Traveler's USA Notebook

Your guide to travel news,  discoveries and  pleasuresYour guide to travel news,  discoveries and  pleasures





Miami: Hot and Cool

South Beach  ta night, Miami

3 hotels in all the right places

It wraps itself around you the moment you arrive:  shocking tropical heat, and the flapping sounds of  — palm leaves?  mermaids? seagulls? models? —carried across moist, sulky,  clinging,  skin-temperature air. Miami and its winking companion, Miami Beach, can make a slack-jawed, putty brained, comfort seeker out of even the grimmest of Capricorns.

Miami is a big city, a wild city, a willful city, an enthralling, edgy city, an international marketplace and leaping-off point for the cities of the northern and southern hemispheres and the Caribbean. It dances to the beat of a different conga drum. It’s both hedonic and corporate, graced with historic wonder and tropical frontiers, And it is a sexy city, all hard,  high buildings zooming up out of soft, soft waters. 

Sneaky Airport Trick

There is a certain oddly appealing hotel in Miami that every arriving or departing airport visitor wonders about. It is as slick, surreal,  vibey, and mind-warping as the rip in space-time. Deny it all you want to, but one of these days or nights you’re going to give in and stay here. So on your first (or last night) in the area, cut yourself a break and surrender to the strangely intoxicating tucked-in anomie of sleeping inside this unforgettable airport hotel.

OK—Traveler has a fetish for airport hotels— from minimalist cellblock rooms at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam to the breath-catching, post-Disney luminescence of the Sofitel at Heathrow's Terminal Five, we admit it: Traveler sleeps best between two worlds, at the Gateways to the Unknown.

Meet the Miami International Airport Hotel, located right in the airport. When you get off the plane hallucinating and smelly from Timbuktu, you’re steps away from your little piece of heaven and a shower, and 30 seconds away from Angelo’s Hairport Barbershop & Beauty Salon, You are on level 2, Concourse E. One level below you is the International Arrivals gate, replete with hugs, yelps, and duty-frees. Two minutes is a pretty good food court, namely Level 2. Some eateries open at 5:30 am.  There’s Burger King, Cafe Versailles, Chili's To Go, California Pizza Kitchen, Guava & Java, Casa Bacardi, Au Bon Pain, Cozzolis Pizza, Dunkin Donuts. and Samuel Adams.

Miami Airport HotelTraveler beamed up to Room 739, which is on the same floor as the fabled Top of the Port Airport restaurant (left), with its fantabulous airport view. Room service also is available  7am-11pm. Short room service hours only adds to the anomic ambiance. So do a couple of special in-room TV channels listing all domestic and international flight arrivals and departures. all day, all night. Heaven. Also on board are mouthwash, shower cap, jojoba shampoo/conditioner, a desk, magnifying mirror, coffeemaker, hairdryer, clothesline, Sony alarm clock, a jolly good strong shower, pillow topped beds, loads of pillows, writing paper, marble bathroom, and lots of electrical outlets for you to recharge your gizmos and yourself. Thanks to excellent double-glazed windows, you'll never hear an airplane.

 The room is defiantly, rebelliously Aquarian—industrial carpet tiles on the floor will have to do you. The window wall is all shutters and one double glazed window, but oh, what a mind-boggling view— of pipes and ducts, and beyond,  a fleet of American Airlines airplanes. There was no safe in the room (but there is a safe box at the front desk).

Miami Airport Hotel bedroomWould Traveler stay here again? Absolutely.  But those who remember the hotel’s old glory days admit there are now a few downsides.

No free WiFi or free internet computers. (There are pay computers for internet, but wouldn’t it be nicer to work from your room)?  Big boo hoo: no more rooftop pool or Jacuzzi. Tragic.  And sometimes (including odd hours) the hotel doesn’t give you quiet. A large touring party slamming doors and having raucous conversations as they vacated their rooms  at 4 am awakened Traveler.  In the morning, while still in bed, Traveler actually heard the chap in the room next door having a wee.

