BEST TOURIST TRAP 2002 | Casa Casuarina | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Zachary Fagenson
It's the train-wreck effect. No one walks by without slowing down, turning their heads. They lean in close to each other and whisper. "Versace," "shot," "steps." Casa Casuarina, now the property of North Carolina telecommunications mogul Peter Loftin, sits in ostentatiously grand Mediterranean style in the middle of Ocean Drive, awaiting its transformation into an unaffordable boutique hotel. Orange tape surrounds the grand fence. Landscapers stride in and out. But no passersby look beyond the steps where the fashion mogul was gunned down on July 15, 1997. And that's where the tourists pose, in twos and threes and fours, in bikinis and shorts, smiling broadly for each others' cameras. After all, nothing says Miami like a murder site.

It's Cultural Friday over on SW Eighth Street, except there isn't really any culture. For that you need to go north a couple blocks and find this eclectic building. Upstairs: lab6 art gallery, showing new and alternative works, usually by locals. Downstairs: PS 742 performance space, featuring new and alternative productions from here and afar. On the sidewalk outside: alternative types looking for camaraderie or a place to drum or strum for the evening. Both upstairs and downstairs accommodate such desires, usually after 10:00 p.m. Next door: artist Carlos Alves's quirky studio and Adalberto Delgado's 6g music studio. The all-white, 3000-square-foot space at lab6 is new. Owners Carlos Suarez de Jesus and Vivian Marthell moved up in October after closing their appropriately titled show "Intimate Addictions: Living Large in Tight Spaces." PS 742 moved into the old space, which director Susan Caraballo transformed into a black-box theater and began presenting Surreal Saturdays and other nights of dance, song, and show. A highlight of the year: Upstairs and down joined together in celebrating Babalu Aye, or San Lazaro, the patron saint of healing, which brought together all alternative forms of Miami for a nightlong bash.
In a town where far too many public servants graduated from the school of corruption and incompetence, Merrett Stierheim stands out as a beacon in the darkness. Since 1959, when he began his career as an assistant manager with the City of Miami, Stierheim has kept an able hand on the tiller of our biggest and most complex governments, often called up on deck just as the ship was about to hit the rocks. By dint of his reputation as a fixer of big problems, he has become an almost mythic figure in his own lifetime. In 1967 he left for Florida's west coast but returned in 1976 to become Dade County's manager during a most difficult period (the Mariel boatlift, riots, cocaine cowboys) until his retirement in 1986. In the early Nineties Stierheim became Miami's chief cheerleader as president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. Then in 1996, as the City of Miami faced a financial meltdown amid political scandal, Stierheim was coaxed out of his second retirement to become the pro bono city manager. In no time he discovered a $68 million shortfall in the city's general fund and led the beginning of a long recovery effort. In 1998 he was again tapped to become county manager as Miami-Dade reeled from scandals and corruption at the airport and the Port of Miami. He retired in early 2001 when it became clear Mayor Alex Penelas wanted a less independent and forceful manager. Stierheim kept himself busy through the spring and summer by becoming interim manager of newly incorporated Miami Lakes and leading another emergency recovery team through Homestead's shaky finances. In October 2001 Stierheim took on what is arguably his most challenging and important job yet -- superintendent of Miami-Dade County's mammoth public-school system. The school district is a magnified version of the bureaucracies Stierheim had wrestled with earlier: unwieldy, riddled with corruption, and filled with a demoralized workforce. But with the future of 370,000 children in his hands, the stakes are much higher. Stierheim has already begun to heal an ailing bureaucratic culture. Only time will tell whether he can successfully complete the job.
In Miami-Dade County, Steve Spratt was always a little shocking. Low-key, competent, respected -- what could be more shocking in a county employee? Spratt was not only thoroughly informed but able to relay that information without lying, obfuscating, or double-talking. He was a budget expert who wasn't afraid to call a scheme a scam. Surely it was too much to ask someone like Spratt to stick around forever. But he did last a remarkable 25 years at county hall before departing in December 2001 to become the Pinellas County administrator (their version of county manager). Now 47 years old, Spratt began his government career in 1976 as a lowly complaint-taker in the Dade County manager's office, eventually moving to budget director and finally to assistant county manager. Known for his directness and impartiality, Spratt did what he had to do, even if it meant recommending the suspension in 1999 of parks director Bill Cutie, who was later indicted in the famous "missing trees" caper, in which the county paid $1.6 million for 4200 palm trees that were never accounted for.

