A combination of earlier magazine work and new blog posts

Miami’s Great Home Cellars (A sequel to Magnum Force, February 2006)

Meet wine aficionados who are keeping their extraordinary vintages in the custom-designed storage facilities under their own roof

Twenty-thousand people will descend on Miami this month for the star-studded South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Last year, my wine interest was satisfied by great tastings. This year, aficionados can meet the industry’s most influential people, listen to lectures to develop a better palate and try super vintages from 40 world-class wineries.

Some new wine “collectors,” however, may not know the difference between a Château Margaux and a cheap table wine. A trend sweeping the ultrarich is creating overnight cellars for prestige. New luxury homes, for example, often come with an empty wine cellar. A Hollywood producer, who shall remain unnamed, recently hired a wine consultant for $50,000 to fill his new 800-bottle cellar with the “right wines.” “A wine cellar looks better filled up,” he says. “It’s kind of like having a Ferrari parked in the middle of your dining room.” Other collector wannabes also pay consultants, to choose thousands of wine bottles, or arrange for Stores to fill overnight orders for a decade’s worth of wine. In Los Angeles, the popular Wally’s Wine & Spirits has provided an instant collection for $1 million, while New York’s Sherry-Lehmann has had a $700,000 order to stock a new cellar.

All this talk of instant cellars made me want to discover more Miami collectors who did it the old-fashioned way, over the years accumulating a collection they love and consume. It was not hard to find an eclectic, passionate group representing some of South Florida’s most knowledgeable wine enthusiasts.

“To support my habit I am a real-estate broker,” says Christopher Zoller, who started enjoying wine early. “As a child growing up in Manhattan, my parents insisted on a carafe of white and red every evening at the dinner table. So I realized wine was a component of food and not just for imbibing alone.”

When he got to the legal drinking age, he experimented. “I had a great deal of cheap wines over the years. Then I had an epiphany.” He came across a 1966 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon. “It made me realize there was very fine wine in addition to merely good wine.”

His taste has changed over the years. When Zoller lived in the Virgin Islands, it was difficult for him to appreciate big, oaky Cabernet Sauvignons. He moved to Miami in 1987 and became “a serious collector.” The next year, when he and his wife, Lee, took a second honeymoon to Sonoma and discovered little vineyards no one knew about, he became hooked on California wines. Zoller’s favorite grape of the moment is Pinot Noir, and he can wax enthusiastically about the small California vineyard where Tom Dehlinger produces only 7,000 cases annually, or Williams Selyem, which bottles extraordinary Pinot Noirs in the Russian River Valley.

“I am a collector and consumer,” Zoller told me. “I have some trophy wines, but I intend to drink them. Sometimes I do give some away to charities to raise money for their auctions, but otherwise I’ll hopefully drink everything in my cellar.”

That will be no easy task. In 1991, he bought his house in Coral Gables. “We have done three major renovations. During each, I built a larger wine cellar. I discovered that no matter how large your cellar, it’s never large enough.”

During Hurricane Andrew, the Zollers found safety inside their cellar. To build it, he blew out a dining-room wall and made a nine-by-12 foot room with 12-foot ceilings, designing it himself for maximum capacity. Like most collectors, he has a decanting table in the center and a backup generator in case power is lost. There are 3,300 bottles on the redwood and cedar shelves, with another 1,500 crammed in every spare spot. It’s about 50-percent California Pinot Noir, then California Chardonnays, red Bordeaux, California Zinfandels and some Alsatians.

Like many other collectors, Zoller will not go to restaurants that won’t let him bring his own wine, which he will sometimes decant 15 to 35 days beforehand. “I know every sommelier in town,” he says. “I call in advance to let them know I’m coming. Wine is a big profit maker for restaurants, and I understand why they don’t want us to bring our own, but the better ones are always accommodating.” That’s why you’ll often find Zoller at Evolution in South Beach’s Ritz-Carlton, Norman’s or La Palme d’Or in the Gables, Two Chefs in South Miami or Miami’s North One 10 (where Dale LoSasso is the sommelier, and her husband, Dewey, the chef). When Zoller travels, he orders from a list, but then, since he is often in Provence or Sonoma, it hasn’t been a problem.

“It has really become a passion,” he says. “And since we don’t have children, we’re saving special years for our own events. We have some wonderful 1988s, the year we married. We can’t wait to drink those on our upcoming 20th anniversary.”

Mark Friedman is the owner of South Beach’s most acclaimed dry cleaners, Mark’s. His first experience with wine was at 18, when he tried some Chateauneuf du Pape. Then, when stationed in Germany while in the army, he discovered Rieslings. In 1966, he married his wife, Ellen, and they lived in Manhattan. “There was a wonderful shop in Bloomingdale’s,” he recalls. “In those days, you could buy first-growth Bordeaux and topflight Burgundies for $10 a bottle.”

He drank everything from fine Château Haut-Brions to Gallo Hearty Burgundy. In 1973, he quit his Wall Street job at Smith Barney, hoping to open a wine bar. “I had read about wine clubs in London,” he told me, “and spent a year on it. Then in 1975 the economy tanked.”

Mark kept enjoying wines and then, in 1994, got the bug to start a serious collection. “I have eclectic tastes,” he says. “I like wines that represent themselves and their soil. I drink varietals from around the world, although I’m less enchanted with Bordeaux than I was. The great vintages they rave about have incredible tannins in the grapes, they don’t reach their peaks of sugar for many years and they are good if you want your grandchild to enjoy them.”

“I like the investment side of it. I don’t sell; I just keep it. But I like the value you get by purchasing early on, at the right time. I have dozens of bottles that have increased a lot in value.”

