Miami City Hall
Renewing a passport can be a pain. You have to call for an appointment, then you have to wait two weeks or so, then you have to go downtown, then you have to wait, and then -- well, like we said, it's definitely a hassle. Not so at Miami City Hall. The extremely professional city clerk's office offers a painless way to apply for or renew a passport. The whole thing takes eight minutes, tops, and you don't even need an appointment. Just drop by the clerk's office window on Dinner Key, fill out a short form, hand over a small check, then walk over to the camera. Smile. After the photo develops, blush at how good-looking you are, then leave. Your passport will arrive in the mail in a matter of days. If you pay an expediting fee, you can have it even sooner. It's that easy.
This is no joke. Jim Clark, a former WAMI-TV (Channel 61) sports producer with otherwise good credentials, began whipping Channel 9 into shape in the fall of 2001. Under his guidance we can still witness extraordinary performances by one of South Florida's best acting troupes, the Miami Commission, but now we can enjoy the show without the garbled audio. The station also transmits meetings of other bodies that occasionally make important decisions, including the Code Enforcement Board, the Historic and Environmental Preservation Board, the Parks Advisory Board, the Planning Advisory Board, the Urban Development Review Board, the Waterfront Advisory Board, and the Zoning Board. But there's more. Viewers, and perhaps some of our elected officials, can bone up on the basics of our system of government in the United States by watching On Common Ground. This program is funded by various state governments and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Channel 9 also offers the PBS-produced show Crossroads Café, which is designed for people learning English as a second language. For those of us whose first language is English but still need a little more practice, the station presents TV 411, a production of the Adult Literacy Media Alliance. Call for current program times. The station is carried only on cable within Miami city limits, but Clark hopes to have it streaming on the Internet in the near future.
Really, this is more an award for founder/director Robert Rosenberg than it is for a collection of films. As we saw this year with the Miami Film Festival, there's more to creating a successful event than meets the camera's eye. Rosenberg started his fest four years ago with a combination of love, enthusiasm, a good curatorial eye, and a healthy respect for organization. That great mix shows. Each year the festival has grown, but at a controllable pace. The offerings are not so disparate as to lose cohesion, but fresh enough to give us something out of the ordinary. Films were selected well in advance, as were the dates and times they would screen. Thematically this year the issue of identity broke new ground -- gone are those teenage coming-out stories; in are ones about gay men falling for straight women. Not all the films worked, but the festival itself has a firm grasp of its own identity, the best template indeed.
Before you enter this 76-year-old landmark, you already know you're close to paradise. The magnificent Giralda Tower, languorously and glamorously lit against the blue-black Florida night sky, is one clue. But as you walk from parking lot to pool area, the smell of jasmine is so heavy you lose your bearings. Where are you? In a world of which you can only dream? Or Miami-Dade's most elegant province? That's right, this is not simply a hotel. This is another universe. You walk through archways and courtyards, click across elaborate tile floors, sit against carved wood and detailed tapestries, and know you are not in Miami anymore. You swim in one of the world's greatest pools. You eat among brilliant pinks and purples of bougainvillea and verdant banana leaves, treated like a member of the old raj. Speaking of colonial treatment, you take high tea indoors in the fabulous lobby, with choices of tea and finger sandwiches that embarrass Harrods. You sit on your private balcony and take in the tropical landscape cleverly disguised as a golf course. Good theater next door at GableStage, spa in the basement. Nooooo, you're not going anywhere.
The lobby of architect Melvin Grossman's classic Fifties hotel is a monument to space-age design, space-age glamour, and just plain space. Think MiMo (Miami Modernism) meets Grand Central Station. Massive decorative columns hold up an imposing plaster canopy in the center of the room. Underneath it five separate islands of couches and chairs float on a sea of vintage marble tile. A full-size hotel bar runs along one wall. Overlooking the bar is a landing big enough to be its own lobby. And if that's not enough to convey the sense of limitless optimism that fueled the Fifties: Large, curved window walls look out over the enormous pool area and onto Collins Avenue, giving the illusion of even more space. Whoever said bigger isn't always better never set foot in here.
Pit stop not really required, though for joggers and bikers it's ideal. This roadside fresh fruit, vegetable, chocolate brownie, and fruity milkshake stand, located on an otherwise residential stretch of Red Road, is worth a trip all by itself. Located far (and not so far) from the madding crowds of U.S. 1 and the Shops at Sunset Place, and just down the street from Parrot Jungle, Wayside is a true oasis, a quiet little spot with outdoor tables and chairs beneath a lush South African sausage tree and tall, lanky bamboo, where you can bring a friend, a pooch (dogs are welcome), or a good book. The perfect refueling station for the long, strange, never-ending trip we call daily life in South Florida.
The thing is, he'll come to you on those weekends when the bird doo-doo has piled up on your hood from trying to park under trees to avoid the sun, and when you just don't feel like negotiating the traffic to get to the cheapo deals along NE Second Avenue or the expensive sloshings in the parking garages of Brickell high-rises. Joel is a great big guy with an obsession for getting things right (he used to be a plant-maintenance specialist). He'll wash your car for just ten bucks. Vans and SUVs are $20, trucks are $45, RVs are $60, and boats are a little cheaper at $55. ("I like boats," he explains.) He arrives with a truck and all his own equipment, including a pressure washer with a 100-gallon tank so he doesn't have to hook up to your spigots, and he has his own generator and super-vacuum, which he applies to those areas you don't see, like under the seat. "I guess I'm a perfectionist," Alfonso says modestly. And before you know it, even your old Sentra looks swell again. Open seven days, Monday through Sunday, 9:00 to 5:00.
This bar, restaurant, and marina is more than merely a pit stop for hungry tourists on their way to Key West. It's a piece of Islamorada history, a place to bask in the warm sun and the spirit of the Keys, and it's a popular watering hole for locals. Start your visit with a fresh fish sandwich and a cold beer inside the unpretentious restaurant or on its shaded patio. If you can manage to pull yourself away from the table, stagger a few steps through the hot sun over to the Lor-e-lei's waterfront bar, where you can have another cold beer, gaze out at the calm waters, and eavesdrop on the relaxed conversations. If you're looking to cool off, just walk a few steps to the water and take a dip. Closer to sunset the mood changes as the fishing boats glide in after a day out on the flats, breathing new life into the lazy afternoon. The quiet bar begins to bustle as fisherfolk make their way to the barstools to share perfectly accurate, self-deprecating accounts of the day's adventures. There's no better place to watch the sunset. You didn't really want to drive all the way to Key West, did you?
Sailboats and small pleasure craft float in front of historic Twenties and Thirties homes. Neighbors enjoy leisurely sunset walks along the water. One of South Florida's myriad gated communities? Try again. An affluent, private residential island sandwiched between Miami Beach and the mainland? Nope. Would you believe unincorporated Miami-Dade County? It's true. This eight-square-block area, located between NE 87th and 91st streets, NE Tenth Avenue and Biscayne Bay, offers a unique twist on waterfront living. Instead of facing the bay, homes sit on "Lake Bel Mar," which according to folks in the area is the only canal in Miami-Dade County located in front of a row of homes. The place is so charming, secluded, and quiet that residents begged us not to tell people about it. Sorry.
We know he's duller than dirt. Hell, he knows it. And as soon as he loses a game and/or doesn't win a national championship, New Times, shallow and fickle publication that we are, will hold it against him. But until then, Larry, congrats: You da man!

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®