Friday, August 6, 2010

A Day, A Night and A Day In Miami: Two Gay Gentleman of Fort Lauderdale Venture Out

My partner and I now live almost full-time in Fort Lauderdale.  My partner is pretty much full-time, and I live here about two-thirds of the time, with the rest of the time in NYC (Park Slope, Brooklyn to be exact).  Despite having a home here for over four years, we have spent very little time in Miami, just a little time in South Beach, and one venture to the Design District.
So, having just had a nice vacation in Argentina, but being in the mood for more, we decided to take the half-hour trip to Miami and have an "overnight vacation".  It was a wonderful idea, and I have to credit my partner for thinking of it.
This is the summer-"out of season", and so incredible deals are available.  For those of you who are thinking "Florida in the summer??????", I've gotta tell you that having just come from NY, Florida is way-better--the ocean, the openness, the air-conditioning----way better.  At any rate, we were able to secure an incredible room through Hotwire at the Hyatt-Regency in Coral Gables for just $69 a night (a Thursday).  As might be expected, the room was excellent, the sheets magnificent, and the king-size bed fantastic.
On our way down, we had planned to stop at The Spanish Monastery,  but had paid scant attention to the posting on their website that said to call, as there is a possibility of it being closed for "special events".  Who thought of a special event on a Thursday in July in Miami?  Needless to say, they were closed for a "special event", but it still looks like a great place to visit, especially if you call ahead.
Not to be thwarted in our attempt to have our Miami vacation, we proceeded to drive to The Vizcaya Museum and GardensVizcaya was built by the International Harvester heir James Deering in 1916, and is an Italian Renaissance-style villa with over ten acres of formal gardens and looks out on Biscayne Bay.  Not having done much research prior to our visit other than to find that Frommer gave it three stars, I was intrigued to find a statue in the gardens of Ganymede,(unfortunately badly in need of a good cleaning) the mythological gay youth who was Zeus' lover and taken up by him to Mount Olympus to become cupbearer to the gods. I became further intrigued after discovering that James Deering was a "bachelor".  Indeed, James Deering was gay, as was the chief architect of Vizcaya, Paul Chalfin, who was fairly "out" for the era..  Despite the chastity implied by the single bed in James Deering's bedroom (guest rooms have double beds), it is certain that Deering hosted gay soirees, and it is likely that Chalfin and he were lovers.  John Singer Sargent, who was almost certainly gay and an intimate of Deering's,  painted a series of male nudes while staying at Vizcaya, using the African-American workers on the premises as models.  Gossip aside, Vizcaya, displays the opulence of the upper classes in the beginning of the 20th Century and is definitely worth a visit.
I guess all that opulence made us hungry, and we headed towards our hotel in Coral Gables for lunch.  Not enticed by the lunch menu at The Two Sisters Restaurant at the Hyatt,  we decided to take a walk in the neighborhood.  We stumbled upon Graziano's Market, and found just what we were looking for.  This casual but upscale market/winestore/restaurant selling Argentine and other Latin American specialties is a real gem.  There was a nicely varied menu for lunch, but we opted for simple--a pizza with artichokes, prosciutto, mushrooms and olives. It was the best pizza we had since our trip to Argentina.  The chief element of the decor was dozens of wine bottles, all for sale, ranging from inexpensive to quite high end, and specializing in Latin American wines.   The service was quite attentive, especially in view of the fact that we placed our order and then were escorted by the hostess to our table with a number card.  Once seated, the waitress was able to fulfill our request for more drinks.  By the time we got back to the hotel, it was time for a late afternoon siesta, and we took advantage of the opportunity to crawl into the king-size bed and re-energize.
Having gotten a taste for opulence at Vizcaya, we thought that The Biltmore Hotel would enable us to experience it first-hand.  Built in the 1920s, this hotel is magnificent.  After doing a bit of strolling around the grounds, cocktail time called, and we went into the smaller of two bars, the other being taken up with a "baby shower" (another Thursday special event!).  The "secondary bar" was wood-paneled, with comfortable chairs, and two handsome and engaging young bartenders.  We were not disappointed. The vodka martinis were quite generous, and there were complementary crackers, cheese, and fruit available as accompaniments.  Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves.
