BEST PUBLIC MELTDOWN Miami City Commissioner Jeffery Allen Public service is not rocket science. Once in office, you meet with constituents, declaim on their behalf, avoid prostitutes and smoking crack with undercover cops, and chances are you'll do okay. It's also not a bad idea to speak cordially with the press and to avoid brawls. So what does Commissioner Jeffery Allen do after about three months in office? He has a chest-butting match with his chief of staff right in front of city hall, in plain view of several observers. The aide, Milton Vickers, warned he would press charges if Allen touched him, and taking the high road, the commissioner threatened to do the same, according to witnesses. At a community meeting the next morning, Allen moved quickly to modify his hothead image. When a reporter asked about him the fracas, the commissioner spun around and called her "libelous" and "slanderous," loudly announced that his entire staff was now banned from speaking with her, and then stomped off.

BEST PUBLIC RESTROOM Village of Merrick Park 358 San Lorenzo Avenue

Coral Gables

305-529-0200 If you were to think about it, you'd expect the cleanest, least claustrophobic, most hantavirus-free public restroom to be at the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables, along with Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and the Donald J. Pliner store. And it is.

BEST PUBLIC-WORKS PROJECT Bicentennial Park seawall This ten-million-dollar state-of-the-art bulwark is the first sign of real progress toward a future bayfront walkway for downtown Miami. The construction itself is notable for its quality. The seawall's steel casing is a high-grade, coated variety imported from Europe and known as sheet piling, which the contractor, Shoreline Foundation, Inc., is driving into the bay bottom for that sharp, squared-off, 90-degree-angle look. "It's the most impressive seawall you'll ever see. It's going to transform that whole area," says Robert Weinreb, the City of Miami's project director for Bicentennial Park. Portions of the existing barrier were 50 years old, which is about as long as it's been since a major public-works project in Miami was under budget and ahead of schedule like this one. (Funds are federal, state, and local.) The new seawall is the first in a series of improvements that are scheduled to include a sophisticated reworking of the long-neglected park and an expansive baywalk winding southward to the Miami River.

BEST REAL-ESTATE APPRECIATION Aventura With all the hype over the forest of condo developments sprouting in downtown Miami, the Design District, and Miami Beach, it's important not to lose sight of reality -- especially if you're one of the many hopefuls mortgaging your future in the name of quick profits. According to a Wall Street Journal study, 2004's greatest real-estate appreciation in the entire Southeast was (drum roll, please) zip code 33180 -- Aventura -- where the median home sale price was $445,500. That's a one-year increase of 23.6 percent and a five-year increase of 112.5 percent. Of course you'd never know this from our local media coverage, in which the decidedly unsexy Aventura finds itself overshadowed by the hype for buzz-laden new projects to its south. Let the buyer beware.

BEST REASON TO STAY IN MIAMI FOR THE SUMMER Languid days, sultry nights Not all of us can afford to zip up to the Hamptons for six weeks of madras-clad croquet amid the cool climes and waterfront estates. Nor can we all shell out for a ticket to Ibiza for round-the-clock partying. But being rich and idle isn't all it's cracked up to be. For one thing, winging it out of town at the first hint of summer means never experiencing the true essence of living in the subtropics. Those languid days when time slows and no one can be rushed. Those sultry nights when it makes perfect sense, after the slow groove of day, to come out and play. The casual ease in securing reservations at the best restaurants. The absence of attitude. And all of it made more pleasant by the fact that the obnoxious rich are nowhere in sight.

BEST RENOVATION Hotel Victor 1144 Ocean Drive

Miami Beach

305-428-1234

www.hotelvictorsouthbeach.com His name is Victor. He'd been big on the scene for a number of years but then fell on hard times. The last anybody saw of him, he was no more than a gutter punk, a bum surrounded by lowlifes and scum. For a while he was managing, just barely, to remain standing by loitering near the classy people. Not that they were any better, just rich and connected. Still everyone knew he was no more than a con man -- a big phony. Until a couple of years ago, when lady luck finally smiled on Victor. He got a job with the Hyatt hotel company and now oversees 91 opulent rooms and bungalows across the street from one of the world's most fabulous beaches. And not just any opulent hotel rooms, either. Developer Steve Patterson, CEO of ZOM, gave Victor the go-ahead to splurge on the last great piece of underutilized real estate on Ocean Drive. The Deco/Asian feel of L. Murray Dixon's 1937 design remains intact but is enhanced by a sophisticated modern look created by Parisian decorator Jacques Garcia. There's a new pool, European spa, Turkish bath, and entirely new wing, as well as top-quality food and entertainment. That lucky bum.