People arrive all day and all night at this hotel. And all they need do is go up in the elevators. Security, such as it is, does not seem obvious. Yet it is this slightly edgy, spy-who-came-in-from-the-cold, visiting space alien feeling that one yearns for every so often, a  frisson of reality to remind us— we travel alone between two worlds. Traveler wants to live here - incognito, of course. For more information about Miami International Airport Hotel, call 305.871.4100 or  click here. 

Board the Bus, Find A Seat Without Fuss

Speaking of transit between two worlds, don’t overlook Airport Express,  the  public bus from airport to South Beach.

 Where to stay? Which Miami do you want first?

Say you’re in Miami on business. You want high-class, corporate, smooth, anonymous luxury, security  and efficiency with a bit of a whoosh factor. Ask yourself, ‘Where would Don Draper stay?’
(Ever since Conrad Hilton —‘Connie’— turned up as a charismatic character in season 3 of AMC-TV's “Mad Men,” Traveler was intrigued by this hospitality honcho.) The Hilton chain’s Conrad division has its roots in service to business travelers —but in a dres-down-Friday kind of way. 

Putting the Rad in the Conrad 

The Miami outpost of the Hilton chain’s Conrad brand is located on Brickell Avenue in downtown-glitzy-high-rise-lots-of-banks'n'buildings-Miami.  The Conrad Miami is a place of meetings, conventions, ballrooms, and wheeling and dealing execs. On weekends, families pour into the Conrad.

View from Miami Conrad's windowThere is something to be said for the post modern Corporate Look. There are tried and tested semiotics at work here — golden candles burn 24/7 in the lobby's spaces and the spa, soothing, subtle and subliminally smellin' nice.  

Conrad? Let Us Count the Ways. 

The Conrad Miami has most of the perks that all hifalutin' hotels have but more and better. Room safe. Two robes. DVD player. Rooftop pool and Jacuzzi. Cabanas too. And also a big hotel safe for your gold coins and tiaras. Tennis courts... and lessons. Business center? On the third floor and free internet on the 25th floor. (There's a fee for in room Internet access.) Feeling woozy? They’d love to run to the pharmacy for you. Of course the rooms have two phone lines and a phone by the toilet; but how many hotels give you swanky hotel stationery any more? Connie does. Traveler stayed in a corner room, 1716. all subtle grey-green carpet with cream walls, and a gobsmacking view of Biscayne Bay (right)  with skyscrapers, all topped with swimming pools and palm trees. Nothing subtle about that.

Traveler’s only criticism applies to the beauty goods in the bathroom. The bar of soap has no aroma and is no fun. The shampoo is harsh and conditioner not so hotsy. The hair dryer is heavy. Bring your own, ladies.  

Pillow Talk

Miami Conrad bedroomPillow Fans, rejoice!
The Conrad has a  pillow menu:
Let's see: The Mediflow water pillow adapts to your personal coconut with a sweet and soothing sloshing sound. It’s the best. You’ve got to try this one.
The L Shape pillow. Sorry—this also is the best. You’re got to try this one. It’s like sleeping on a koala who loves you very much. Heaven!
Therapeutic Pillow for back and side sleepers.
Tri-Core pillow provides proper neck support for those with neck pain.
The Pillow-Pedic pillow provides comfort for whiplash, neck and shoulder problems and tension headaches, made of non allergenic fibers.

Wal-pil-o is not a cute little robot movie star, but is alleged to be four pillows in one. Traveler never did work this one out. Was it even in the room? And if so, what was it up to?
There are other fabulous pillows, too, at the Hilton chains. And you can buy them.

For more information about the Conrad Miami, call 305.503.6500 or click here

Food and Drink 

The Conrad’s Level 25 is home to the Atrio restaurant (aglow in gold and russet tones and dark lacquered tables topped with goblets, goblets, goblets) surrounding the Wine Attic, a special wine room with a fantastic view of the twinkling lights of Miami.

This is a bit of a power room for business and it can also easily turn romantic -  ideal for all kinds of mergers, but sadly, hours are limited. The Noir Bar next door is a pleasant oasis away from the SoBe scene. Look around and you'll see a lot of deal-making. On the skinny outdoor patio high above those famous twinkling lights you'll see sweet and lonely businessmen nursing Conradtinis, admiring the view, and sulking in the balmy breezes. The bar menus and Atrio menus are fine, but for vegetarians, they are severely limited and lacking in flexibility. Happily the room service menu offers brown rice and other good for you green thingies. Is the Conrad Miami 99.9 % perfect? Yup!

