When someone asks if you maybe would like to fly first class to Miami to test-drive a Rolls-Royce on a road-trip to suss out great art, architecture, and restaurants in and around South Florida, there’s really only one answer: Yes, please.
And that’s how I and two of my most fabulous friends (Sue Hostetler, who works in New York as editor in chief of Art Basel Magazine, and Julie Constanzo, a San Francisco–based film producer who has worked for Francis Ford Coppola and will.i.am) came to be cruising Collins Avenue and beyond in a Rolls-Royce Ghost so white we started calling it Casper.
I’d been to Miami many times, but mainly for Art Basel Miami Beach and the satellite art fairs. As fun as that week is, it’s often too programmed to allow time for exploring the more permanent cultural and culinary offerings of the region. So my goal with the Ghost was to find (dare I say?) some new haunts for myself and others who flock to Art Basel every December.
First, a word about the car. It’s the kind of car that causes men to ask three relatively attractive women to get out of the way so they can take its picture. It takes 20 days to make a Ghost. By hand. In England. It’s an art object much like the ones we were driving it about to see. It’s the kind of car that has cushy black shearling-covered floors, which feel great under your feet if you happen to be driving barefoot in it after a day at the beach, as we were.
It’s also the kind of car that, when you approach it solo as a woman, the white-shorted valet parker looks at you jealously, automatically opens the passenger door for you, and asks, “Are you waiting for your husband?” For a minute, you might think, as I did, “Well, yes! Yes, I am,” but then you realize, he’s not asking big-picture life questions. So instead you flash the key fob as you scoot around the shiny hood to the driver’s seat and say dramatically, “Nope! I’m the driver. And it’s a girls-only road trip this weekend!” And it feels great. Especially once you get that seat-cooler going . . .
On to our travelogue, tips, and tidbits.
DAY 1: Straight from the airport, Sue and I drove over to the brand new Perez Art Museum of Miami (PAMM) for a tour. Hard hats won’t be required, as they were for us when this brand-new $220 million museum opens its doors to the public with much fanfare during Art Basel. The building (designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron) may be new, but the museum’s mission remains: to show international art representing communities most pertinent to Miami. The new site, three times the size of the old one a few blocks away, optimizes the tropical light and many views of Biscayne Bay and the colossal cruise ships that dock there. The first week in December, “PAMM’s Big Jam” will feature multimedia artists and performers Los Hijackers and their annual gala, with an acoustic performance by Marc Anthony.
We slipped away from the construction site ensconced in the soft comfort of the Ghost and crossed the causeway to our hotel, the incomparable Delano, where for nearly 20 years hipness, fun, and elegance have coexisted with seeming effortlessness. Our friend Julie joined us for tuna “pizza” with truffle oil at the hotel’s Bianca, on the terrace overlooking the Delano’s lush tropical garden and, through the palms, the pool.
DAY 2: The next day, we wended our way toward the Design District to take in Locust Projects, founded 15 years ago by three Miami artists to give mostly emerging artists a space for free rein experimentation.
“We don’t just want paintings on a wall. We want something wild,” said Debra Scholl, a major collector who is president of the board. Every year for Art Basel, the nonprofit does something special (last year it was a project with superstar Theaster Gates). This year’s something special includes a presentation of work by the South African artist Nicholas Hlobo. He is collaborating with local Haitian musicians on an opera called Inthethe (“Locust” in Xhosa), which will be performed during Art Basel Miami Beach.
We doubled back to South Beach in the Ghost for lunch at Juvia, which sits atop the uniquely appealing parking garage at 111 Lincoln Road (designed by the same architects as the new art museum mentioned above). The airy indoor-outdoor restaurant with lushly landscaped walls and nearly 360-degree views felt refreshing and, as the name suggests, rejuvenating, especially after a lobster salad with passion-fruit dressing, followed by a coconut and lime sorbet-ice cream hybrid.
As the sun started to go down, we dropped by the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts Miami’s regional ballet, opera, and symphony as well as touring performers of international acclaim. Premiering during Art Basel week will be a new collaboration by the choreographer, dancer, and multimedia artist Jonah Bokaer and the artist Daniel Arsham, who helped design Merce Cunningham’s last few projects.
We also popped by an opening at Downtown Art House, which is worth a quick peek if you are nearby. What was once a former fishing supply company now houses nearly 25,000 square feet of raw studio and exhibition space for a handful of local artists and art collectives. With support from Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, which is hanging its hat on “creatives” to bring life to downtown the way they did for Wynwood and the Design District, Downtown Art House has some special exhibits planned during Art Basel, said Naomi Fisher, a local artist who serves as the place’s ad-hoc leader.
Fisher, in fact, was a participant in the Contemporary Arts Program (CAP) inaugurated in 2006 at the beautiful Vizcaya Museum and Garden, about 10 minutes south of downtown Miami. CAP lets emerging and established artists conceive and present projects that explore this lovingly maintained bay-front estate of the industrialist John Deering. Vizcaya will have two things of interest to Art Basel patrons. The first is a special exhibit in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Armory Show in New York, which was the first big exhibition of modernism in America because, said Vizcaya curator Gina Wouters, “three artists who were commissioned in that era to do work for Vizcaya were part of that Armory show.” Secondly, during Arts Basel week, Vizcaya has commissioned eight artists to do performance-based work inspired by Futurism. “It will provide an interesting context because Futurism was an aggressive break from the very traditional nineteenth century classical artistic values that Vizcaya represents,” said Wouters.