Mark and his wife-whom he describes as a hypertaster, someone with 10 times as many taste buds as most people-prefer drinking their wines rather than storing them forever. And his “cellar” is more unorthodox than those of most serious collectors. He doesn’t have the space in his apartment for a full-fledged cellar, so he stores 200 bottles in a wine refrigerator, another 100 in a spare shower, and 1,850 in a storage facility. Originally, his collection was almost exclusively French Bordeaux and Cabernets. Today, almost half are American, with French and Italian about a quarter each. Reds predominate.

His special-year wines are saved for his children’s marriages. “My daughter married into a Sephardic Jewish family, so I had to resort to kosher. My son got married last September, and I arranged with an Italian vintner to provide an excellent Barbera.

As do other collectors, Mark prefers bringing his own wine to restaurants and sometimes will pass on those that don’t allow it. “Most restaurants have immature wines at four times the price they’re worth,” he says. When traveling he purchases off the list but often finds good local wines.

Being an enthusiast has its perks. In 2001, he, Ellen and some friends, traveled to Italy. One night, they dined at Portofino’s Hotel Splendido. “During the dinner, the general manager recognized my passion for wine,” he recalls. Suddenly, the manager brought him a glass. It turned out to be a 1997 Ornellaia Masseto, a phenomenal red. it was $1,000 a bottle at that restaurant. It turns out someone ordered it a few days before but only wanted one glass. He gave the rest back.”

A few days before leaving Italy, he spotted the same wine in a Milan restaurant. It was an astonishing $100, a tenth of the Portofino price. “The smart thing was that I bought a bottle,” he told me. ‘The stupid thing was that I only bought one.”

Kim Wood and her husband, Tom, are co-owners of Norman’s, the acclaimed Coral Gables restaurant. Like Zoller, Kim was introduced to wines while growing up. “My grandparents are from Spain,” she says, “and it was accepted as a kid that you could drink wine. It was part of my heritage.”

When Kim and Tom married in 1990, they were given a wine-bottle dossier and began logging the vintages they drank. Tom’s father introduced them to Spanish Albarinos.

During the 1990s, Kim enjoyed heavier wines, tasty Cabernets, “the type that would stick to your tongue.” Today, she prefers lighter Pinot Noirs (Zoller turned her on to them), as well as an eclectic mixture from many regions. “I’m an urban girl,” she says. “Jeans and white T-shirts. My wine is like my lifestyle.”

And Kim has a spectacular cellar in her Southern-plantation-styled home In Pinecrest in which to store It. The cellar, which she and her husband built five years ago, replaced a porch and took two years to build. It’s adjacent to her dining room.

“I didn’t want just a cellar with racks,” she recalls. “I also wanted it to look great.” The result is a functional room that has a floor of “rain-forest green” marble with burgundy veining that reminds Kim of vines. She had the Brazilian-walnut and mahogany racks stained dark, and then used a woven marble cut as a basket weave as the presentation wall for her 30 finest bottles. The room’s back- splash is marble, and soft backlighting highlights the collection of 3,000 bottles, half the room’s capacity. Music is piped In. “Sometimes when I take friends there,” she says, “they want the Rolling Stones, and sometimes jazz.” An antique corking mechanism is on its way.

On social evenings, Kim and Tom take their friends, after dinner, to the adjacent billiards room. There they have a wine fridge. “And when it comes to the time of the evening to tell secrets,” she says, “we go to the wine room.”

The collection includes champagne, since Kim likes it, and is pretty evenly split between European and American wines. As opposed to many other collectors, she has no problem going to a restaurant that does not allow her to bring an outside bottle (her own place, Norman’s, does permit it). “I enjoy trying different wines. I am still a student. I am so young [in her 30s], and it’s great to have amassed such a database ahead of my time. But I have learned and listened.”

She recently acquired a young Peter Michael wine with a limited production. “Oprah and Emeril also got bottles,” she says. “I love rock-star wines.

“Wine is a great equalizer,” she adds. “It’s there to be enjoyed, to lie back and savor life. That’s why I like it so.”

Jim Ferraro is a Miami attorney. “Twenty years ago I started going to

Europe for business, particularly France and Italy,” he says. “I soon found myself having some wonderful regional wines, wines I couldn’t get here. That started me off.”

He has been collecting for nearly 10 years, but when he moved into his three-story penthouse in Segovia Tower in Coral Gables, “they had the perfect space to build a wine cellar. So I built a big concrete tomb where I can store high-end wine.” It has, as do many others, its own backup generator.

In a short time, Ferraro has collected 2,000 bottles. “I have about 100 bottles of great champagne, some vintage Mats and some Cristal, but that’s more trendy. The rest is about 40-percent European and the others American.” He admits to a bias for reds, especially Burgundies.

“I like the investment side of it,” he says. “I don’t sell; I just keep it. But I like the value you get by purchasing wines early on, at the right time. I have dozens of bottles that have increased a lot in value. I have a Shafer that is worth about $20,000. On my son’s college graduation, he might get to drink that with me.”

Ferraro says he’s a “birth-year guy.” He has bought special wines in the years each of his children was born: 1986, 1989 and 1993. “Nineteen eighty nine is the best,” he says. If I had had another kid, it would had to have been 2000.” For his own 50th birthday in a few months, Ferraro expects to drink some of his best. “I’m planning a big event for it,” he says.

“It’s great that the wine market has boomed so,” he told me. “When the stock market was rolling, people started paying crazy prices for wine. It’s not a direct relationship, but there is a correlation with the art market. When people are paying $50 million for art, what goes with that? Wine. And many more people buy wine. In some ways, it’s the poor man’s art, at least for some very good wines.”


