City slicker: Miami

They like to party in this sexy beach city, but they like their culture, too. Andrew Tong offers a guide for new and returning visitors
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The Independent Travel

Why visit?

It's 20 years since Crockett and Tubbs last rolled up their pastel jacket sleeves to tackle the drug lords of Miami. In those two decades the city has been transformed from seedy and sleazy to downright sexy. Yet, while British tourists flock to Florida each year in search of winter sun, how many of them stop to sample the delirious concoction that the United States' fourth biggest city has to offer?

In fact, more and more Europeans are choosing Miami as a destination in itself. The Ibiza DJs keep the party going during the Balearic off-season and the Old World's artistic communities gaze longingly at the bright, spacious galleries on the other side of the pond. It's now the place to be for Brits with high standards and even higher aspirations.

Miami also satisfies a "glartterati's" need for cosmopolitan sensibilities. Miami's multicultural delights include the heady influences of Cuba and Haiti as well as the gentle pace of the Deep South mixed with the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan eastern seaboard. And then there's the city's signature, the Art Deco district around South Beach where glorious 1930s hotels, raucous gay cabarets, and genteel restaurant verandas jostle for space.

A friend from Delray Beach recommends that visitors to this great city pack only a thong, a pair of high heels and a big floppy sunhat – but don't forget to bring an open mind.

Don't miss ...

... the chance of a big brunch in the 11th Street Diner, a 1948 railway carriage that came to rest among the smoke shops and tattoo parlours of Washington Avenue.

... taking an industrial-strength Cuban espresso, with about five sugars, in the company of old men and their dominoes in Little Havana.

... a strut on South Beach among the flamboyantly decorated lifeguard towers and excessive amounts of flesh on display.

... a free ride on the Metromover monorail as its driverless carriages potter about among the downtown skyscrapers.

... a stroll down Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue as the sun sets and the neon pastels illuminate the Art Deco architecture.

... sitting back with a mojito cocktail as the night creatures of the SoBe (that's South Beach to you) emerge in all their finery.

... a few beers and some serious blues music at the Tobacco Road Liquor Bar, a former speakeasy that's almost 100 years old.

What's new?

The Design District

It's the hippest part of town right now, with old, block-like warehouses transformed into stylish and squintingly bright slabs of super-modern structures. The spacious boulevards and reflective surfaces give off an eerie sense of light and space, and the restless city seems a million miles away even though it's just a couple of blocks down. Impossibly expensive interior designers and arty knick-knack shops squeeze in among the trendiest lunching spots. The shopping here is to die for – it will cost you a life insurance policy, and the shop assistants follow you around like assassins. When you've finally shaken them off, head for a shady pergola and a cool glass of white wine.

The Viceroy

Little sister of The Tides, this behemoth squats on the banks of the Miami River among the steel mountains downtown. The rooms, with their floor-to-ceiling windows, seem to float in the clouds above Brickell Avenue; they are cluttered with art and artefacts, thrown together by designer Kelly Wearstler, who has also renovated The Tides. But her ideas pale in comparison with the brash and gaudy imagination of Philippe Starck, who dreamt up the Easter Island statues that hold up the 50 storeys of the Icon Brickell complex, the two-acre pool deck with its olive groves and monstrously long infinity pool, and the even more garish, 28,000sq ft spa, which is decorated like a library with a chandelier as big as a dragon.

Sra Martinez

Michelle Bernstein, one of the hottest chefs in the States, has opened this restaurant in the heart of the Design District in the 1920s Buena Vista Post Office. She specialises in stunning tapas which blend European classics with Latin American twists. The duck foie gras sausage with white beans and port wine is exquisite; the "untraditional" patatas bravas come Peruvian style with a huancaina cheese sauce and crispy ham; and the deep-fried sweetbreads are, well, surprisingly pleasant. Other ingredients sound as if they shouldn't work together and yet provide intriguing and surprisingly complementary tastes, such as prawns and popcorn. It's all served up by genial staff who are never too busy to tell you what you're eating even if they're carrying 10 plates at a time.

Details: 001 305 573 5474

SET and Rokbar

The pulsating heart of the city is Miami Beach, late at night. SET, where tennis player Richard Gasquet recently found himself ingesting cocaine by accident, is where the beautiful women and the short, wealthy men hang out. It has a towering bar with girls squirming inside narrow tubes and $500 bottles of vodka with sparklers in them. At Rokbar, the creation of Mötley Crüe's Tommy Lee, the music comes first and the condensation flows freely down the walls. Both these hot spots have been revamped and relaunched and, strangely, both venues have toilet roll tumbling from the ceiling at regular intervals, presumably to clear up any unexpected, unsightly mess.

Details: ;

Insider's secret: Allison Nold, corporate lawyer

"Sunseekers and day drinkers should head to Nikki Beach. After sunset, enjoy a cocktail and engage in the relaxing sport of people-watching from sexy vantage points at the Setai, Shore Club, Delano, Gansevoort, Mondrian or the W Hotel.

"Carry your cocktails to new restaurants and old favourites such as Mr Chow's at the W Hotel, Prime 112, and the four delectable restaurants at the Fontainebleau Hotel.

"Clubbers should try Mokai, Mynt, the Florida Room at the Delano Hotel, or LIV at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Whatever you do ... go big, or go home."

How to get there

British Airways (0844 493 0787; offers return flights from Heathrow to Miami from £387.

The Viceroy (001 305 503 4400; offers double rooms from $175 (£106) per night.

Further information

Florida: Greater Miami CVB ( )