There's something almost all great destination cities around the globe have in common: a tacky tourist zone that locals have almost completely ceded to visitors and tend to avoid like the plague. In New York, there's Times Square, with its Guy Fieri restaurants and Sesame
Yet there seems to be a growing cry among Miami Beach locals that Ocean Drive should be more. That it should
That recent movement reaches all the way to the top of city government. This past May, Mayor Philip Levine championed a new ordinance that would cut off alcohol sales at sidewalk cafés at 2 a.m.
"We don't believe a 2 a.m. sidewalk prohibition is the be-all, end-all for cleaning up Ocean Drive," Levine said at the time. "We believe it's one small step in a long journey to bringing back Ocean Drive to its iconic nature, where locals actually enjoy going and families enjoy going."
That push is continuing among some local activists and business owners, including Mitch Novick, owner of the Sherbrooke Hotel, who seized on a video of a young, mentally ill woman getting naked and pouring ketchup on herself last month at the Johnny Rockets on Ocean Drive. Novick told New Times that Ocean Drive is now a “cesspool of lawlessness" and claimed zoning changes need to be enacted to control people's behavior.
Photo by Kyle Munzenrieder
Do You Really Want Miami Beach to Be Like the Rest of Florida?
Every Florida beach town has the argument that's happening on Ocean Drive. It starts when tourists show up and do what they really want to do when they come to Florida: namely, get drunk and sit on the beach. Spring break is a classic example of this type of behavior, but it happens year-round in the Sunshine State. Then locals start wringing their hands about these "undesirable elements," and the local government starts cracking down. There are laws in Florida towns banning everything from drinking to "wow I can't believe a city council discussed this" issues like Speedo prohibitions.
The result: Florida towns legislate and zone themselves into a sort of generic beach-town blandness. So many are left boring and indistinguishable from one another — and then tourists don't go there as much as they go to Miami Beach. There's a reason Miami is the single most visited city in Florida that isn't home to Mickey Mouse.
Miami Beach Has a Live-and-Let-Live History
Miami Beach allows topless sunbathing. Clubs are open until 5 a.m. every day of the week, one of the latest last calls of any city in the nation. Decades after most big cities in America outlawed cigarette smoking in bars and clubs, it's never really been a serious discussion in Miami Beach. As some business owners on Ocean Drive pointed out when Mayor Levine passed his law banning late-night sidewalk drink sales, there's already a ton of laws on the books that aren't routinely enforced.
The Reverse Psychology of Having a So-Called Tacky Area
Some tourists get a thrill out of visiting a city and avoiding its best-known and tourist-happy areas, and that seems to be exceedingly true for a certain segment of savvy Miami Beach visitors.
They go home, and someone asks them, "Oh, did you visit Ocean Drive?"
They reply with a bit of a huff: "Oh, darling, I would never dream of setting foot on that dreck. When we go to Miami Beach, we like to do the real Miami Beach."
The point is that concentrating all the tacky tourist stuff in one area makes the rest of the Beach look classier by comparison.
It Seems to Be Working
They say if it's not broken, don't fix it, and it certainly seems like no one is going broke on Ocean Drive. Restaurants there have been in business for years while paying incredibly high rents, yet they've never served a dish that a more refined palate would deem edible. Sure, some customers complain they're getting ripped off, but those places always seem to be packed.
Ocean Drive is one of the most popular tourist destinations in an area that economically thrives on tourism.
It's Never Been "Classy"
This is the biggest pop-culture moment ever associated with Ocean Drive:
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SHOW ME HOW
Yes, the strip has come a long way since the Cocaine Cowboys era, but let's not try to turn the scene of the Scarface chainsaw massacre into Rodeo Drive.
So sure, Ocean Drive might need some updates and changes, but trying to erase its history won't get us anywhere. We can't pick and chose what kind of tourists visit Miami Beach and what they do while here. Who are we, Donald Trump? Is Miami Beach going to build a wall on the MacArthur Causeway and make sure tourists are "refined" and "classy" before being allowed in?
Ocean Drive is what it is and what it always will be, and anyone thinking it can be turned into some generic Florida beachside is fooling themselves.