Check out vinfolio.com, which has great info and sells some super, well-priced bottles. Not sure how to develop the right palate? This month, the University of Miami offers a four- week course, “Wine 101.” It costs $795, but in addition to getting a crash course in wines, you’ll also get plenty of tastings. There’s also FIU’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management’s more intense semester-length 3-credit course. And if all else fails, try one of the less expensive bottles at Total Wine & More on Biscayne and 147th Street. The collectors above may not be interested, but it might not be such a terrible way to put your foot into the seductive world of wines.

The Art of Building a Museum

MAM Taps Herzog and de Meuron to Bring Its New Miami Home to Life

This past September, we found ourselves walking into the lobby of the Miami Art Museum (MAM). A crowd of several dozen people, smartly dressed for a mid-morning gathering, milled around in small groups in what appeared to be fairly intense discussions. Near the rear, in a dark-blue suit, pacing along one side of a wall, was Terence Riley, MAM’s director, who was hired earlier this year with great fanfare from his curator’s post at New York’s Museum of Modem Art. We know Riley, both from an earlier profile we did about him for Ocean Drive and from seeing him regularly at our local South Beach gym, Equinox. So we walked over. it’s going to be a very interesting day,’ he said, before even offering a hello.

We had no doubt about that. The lobby crowd consisted of art lovers, museum fans, architectural students and critics, local philanthropists, politicians and community activists. They were there for the only public hearing regarding the selection of an architectural firm to design

MAM’s upcoming 125,000-square-foot, $208 million building and sculpture garden at Bicentennial Park. One hundred-million dollars of the funds will come from a general-obligation bond from Miami-Dade County, approved by voters in 2004 by an overwhelming majority. The aim is that together with the Miami Museum of Science & Planetarium, the new complex will transform the now abandoned 29-acre park on downtown’s Biscayne Bay into a world-class art center and lift Miami’s stature as a cultural hub.

Riley had helped select, and then oversee, the multiyear $800 million renovation of MoMA with Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi. As a result of his expertise, the MAM directors decided to bypass an architectural competition, and instead allowed Riley and a small committee to narrow the choices to three firms before Riley made his final recommendation. Now he was ready to present it at the hearing.

After a little chitchat with us, Riley excused himself.”  I have to go out and do my deep-breathing exercises.” And he walked outside to pace around MAM’s large Spanish-styled courtyard.

At the two-hour public meeting, Riley explained how he and an eclectic makeshift advisory committee spent six months reviewing the work of 75 architects from 26 firms. Riley’s helpers included MAM trustees, development, finance and design experts and local notables such as art collector George Lindemann, condo king Jorge Perez and developer and art aficionado Craig Robins.

They narrowed the pool to 13 architects, and then embarked on a research trip—paid for by privately raised funds—for eight days, to 13 cities, in which they cast a wide net. They reviewed dozens of buildings and interviewed trustees and curators from structures designed by MAM’s short list of architects. Some of the projects/buildings they visited included Londoner David Chipperfield’s redesign of the Saint Louis Art Museum; the futuristic Casa da Musica concert hall in Porto, Portugal, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas; Zaha Hadid’s highly praised Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center; Taniguchi’s MoMA redo; Frank Gehry’s iconic Vitra Design Museum in Germany; Italian architect Renzo Piano’s overhaul of New York’s Morgan Library, as well as his creation of Paris’ Centre Pompidou; the stunning glass pavilion for Toledo, Ohio’s Museum of Art by Japanese architects Sanaa; and the $135 million critically praised redo of San Francisco’s de Young museum by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron.

Upon returning to Miami, Riley whittled the list to five, and then three, finalists: Sanaa, Chipperfield and Herzog and de Meuron. “Great architects are great for different reasons,” Riley told us. “There is no single yardstick of greatness. You have to match the architect to the problems you confront on your own project. The best candidate might be someone who is qualified, but who is not necessarily a star architect”

When Riley announced his choice for MAM, it was Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the only partners ever to win architecture’s most prestigious award, the Pritzker. MAM’s specially selected five-member design committee unanimously approved Riley’s pick.

It is not the first time that Miamians have heard of the firm, as Herzog and de Meuron are also the architects for a cutting-edge, mixed-use commercial/parking tower at Lincoln and Alton in South Beach. Riley refers to the radical design for that structure as origami on steroids.

In his first public comments since being selected, Jacques Herzog told us, “About 15 years ago, I went every year with my wife to South Beach to enjoy the restaurants, the fashion, the beach, the weather. I used to wonder then that even the best art deco-styled buildings were mostly flat boxes with air conditioning. Very few traditional styles offered balconies and the lush vegetation that this climate deserves. I have been waiting for this opportunity, the one to design a major project in Miami, for many years.”

Since 1992, the 200-person firm has completed a remarkable 13 museums and dozens of other buildings.  They range from Prada’s Tokyo flagship store to the remarkable Tate Modern in London, where they actually converted a gigantic turbine plant into a public gallery on the Thames. And they finished the Tate work—from original sketches to final plans and mockups—in about a year, a feat most architects and designers thought impossible. In the U.S., they recently completed San Francisco’s de Young, Southampton’s Parrish Art Museum and the ambitious Walker Art Center expansion in Minneapolis. On their upcoming agenda are divergent projects; such as -a-massive urban- development in Las Vegas, as well as the several-hundred-million dollar project for China’s 2008 Olympic stadium, a design that is conceived as a bird’s nest accommodating 100,000 people.

