MIAMI BEACH -- This tropical retreat has upped its game. It's not just sun, sand and snowbirds anymore. In the past decade, the city has morphed into something of a cultural capital. Art Basel Miami Beach has been a primary factor in that transformation. ABMB is the second generation offspring of the original Art Basel, arguably the world's most important international art show for modern and contemporary works. It has been held in Basel, Switzerland, for 42 years.
Art Basel Miami Beach debuted in 2002 and is now the most prestigious art show in the Americas. Galleries from all over the globe take part, showcasing works by artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Art lovers mix it up with museum types, all discovering the latest developments in eye-popping contemporary art, checking out museum-caliber artworks by established artists as well as cutting-edge newbies. The city goes gaga with performance art, public art projects and video and neon art.
With Miami Beach smack on the art world stage, there's been an influx of five-star hotels with lobbies turned into exhibition space, posh restaurants and architecture that's a far cry from the Art Deco the Beach is famous for.
Your grandparents would never recognize the place.
Art Basel (www.artbaselmiamibeach.com) invades Miami Beach on an early weekend every December. (It's back Dec. 6-9, 2012, for its 11th run.) My husband and I invaded it earlier this year just for a getaway week, choosing to bunk in South Beach, where almost everything is either a short taxi ride or within walking distance. We kept busy. Here are a few highlights.
Imagine an industrial park where all the walls on every building are covered top to bottom with cartoons and graffiti. Imagine Wynwood Walls, an urban art park and Miami's epicenter for cutting-edge, museum-quality contemporary urban murals. Twelve of them debuted during Art Basel 2009.
"We've tried to create an international outdoor street mural exhibition showcasing the world's greatest artists working in the genre," says Tony Goldman. He is a developer known for envisioning thriving, architecturally appealing neighborhoods where others see neglect or desolation.
"The wall art includes work by old school graffiti artists as well as the newest work being created around the world. Wynwood Walls is what Jeffrey Deitch, my friend and former partner, calls 'a Museum of the Streets.' "
Wynwood Doors, the area next to the Walls, evolved in 2010. It is an outdoor street art portrait gallery. A row of steel security doors were "bombed" or "tagged" by well-known graffiti writers. Think subway graffiti on a deserted city street. When the doors are rolled up, a second art experience is revealed, a gallery of figurative portraits and characters by international street artists.
Walls in the surrounding neighborhood and the streets leading up to the art park are painted, cartooned and graffitied, too. Eyes unaccustomed to urban art might figure the area to be dangerous or unfriendly. It's not. Note to Pittsburgh's graffiti artists: You guys need to check out the experts. Save up for a field trip.
Northwest Second Avenue, between Northwest 25th Street and Northwest 26th Street. Hours are Wednesdays-Saturdays from noon-10 p.m.; open the second Saturday of each month from noon-midnight, in conjunction with Wynwood Gallery Walk.
WKB is in the urban art park in the city of Miami's emerging arts district. It opened during Art Basel in November 2010 to rave reviews. Inside and out, it features original artwork by artists working the city street scene. The bar area is a top-to-bottom collage by artist Shepard Fairey, whose Barack Obama "Hope" poster became synonymous with the 2008 presidential campaign. (He exhibited his work at The Andy Warhol Museum in 2009, and his posters still grace walls throughout Pittsburgh's neighborhoods.)
Twenty-foot abstract art canvases by German artist Christian Awe hang in the dining room. The building's exterior is painted with cartoony murals by twin Brazilian artists Os Gemeos and the American collaborative Dearraindrop. Kenny Scharf has his own wall, too.
But I'd come here for the food even if it weren't a cool and edgy resto with jaw-dropping art. Come early for a meal and stay late for a tour around Wynwood's art park. The menu is lusty Nuevo Latino, designed by Venezuelan chef Miguel Aguilar. Black bean soup with herb crema, ropa vieja empanadas (I'd like a dozen of these for my birthday, please), gambas al ajillo and flash-fried bok choy with soy garlic dressing were our choices, but there's plenty more. The immersion in bright flavors and primary colors at WKB is so stimulating, you might have to go home and take a nap. We did.
Do you play T-shirt poker (Mine's more hip than yours)? You'll want to buy the day-glo-paint-stripes on a black shirt designed by Mr. Fairey. It trumps any Hard Rock Cafe tee out there.
