Sylk, a recent hip-hop transplant from Philadelphia, took to Miami like an alligator to the Glades: He slid right into our cacophonous subtropical airwaves and made them his own. Shortly after his arrival, people began talking about "The Roll Call," his twice-nightly homage to listeners. "What's up, y'all, so what's it gonna be? Now, who's on the line with your homey Al B.?" People of all ages call in, usually right in sync with Sylk's rap, and "shout out" to their friends. Caller: "Tasha's in the house." Sylk: "Oh, baby." Caller: "Mica's in the house." Sylk: "Baby, baby." When callers stumble and miss a beat, they'll be gently chastised by Sylk: "You're a dodohead!" Miami's most popular DJ, 29 years old, also instituted the nightly A-Team announcement. At the beginning of every grading period listeners fax in school report cards. Sylk then picks people at random and calls them at home to congratulate them on the air. Even when he's shouting "Whoooo do you love? 'Cause you got to looooove somebody!" to close his Friday-night show, Sylk doesn't preach so much as he invites his audience to have as much fun as he's having.
Widely known for his television show Sevcec on the Telemundo network, Sevcec's full range of talents are revealed on his radio show Sevcec Live, which airs from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Monday through Friday on Radio Unica. Sevcec himself says he is in his true element on the radio. Listen to the show and you'll see what he means. It is clear he's having a blast, and it's contagious. His staff lines up interviews with presidents and truck drivers for a program that roams from thoughtful analysis of Latin American elections to a story about a kid devoured by a shark. In between Sevcec demonstrates his remarkable ability to project empathy, which has garnered him the title, the "Latin Phil Donahue." Radio's informality allows the host to exercise his considerable wit, often with uproarious results.

So you think Miami is all about bubbleheads whose most intense reading comes from their hair-gel tubes, right? And about people who would say Verlaine is a brand of sunglasses and Pynchon a species of fish, right? Think again, dude. This town was practically founded by highly literate people from the northeastern United States, e.g., author Kirk Munroe, one of the first settlers of Coconut Grove in the late 1800s. These days the area's best-known men and women of letters are realists such as Carl Hiaasen, Les Standiford, James Hall, and Edna Buchanan. They cater to the popular tastes, and we love that stuff. But every vibrant literary scene needs a journal, because quality and experimentation do not always reach the mass market. Instructors at Florida International University founded Gulf Stream Magazine in 1989 when they launched the school's master's program for creative writing. "We particularly look for work we think is energetic, well made, and provocative," editor Lynne Barrett says. Call that statement a synechdoche for Miami. You can subscribe or order single issues by calling the FIU creative-writing department, or buy a copy from Books & Books.

No booming THX sound. No giant curved screen. No reclining overstuffed seats that look like they fell off a spaceship. No handy drink holders. No uniformed minions peddling hot dogs, nachos, and candy. No computerized ticket dispensers. No call ahead and charge. No TV monitors broadcasting what time the movie you came to see will be playing. A smallish big screen, 192 comfortably rickety seats. A discerning selection of first-run, second-run, and foreign films. A cozy lobby with couches, tables, and chairs where you can sip an espresso or a soda, scarf your popcorn and Snickers, chat with other cineastes, silently read a magazine, or just listen to the piped-in music. In short a charming and user-friendly theater run by two gregarious guys, Johnny Calderin and Cesar Hernandez-Canton, who remember what going to the movies was like before the advent of the multiplex.

