Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Known the world over for opulent accommodations, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group constructed its latest masterpiece adjacent to downtown on overcrowded Claughton Island, also known as Brickell Key. A November 2000 opening introduced Miamians to a heretofore unknown brand of low-key luxury. More than $100 million was spent on the wedge-shaped building, which includes a serene lobby accented by elegant bamboo trees, 329 expansive rooms decorated with modern furniture and plush fabrics (bamboo floors in suites), bathrooms covered in Spanish marble, and balconies that overlook Biscayne Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, or the Miami skyline. Add to that a state-of-the-art gym, a charming swimming pool with Jacuzzi, a lush full-service spa, the splendid restaurant Azul, and the more-casual but equally enticing Café Sambal. Rates that range from $550 to $4000, and recent guests Spanish rulers King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia suggest a stay that few simple folk can afford except in the off-season.
The operative word is organic. This is the place to find it fresh and in a pleasant, natural setting. Cactus fruit and mustard greens, rutabaga and nectarines. Flax seeds and bee pollen to lift you up. Rows of tight green asparagus bundles, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. A rainbow of peppers like you won't believe: purple, green, red, yellow, orange. Fantastic mushrooms: oyster, portabello, shiitake, and crimini to name a few. Fruits to fit your moods. A variety of oils, butters, and freshly baked breads. Perfectly reasonable prices and a diligent staff of Birkenstocked twentysomethings to offer a helping hand. What more could you ask for?
Coconut Grove Playhouse
What made Coconut Grove Playhouse stand out this season is the same phenomenon that made the birth of the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup a hit -- the pairing of two things that normally don't go together. In this case two kinds of theater: the big-name, high-profile stars and full-scale productions the mainstage puts on, and the more intimate and diverse productions found in the Encore Room. This season each produced an outstanding show: Art and A Bicycle Country. Yasmina Reza's award-winning Art took satire beyond the limits of comedy into the hilarious drama of the human heart and its feckless sidekick, ego. The excellent acting and superb script transformed the Playhouse's mainstage into a blank canvas redolent with the gradations of comedy and drama essential to interesting theater. Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz made his Miami debut of A Bicycle Country, and the Encore turned out to be the perfect space for three balseros adrift at sea. The Encore's theater-in-the-round staging for the set heightened the sense of confinement, especially in the second half of the play, when the stage becomes a makeshift raft. (Set designer Steve Lambert used a hydraulic system to rock the stage as if it were on water in a subtle yet effective visual device.) While the playhouse has been teaming up its mainstage and Encore Room for at least a decade now, this season hit an especially winning combination.
A repeat victory for the no-longer-so-boyish Herald columnist, who last won this award in 1996, following his arrest for disorderly intoxication at Johnny Rockets restaurant in Coconut Grove. (Charges were later dropped.) Five years later the still-single sportswriter has joined George Clooney, Derek Jeter, and Matt Damon as one of People magazine's "100 Most Eligible Bachelors." In the magazine LeBatard squats over a pool table and admits he's "never been in love." People made no mention of "I Am the Hunter," the notorious 1800-word essay LeBatard wrote for Cosmopolitan in 1997. "Men like me travel in packs, pursuing perfume, and we find the chase more intoxicating than everything after it," LeBatard admitted. "We dabble in relationships for the same reason we dabble in hunting: There's an incomparable rush wrapped in the search and discovery. But then, when the last bullet has been fired and the gun is spent, when the conquest is complete and the game is done and we get to see what we've done close up, all that remains is the blood and the smell and a mess to clean up. Doesn't mean we won't go hunting again, mind you. We drink after a bad hangover, don't we?" Hard to believe the guy hasn't found a mate.
For more than fifteen years, the creative-writing program at Florida International University has been producing one of the more lively and interesting reading series in South Florida. Housed at the North Campus of FIU, the series runs in the spring and fall of each year and is free and open to the public. Among the authors who have recently attended are the distinguished poets Maureen Seaton, Rebecca McClanahan, and Lorna Goodison, and novelists Bruce Jay Friedman, Miles Harvey, and Andrea Barrett.