Pssst: there's a secret Subway sandwich (305.372.3722) shop in the building. Besides Subway, there are three places to get an inexpensive bite across the street from the hotel.  Deli Lane,, Pasha’s  healthy Mediterranean and next  to Pasha’s, Novocento a fancier Argentinean restaurant  not aimed at vegetarians.

Ballrooms and Meetings

Execs, mad men and women, work and play here. Over 18000 feet of meeting space is here, with 18 foot high windows and a Conrad Ballroom can all be all be yours - or your corporation's - on floors 2 and 3. This is one hell of a great grown up hotel—it's got the lot. Bring your proxies!

The Spa

Conrad Miami Spa Treatment roomThe Spa on 24 (left) is immaculate with a huge sauna, a Vichy shower room and a secret VIP massage room big enough for a couples massage; hell, it is big enough for a ménage a googleplex. Speaking of rubdowns, the charming and nimble-fingered licensed massage therapist Nadege is highly recommended.

Onward to SoBe

Miami is a wonderful tropical metropolis, full of adventure and playgrounds. But sometimes you want to  chillax.That’s why there is a Miami Beach in general and a South Beach in particular. We love Florida, and EVERYBODY loves South Beach, from the 101 year old crinklies riding the cheap busses that go up and down Washington Avenue all day till way late to locals cradling huge red paw-paws in their arms home from the grocery stores to the mad crazed tourists of all svelte shapes and lumpy sizes, from all nations and planets, going up and down, up and down Ocean Drive, checking out the restaurants and models and being part of the wonderfully sultry, shallow, sparkly SCENE.

And a scene it is, too, with striking neon art deco lettering glowing atop the little hotels, and deco store fronts and Cameron Diaz passing the plantains with friends at the local little Cuban restaurant, Puerto Sagua (700 Collins Ave, 786.623.4122), and salubrious breezes coming in off the Atlantic Ocean—-it’s aqua today, imagine!—-and the flapping palm leaves whispering in your shell-likes,reeeeelaaaaaax…..relaaaaaaaax…

Miami Beach is a separate city from Miami. It has its own horoscope and everything. And South Beach has great news for sophisticated diner-outers with city-bred, gourmet palates. Unlike most of Florida, (especially Orlando and most of Florida's West Coast, where the horrible tasting water ruins the flavors of meals), Miami and Miami Beach have excellent, kick-ass food.

What's The Hotel's Name? The Hotel. Remember that name...

The Hotel exterior south beachThe Hotel was originally called the Tiffany.  It was  designed and built in 1939 by L. Murray Dixon, a leading Miami Beach architect who did  more than 100 buildings in the area, The Tiffany has long been a fave of the Miami beach Art Deco district, in no small respect because it sports a 24-foot tall ice-blue spire-shaped neon sign that says “Tiffany.” The bar up there at night  is way cool. (So’s the rooftop pool and  views.)

 According to PBS's “American Experience,” Dixon  and his peers “shared . . .a design palette featuring neon, streamlined curves, jutting towers, window ‘eyebrows,’ Smaller, cheaper to build, and less ostentatious than edifices like Carl Fisher's Flamingo, the South Beach Deco buildings seemed perfectly suited to a city created for sun, sand, and relaxation.”  (Left:The Hotel exterior. PHOTO: Courtesy Goldman  Properties )

Goldman Properties bought this beauty back  in 1986: it was renewed and reopened in 1998 after a fabulous makeover. But after the relaunch, a New York jewelry store with the same name took umbrage, and the hotel was renamed The Hotel. In madcap hands, the hotel's new name sometimes inspires  new Abbott and Costello “who's on first?”routines, The Hotel (sometimes described in princely fashion as “formerly the Tiffany Hotel”) is, no doubt,  a gem. 

