Miami Beach or Bust

46710608 - lincoln road, a tourist landmark and shopping boulevard in miami beach

46710608 - lincoln road, a tourist landmark and shopping boulevard in miami beach

It was another Sunday Funday field trip this weekend with my pack of up-for-anything explorers, this time to Lincoln Road and the newly renovated Española Way nearby, arguably the most charming street in Miami Beach.

We used to drive down to Lincoln Road to hire our fashion models. All the agencies were there then, of course, and every single person you saw sitting at a cafe or skating by on Rollerblades was about 17 years old and drop-dead gorgeous. It was unnerving, like you were trespassers in the Land of Perfect Humans. The women all had legs longer than LeBron’s and glowing alabaster skin; the men were so swoon-worthy it was weird. I mean you hardly ever see even one handsome man anywhere, not even in a year, but here were literally hundreds, all with ripply abs and curly hair and glacier-blue eyes. Which is why our then-art director Susan Rosser and I would take ourselves to a really good restaurant for lunch after a casting call; we were determined to eat all the food none of the models had obviously ever tasted, in a kind of tribute ritual.

Lincoln Road back then had a drug store/Botanica we always visited that sold Cuban cigars, a variety of purposeful religious candles, even anti-werewolf powder (because you never know.) There were galleries and tiny ethnic restaurants, even the Miami City Ballet, which had a picture window where you could watch them practice, complete with Edward Villella.

This Sunday, all that was gone.

Some of the old places were there, like Sushi Samba, and Books & Books, wild parrots rustling and squawking in the palms. But we only saw maybe one gallery and a Forever 21 that took up half a block. There were those annoying spa hawkers who try to give you free face cream samples and lure you into a store, restaurant shills shoving menus into your face and roving bands of tourists and families out for a Sunday stroll. The Botanica was long gone, and there were no impossibly beautiful people, either, no ballerinas twirling behind plate glass windows.

This is the New Miami, I thought, which felt a lot like the New Orlando or the New Sarasota.

Española Way was better, but something was still missing. Built as an artists’ colony in the 1920s—and the first commercial street in Miami Beach—the tiny vintage street has completed a $2.5 million restoration, intended to evoke an Old World “Spanish village with large overhangs, thick stucco walls and glazed tile” everywhere. This narrow little street—pedestrians only—still has some of that untapped historic charm—but is almost completely populated by one small café after another, with virtually no retail. Like an elaborate al fresco food court, only better.

We were looking for some trace of boho South Florida we remembered, or felt authentic, wacky, unique, the kind of vibe you could only find in Miami Beach. For some reason, it didn’t show up that day. Maybe we remembered things wrong or maybe we were in all the wrong places.

But we haven’t given up trying to find it again.