In nearby Brickell Village, we dined at Cipriani, which opened earlier this year. This is not a particularly arty place, other than a huge Guy Le Baube photograph and storied Andy Warhol film stills by Jonas Mekas (alleged to have been given to Cipriani by Mekas’s dealer in exchange for nearly $300,000 in trade). But Cipriani embraces tradition in a way that feels authentic and genuine without being stodgy. With intimate, low, round tables for everyone, there’s no “power seating” here. The members of the Cipriani staff are so consistently attentive that if they are not lip readers, they must be mind readers. They brought course after delicious course with perfect panache and timing. The risotto alla primavera warmed three chilly women on a rainy night. The nautical theme doesn’t feel like a gimmick; indeed, the place even has its own dock for sailors in need of a Cipriani’s signature strong Sgroppino dessert drink of vodka, lemon sorbet, and Prosecco.
DAY 3: We recovered from excesses of the night before with the Delano’s Sunday brunch al fresco and a relaxing walk ’n’ gawk along the famed Art Deco architecture of Miami Beach.
We drove to an early dinner, the Ghost flitting through the rain. (The enormous umbrellas hidden in the car doors came in handy!). Makoto sits among the fanciest shops at Bal Harbour, It is the sort of restaurant with indoor or outdoor seating, loud reggae, dark wood, and dim lighting that quietly takes sushi and its offering from the Japanese robata grill very seriously. An unusual standout dish was a rich, savory fried rice with foie gras and Kobe beef, and a Jidori egg on top.
DAY 4: Our last full day, keeping the Atlantic to our right, we road-tripped up Highway 1 to Palm Beach, where the Ghost seemed to feel quite at home.
We luxuriated in being among the ladies who lunch at Café Boulud, just steps from the shopping vortex of Worth Avenue. In the Florida heat, the chilled peekytoe crab salad with rémoulade and the cold tomato soup hit the spot, as did a deconstructed Key lime “pie.”
The restaurant is nestled inside the storied, Mediterranean Revival-style Brazilian Court hotel built by legendary architect Rosario Candela in 1926 (with a wing added in the 1930s by Maurice Fatio) and now renovated and transformed into condominium suites with luxury hotel services. Café Boulud and the hotel itself both encompass a beautiful double courtyard where guests can enjoy the extensive tropical landscaping and the lovely gurgling fountain.
The Brazilian Court provides a cozy respite from the Miami crowds, with vaulted cypress ceilings, a game room, a media room and custom furniture in an unusual palette of sienna, burnt umber and citrus amidst throughout. The art in the hotel and restaurant is nearly all landscapes (or abstracted ones) by painter Mark Bowles, who is represented by the gallery on the property.
We glided in the Ghost over to The Norton Museum of Art to enjoy a private tour with its bow-tied deputy director, James Brayton Hall. Since its founding in 1941, the Norton has become one of Florida’s most significant cultural institutions. Under the Norton’s current leadership, the museum is devoted to expanding its commitment to contemporary art. Every fall the Norton invites a living artist to install in the lobby “a site-specific contemporary work” that stays up for months, said Hall. Right now, the artist Mickalene Thomas has taken over the lobby with a 1970s-rec-room-style redesign that includes a nearly 800-square-foot, Florida-focused, multimedia landscape mural/collage, heavy on the camouflage.
This year, the British artist Phyllida Barlow’s presentation of floor-to-ceiling sculptures and installations made from repurposed and often unglamorous materials including cement, wire, tape, and polyurethane, all in service of exploring the concept of permanence, will open during Art Basel and remain on view through March.
Additionally up during Art Basel (through January) is an ongoing show of four contemporary Los Angeles video artists: Eileen Cowin, Judy Fiskin, Mark Daybell and Julie Orser.
Heading south back to Miami, I thought of how many people travel here oblivious to the geography of the place. But Southern hospitality at Yardbird reminds you where you are. Don’t let the restaurant’s casualness and big portion fool you; Bon Appétit listed it among the best new places of 2012—the only one in all of Florida. The charm is in the down-home Pan-Southern cooking from its open kitchen. Underneath a chandelier made of Mason jars, a communal table seats the overflow from the hipsters eating and flirting at the bar. Don’t miss the shrimp and grits dish with a flavorful veal demi glace, which you can wash down with one (okay, maybe two) of the 75 different bourbons on offer. And during Art Basel, Yardbird offers a special weekday brunch, just steps from Miami Beach Convention Center, where the main fair takes place.
DAY 5: Another thing it’s easy to forget at Art Basel is that Miami is at fundament a beach town. Our last morning allowed time for a quick ocean swim. A wave crested right above me, with a huge pink jellyfish. It was just the tickler we needed to get ready to say goodbye.
As you might imagine, after a few days of this arty, yummy, gorgeous bliss, we weren’t quite ready to give up the Ghost.
This story is published in Whitewall’s winter 2014 Luxury Issue, out now.