“There are a lot of reasons why they are the right choice,” Riley later told us, “but a critical one is that it is important for an architect to understand the weather in Miami, both good and bad. Although they are based in Switzerland, they have done six projects in Spain, where they have to deal with months of sunshine and lots of humidity, so they know this environment. And they are already on the ground here for their South Beach project, so they are getting a feel for this diverse community. Their Alpine roots will translate into something architecturally wonderful in Miami’s extreme heat.”

Riley did not want, he says, to select an architect—such as Gehry—known for a signature style. He did not want what he calls “destination architecture.”

“Part of the brilliance of Herzog and de Meuron,” Michael Spring, Miami-Dade County’s cultural-affairs czar told us, Is you aren’t getting an architect with an identifiable style, but instead one capable of great design and the talent of matching a building to the place.” Riley was searching for just that. He wanted a firm that employs a unique approach on each of its projects.

“The selection of Herzog and de Meuron is a very good one,” says art collector Lindemann. “Because the County and City are contributing a lot of money, and the land, for the project, it was important that an architect with a lot of museum experience be selected. If this was being done by a private person, it might have been possible to pick a rising star whom few knew. But with Herzog and de Meuron you get both. They are well established, accomplished and experienced, and still young and hip. That is a very tough combination to find.”

Adds art collector and real-estate kingpin Robins, “The selection of Herzog and de Meuron furthers and deepens the very important collaboration between Miami and Art Basel. Because there is a dynamic between the two cities, the firm will be especially inspired to deliver a great project for Miami.”

“We do not repeat ourselves,” Herzog told us. “We don’t want to do the same thing in Miami as we may have done in Basel or London. It’s like a great cook: The ingredients on the plate might be the same, but when you cook it, the style and talent of the cook make it stand out That is what we try to do with each of our buildings.”

The only complaints raised asked why the museum had not used a traditional competition for architects in deciding who would get the final assignment. Jean-Francois Lejeune, a professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture, best summarizes that argument While he believes that the choice of Herzog and de Meuron is “a great one for the city,” he also contends that “at the present time, for this

“It would have been great to have architects in a limited competition.”

particularly beautiful site, for the complexity of Miami, and to best represent this city, it would have been great to have three to five of the best architects in a limited competition.”

“It was never a foregone conclusion that there would not be a competition,” Riley later told us. “If I thought a competition would have been successful, I would have convinced everyone to do it. But two things are clear from a competition: Not all of them work, and you have to have the right amount of time for them to be done properly.”

Riley cites, for example, the redo of Spain’s Prado museum, in which an open competition attracted more than 750 entries. There was no winner, and the eventual design is now quagmired in controversy and lawsuits. “It set the Prado back by 10 years,” Riley says. But he is too diplomatic to comment on the much talked-about critique of Cesar Pelli’s over budget, very late and architecturally jarring Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. It also was the result of a competition.

“Unless you have a lot of time for a competition,” Riley told us, “architects are under real pressure to come up with something fast, and it’s often flashy, not necessarily the best.° A competition for MAM would have delayed the museum’s development plans by six months to a year.

“Terry and I have had pretty lively discussions about competitions,” Miami-Dade’s Spring told us. “We’ve talked about the plusses and minuses. Many competitions ask the architects to create their final work, and I have seen that in short time spans and in such intense periods, architects spend so much effort and money to create the concept, they get married to it, and as a result never budge from what they created for the competition. As the client, you get saddled with that concept”

Although some famous buildings, such as Momma’s redo, or the Sydney Opera House, were competitions (Danish architect Jorn Utzon, virtually an unknown, would never have gotten the Sydney assignment without one), other noted projects eschewed one. There was no competition or even interview for Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilboa, Spain. Riley believes that the main advantage of a competition is to exhibit the various designs and encourage a general dialogue, and he expects to do the same thing with MAM by publicly displaying Herzog and de Meuron’s plans so there will be continuous input from the community.

But public review and comment is some way off. The firm will need four to five months just to put pen to paper and develop a concept. An exhibition of the near-completed design, Riley hopes, will be presented during 2007 Art Basel. The final building is scheduled to open in 2010.

“The MAM and the science museum in Bicentennial Park are the next major building blocks in establishing Miami as an international culture center,” Miami-Dade’s Spring says. “These will help transform Miami into the cultural center it should be and can be. In addition to Art Basel and the performing-arts center, it puts us on the map.

“We are setting the course for the arts for our city for generations to come,” Spring adds. “We can do things uniquely, and with a 21st-century feel, which will make Miami one of the most exciting cities for the arts.”

Beauty Junkies And Their Addictions

If you ask most people in Miami Beach what the biggest industry is after real estate, a lot of savvy residents would say cosmetic surgery.

Just sit outside a Lincoln Road café or sip a latte in one of South Beach’s Starbucks and you’ll likely see the evidence of the local plastic-surgery explosion-bee-stung puffed lips, stone-like Botoxed faces, bullet-shaped silicone breasts for girls, and meat-slab pet implants for guys. Don’t even bother counting the face-lifts, eye and nose jobs and hair transplants. The fillers used annually in Miami Beach-from fat injections to synthetic products such as Restylane and Radiance-could pack a small landfill in many states.

Now, making sense of our American mania with looking younger and enhancing our figures and features is New York Times columnist Alex Kuczynski in her scintillating new book, Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession With Cosmetic Surgery (Doubleday). Kuczynski provides an almost documentary-like narrative- part expose and part autobiography. The striking 5’11″, 38-year-old writer has extensively interviewed patients and doctors as well as talked to many of the industry’s top executives. The result is a thoroughly engaging tome ranging from her own “maintenance” cosmetic procedures (Botox, eye surgery, lip plumping) to riveting information about the real stories behind every surgery, including breast augmentation, gastric bypass, liposuction and face-lifts.