2550 NW Second Ave., Miami. 1-305-722-8959
Restaurants! When I'm not near the one I love, I love the one I'm near. Meat Market is my new heartthrob. I knew it after 5 minutes of sitting at the bar while waiting for a table, when set before me was a Smoky Negroni. That's one part each, mezcal (a smoky tequila), bitter Campari, sweet Carpano Antica vermouth and strip of burnt orange peel all kept cool by a 2-inch cube of ice. After one of those, who wouldn't love the rest of the package? There's a raw bar, seviches, drunken oyster shooters and stone crab claws. In the handsomely outfitted dining room buzzing with Type A energy, there are sizzling prime or grass-fed steaks and a choice of 12 rich steak butters and sauces. Sides, either alone or alongside, are excellent: ricotta polenta fries, Gouda tater tots, gratinee of mac and cheese. We hung out at Meat Market three times during our nine-day playcation.
Want to feel the love? Arrive on the mall about 8 p.m. Miami likes to eat late. After dinner on a sultry evening, sit outside to catch the people parade along The Road, sniff the aroma of a passing Cuban cigar and, maybe, sip another Smoky Negroni nightcap. As they say on the Beach, "para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también" (for everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, as well.)
915 Lincoln Road, South Beach. 1-305-532-0088
The Dutch opened in November. It's the southern outpost of the Dutch in Manhattan's SoHo, and, as soon as word gets around, it might be just as popular and as hard to get a table. We lunched on "White Boy Ribs," a cazuela of whipped ricotta and herbs, picnic-fried chicken made just like Grandma used to make (but only if Grandma was a schwank chef), local shrimp, and pie, the Dutch signature dessert. The patio is gorgeous, but the industrial-chic interior is mighty good-looking, too. Allow time to mosey through the lobby of the Dubya (W) hotel. and consider it yet another art walk. The collection of paintings, sculpture, cultural artifacts and crafts is boggling, all at eye level to see, touch, sit on or walk around. A huge twin set of Warhol camouflage prints face each other in the welcome area. Afterward, take the Beach Walk back to your digs. It's a particularly pretty amble along the ocean this far up the beach.
2201 Collins Ave. in the W South Beach Hotel & Residences. 1-305-938-3111
Can you tell from a stroll along the Lincoln Road Pedestrian Mall -- the 11-block area of galleries, shops, restaurants, cafes, fountains. theaters and bookstores from Washington Avenue to Alton Road -- that this is a destination trattoria? Not really; it sort of looks like many of the eatery fronts. Is the interior design well done? The reviews say so, but we ate outside on a balmy night. Is this a celeb hotspot for the savvy? Probably, but I have no real idea. We came for the food, we stayed for the food, we'll go back for the food. This is not just an Italian restaurant. Quattro is Italy. The chefs are twins Nicola and Fabrizio Carro; their home is in Piedmonte. Among the pitch-perfect, authentic dishes: vitello tonnato, mini arancini, truffled risotto and salt-crust baked sea bass. After polishing off a quartet of homemade filled doughnuts, we picked up our heads long enough to look around. There was no stimulating or shocking art, and we weren't part of a "scene." There was one sure thing to applaud: the experience of superb food and wine. If your budget allows for one excellent dinner, make it happen at Quattro.
1014 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach. 1-305-531-4833
No, that's not the first line of a knock-knock knock-off joke. In Haiti, a Tap Tap is a vibrantly painted bus or pickup truck that operates as a jitney or shared ride service. Tap Tap means literally 'quick, quick,' and the buses are a Haitian icon. This restaurant serves authentic Haitian "home cooking," such as grouper in lime sauce, goat stew, conch and plantains. Tap Tap is a much-loved local institution founded in 1994 by Haitian documentary filmmaker Katherine Kean. It's also a cultural center and art gallery with every visible surface -- murals, tables, chairs, floors -- painted with interpretive art and design, much of it by some of Haiti's many important artists who came to Miami to donate their talents to their friend and colleague. If the art is spectacular, so are the mojitos, made only with Haitian rum and the best on the beach. Manno Charlemagne and the Tap Tap band play every Thursday and Saturday night.
819 Fifth St., Miami Beach. 1-305-672-2898; no working website.
Read about Marlene Parrish's last trip to South Beach in March 2011. Contact: href="mailto:Marleneparrish@earthlink.net">Marleneparrish@earthlink.net. First Published April 15, 2012 8:45 PM