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by Mary McHugh

Has Miami Beach changed since I went there 47 years ago on my honeymoon!

Why did I go there on my honeymoon, you may ask. Well, in those days there was hardly any crime, unless you consider the amount of cholesterol consumed in restaurants like Wolfies and The Embers criminal. But the most compelling reason to go there was that my landlord in New York was also the owner of the Breakwater hotel, right on the ocean in Miami Beach, and he offered us a rate of $52 for two weeks. The price was right. We were the youngest people at the hotel by far in 1953, and I was the only one without a mink stole. The Breakwater is now an Art Deco hotel on South Beach, crowded next to two other hotels on either side, just down the street from Versaces house where he was murdered, and alive with Cuban, Asian and American mixes of food, music and people.

I couldnt believe my eyes at the changes in Miami Beach when I had the chance to spend a few days there with some other journalists recently. I might as well have been on another planet. Now, Miami is hot clubs, hot bands, hot restaurants and cool entertainers. You can drink a Bolshevik bellini in a restaurant called Reds, have your dinner served to you in a bed at a nightclub called B.E.D., dance in an old movie theater, swim with dolphins at the Seaquarium. Its a pleasure town.

There are lots of things not to miss in Miami, starting with South Beach from 5th to 25th Street along the waterfront. Have a margarita at the News Cafe and people-watch. You might see Gloria Estefan who owns a hotel nearby, or Ricky Martin, or Oprah Winfrey who owns a condo on exclusive Fisher Island, or Whitney Houston. They come here for the liveliness, the mix of cultures, the music. Walk around (by yourself or with a guide from the Miami Design Preservation League) and take a look at the pastel Art Deco hotels like The Hotel (once Tiffany), or The Tides, or the Marlin. Think Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Terazzo floors, Tiffany lamps, the mirrored walls, flamingos etched on glass partitions, portholes for windows, the look of an ocean liner back in the 30s. Walk along the beach just across the street. Theres music everywhere - samba bands, salsa, techno, hiphop. Bands on the front porches, music in the night clubs.

Where to stay? If you want total pampering and the choice of 240 different kinds of Martinis in the Hemisphere Lounge, stay at Loews, right on the beach, with balconied rooms, a free-form pool with butler-served cabanas and great eating in the Gaucho Room or the more informal Prestons. Think Art Deco with a touch of Argentinean chic. Theres also a state-of-the-art Fitness Center if you want to work off some of those calories.

Turnberrys is another luxury hotel, noted for its spas and delicious massages. If youre golfers, the Turnberry has two 18-hole, championship golf courses, and there are 19 tennis courts.

You can shop at some of the finest stores in South Beach, which lean toward Armani, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. Or you can head for the open air mall, Bal Harbour, with fountains, waterfalls and expensive stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks and Tiffanys. If you want bargains, head for the Lincoln Mall or Coco Walk, where the prices are not quite as upscale and you can ride around in a rickshaw if you want.

If youre into cooking, go to Normans in Coral Gables, rated the best restaurant in Miami by Zagat, Fodors and Food & Wine and participate in an interactive cooking lesson from Norman Van Aken, who combines Latin, Caribbean, Asian and American cuisines to produce incredibly imaginative food. Norman will show you the secrets of a great sauce (carmellization is to flavor as foreplay is to sex,) using a combination of spices including scotch bonnet, curry powder, star anise, saffron. He will tell you to slice garlic, not mince it, and then youll get to eat this master chefs meal. If you dont want to work that hard, reserve a table for dinner and just enjoy his splendid food.

For atmosphere, go to Red Square, where a statue of Lenin - a replica of the one toppled in Moscow - greets you at the door. The drinks are incredible - Blue Cossacks (stoli Ohranj, blue curacao, cointreau, pineapple and fresh orange juice) Bolshevik Bellinis with champagne, arctic peach vodka, peach schnapps) Russian Margaritas, Kosmopolitans, and a Siberian Liplicker. Chef Barbara Scotts menu is imaginative, sort of Russian, and absolut-ly divine: 8 kinds of caviar, Siberian nachos (smoked salmon with wonton chips, slivered green onions, creme fraiche, black sesame seeds and citron and Wasabi caviars.) My favorite was crab and corn cake with a beluga lentil salsa and a spicy mustard remoulade. You cannot go wrong here, no matter what you order.

Don Quixote, which is great fun, looks like the stage setting for a play about Cervantes hero. Theres a windmill slowly turning around, Don Quixote himself falling asleep in the corner. The food is an innovative mixture of the flavors of Spain, Asia and America.

When you get tired of massages, lying by the pool, drinking blue martinis, breakfasting in your room and eating wondeful dinners at Red Square, go to Vizcaya, an incredible mansion on Biscayne Bay furnished by John Deering in the early part of the last century, and I mean furnished. He spent most of his time and millions of dollars in Italy buying statues, paintings, tapestries, china, and turning his house into a fun-palace with a secret passageway behind a bookcase, and 10 rooms upstairs for partying guests. Outside, there are 10 acres of gardens, fountains and pools and the piece de resistance is a stone barge which is available for wedding receptions and large parties.

Whatever else you do in Miami, though, do not miss swimming with dolphins at the Seaquarium. Its amazing. You put on a wet suit, and after a short orientation talk about what to expect, you jump into the water and hold out your left arm. An affectionate dolphin who feels like rubber, swims close to you and you grab his fin and hang on while he zooms across the pool and leaves you safely at the other side with one of his trainers. Then you float on your stomach and he puts his nose on your feet and pushes you across to the other side. Before you leave, this adorable creature gives you a hug. The Seaquarium also has whale and dolphin shows, sharks, manatees, penguins, and sea lion shows.

And of course Miami is beaches (including a nude one), kayaking, parasailing, windsurfing, jet skiing and cycling on a bicycle built for two. You can tour downtown Miami in a horse and carriage. You can do whatever you want because Miami is free-spirited with a Latin beat and Asian spice. Go for it.


Websites mentioned in the article and Miami Details and Addresses, Page 2


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