Some of her discoveries are startling, such as African “surgery safaris” where rejuvenated patients get face-lifts and then pose with wild animals. Or podiatrists whose “foot face-lifts” let women fit into their $800 Jimmy Choos. Labiaplasties – formerly the domain of sex workers and exotic dancers – restore a youthful, almost virginal quality to a woman’s private parts. There is the growth of “knife coaches,” self- styled experts who take information accessible to anyone from women’s magazines and over the Internet and then recycle it into $300 hourly consultations. And Kuczynski tells us of a New York City surgeon who performed a cosmetic procedure on an ex-Navy SEAL to make it appear that he had a bullet wound in his chest so he could impress friends when they went to the beach.

“I found out that there isn’t really much some doctors won’t do,” Kuczynski told us in a recent broad ranging interview. “Just about nothing surprises me anymore.”

She covered the beauty and style industry for The New York Times for several years before coming up with the idea for her book. Kuczynski had written a front-page story about how the FDA was about to approve Botox. She received more than 400 letters, half expressing outrage that people thought they could reverse aging, half eagerly asking, “Where can I get it?”

“That was the embryo of this book,” she tells us. “I was sitting in the lunchroom of the Times, and I remember the moment distinctly. I said to a colleague, ‘Someone ought to write a book about how everyone is obsessed with Botox. Botox junkies.’ And he said, ‘Botox nation.’ I said, ‘No, not another “nation” book [like Prozac Nation], but it should be about the entire cosmetics and youth industry.’”

You might not think that, based on her background, she would be the person to pen the authoritative book about the beauty industry. Kuczynski’s Oxford and Princeton-educated father was the prime minister of Peru until last July. Her mother was a key figure in the Voice of America and sponsored a Carnegie Endowment. Her patrician family sent Kuczynski to a Virginia boarding school before she attended Barnard, the prestigious New York women’s liberal- arts college. When she married her husband, a private investor 21 years her senior, former New York Mayor David Dinkins officiated at the couple’s apartment.

From an early age, she was torn between a career in journalism or acting. She did brief stints at The New Yorker and The New York Observer before landing a job at the Times in 1998.

“By then,” she retounts.”1 told myself, You’re cute, but not cute enough to act. So in my writing job, I manage to include both of those fields. It is great as a journalist to be a good actress. I have a very personal style of journalism, and it is theatrical at times.”

As for her observations about the beauty industry and the differing standards set by women, she tells us, “So many styles are right, depending on the city in which you live.” In Los Angeles, she writes, her 143 pounds would mean that “I am fat, repulsive and cannot find a pair of blue jeans to fit me in any of the tony boutiques. If I stop in at Fred Segal, the chic celebrity haunt in West Hollywood, I’m ushered politely away from the Hudson ‘supermodel’ blue jeans toward the sweat pants and dresses made in stretchy fabrics….” In New York, Kuczynski says she is considered only “a touch on the pudgy side but acceptable,” whereas in Wisconsin, people think she is on “some kind of sicko starvation diet.

In New York,” she adds, “the style du jour is sticks with heads. In L.A. it’s sticks with heads and boobs.” But Miami is different, she admits. “Isn’t Miami more of a celebration of a woman’s body?” asks Trisha.

“Yes,” says Alex. “Miami reflects a lot of the Caribbean and Latin cultures, and that influence has spilled over to the Caucasian culture, as well. You are allowed to look a lot more bodacious in Miami. You can have more curves, be a bit heavier if you can carry it with confidence.”

Kuczynski believes that cosmetic surgery is about instilling confidence. “You can always tell a sexy woman by her level of confidence,” she says. “If you need breast implants to feel that way, so be it. If you need a big butt, that’s all right. I remember that the ugliest girl in college had all the guys because she had an almost psychotic self-confidence. She was beautiful because she couldn’t care less what others thought of her. If people understood that concept, the cosmetic industry wouldn’t even exist.”

Although the standards of beauty have changed over the centuries, today it seems to be driven by a quest for youth. “We place a premium on what is rare,” says Kuczynski, “and in our aging baby-boomer population, that is youth. To look young is to say, I have a power over my physical presentation and over my poorer neighbor who can’t afford to go to the dermatologist every month. It creates the feeling that you are immortal. It is why we value it so much.

Hollywood, and then the pornography industry, she says, “made it easier for the rest of us to first look like stars and now like porn stars.” Without doubt, the now prevalent South Beach look of giant breast implants sported on a very slim frame, with enormous lips dominating the face, is more reminiscent of an X- rated film star than a traditional celluloid auteur.

“We live in the age of the image,” says Kuczynski. “You can share your photos over the Internet with millions of people. Images are so much more a part of our everyday lives than they were 25 years ago.”

Kuczynski recently had a conversation with her 23-year-old stepdaughter, who wanted to get Botox. “She is perfection itself,” she recounts to us. “But if she really scrunched up her face, you could see a tiny line or two. People start so young now; it creates a self feeding frenzy for keeping young.” Kuczynski counts herself among the first generation of Botox users, “those of us who have debilitated our muscles for so long, we don’t have any frowns on our foreheads despite all the stress of the world.”

Injecting Botox or using other fillers, or even lasers to smooth the skin and plump up collagen, is an ever increasing percentage of all cosmetic procedures. “And part of the reason for their great popularity,” Kuczynski tells us, “is that it avoids the cutting involved in traditional plastic surgery. That phrase, ‘going under the knife,’ is anathema to many people. It has its own aura. Surgery is frightening. People think they are going to die under anesthesia.”

