Lincoln Road might seem an inappropriate place to start a blog whose mission is essentially to discover Miami’s secret heart (or establish that it doesn’t have one). Lincoln Road — by which I mean the eight-block promenade bound by Alton Road in the west and Washington Avenue in the east — is certainly no secret. A skinnier version of Barcelona’s Las Ramblas (skinnier in both width and waistlines), Lincoln Road on almost every night of the year teems with flawless women, leering men, laughing/yawning/bawling children, second-rate buskers, sunburnt tourists, their necks hung heavy with DSLRs, invisible beggars, tefillin-entangled Hasidim, perky hostesses, and fugitive parrots cawing hysterically among the palm fronds (they escaped from the zoo during a hurricane, I hear). It is one of the places South Beach hotels brag about being nearby, and it boasts national retail stores from Victoria’s Secret to Ghirardelli Chocolate to Williams-Sonoma.
Point being: it’s a known quantity, the kind of place smug locals abandon to the sap tourists in favor of a gritty dive bar with sticky walls and no identifiable women. Nonetheless, by choice and by default, I have spent quite a bit of time there. It’s a vulgar place, fueled by lust, greed, and vanity — the three sins are neatly synthesized in the leukemic mannequins striking Pompeiian poses in the storefront windows — but, honestly, I kind of like it.
To nurse a warm beer on a warm night when there’s a light breeze and a steady march of flushed, fit bodies is a pleasure unique to Miami Beach. It may seem shallow and decadent, but I’ve on several occasions witnessed adults succumb to despair in the face of so much they will never have. Lincoln Road does not preclude revelations, is what I’m saying. But if you can keep your expectations within reason, you can get a high off the cigar-scented air and the percussion of wine glasses and ceramic demitasses and even the shimmer of whitened teeth won’t pique your cynicism. Hell, you might even forget you’re at the mall.
But the place can be overwhelming or just goddamn expensive. So the point of this post is to share certain oases I’ve found over the years. It’s limited to places on or just off Lincoln Road and is by no means exhaustive. In fact, if you have anything to add to the list, hit up the comments section.
Also, make sure to check out the map of Lincoln Road Robby made with many of the places mentioned in this post rendered in his inimitable hand. (He has a really weird hand.)
Without further ado …
Zeke’s has two things going for it: an extensive selection of beers from around the world, all at $4 a bottle (used to be $3 per), and a large seating area beneath a canopy of oak trees. Twenty bucks buys you four brews (assuming a $1 tip for each) and a perch from which to watch some of the most achingly beautiful women in the world stride by like aloof gazelles. Like I said, some people can’t handle the spectacle, but I’ve always found it helpful to pretend I’m watching TV and that these women are actually unattainable. (The missus strongly endorses this tactic.)
Zeke’s staff can be as frosty as their mugs, but they’re serving the cheapest beer on Lincoln Road so c’est la vie. Another con is the usually corny live music at the restaurant next door, but bad music is par for the course up and down the strip.
Less than half a block north on Meridian, past one of Lincoln’s three Starbucks, David’s offers good, cheap coffee, sweet and savory pastelitos (not delicate but delicious), the illustrious Cubano (hefty enough for two), and other tried-and-true Cuban fare. The colada is sweet enough to induce diabetes and my antidote of choice for a mid-night energy crash. Ordering at the take-out window is the way to go.
A friend of mine introduced me to Baires in its old location near 5th and Washington. Back then it served mussels in a white wine sauce that, with a couple of beers, were perfect on a hot day. I don’t see it on the menu anymore, but they’re worth asking about.
Baires has upped the swank since moving to Lincoln, but it’s still my favorite place for empanadas on Lincoln Road. At $4 a piece, they’re a little pricey — you can get them cheaper and greasier at David’s Cafe — but they’re plump and come fried or grilled (my preference). Sit at the bar, order a few empanadas, a beer, a shot of espresso, and you should get out for under $20.
My favorite pizza on Lincoln Road by a long shot. It could use a better beer selection, but Spris’ thin pies — particularly the Rucola e Prosciutto Crudo — can stand alone.
Artcenter / South Florida
Free and open to the public, the Artcenter is a series of studios rented out to artists on three-year leases. It stands on the southwest corner of Lincoln and Lenox next to the much-better-attended Britto gallery. On a recent visit, I asked artist-in-residence Damian Sarno what he thought of Britto, Miami’s premier art-lebrity, some of whose paint-by-number canvases go for thousands of dollars. At first he gave a stock answer. “I’d like to pick his brain about marketing,” he said. When I suggested this was a backhanded way of saying Britto was full of shit, Sarno offered the following chestnut. “There’s lots of gay people in the world,” he said. “I don’t have to like dick because they do.” Crude, perhaps non sequitur, but Sarno’s response says a lot about the animosity of certain segments of Miami’s art community toward the creator of such masterworks as the “Mona Cat.”
It’s worth noting that a lot of “serious art” moves me as much as a flea’s sneeze (the empty tin of Fancy Feast displayed on a shelf at the Artcenter as if it were Prince Albert’s snuff box, for example). But Britto really is a charlatan, and the fact that his work disgraces so much of Miami’s public space is an embarrassment. I say lift your brow up high as you pass his gallery and go into the Artcenter. Even if wire sculptures of erect penises ain’t your thing, the floor mosaic that laps up against the walls like little waves is worth checking out.
Much of Lincoln Road’s charm is in its small scale. Few of the buildings hedging the thoroughfare rise above three stories and many of them are paragons of Art Deco architecture, including the Banana Republic (a former savings and loan bank) and the Colony Theatre, which anchor the southern corners of the Lennox intersection; the Sterling Building (renovated in the Art Deco style in the 1940s) on the north side of the road between Michigan and Jefferson; the Lincoln Theatre, built in the 1930s and, for the meantime, the home of the New World Symphony; the pale-yellow and turquoise Lincoln-Drexel Building; and 420 Lincoln Road, a block-long structure with an impressive granite-and-stainless-steel facade.
To round out the architecture tour, the chalky-skinned Miami Beach Community Church, cater-cornered from the Lincoln-Drexel Building, and the new concrete and glass parking garage by Herzog and de Meuron at Lincoln Road’s western entrance also deserve a look.
Don’t forget to check out the hand-drawn map of Lincoln Road Robby made featuring many of the places mentioned in this post. And here are a few photos he took on a recent Lincoln Road excursion.