Design is a Tad Todd

Fashion designer Todd Oldham was commissioned to do an inside makeover to complement The Hotel's sedate white facade and public areas with the calming feeling of an oasis. Oldham is playful without being frivolous or annoying. Mindful of the nearby ocean Oldham caught the wave: an abundance of greens, blues, and aquas play throughout the hotel.  

Oldham designed the desks, chairs, beds, cabinets, tiles, fabrics, etc. Items were produced in his own factory or by Spanish artisan Juan Pampanas.

Walking into The Hotel’s  terrazzo-floored lobby with its circular windows and oophy, oval green velvet banquette, you are welcomed immediately by Davide the bellman, and next by the rest of the friendly staff, including the amazing Robert Greening, who, Traveler learned, is quite the go-to guy - and concierge, problem-solver, missing child finder, doctor finder, extraordinaire. (If you want to bust some moves or throw shapes, Robert knows where the hot dance clubs are and can arrange for passes to get you into the clubs. He also knows some very good massage therapists.)

The Hotel Roofdeck Pool

The Hotel rooftop pool deck. PHOTO: Courtesy Goldman  Properties


Traveler stayed in Room 217, a one-bedroom corner suite that looks out on bright, white, lighted-all-night, way cool Collins Avenue. Calm, yet vibrant textures and tones, crisp white stucco walls, celadon, lemon and lime furnishings and fabrics, ash furniture, decorations placed just so, handmade quilted pillows, upholstered headboards, soft-tweed carpets, built-in window seats and storage cubicles make it the hippest of homes.

Warning:  bathrooms are trippy — you've got your stainless steel sink (an Elkay Lustertone, don't you know) — hand-airbrushed, along with mad mosaic-like tiles on the floor, sink and you-name-it.
Beautiful people and narcissists alert: mirrors are everywhere: full length mirrors, a decorative trio of green, blue and red mirrors on the sitting room wall, a mosaic framed mirror over the bathtub, a medicine cabinet look-you-in-the eye mirror, a magnifying  shaving/makeup mirror, a big on-the-wall opposite the bed mirror (hmm), and one on the wall to the side of the bed (hmm, hmm).

 Don't forget the bathrobes. These are not your generic white-stands-for-luxury attire. These are beautiful -  comfy, cotton, and tie-dyed, in exhilarating tropical greens, blues, aquas, yellows. Todd Oldham designed them. You will probably want to buy them and wear them forever, and you can.  
Don't let The Hotel’s casual vibe fool you. There is big intelligence behind it— its owner, Goldman Properties, and its site designer, Todd Oldham. The company's CEO Tony Goldman is an interesting man. Next American City magazine has described him as“the driving force behind the transformations of Soho in New York City, South Beach in Miami, and . . . Center City in Philadelphia. So now you know.
For moré information about the The Hotel, call 305.531.2222 or click here


   Left to right: The Hotel bathroom, bathrobes ( PHOTO: Courtesy Goldman  Properties ) window seat, Tiffany spire

Walking on Ocean Drive

When you walk on Ocean Drive at night, you see lights, models, and cocktails that glow in the dark. It’s a great way to meet women, if by “meet women” you mean run a gauntlet of women who thrust menus in your face and beseech you to dine in their bosses' restaurants.
The Park Central Hotel by day looks a bit  louche and transient, but in a good way, with a distressed beat up elevator door and palm fans whirling lazily in all directions. It has a Tennessee Williams, loner- traveler kind of vibe. It’s not as done up, say, as The Hotel on Collins. But at night the interior is illuminated with dramatic shades of gold and orange, which turns it into a magical Lions Kingdom. Park Central is madly popular because it has a secret. It's on the ocean but it’s quiet. Walk one block up to, say,  Mangos, and  the high decibel level of noise at night could be insomnia-inducing – but here, you’re a big, wide block away from all that

Good News! The Chariot is Coming. A SoBe Bus!