Many Hollywood stars who insist they do not believe in cosmetic surgery and swear they would never do it themselves are actually, says Kuczynski, talking only about procedures that involve cutting. As for everything short of actual surgery-from Botox to fillers to lasers-”people think of those as simple and widespread as taking vitamins,” she says.

Kuczynski names names in Beauty Junkies. An aide to ex-Presidential candidate John Kerry tells her “in a confidential conversation” that Kerry had tried Botox. Hollywood directors Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann complain that actors no longer show emotion. Many stars over the age of 35, writes Kuczynski, have lost “the ability to look angry.”  Desperate Housewives actress Marcia Cross has a “forehead and cheeks as smooth and inanimate as a kabuki mask. Her face does not move.” When someone overuses Botox, they often rely on the small muscles on the sides of the nose, scrunchy lines that resemble those of a bunny. “I’m not saying,” writes Kuczynski, “that Sarah Jessica Parker in the final few seasons of Sex and the City had overdone Botox, but she sure does have some bunny-like lines.” And if Botox is prevalent, some cosmetic procedures-like tooth whitening-are almost considered necessities. New York celebrity dentist Larry Rosenthal has done everyone from author Tama Janowitz, Bruce Springsteen and Tommy Hilfiger to Bridget Hall, Natasha Richardson and even corporate titans Sumner Redstone and Harvey Weinstein. Beauty is obviously a serious and expensive business in Hollywood, so much so that when singer Lionel Richie’s 37-yearold wife, Diana, filed for divorce in 2004, on her list of financial demands was $20,000 a year for plastic surgery.

There are, of course, extremes in the beauty industry. Manhattan socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein has undergone millions of dollars worth of plastic surgery to turn her face into that of a cartoonish cat. Conversely, feminist philosopher Kathryn Pauly Morgan is so opposed to cosmetic enhancements that she proposes instead a Ms. Ugly pageant, in which contestants bleach their hair white, apply wrinkle-inducing creams and have their breasts surgically pulled down instead of lifted.

“I am right in the middle,” says Kuczynski. “I am a feminist, but I am also a creature of my times. In addition to serious philosophy and politics, I can also work on my concepts of beauty and youth. You can do that and still not be challenged when it comes to having a much more serious life.”

How well has Alex managed to balance the pursuit of her career and her interest in cosmetic beauty? As a celebrated New York Times columnist, she has clearly mastered the-first-And- as for the second, “I never got carded at 18 or 21,” she tells us, “but at 36 I finally did. I loved it!”

In mid November, Kuczynski will be at the Miami Book Fair International promoting Beauty Junkies. It will give all Miami beauty junkies the chance to stop by and judge for themselves.

Another Big Fight With Home Depot

Miami Beach Neighbors Oppose It. Will Big Money and Legal Threats Make It Happen?

Recently, we were in Manhattan during a record- breaking heat wave. On our way to Bloomingdale’s, we passed the bold glass and steel Cesar Pelli-designed One Beacon Court, also known as the Bloomberg building, after the city’s mayor, whose corporate headquarters is there. The soaring 55-story skyscraper, with its innovative seven-story elliptical glass wall, became an instant East Side landmark when it opened in 2004. One hundred and five condos, filling the 32nd to 55th floors, sold out in a few months, fetching between $2,000 and $3,000 per square foot (the typical Miami Beach two-bedroom would command $3 million there). One penthouse sold for $27 million preconstruction.

Offices fill the rest of the tower, while a few major retailers are at street level. Among those are Le Cirque, the renowned four-star restaurant, two banks, the hip Swedish-based clothing emporium H&M and then, startlingly, two big-box stores. One is The Container Store, a storage-solution center that makes sense in a town where space is at a premium. But the other store in the tony One Beacon Court at first seems incongruous. It’s a 100,000-square-foot Home Depot, one of only two in Manhattan (the other is in Chelsea).

The Home Depot sign underneath multimillion- dollar condos is about the last thing you’d expect to find. But residential New Yorkers, known for obstinate opposition to any local development they find the least bothersome-they held off English restaurateur and retailer Terence Conran from opening his 59th Street marketplace for 20 years-did not battle The Home Depot. Why? When we went inside, it was clear that this is not your parents’ building-supply store. A $10 million, four-level complex designed largely in a– modernist metal-and-glass style, there is no lumber department or garden center. Instead, it is packed with large appliances and luxury home brands-even boasting of home delivery. It is tailor-made for its Manhattan location.

When we returned to Miami Beach, we told a friend about discovering a Home Depot across from Bloomingdale’s.

“Home Depot.” He almost spit out the words. “If they get their way, they’ll soon be on the Beach, ruining a good neighborhood.”

Unwittingly, he had led us to this month’s Chatter, the bruising battle between some South Beach residents and prominent real- estate developers over an ambitious plan to build the Beach’s first Home Depot.

The neighborhood in question is Sunset Harbour, which roughly is bounded by Purdy Avenue on the west, Alton on the east, Dade Boulevard on the south, and 20th Street on the north. The area is one of Miami Beach’s two neighborhoods zoned in part as light industrial.” That means that the residential component-400 condos in two late-1990s-designed towers-shares the neighborhood with two unsavory 24- hour towing companies, two discreet 20,000-squarefoot-plus storage warehouses, several unsightly auto- repair and auto-body shops, a frightening Florida Power & Light substation and even an Office Depot (which replaced the gay dance club Salvation). Several buildings along Purdy sit empty. The Sunset Harbour neighborhood is probably best known to most Beach residents as the home of the island’s largest Publix, the 50,000-square-foot Carlos Zapata-designed store on 20th Street, chic home-interior and clothing designer Tomas Maier, the Beach’s premier dry cleaners, Mark’s, and Joe Allen restaurant, deservedly one of the Beach’s favorite hangouts.

