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Miami, From Beach to Town

Everyone knows about South Beach—the Delano, News Café, and Liquid—and it's still hotter than hot. But that short stretch of Miami Beach simply couldn't contain all the action. Where do locals go when they're undercover?And what's new for jaded repeat visitors to check out?In a city where a great find can become the latest happening spot overnight, you'd think people would keep their favorites to themselves. But nothing stays a secret for long. Who can resist the urge to jump right in?Go ahead. By the time you read this, there'll probably be a few more new places you just won't be able to keep to yourself.

where to stay

All the South Beach hubbub evaporates once you step inside the newly refurbished Hotel Nash (1120 Collins Ave.; 305/674-7800; doubles from $210). The softly lit lobby is a refuge of cushy club chairs. The 55 rooms, each with shield-shaped armoires, Belgian linens, and "rain-forest" showerheads, are whisper-quiet. The tranquil mood extends out back, where a trio of spa pools are surrounded by night-blooming jasmine.

Hotel St. Augustine (347 Washington Ave.; 800/310-7717 or 305/532-0570; doubles from $185) is a new entry in SoBe's blossoming "South of Fifth" area. The 24 loft-style rooms have maple beds, ivory banquettes, marble steam baths, and "Spa Bars" stocked with essential oils, candles, and Nikaya Zencense incense.

You don't have to hock your Prada to stay in South Beach. Case in point: The Mermaid Guest House (909 Collins Ave.; 305/538-5324; doubles from $105), the nine-room, color-mad cove of Uruguayan artists Ana and Gonzalo Torres. At nap time, stake out the corner futon in the secret garden, and listen to the fountain trickling beneath the blue-haired mermaid.

The Beacon Hotel (720 Ocean Dr.; 800/649-7075 or 305/674-8200; doubles from $150) epitomizes Ocean Drive glam—Heywood Wakefield furniture on the mezzanine, blue poodle chairs in the 79 rooms, Harrison Ford and other stars checking in. The lobby gleams with black-swirled terrazzo, papaya-colored walls, and pink neon tracing the curved entrance.

With its wicker-filled porch, round-the-clock pantry, and whitewashed furniture, the new Beach House Bal Harbour (9449 Collins Ave., Surfside; 305/865-3551; doubles from $250) by Rubell Hotels (creator and proprietor of the ultra-mod Albion on South Beach) feels more like Nantucket or coastal Maine than Miami Beach. The 180 rooms and suites even offer a selection of non-taxing beach reading and ready-made seashell collections.

gymtime

Ever wonder where airline pilots hole up during Miami layovers?At the fitness center hidden atop the Miami International Airport Hotel (in Concourse E, on the roof; 305/871-4100). For an amazing $8 you can work out and use the steam room, whirlpool, and shower. Or cool down in the long pool while enjoying the breeze and the views of jumbo jets roaring away. Other gyms where you can keep up your daily regimen while in town: South Beach Gym (Clevelander Hotel, 1020 Ocean Dr.; 305/672-7499, $15 per day) or David Barton Gym (Delano hotel, 1685 Collins Ave.; 305/674-5757; $20 per day).

eating

As if Lincoln Road can't get enough fab food karma, here comes Bambú (1661 Meridian Ave., South Beach; 305/531-4800; dinner for two $90) with magical Asian cuisine. The two-level space has willow branches on the walls, coconut-shell countertops, and a 14-foot waterfall. Go for soy-lacquered cod with honshimeji mushrooms and chrysanthemum leaves tempura.

Named for the whimsically painted Haitian taxis, TapTap (819 Fifth St., South Beach; 305/672-2898; dinner for two $26) looks to Haiti for culinary inspiration. Try the charbroiled goat marinated in spicy citrus juice.

The no-man's-land north of SoBe is heating up. First, the Miami Ballet moved in, and now chef Johnny Vinczencz (formerly of Astor Place) is plotting a restaurant for later this year. Meanwhile, tropically colored Chow (210 23rd St., Miami Beach; 305/604-1468; dinner for two $50) remains a delicious secret. Chef Kiki Anchana Praropkul crafts spectacular dishes such as wok-fried whole snapper with Hawaiian ti leaf and sweet chili-tamarind sauce. The sake cocktails are out of this world; try the Cool Burn martini, with Gekkeikan sake and cucumber.

At Baleen (4 Grove Isle Drive, Coconut Grove; 305/857-5007; dinner for two $150), hidden on private but easily accessible Grove Island, chef Robbin Haas, formerly of SoBe's Red Square, has created a stunning series of classic courses, from oysters shucked at your table to Roquefort-crusted filet mignon. Monkey chandeliers show spunk in an otherwise sedate, oak-paneled dining room. But don't stay inside: Ask for a table in the breezy bay-side cabana.

night life

At just-opened Crobar (1445 Washington Ave., South Beach; 305/531-5027), Chicago nightlife kings Ken Smith and Cal Fortis have carved a trippy cosmos of catwalks, translucent Plexiglas walls, and soaring arches out of the Art Deco grandeur of the 1938 Cameo theater. Watch for harlequins on stilts and performers dressed as angels swooping down on bungee cords.

Never mind that Level (1235 Washington Ave., South Beach; 305/532-1525) just slid into a space where six (or was it seven?) clubs came and went. What's important is that right now, Level is the blitzkrieg of clubs—its gigantic, dark recesses flooded with supersonic techno and steamy waves of dancers. Gay men fill the place on Fridays, the hottest night (at least for the moment).

Bar Room (320 Lincoln Rd., South Beach; 305/532-9154) offers an elegant alternative to the usual Lincoln Road spots. The downside: disturbingly long lines of beautifully garbed clubbies, begging, posturing (anything!) to get in. Go early, or be prepared to wait.

The scene at Starfish (1427 West Ave., South Beach; 305/673-1717) is 1950's Havana: men wearing panama hats and puffing on stubby cigars, women in ruffled blouses and Mary Janes, top Cuban bands pounding out salsa and son. Go on Monday or Wednesday for salsa lessons, or on Friday for "Strictly Salsa," when regulars (known as the Salsa Mafia) burn up the dance floor.

Bolero (661 Washington Ave., South Beach; 305/673-6516) beams you to a different Havana: the moody, candlelit café where Hemingway downed his rum on the rocks. Take a Lucite barstool and order Miami's best mojito, with flakes of spearmint swirling in sweet lime and rum.

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