban and gritty, South Beach pulses with humidity, festivity and barely-repressed debauchery. Low-buttoned shirts, stilettos and a Spanish accent are the de rigueur accessories on Collins Ave., which tells you just about how well we fit in there. Never mind – we loved it!
It didn’t hurt that we hit the upgrade jackpot and were escorted to a swanky penthouse suite where we channeled delusions of Scarface grandeur. Who cared if it rained for the two days we were there? We were in hotel heaven!
The weather was a bit blustery for lounging by the pool, but did not deter us from some long early morning walks along the Promenade through Lummus Park, where equal numbers of joggers and homeless folk share space beneath the tall palms that line the beach. Crossing over to Collins Avenue, snappily-dressed restaurant hostesses brayed at passersby to join them for breakfast. “We’ll rip you off for less”, called out one to a reluctant would-be patron.
Predictably, we did not go hungry in South Beach. The CE was on a quest for Cuban food, and, while we did not make the pilgrimage to famed Little Havana haven Versailles, we did walk over to charming Espanola Way for a convivial al fresco dinner at Havana 1957, where we feasted on Yuca Frita and Fricase de Pollo and watched the parade of passersby.
We went upscale on our second evening for dinner at the lovely Casa Tua courtyard restaurant. The menu is nominally northern Italian, our waiter was from Czechoslovakia and the busboy from Venezuela – all part of the sultry melting pot that is South Beach. After dinner, we sought shelter beneath storefront awnings as a welcome downpour washed away the grime on the sidewalks of Lincoln Road.
Before bidding farewell to South Beach, I enjoyed a complimentary manicure and glass of champagne at the Ritz-Carlton salon (thank you, American Express!) where the Ecuadorean nail technician told me that she had come to Miami after twenty Chicago winters and had no doubt whatsoever that she had finally found “Paradise”. With the exception of January 19, 1977 it has never snowed in Miami; Paradise, indeed!