The uneasy truce between those who paid top dollar for their bayfront condos and the 41 light-industrial or commercial businesses that occupy most of the neighborhood-was broken earlier this year when residents learned that Solomon and Zalman Fellig, brothers who own several properties there, were planning to introduce big-box stores on two of their parcels. One was The Home Depot and the other Whole Foods Market. The words “Home Depot” were a rallying cry for the area’s residents. It conjured the idea of an ugly and oversized building attracting hordes of South Florida buyers, as well as around-the-clock truck deliveries (the thus unsuccessful fight of Coconut Grove residents battling a Home Depot there is the subject of a documentary-Don’t Box Me In: A Coconut Grove Story-by Miami filmmaker Richard Fendelman).

“Home Depot should change its name to ‘I Love You’ or something like that,” says award-winning documentarian Fendelman. A self- described pacifist who lives a Zen lifestyle, Fendelman admits that The Home Depot’s effort to move in to Coconut Grove has made him an angry activist. “Maybe people just get too uptight when they hear the words ‘Home Depot’”

“This was an area that was neglected for a long time,” says former Miami Beach commissioner Nancy Liebman, who lives on nearby Belle Isle. “It is now in transition, gentrifying into a quirky, urban neighborhood. Unfortunately, people have learned to live with the towing companies and the rest of that. But big- box, destination stores, like Home Depot, will totally alter its character. The streets are narrow and access is difficult. The Felligs say it’s their property and they can do what they want, but actually the city has the right to determine what goes there.”

Liebman is right. In late 2005, Miami Beach officials approached the Felligs, offering to trade a city- owned lot on Bay Road, plus $4 million, for four Fellig-owned properties on West. But the Miami Beach City Commission aborted the swap after local residents flooded its chambers, fearing it would pave the way for an even bigger Home Depot. In February, the city suggested that the planning board adopt an ordinance giving it first say over projects larger than 50,000 square feet. The commission still has final say, with the city having veto power over big-box stores in Sunset Harbour.

“This is about chasing dollars and profits,” says Liebman, “not about enhancing the neighborhood.”

“That is completely wrong,” counters attorney Alex Angueira, a Steams Weaver partner representing the Felligs. Angueira, a former federal prosecutor, recently met with us for several hours to present his client’s case. “The neighborhood is not cute and sweet,” he says. “It has been light industrial for years. And the Felligs have been there for 20 years. They want to make it better, not ruin it.”

Angueira was persuasive in demonstrating that The Home Depot his clients want is as different in architecture and style as the one at One Beacon Court in Manhattan. A 40-foot-tall brown modern structure accented with substantial green landscaping, it would not look like any other store in the vast chain. “And we have gone out of our way, at great cost, to satisfy the concerns of the residents,” Angueira says. ‘The architects essentially internalized everything.”

That means the complex’s 600 parking spaces would be inside, not visible from the street. Shoppers would pick up most of their purchases from an internal loading dock. Delivery trucks would be allowed only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m, and then limited to a closed loading zone with soundproofed doors. The Felligs even agreed to small requests, such as eliminating noisy backup beepers for delivery trucks, instead hiring flagmen, and using soft incandescent lighting inside the store to avoid any glare toward the residential towers. The building-supply area in the 77,000-square-foot store (the entire building, including parking, would be more than 200,000 square feet) would be limited, and there will be no garden center.

“No matter how they present it,” says one city official who prefers to remain anonymous, “it’s not like they are bringing in Tiffany’s, or Barneys, or some other great tenant. Whole Foods serves a local customer. It would be attractive to a lot of folks, except maybe Epicure (the Alton Road gourmet shop). But a Home Depot isn’t a local hardware store. They’re designed to serve broad regions and would attract contractors from downtown Miami, Wynwood, even the Biscayne corridor. Remember, there are only two ways in and out four-lane Alton Road and the two- lane Venetian Causeway. It’s going to be a greater traffic nightmare than it already is?

Residents convinced the city to require the Felligs to do an extensive traffic-impact study. “And we submitted one,’ says Angueira, “and it was gold.’ He contends it convincingly demonstrated shoppers would be drawn only from a 1.5-mile radius and that during weekdays there would be little traffic congestion.

“That original traffic study was a joke,’ counters Herb Frank, president of the Belle Isle Residents Association.

“That study really was Mickey Mouse,’ agrees Marilyn Freundlich, a community activist who has been at the forefront of opposing the development. “Our roads just can’t accommodate these destination stores. It seemed like Home Depot itself had done the traffic study. It only calculated the impact at off-hours, during the weekdays, and didn’t include rush hours or weekends. They have made all types of promises, but I don’t trust them.”

Thoughts of dozens of weekly trips by 18- wheel rigs delivering goods to Home Depot scares most residents. “The traffic is the real problem here,” says Mike Hammond, a local real-estate developer. “This is awkward for me, since I’m normally for development. But this is the wrong project for this neighborhood. The Felligs haven’t done the necessary impact studies. They are simply taking pixie dust and hoping they can wave a magic wand over the traffic problems.” Hammond and others who live nearby are also concerned about safety issues from the flood of new traffic and how it might affect the local park, Island View, and the children who play there.