Needing a little exercise prior to dinner, and wondering what the hotel would look like at night, we decided to take a stroll to see what the pool, reportedly a favorite of Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams, was like.  We regretted that we had not brought bathing suits and/or that the pool was not "clothing optional".  The pool experience must be exceptional, as it is extremely winding and beautiful.
At 9:30 we left The Biltmore and went to Talavera Restaurant for dinner.  Talavera is an upscale Mexican restaurant, with reasonable prices, named after 16th Century Mexican pottery.  Quite modern in decor, but with pottery pieces perfectly placed, the atmosphere is simple but elegant.  This is not Tex-Mex, and be warned that if you are doing research on this restaurant, do not go to their website which seems to have a very incomplete menu.  We started our meal with a chopped Mexican salad with green and red peppers--simple, flavorful and subtly dressed.  My partner had a seared tuna "huarache" which was perfectly seared and rare  (it can be cooked to order) on a cornmeal bed.  My duck mole was incredible--juicy, tender, and rare (the chef's and my choice) and accompanied by rice.  We shared a flan for dessert which couldn't have been better.
The next day we had planned a trip to the Rubell Family Art Collection located near the design district.  Again, we should have done our homework, as the museum has sharply curtailed hours during the summer, and we were there at the wrong time.  Our alternative plan was to go to Lincoln Road and look at the shops down there, with a visit to CB2 (after all we would do a little decorating exploration on our trip to the Big City).  On the way, and looking to escape the South Beach summer heat, we serendipitously found the Peter Lik Gallery.  Peter Lik is an accomplished landscape photographer, originally from Australia, who currently has twelve galleries around the country devoted exclusively to his work.  His photography captures the excitement of nature, the photographs pop, and the curator of the gallery was quite friendly and informative--definitely worth a visit.  After one more search to find the "perfect chair" for our livingroom, it was time for lunch.
We got to Michael's Genuine Food and Drink Restaurant at about 2 pm.  Michael's was packed on this Friday afternoon in the summer, but we were lucky enough to secure seats at the bar.  Michael Schwartz, the chef/owner says he "set out to create a neighborhood place that feels like the real deal - where there's always something you want on the menu and what goes into the dishes is simple, fresh and pure" and he has accomplished his goal.  We had stumbled on Michael's a few years ago when it opened and had been quite impressed, as had The New York Times which had listed it as one of the top ten new restaurants of that year.  It has maintained excellent and fresh food quality and great service in a very happening but homey atmosphere.  My partner and I shared the Tuna Nicoise with pickled red onion, fingerling potato, heirloom tomato, green beans, hard boiled egg, greens, balsamic vinaigrette & saffron aioli and the House Roasted Sliced Turkey Breast Sandwich with cave aged gruyere cheese, lettuce, local heirloom tomato & herb mayo and french fries.  The Tuna was $16 and the Turkey Sandwich was $12, both well worth it.  Both Brooklyn boys, we were thrilled to find that the restaurant had Brooklyn Summer Ale on tap, this light beer being a refreshing accompaniment to our lunch.
We returned to tranquil Fort Lauderdale in the late afternoon, happy to have ventured out, with plans to do it again. We promised ourselves that next time we would do our homework just a bit more thoroughly, but I must confess that we were very pleased with how lucky we were.


  1. What a wonderful account if the Miami mist people don't get to see. Vizaya, the Biltomore and Michael's genuine being among my own favorites' list. Glad to hear you guys enjoyed it so much!!!

  2. All wonderful suggestions. I am ready to go myself after that read. So close yet a world apart. Why arent I stuck down there with a worthless piece of real estate instead of here. lolol. Joe T

  3. Enjoyed the Vizcaya article. Wish I had read it before my visit there a few years ago. I guessed during the visit Dearing was gay. I knew about Sergeant. Very informative and conveys the atmosphere of Vizcaya. John M (j22jzm)