BEST ROAD TO AVOID SR 836 (Dolphin Expressway) Rush hour on the 836 is the perfect time to read "Best of Miami" -- the entire edition. There's certainly not going to be any movement for as long as it takes to work your way through the City Life section. Then maybe a slow crawl for a minute or so. On to Recreation, Shops and Wares. Like a cosmic black hole, the Dolphin swallows everything around it, including time. And it doesn't really matter whether it's officially rush hour (which these days is nearly all hours) or whether it's a weekday or the weekend. Stopped dead again. Diversions, Restaurants, Finest Foods. You're already a half-hour late for work -- and you left home a half-hour earlier than normal, fearing exactly this! On to Music. A sensation of movement, but only an illusion. Bars and Clubs, even all the Personal Bests. Still not even close to the toll plaza. Anything else to read?

BEST SANCTUARY FROM THE FAST TRACK Jimbo's Virginia Key

305-361-7026 If you know Jimbo's, you know why. If you don't know Jimbo's, you have a treat in store. Pay the modest entry fee to gain access to Virginia Key, drive beyond the main beach parking lot, around the bend by the sewage treatment plant, then park. Get out and trudge through the pine trees and junk toward the commotion. Sometimes it's a live band. Sometimes it's the peculiar sound made by bocce-ball players working on their tenth Budweiser. Sometimes it's the honky-tonk of a barely able to stand upright piano. Smoked fish and cold beer. Weekend warriors, lowlifes, highlifes, attorneys with Harleys, models and photographers, skittering kids, mongrel dogs, more beer and bocce ball, and of course His Cigar-Chomping Eminence Jim Luznar, for half a century or so the lovable old coot supposedly in charge of the place.

BEST SOUP KITCHEN Camillus House 726 NE First Avenue

Miami

305-374-1065

www.camillus.org A man yelps as rabid crack dogs gnaw at his belly from the inside. The old, lost mind of another thinks he hears whispers through the rotting track marks of a filthy needle spiked in his arm. Hunger and pain. Death is welcomed here. A beaten mother ushers her children through the shadows of broken souls spread out on the hard concrete. She's seeking light and some soup at the inn. The putrid smell of body fluids, alcohol, and cigarettes engulfs them as they walk by. No one blinks -- some out of fear, some out of chemicals. At city hall it's worse: All eyes are shut tight. For almost twenty years elected officials have been squabbling over moving the inn. It's not pretty, you see, and you can't make money with the inn nearby. But Angel Gonzalez (a city commissioner, not an angel) blocks the innkeepers' plans to build a new, better refuge. Not in my neighborhood. The light at the inn flickers but keeps shining. It always shines, as it has for 45 years, despite enemies from without and from within. Someone's stomach growls. Not Gonzalez's. Commissioner Regalado, where will they go? Commissioner Winton? Commissioners Sanchez and Allen? Each day more than 1100 meals must be prepared. It's still not enough. The light at the inn flickers but keeps shining. It always shines, especially from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. That's when everybody who can fit inside the inn is served a nourishing meal -- by live angels.

BEST SPECTACLE Demolition of the Everglades Hotel What goes up must come down. It may take a hundred years, maybe a thousand, but even the new condo towers rising in the first decade of this new millennium will one day crumble, perhaps into a rising sea. As for the sixteen-story Everglades Hotel, it endured almost 80 years before dissolving into a heap in eight short seconds, helped along this past January 23 by high-tech explosives. But even the preservationist community didn't have much to cry about; long ago the building's original Mediterranean Revival exterior had been remodeled out of existence. For example, in 1959 the cupola atop the building (which, like the nearby Freedom Tower, emulated the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain) met the same fate as Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa -- it disappeared without a trace. The union actually owned the hotel in 1959, the year architects decided the cupola had to be whacked because it couldn't accommodate the rooftop pool and nightclub Hoffa insisted on installing. In Miami money always seems to trump history. CABI Developers, which bought the hotel a couple years ago, also found the edifice a hindrance to its dollar dreams, which involve erecting two 49-story condominium towers, naming them Everglades on the Bay, and then charging ludicrously high prices for them. This time the whole building had to be whacked -- and it was a spectacular hit.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®