Radio Carnivale is the first Haitian-owned radio station in the nation (not counting pirate stations and two so-called FM subcarriers that can be picked up only by a specially tuned radio). The Kreyol-language station went on the air in early 2001 after last-minute complications: a name and call-letter change and the resignation of its general manager. But more than a year later Radio Carnivale has proved to be an ever-strengthening presence in South Florida's Haitian community. It's starting to make inroads on the traditional brokered-time programming arrangement that has always ruled the Haitian airwaves, and which has always meant a few powerful programmers are licensed to tell the Kreyol-speaking public anything, including slanderous lies about people they dislike and who may have no way of replying. But Radio Carnivale is a genuinely professional operation featuring music, news, and talk shows. The station is attracting more advertisers, and though it has not been able to avoid brokering (selling) some airtime, it has raised the level of Kreyol discourse in Miami.
He's received this award before. He deserves it again. Not that Snitzer is alone these days in promoting the new, the local, the quality art. No indeed. Genaro Ambrosino's gallery, transplanted to North Miami, continues to showcase just that, as do those gallery-homes that stole much of the scene recently. Still if you only visited one gallery and it was Snitzer's, you would have caught almost every interesting vibe Miami is creating. Passing through his walls, ceilings, floors: the very young Hernan Bas and Bert Rodriguez; the very local Purvis Young; the very Cuban José Bedia and Glexis Novoa; the very diverse Lynn Golob Gelfman and Mette Tommerup; and many many others. Snitzer has also been integral to some of the most exciting art events we've ever seen, such as the site-specific and ephemeral Freedom Rocks and Espirito Santo Bank exhibitions, energy and insight from which continue to reverberate throughout his own space. It's a lot to take in -- thank goodness.

When Doug Yoder went to work for the county in February 1971 he was fresh out of Cornell University and full of youthful idealism. At the age of 24 he sincerely believed in the notion of public service. And guess what? Thirty-one years later he still does. Yoder has been with DERM since July 1977. In that time he has seen county managers and agency chiefs come and go, but he's still there, worrying about air pollution, water quality, and dump-site contamination while fielding citizen queries and complaints and serving on several national boards, including the Urban Consortium Environmental Task Force. Yoder is beginning to think about retirement in the next few years, but that does not mean he's slacking off. He returns phone calls, brown-bags his lunch, pays attention at boring budgetary meetings and hearings on airborne particulates, and recognizes that he is a servant of the taxpayers. Good man.
The Miami Film Festival's David Poland may have moved on, but it would be a shame if the former director's innovation of showing festival flicks free on the sands of South Beach -- on a 70-foot-high screen beneath the night sky -- went with him. (Organizers of Miami's Brazilian Film Festival have been doing this for years with great success.) Catching Moulin Rouge under those circumstances, with the surrounding crowd of 5000 oohing and ahhing in delight, revealed precisely how that film was meant to be seen: as a larger-than-life spectacle. And if you could tear your eyes away from the sight of a gigantic Nicole Kidman spinning through the air, you'd see the celebrated diversity of Miami come to life: queer couples strolling hand-in-hand past wizened viejos; Beach fashionistas popping open a bottle of wine; Latino families grilling over an open flame; and everybody simply losing themselves in the sheer magic of the cinema. "For the love of film" indeed.
While many locals complain about the snarled traffic and incessant bridge openings, single women should know otherwise. Not all of the close to 150,000 people who descend on Miami are men, and not all are rich. But lots are. And they're here to let loose, have some fun, and spend some money. Stroll the marinas and convention center and oooh and ahhh at the gleaming vessels and the exorbitantly priced stuff that fills them. Your giddy, grinning neighbor is sure to fill you in on what he thinks about objets d'ark. And just about anything else -- silence is not socially acceptable here. Now you tell him where to go for a drink afterward. Or he'll tell you: "Hey, we found this great place on the water where you can watch more boats," and you'll pretend that Monty's is indeed a hidden gem. All you have to do now is move with the flow. Easy.

Despite his friendly, low-key manner, Ralph Delly isn't shy about repeating the raciest tidbits circulating in the New York and Miami Haitian communities. In fact it's probably because Delly is so likable that prominent people (mostly entertainment and media types) tell him things -- you know, things that really matter, such as how the size of one band member's member played a decisive role in his acquisition of a new girlfriend from another musician. But make no mistake, Delly dishes plenty of solid material you couldn't find anywhere else (in English, anyway). A band suffers persecution, for example, because it played years ago at a now-politically incorrect venue in Haiti. A songwriter's original compositions are repeatedly stolen by fellow musicians. A prominent Port-au-Prince radio personality decides to move to Miami to escape Haiti's instability. Only one problem, Delly confesses: He'll be mingling at a soiree and find some of his famous sources, worried their secrets may be revealed, clam up in his presence.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®