Early hotel settlers included Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons and the boom was amped up by the arrival of the Kelly Wearstler–designed Viceroy in 2009. Downtown’s latest addition is the JW Marriott Marquis Miami, situated within a 41-story tower in the Metropolitan Miami development. The building also holds the boutique Hotel Beaux Arts Miami, the debut of Marriott’s new luxury brand. There’s also the new 67-story Marquis Residences, which houses the hotel Tempo Miami, a RockResort, and Kimpton’s Epic Hotel, overlooking the Brickell Avenue financial district, a landscape that resembles the unholy spawn of a three-way between Hong Kong, Times Square, and Las Vegas.
Of course, as with any hotel boom, noteworthy chefs are never far behind. After years of flirting with South Beach, Daniel Boulud chose downtown as the setting for his first Miami restaurant. “All my restaurants require a leap of faith,“ he says. “Downtown has fewer velvet ropes than South Beach, but has a very cultivated clientele.” His DB Bistro Moderne, designed by Yabu Pushelberg, is located on the first floor of the new Marriott. Other acclaimed restaurants include Rainer Becker’s Japanese-inspired Zuma, which has sister operations in Hong Kong and Dubai, and Eos, the brainchild of Donatella Arpaia and Michael Psilakis.
Accompanying downtown’s hotel explosion is perhaps the city’s most ambitious project. Overlooking Biscayne Bay is the vast fallow ground of Museum Park, a 29-acre architectural all-star complex slated to open in 2013 that will incorporate Herzog & de Meuron’s new building for the Miami Art Museum. Inside, more than 100,000 square feet will be dedicated to contemporary art. This is the project that may transform downtown all over again.
Smaller Miami communities are also being reenergized. For years, Bal Harbour village was primarily known for its luxury shopping. Now, One Bal Harbour Resort & Spa, which includes a new beach club designed by Miami-based Hernan Arriaga, hosts free movie screenings on the beach, yoga classes, and concerts by indie bands such as Surfer Blood. Last year, the national Salon de Louis Vuitton was launched at the Bal Harbour Shops with an exhibition by Miami-born artist Teresita Fernandez. The mall has upped the culture quotient with the Bal Harbour Art Nights, as well as free performances by the Overtown Music Project, Miami City Ballet, and YoungArts, the core program of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.
In the sleek Design District, high-end boutiques including Tomas Maier’s eclectic boutique and 4141 Design, the first Florida showroom to feature Tom Dixon (and other designers) as well as innovative restaurants such as Michelle Bernstein’s Andalusian-inspired Sra. Martinez—have been joined by the new 30,000 square-foot de la Cruz space of contemporary art. It’s the latest in a series of museums that have been opened by eminent Miami collectors. Nearby Wynwood now has Wynwood Walls, a graffiti garden with a restaurant and bar created by Tony Goldman, an early South Beach pioneer who jumped from the bankable buzz of Art Deco to street art.
Heading north on Biscayne Boulevard, visitors discover a historic district with row upon row of Miami Modern motels that unfurl like a ribbon of joy—all statues of cavorting sea nymphs and trapezoid forms resembling 1955 Cadillac fins, and bearing names like the South Pacific and Seven Seas. Little Haiti—centered around the whimsical Caribbean Marketplace designed by Haitian architect Charles Harrison Pawley in 1990—is a few blocks west, and has positioned itself as a new frontier for contemporary art: the atmospheric landscape is filled with artists’ studios and fantastic street murals by Serge Toussaint. The new Little Haiti Cultural Center also showcases cutting-edge art exhibitions, dance performances, and free concerts. Across town, in the neon wonderland of Eighth Street, the heart of Little Havana, music and art take center stage: on the last Friday night of every month, the Viernes Culturales street party includes late-night gallery openings, local salsa bands, and sophisticated Afro-Cuban timba. Only here can you witness such a lively celebration of the city’s cultural heritage. It’s a party no traveler should miss. In a city known for reinventions, sometimes the classics of Miami are just as alluring.
Tom Austin is a T+L contributing editor.