Best Miami Documentary
Photo courtesy of HBO

Directed by Miami's own Billy Corben, 537 Votes tells the wild — and entirely factual — story of how the entire 2000 presidential election came down to a mere 537 votes cast in Miami-Dade County. The 109-minute documentary features interviews with political analyst Fernand Amandi and political consultant/presidentially pardoned felon Roger Stone, among other talking heads. With a heaping helping of archival footage, it tells a chilling story of what happens when national politics meets Miami politics. The hanging chads, the recount, the protests outside of the Stephen P. Clark Center in downtown — 537 Votes has it all. The film, available for streaming on HBO, was co-produced by Alfred Spellman, Corben's longtime collaborator and cofounder of their production company, Rakontur Films. Don't be surprised if Rakontur snags this honor next year: The production company's latest documentary, a six-part miniseries titled Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami, premiered in August 2021 on Netflix — and it's a hoot from start to finish.

Best Movie Shot on Location
Photo by Gato Suaya

Many Miamians will remember feeling rage following the 2013 tragedy of artist Israel "Reefa" Hernandez, an 18-year-old Colombian immigrant who was tasered to death by a Miami Beach police officer who caught the artist spray-painting a shuttered McDonald's. Reefa tells the heartbreaking real-life story of the young artist's life in Miami, his time with friends and family, and his art aspirations, all leading up to the death that sprouted protests and rage from the community devastated by another instance of police brutality. Sticking to the story's roots, the film was shot in locations throughout Miami, including Buena Vista, Key Biscayne, Wynwood, and Miami Beach. After some pandemic-induced delays, Jessica Kavana Dornbusch's film premiered early this year at the Miami Film Festival.

Best Art Fair
©Victor Berga

During Miami Art Week, Design Miami has always been somewhat of an outlier among the fairs that pop up. While every other fair focuses on, well, art — paintings, sculpture, photography, installations, etc. — Design Miami makes a case for furniture. Except, the kind of furniture at the fair isn't the kind you find at Rooms to Go or Ikea. They are objets d'art — quite literally, art objects. Last year, Design Miami took the limitations posed by the pandemic as an opportunity to recenter itself. Art Week and its associated fairs have become something of a bloated affair, but in taking over the Moore Building, Design Miami went back to basics in highlighting the best in contemporary furniture and design. Here's hoping that when it returns in December, it retains some of that attitude.

Best Festival
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

You might think there weren't so many festivals to choose from this past year. And you'd be sort of right. But when it comes down to it, which did it best? The festival that went virtual? The festival that required proof of vaccination/negative COVID-19 tests and certifiedCOVID-19 detection dogs?Or the one that was a free-for-all super-spreader? We prefer the middle option. In fact, we love howSouth Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF)founder and directorLee Brian Schrager and his team running the 20th-anniversary edition of it didn't back down from the challenges. Instead, they embraced them, and in doing so, incorporated more than 300 chefs, mixologists, winemakers, spirits producers, artisans, and lifestyle personalities than ever before — many of them from the Miami area or nearby. As a result, SOBEWFF continued to benefitstudents of Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, as well as raise necessary and meaningful funds for thefestival's COVID relief fund through lead-up and year-round events that directly help the restaurant community and its workers.

After an entire year without music festivals, the Bayfront Jazz Festival was an oasis in the desert for those who live and breathe the live music experience. The inaugural edition, held April 30 and May 1, was the first music festival with more than 1,000 people in attendance since the pandemic started. Those who attended were treated to quite a show. From performances by neo-soul vibraphone legend Roy Ayers and jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgestone to the heart-nourishing piano stylings of Cuban master Chucho Valdés, the Bayfront Jazz Festival reminded us of what our music-loving souls have been missing. Here's hoping it was a taste of things to come; the festival organizers at Melrose Media promise a 2022 encore.

Gramps
Photo by Alex Markow

Expect to see damn near anything and anyone at Gramps. The kitschy Wynwood dive bar offers a cornucopia of live entertainment, from local DJs to traveling bands to some of Miami's most beloved queer events (like the drag show Double Stubble). Mirroring the arts district in which it resides, Gramps' outdoor seating boasts walls and walls of murals in a rainbow of colors with dizzying designs. So if you're just looking to hang back, drink some craft beers or cocktails and eat some pizza (yes, they have pizza) while taking in the sights, there's a space for you. Gramps is open every day except Wednesday; hours are noon to around midnight (noon to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday).

North Beach Bandshell
Photo courtesy of the Rhythm Foundation

Despite its prosaic-sounding name, the North Beach Bandshell, designed and built by Norman Giller and Associates, is one of Miami Beach's most recognizable architectural landmarks. It's served as a cultural nucleus since its construction in 1961. In its early days, the bandshell hosted weekly dances, and was once the backdrop for a special winter edition of The Mike Douglas Show. In 2015, the Rhythm Foundation was given the keys to the storied venue, and its mission to grow the bandshell's legacy as a music and community hub took off. In recent years, the venue has played host to acts from around the world, attracting to Miami some of the global diversity it tends to lack owing to its geography, and staging shows by national treasures like Robert Glasper and Big Freedia — always with an eye toward uplifting local talent as well. In the wake of this year's Surfside disaster, management didn't skip a beat, announcing it would pause programming to serve as a relief center for emergency services — proving once again the bandshell's special place at the heart of the community.

Space Park Miami
Photo by Adinayev

The great minds behind Club Space and Bar Lab have created a new, outdoor venue where music lovers can congregate. Since it opened early this year, the Little Haiti venue has attracted an eclectic audience who come for a multitude of activities, from parties to yoga. With a variety of food and drink to choose from and plenty of places to sit and relax, patrons can have a chill time (as long as it doesn't pour down rain). Space Park Miami was the setting for the III Joints event in April and has hosted numerous local artists Rick Moon, Jaialai, and Donzii (to name a few), as well as a wide range of out-of-towners including Omar Apollo, who will perform at the venue on September 18. If you haven't yet checked out a performance at Space Park, consider yourself exhorted.

Plumes of fine cigar smoke hang in the air. A pair of pudgy dudes dressed in guayaberas and khaki shorts puff on premium stogies. Near the entrance of Guantanamera Cigars, a raven-haired woman in a sequin one-piece bathing suit and a Carnival headdress sashays inside, where a crowd packs the small dance floor. Afro 23 is banging out a set that blends salsa and pop beats as revelers knock back mojitos or shots of Cuban rum. Located in the heart of Little Havana, Guantanamera is an intimate live music venue reminiscent of a pre-Castro Havana watering hole. The lineup changes throughout the weekend, with a rotation of unheralded salsa, merengue and reggaeton artists from the Caribbean who play for the sheer excitement of performing for a live audience. Guantanamera opens its doors every day at 10:30 a.m. Closing time is at 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, midnight on Thursday and Sunday, and 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Treehouse

The reopening of dance clubs late last year put into perspective how these venues are more than just places for hedonistic pursuits. They're also places where people come together in a euphoric atmosphere of disco lights and thumping bass. Treehouse reopened last October and quickly recalibrated itself to accommodate the realities of the pandemic. What didn't change? It continued to book some of the best DJs around. Since then, Roger Sanchez, Paul Oakenfold, Aly & Fila, and Markus Schulz have all spun at the Miami Beach spot. And when travel restrictions finally ease up, expect more of the best house, techno, trance, and dubstep producers to look to be invited.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®