Best Of :: People & Places
Periodically various sections of vice-infested Biscayne Boulevard emerge as the latest darlings of developers and entrepreneurs. At last, these urban-renewal boosters boast, Biscayne is on the verge of moral rebirth and commercial boom. Speculators buy up chunks of the street. And then somehow it just doesn't quite come together; somehow Biscayne is as resistant to reform as, well, as its crack-addicted hookers. Still the signs of new life on this seamy stretch of the boulevard are encouraging. Key is the renovation from 54th to 57th. High-profile restaurateur Mark Soyka, resident of nearby Morningside and originator of the News Café and the Van Dyke, has just opened a new restaurant and gourmet store at 55th, with several other shops to follow. If Soyka can pull off a planned transformation of the gas station of ill-repute at 54th into a coffee-and-croissant market, that just might clinch the turnaround. On the twenty blocks stretching north, many new restaurants and businesses have begun to move in on the kitschy collection of sleazy motels. Wide-open drug and sex sales appear markedly down, though it's still a bad idea to actually walk along the sidewalks at night. You won't be in much danger, but you will almost surely be mistaken for someone -- old, young, churchgoing, no matter the color or sex or sexual orientation -- who is selling or in the market for something illegal.
The cover photo for the tabloid weekly "Viernes" almost never fails to deliver the goods. Both of them.
Some know it's there, some hear about it through word of mouth, some are drawn by the sound of the drums and the heady scent of patchouli. For more than a year and a half, with every full moon, masses of people have gathered on the sand of Miami Beach at 22nd Street and Collins Avenue to celebrate the lunar month. Stumble by accident upon this rhythmically inclined horde of young hippies and you're bound to wonder if Phish is in town. Nope, it's just about 200 of Miami's own crunchy granola/henna tattoo/crystal friend set, kicking it new age: beating congas, Grateful Dead-dancing, and lighting incense in homage to the Earth Mother. "Organize" is probably the wrong word to use in conjunction with such a blissfully chaotic event, but Gaia Buhdai of the Synergy Yoga Center does try to keep the circle vibrant each month by making phone calls to some of the talented drummers she knows. "Some nights the drumming is great, some nights it's not that great," she allows. "But you look around and people are swimming, kids are playing, some are dancing in the circle, lovers are making out." A life-affirming, deliciously mellow affair. All hail the Mother Goddess!
Oh, that aquamarine! No hotel lobby does justice to the Rat Pack era like the Eden Roc does. It doesn't look seedy and it doesn't feel old. It looks wonderfully fresh, as if you just walked through the doors to 1956. The Eden Roc, a Morris Lapidus jewel built in that year, does not offer an icy chrome entrance like so many of the earlier hotels further south on the Beach. No, this lobby comes from a time when cars had big fins and guests carried big drinks (it has blue-green carpeting, for God's sake). It's not just the sea color that makes you want to sink back into this world for hours. It's also something about the shape of the chairs, the placement of the pillars, the rust-and-gold diamonds on the walls, the white-and-green lamps, the piano, all those Grecian accessories. But get your fill of sitting in Eden soon, because starting sometime this summer the lobby will be renovated. The bright and light will be replaced, a spokeswoman says, by "stronger" colors like beige and black. Like all those hotels further south. We've already had to say so long to Frank, Sammy, and Dean. Must we lose this gem, too?
For more than 2000 years Chinese health care practitioners have used a potent combination of herbs, needles, and nutrition to cure ailments ranging from acne to obesity. A pioneer in the field of Chinese medicine in the United States, Daniel Atchison-Nevel, a Miami Beach native, brought that knowledge home nearly twenty years ago, after a Gainesville acupuncturist cured his insomnia. As founder of the now-defunct South Florida Healing Arts Center and dean of the Community School of Traditional Chinese Healthcare, Nevel imported teachers from China and later taught hundreds of students the intricacies of Chinese medicine. Now with a booming private practice, he specializes in functional illnesses, which include digestive disorders, PMS, and depression. He also treats patients who want to quit smoking, lose weight, or alleviate chronic pain. Because the American Medical Association has sanctioned the use of acupuncture for some conditions, many insurance companies pick up the tab. Be warned, though: The waiting list for new patients is about two months long.
The great magic of the Everglades can be found in the subtleties of life there, though subtle is about the last word that comes to mind as you pull into Jon Weisberg's over-the-top roadside attraction. The anomaly is as it should be: We don't trap our tourists, boy, we trap gators. It is the illusion of an illusionary Florida. For eight years Weisberg and his staff have pulled off the improbable trick of creating a fake Everglades in the middle of the real Everglades. To differentiate Gator Park from the Tamiami Trail's lesser draws, its entranceway boasts a giant Coke can, atop which rests an airboat, atop which rest a stuffed bear, bird, and deer. Next to this improbable sculpture stand totem poles, a chickee, an American flag. Jutting from the thatched edifice is a big green wood gator head, so goofy-looking that real gators retreat into the swamp from embarrassment. A humanized, human-size gator (jeans, boots, dress shirt) sits in a rocking chair on the front porch, greeting tourists much as a live gator would: with a stony silent stare. Enough tables for a tribe are set up on the porch, the patio, and inside for dining on gator, frog legs, or venison (most meals cost less than ten bucks). The souvenir shop offers what you'd expect, but more of it: shirts and hats with gator logos, gator claws, jewelry (some of it Indian), books and postcards, ceramic gators, raccoon caps, Indian pottery, and other stuff, mostly employing the gator motif, including plastic, rubber, and puppet gator replicas. For a taste of the real Everglades, Gator Park provides five airboats piloted by guides ($12 for adults, $6.50 for kids) who will take you beyond the façade.