Many politicians, hoping to impress an increasingly influential voting bloc, attended the March 10, 2001, Fanm Ayisyèn Nan Myami (Haitian Women of Miami) fundraising banquet at a local hotel. Miami Mayor Joe Carollo was scheduled to award a key to the city to the featured speaker, Marie St. Fleur of Boston, the nation's first elected Haitian-American state representative. St. Fleur is a forceful advocate of programs to combat domestic violence and protect battered women. At the banquet St. Fleur spoke at length on the subject, at one point invoking Eleanor Roosevelt's words: "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water." And on St. Fleur went, oblivious to the controversy surrounding Carollo's recent arrest for allegedly hitting his wife -- with a tea canister no less. Although the mayor's staff later denied that Carollo's next surprising move was prompted by St. Fleur's words, he suddenly arose well before she had finished her speech and left the banquet room, key to the city and all.
If you're gonna build a city in a swamp, expect slimy creatures. In Miami we actually import them. Mobsters, murderers, mayors -- it's just part of the attraction for tourists. Two or three times each year historian Paul George takes a lucky group on a bus tour to visit some of Miami's most infamous ghosts. He packs a lot in three hours around the city and Miami Beach, but still doesn't come close to fitting it all in. There was the time in 1895 when Sam Lewis went on a murder spree in Lemon City. A hundred years later developer Stanley Cohen was murdered in Coconut Grove by his wife's hit man. Famous mobster Meyer Lansky used to walk his dog along Collins Avenue. In 1968 developer Robert Mackle dropped a $500,000 ransom from the bridge leading to Grove Isle in Coconut Grove, this in hopes of freeing his kidnapped daughter, who had been buried alive. Andrew Cunanan committed suicide in a Miami Beach houseboat after murdering Gianni Versace. The assassination attempt on FDR in Bayfront Park. The notorious River Cops stealing drugs and leaving bodies in their wake. The list goes on. Call the museum for more information. Reservations are required, and seats go fast.
Miami actually is controlled by a secret cabal of gay Cuban men known as Los Pollos Tropicales. (All right, we made up the name, but we're pretty sure about the rest of it.)

Even those who aren't theater buffs love one-acts. Perhaps it's because our brains have been conditioned by too many Budweiser and Taco Bell commercials, but one-acts have the strange appeal of being enigmatic, energetic, and, most important, short. This season Chuck Pooler took the one-act a step further by packing Neil LaBute's Iphigenia in Orem with so many maniacal twists and turns it took the emotional toll of a two-hour drama. As a middle-age salesman holed up in a roadside motel, Pooler led theatergoers from feeling sorry for his washed-out, pudgy, pathetic self to utter shock when the man confesses that he suffocated his infant daughter and then pretended it was an accident. On the dimly lit and barren stage of Drama 101, Pooler's subtlety and unassuming delivery managed to seep into the subconscious of the audience and root out all preconceptions of what it means to be a murderer while at the same time, replanting age-old questions about good and evil.
As a member of the county commission since 1993, Natacha Seijas (the former Mrs. Natacha Millan) has perfected a foolproof method of alienating people. She's mean. She's arrogant. She can throw a scowl that cracks granite. And so as she prepared to run for re-election in 2000, most political observers predicted her time was up. Her archenemy, Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, had made her defeat one of his top priorities. Her opponent in the commission race was Roberto Casas, a popular and affable member of the state Senate. Seijas's chances for survival were considered so slim that even some of her natural allies, such as Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and his stable of cronies, hedged their bets by financially supporting both candidates. But in this case the pundits were wrong. Seijas worked harder than Casas, knocking on doors and acting throughout the campaign as if she were twenty points behind in the polls. Simply put, Seijas wanted it more than Casas. And she concentrated on the right issues: responding to constituent concerns, introducing an ordinance to provide higher wages for employees of companies that do business with the county, and looking out for elderly residents. If a victory by an incumbent can ever be considered an upset, then Seijas pulled off an upset last fall, winning another four-year term. She's still mean. She's still arrogant. And she's still insufferable. But you've got to hand it to her: She fought a hell of a good race.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®