Best of Miami®

Best Of 2000

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Best Of :: People & Places

Best Mile Of Miami

Can we fudge just a bit? Let's call it the "Best Couple of Miles of Miami." Loosening the definition is worthwhile, for all aspects of life in Miami are symbolically represented along this stretch of blacktop. The journey begins at Biscayne Bay in the shadow of wealth and power: the Miami Herald building, the Grand and Plaza Venetia condominium towers, the Omni complex. Across Biscayne Boulevard you plunge into Overtown, where, amid the abandoned buildings, garbage-strewn lots, and potholed streets stands the sleekly rehabilitated Ice Palace Studios, an entrepreneurial beacon for the city's vision of a new film and fashion district. Press onward beyond North Miami Avenue, where social life is an outdoor affair and beverages tend to be cloaked in paper bags. Not far beyond NW Seventh Avenue a couple of small clapboard houses stand as sentinels to a bygone era, before the interstates ripped out the heart of the neighborhood, an era when Overtown was a hustling, bustling community. Duck under SR 836 and you're transported to the sprawling complex of high-rises devoted to the healing arts, anchored by Jackson Memorial Hospital. Just past Twelfth Avenue the tall buildings address not physical ills but societal ills: the county's criminal courthouse, the main county jail, the State Attorney's Office, the public defender's headquarters. Two more blocks and the street changes once again, this time into a quaint neighborhood shaded by majestic oak trees. The cozy homes don't house families, however; they are occupied by law offices catering to the defense of accused criminals. Fourteenth Street finally hits a dead end at the west side of NW Seventeenth Avenue, along the banks of the hard-working Miami River. And there you have it on one street, just about everything that comprises life in this subtropical metropolis: wealth, poverty, demolition, renovation, depression, optimism, inequity, justice.

Best Chatter at a Cafetería Window

"If you could call this place something, it would be tantamount, in Spanish, to that sitcom in English where everybody knows your name -- Cheers," says Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Lt. Eddie Ballester. The firefighter and paramedic, stationed five blocks away, is a regular at this window. Over the years Brothers to the Rescue leader José Basulto has scarfed not a few pastelitos at this locale while pondering his next move. Miami-Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim also has been spotted here, along with several of his assistants. Univision's answer to Walter Cronkite, newsman Guillermo Benitez, is another familiar face. Policemen, businessmen, plumbers, retirees, and Harley-Davidson aficionados all make this their chitchat haven. On a recent Saturday, while waiting for his coffee and Danish, Ballester talked about saving lives with Retavase, a new clot-busting medication for heart-attack victims currently being tested at his station. You never know what new things you'll learn at the Universidad de la Carreta.

Best Chatter at a Cafetería Window

"If you could call this place something, it would be tantamount, in Spanish, to that sitcom in English where everybody knows your name -- Cheers," says Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Lt. Eddie Ballester. The firefighter and paramedic, stationed five blocks away, is a regular at this window. Over the years Brothers to the Rescue leader José Basulto has scarfed not a few pastelitos at this locale while pondering his next move. Miami-Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim also has been spotted here, along with several of his assistants. Univision's answer to Walter Cronkite, newsman Guillermo Benitez, is another familiar face. Policemen, businessmen, plumbers, retirees, and Harley-Davidson aficionados all make this their chitchat haven. On a recent Saturday, while waiting for his coffee and Danish, Ballester talked about saving lives with Retavase, a new clot-busting medication for heart-attack victims currently being tested at his station. You never know what new things you'll learn at the Universidad de la Carreta.

Best Movie Theater

There was much trepidation about the coming of this monster movie theater to our much-treasured Road. Would this cold and corporate megaplex shoveling out Hollywood hits put an end to any remaining pretense of funkiness that the mall had? Surprise: The Regal on South Beach has fit in more snug than many thought. First, it lived up to its promise to show alternative movies. At least two screens per week show foreign or gay-theme films, or films that otherwise might not have unspooled here. Second, the theaters themselves are comfortable: medium-size rooms, plush seats, and good views from every one of them (so often not the case at a megaplex). Parking hasn't been a problem, either; in fact you can often find a spot right on Alton Road, just a block away. There is a good selection of food, a café, even an outdoor patio and balcony, and absolutely no loud video arcade anywhere on the premises. Finally, before or after the movie you can stroll down the street that, while it has lost much of its counterculture vibe, remains Miami-Dade's most people-friendly urban area.

Best Political Miscalculation

Miami Commissioner J.L. Plummer had his re-election formula down pat: Raise tons of cash, glad-hand voters at community festivals, and have his Cuban friends praise him on Spanish-language radio. It had worked seven times before, after all. Upstart businessman Johnny Winton might push him into a runoff, but the veteran's vast war chest would crush him. Oops! While Miami politics changed, Plummer didn't. District elections had turned the city's politically neglected Upper East Side into a powerful force that overwhelmed Plummer's traditional base in the Cuban community. He also underestimated how badly the city's scandals sullied his reputation. Most voters, including many in Plummer's Coconut Grove back yard, didn't buy his pleas of ignorance as his colleagues were arrested, the city fell into disarray, and taxes climbed. In addition the 29-year incumbent didn't take underdog Winton seriously. The end result: Plummer maintained his unprecedented streak of seven elections without a runoff. But he was clobbered in the eighth.

Best Salsa Scene
Salsa Lovers Dance Studio

It all began here in 1993: salsa classes on Monday and Wednesday nights at the spacious and charmingly down-at-the-heels Blue Banquet Hall. By now the place is packed four nights a week, and Salsa Lovers is a huge enterprise, having expanded to two more locations. But the West Miami-Dade scene has a festive, nightclubby quality all its own, and it just keeps getting hotter (sometimes literally; the AC is erratic). Monday through Thursday a large and varied crowd descends on the hall, everyone from senior citizens to families to middle-school students, though the 20- to 30-year-old crowd dominates. The sheer energy generated by hundreds of slaves to the salsa rhythm is irresistible. Some people skip the classes and instead hang out, flirt, or practice moves with a partner. Between classes (three levels, each one hour long, beginning at 7:00 p.m.) the DJ spins a "practice song," and a gigantic circle of couples fills the entire main dance floor, so big the instructors have to call out the turns on a microphone. Oscar D'Leon blares from the speakers, and pretty soon everyone's in a whirl -- dile que no, dame una, hips going and fondillos shaking, abrázala, abanico, arms rising and feet pivoting, montaña, balsero, and sometimes the lights will dim and the tacky disco balls will turn. For seven dollars (price per lesson) you get all this, and you might even learn the paseo por el parque.

9848 Bird Rd., Miami, 33165
MAP
305-220-7115
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Best Mile Of Miami: Fourteenth Street from North Bayshore to NW North River Drive

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