No doubt about it, Miami is a surreal place, almost cartoonlike at times. Which may be why Scott Baldwin's Carter comics do such a wonderful job capturing the local cultural flavor, as seen through bohemian, but never jaundiced, eyes. The strip's protagonist, Brandon, is a wide-eyed fellow, beat down but still smiling, just trying to make sense of it all. Whether he's sitting down for a drink with death (literally), wandering through Little Havana, or getting bounced out of punk dive Churchill's, Brandon alternately evokes laugh-out-loud guffaws and head-scratching confusion. It incorporates the best aspects of Ziggy and Nancy, but with Baldwin's own charmingly crude, left-out-in-the-sun-too-long style.
"That was a small space, and I'm too big for small spaces," says drag queen Elaine Lancaster of a tiny bar on Lincoln Road where she worked recently. Sounds like Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond, who defiantly declared, "I'm still big; it's the pictures that got smaller." Lancaster, however, is referring not to her status but to her stature. She really is a big girl -- six feet two without heels or her Texas-size blond mane. Frequently seen on the arm of old Texas buddy Dennis Rodman, she arrived in Miami from Dallas nearly two years ago. You can catch her hostessing at Tuesday's "Revolution" at Red Square restaurant, Wednesday's "World Famous $1000 Strip Contest" at Warsaw, and Fridays and Saturdays at Bar Room. In her syrupy Southern accent, she's raconteur, comedienne, diplomat, and self-deprecating commentator on world events. But more than just the hostess with the mostest, Lancaster (a.k.a. James Davis) is a wiz at out-illusioning her fellow gender illusionists by doing some mean lip-synching. Batting her eyelashes, casting sidelong glances, smiling widely, wooing the crowd with her many expressions, it's no wonder she's been featured on television and in movies several times, has her own column in miamigo magazine, and lately has enlisted the services of an agent to advance her career. This diva is a glamazon who's got the goods to take her straight to superstardom.
From the outside the Ziff Museum looks like an ordinary synagogue, but when you step inside and feel the bright sunlight streaming through the 80 stained-glass windows, you sense a vitality that comes from more than this building having once been a house of worship. Before there was a museum, there was a traveling exhibition called "MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida." Organized as a statewide project, "MOSAIC" comprises photographs, artifacts, and oral histories that depict the Jewish presence in South Florida since 1763. From 1990 to 1994 the exhibition toured thirteen cities around the nation. Its immense popularity persuaded organizers to find it a permanent home, which expanded into the idea of building the South's first Jewish museum. The site: the former Beth Jacob Synagogue, which had housed Miami Beach's first Jewish congregation and provided a symbolic reminder of the days when Miami Beach Jews were restricted to living south of Fifth Street. Long in disrepair and almost done in by the wrath of Hurricane Andrew, the building was given a two-year, $1.5 million restoration, a million of which came from Sunglass Hut mogul Sanford L. Ziff. Opened in the spring of 1995, the museum has since hosted an array of fascinating exhibitions, including photographer Neil Folberg's stunning images of historic synagogues around the world; a thought-provoking examination of Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Region created by Joseph Stalin in the late Twenties; and entertaining and informative looks at Jewish life in Miami Beach. A lively series of lectures and programs accompany each showing and have featured readings, scholarly discussions, music by klezmer bands, and recollections from long-time South Florida residents. Its past life as a synagogue serves the museum quite well, for it's indeed a place to contemplate and appreciate what it means to be Jewish -- for members of the faith and others.

Artist-turned-dealer Fred Snitzer is the godfather of Miami's contemporary art scene. He has outlasted art-world fads and real estate trends, persevering when others have grown discouraged with the local audience and art market. "It's frustrating," says the Philadelphia native, who first opened a gallery here two decades ago and for the past two years has been at his ample, cement-floored space in an unfashionable neighborhood bordering Coral Gables. "Considering the amount of money spent in Miami on fancy cars and big-screen TVs, very little is spent to support or purchase art." Despite financial ups and downs, Snitzer has remained faithful to his vision and criteria, exhibiting daring work of young artists and established names from South Florida and beyond. "Good art-gallery owners take chances and show things they think are taking art further along in its evolution, art that makes a contribution to humanity. I'd say I'm in that category most of the time." And we thank him.

Before booty-shaking, before Frappuccino, before IMAX, before 24-hour gyms there was nothing to do after a long day of hunting and gathering but sit around and stare at the sky. If such simplicity makes you sigh, "Born too late," take heart. The Southern Cross Astronomical Society wants to tweak your inner Galileo. Saturdays between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. the club sets up its high-tech telescopes at Bill Sadowski Park, a site so removed from city glare that even flashlights are banned as pernicious to the night-adjusted eye. Bring lawn chairs or blankets and a picnic dinner (no alcohol, please). Admission, Southern Cross expertise, and the stars are all free. Miami may be far from heaven, but that shouldn't stop us from looking.
If traffic is a little slow on NE Second Avenue, blame it on two giant paintings on the façade of the Buick Building, a former car showroom in Miami's Design District. The enchanting sight of the 24-by-12-foot portraits of Haitian freedom fighter Makandal and Aztec heroine La Malinche is sure to incite rubbernecking. The works are the realization of the artist-architect team of Rosario Marquardt and Roberto Behar, who developed the idea of creating open-air museums by hanging art outside buildings rather than inside. The two paintings, from Marquardt's series of unsung Latin American historical figures, were enlarged and transferred to vinyl mesh, then tacked into oval-shaped recesses in the façade. Commissioned for the Dacra Realty-owned building by company president Craig Robins, the works are the first "exhibition" of many that Marquardt and Behar plan to hang on the building in order to "suggest the possibility of the fantastic as part of everyday life." Sure beats a fresh coat of paint.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®