The other great news is you don’t need a car. There‘s a cheap bus (25 cents), the South Beach Local Circulator (Route 123, which replaced the Electrowave and the Route W It runs around the entire South Beach area; so if you’ve had a few you can get around safely. (For info call 305.770.3131

 Miami ‘s South Beach (SOBE) scene may be every tourist’s Eurodream come true. You’ve got casual, adequate, not always charming little hotels, service charge added to your restaurant cheque just to make sure sun-worshipping, badly-behaving Euros don't sneak out of tipping (many do try to skunk the waiters and waitresses, all a part of the "we love sun, sex, shopping, freedom, friendliness, fairness, but we don’t really like the Americans until we go back to freezing Augsburg, or Maastricht, or drippy old Monaco, when we’ll brag about the ‘it’ boys we danced near at the hot club of the week."

More Miami Stuff. . .and Links

 The Hotel, that savvy Goldman property we just told you about above, expanded with a soft opening near the end of  2009. The new wing—in a fine, old three-story bulding, facing Ocean Drive—added 20 Todd Oldham designed new rooms and suites to the site,  including two 850 sq. ft. oceanfront terrace suites. The addition sits above the legendary News Café (see below).

The Miami Seaquarium now has a  10,000-gallon Stingray Touch Pool, occupied by  Southern Stingrays and Cownose Rays. Located within the Tropical Wings section, the exhibit gives visitors the chance to fee and feel the rays. And, of course, there are dolphins (seeright).For more information, click here.

Monkey Jungle's Amazonian Rainforest is more than 50 years old. A Rainforest Adventure give you a look at the lives of South American monkeys. For more information, , click here.
Hotel Urbano, An art hotel (visual-centric boutique hotel) opened in the Financial District (2500 Brickell Ave). Working with Miami’s Art Fusion Galleries, the 65-room Urbano presents art exhibits on a regular basis. For more information, call 305.854.2070, or click here. ..
The Mokai (which we are told is a boite)  reopened in March 2010. Located at 235 23rd Street, it was described by local television news, as “Miami’s new hipster hot spot,” Mokai with its bright red sofas, black lacquered walls, bold-pink panels, chandeliers, art and fashion photography is the setting for assorted party events.. For more information call 305.538.6337   or click here.

Mercadito Midtown, located at  3252 NE First Avenue, offers Southern Mexican style fare. Among the menu offeriongs are six varieties of guacamole, manchego cheese and wild mushroom quesadillas, and black bean hash tacos. For more information call 786.369.0430 or click here.

And Don’t Forget to Eat

Despite the surfeit of fish, chickies and burgers, Traveler found ample and sometimes even tasty vegetarian eats.

News Café  800 Ocean Drive Tel. 305 538-6397 Open 24 hours. Brilliant breakfast with an ocean view, very "scene". This was Versace's a.m. newspaper-and-nosh hangout. Buy your foreign newspapers here!

When it’s time to snack, there’s Half-Moon Empanadas. Made fresh from primo ingredients, these Argentina-styled,  filled pastries can be delivered to your hotel or purchased at the store (1616 Washington Ave.)
Puero Segura restaurant MiamiPuerto Sagua 700 Collins Avenue The real deal, black beans, rice, fried bananas, all kinds of flans, cool, ship’s cabin rustic room, a comforting, cosseting, low-priced Cuban cucina.
Caffé Milano Ocean Drive Excellent Italian food and beautiful indoors as well. 850 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, FL 33139: (305) 532-0707.

Balans 1022 Lincoln Road 33139 Tel. 534-9191 This outpost of a British-owned chain (there’s also one in Brickell and one in Biscayne) includes fabulous vegetarian dishes too, like pumpkin mascarpone tortellini, wilted spinach with garlic,. Sautéed broccolini and macaroni and cheese.

ATHENS JUICE BARS Resolved to live like a yogi and go on a hippie health fruit diet? Hah! Good luck in food land. But if you want to try to purify, good for you. Two beautiful Athens locations will help,1214 Washington Avenue (tel. 305 672 4648) and up on 6976 Collins Avenue (Tel 305 861 2143), where they live the trip and will make you smoothies, too, and sell you paw-paws to take with you and slurp on the beach.

Near the Collins Avenue Athens Juice Bar is Café Prima Pasta at 414 71st Street with a mixture of A+ and no worse than B- Italian dishes, probably the best pick in the area. Try their eggplant rollatini.