“I fear this will have a ripple effect felt by all residents on so many levels,” says Bianca Oakes, a real-estate professional and local resident opposed to the project. “Our property values will be negatively affected and our quality of life diminished. If we do not protect our community and allow such reckless development to take place in our neighborhoods, this could become the norm for Miami Beach. Its size is the problem. It’s just too big for the Beach.”

“We’re not totally opposed to the Felligs developing their properties,’ says Frank Kruszeski, a member of the Miami Beach Budget Advisory Committee and ex-president of the 1800 Sunset Harbour condominium. “But we want something that is in scale and appropriate for the neighborhood?

Kruszeski believes that when a hurricane approaches the area would be jammed with people from miles around stocking up on goods. Instead, Kruszeski and others have suggested the Felligs construct a mixed-use project of condos, upscale restaurants and possibly even a single big-box retailer like Whole Foods or Barnes & Noble.

‘Why should my clients have to pick tenants that pay less per square foot than the company they want for the property?” Angueira asks. “These people are killing us with their love. We’re getting a little tired of being pushed around by bullies.”

Angueira makes it clear that he considers city officials to be some of the bullies. At a raucous July 25th public hearing, the city requested that the Felligs undertake a new, substantially expanded traffic- impact study. “It would cost us $200,000 and take four to six months to complete,” Angueira says. Instead, he asked for a vote that night, and the commission deadlocked. As a result, it deferred the matter for 90 days.

“We are about reasonable, responsible, intelligent, good public policy,” says Victor Diaz, chairman of the planning board who must first vote on the Felligs’ proposal. “And most important, what we do in managing growth is strongly supported by the citizens of Miami Beach. It is our responsibility to be proactive and not wait until things are built and then are irrevocable.”

“These big-box stores don’t belong in our seaside resort community,” says Saul Gross, a city commissioner who will have to eventually vote on The Home Depot proposal. “They bring too much traffic to our already overcrowded streets. We will have access to these big boxes right across the bay at Midtown, and perhaps the Nereid site. That’s close enough for me. Since I spent my formative urban years in Manhattan, I understand why people might compare Miami Beach to Manhattan. But the delicious thing about living here is that we are not congested like Manhattan, and the scale of everything is so much more accessible. Let’s keep it that way.”

The Felligs will almost certainly go to court if their proposed project is rejected.

“Let’s hope the city, or even the courts, reject this,” ex-commissioner Liebman says. “It would be a disaster for that little neighborhood. And anyway, no one comes to vacation in Miami Beach to see a Home Depot.”

How Big is too Big?

Recently on a drive along the Venetian Causeway we were surprised to see that the quiet neighborhood known for decades for tasteful water-front houses built to a reasonable scale was now under attack by trophy homes being built right to the property line. We had noticed the same trend on a recent trek along North Bay Road. What we weren’t sure of is whether the neighborhood is embracing the changes or whether a simmering resentment has merely failed to stop the developments. And what do other design mavens think? Is the new wave of giant homes a good change for places like the Venetian Causeway, or is it a movement that we will eventually regret?

Scott van Vianen is the chief broker for Gray and Associates Properties, a real-estate company that builds and sells many of the new homes along the Venetian. It advertises itself as “The Ultimate Boutique Realty Firm-Vision, Market Savvy, Diversified Development.” Van Vianen believes that “there is a demand for contemporary architecture. It’s a very individual thing, but right now there is a trend for midcentury modem design.” As far as he is concerned, the wave of new homes “is increasing property values. People are merely looking at their lots and the codes and seeing how they can maximize the value. We try to build the best houses for the property and for people who want a better lifestyle.”

The home van Vianen likes to cite as the most accurate example of this is the Allan Shulman-designed house at 235 Rivo Alto on the Venetian Causeway, a sleek, modem 6,000-square-foot home boasting five bedrooms, an infinity pool, aluminum elevator, three-car vertical garage, rooftop terrace and 60 feet of waterfront. The asking price is a cool $6 million, a record per square-foot price for the Causeway. Gray and Associates had to get a variance to build the house there, and many neighbors think the home is oversized and out of place.

“I would like to talk to the neighbors after we are all done and see if they still feel it’s not right for the neighborhood,” van Vianen says.

He is unlikely to find a receptive group. Nancy Liebman is a former city commissioner and now a local activist who lives on the Causeway. “People are just trying to maximize the area they build in,” she says. “They can’t build high-rises, so they are building outrageously scaled homes that are totally incompatible with the neighborhood.” She blames the city commission, in part, for failing to act quickly enough to pass a strict ordinance to better control development.

“Years ago when architects built, they built to scale to complement the neighborhood,” she says. “They haven’t done that here. I am sure they are all being built to spec. One I know on the Causeway is like a concrete bunker, and I have to avert my eyes every time I pass it. It is a plague. Bigger is much better to those people who have no style. Look at downtown Miami. The developers simply don’t care about the neighborhood. They don’t realize once they destroy the neighborhood that there is no way then to replace it, and the city is just afraid of the developers.”

But Realtor Gary Hennes isn’t so sure the new development is a disaster. “Building to the limits and beyond is a by-product of a booming market,” he says. “There will always be some idolized way in which there is an obsession to create the ‘perfect’ place or make the grandest statement. Some fall flat because the taste is just bad, but at some point the absurd will become celebrated!

Not according to Nisi Berryman, co-owner of the Design District’s wonderful NiBa and someone known for her fine aesthetic. “Replacing old Miami homes with larger ones is destroying the feeling of the neighborhood. It is unfortunately a trend. I don’t want to see a censorship on what can be built, but it is changing the entire feeling of some areas like the Causeway.” She says she favors an expanded preservation district as well as restrictions on the size of homes that can be built in Miami Beach.

Skip van Cel, publisher of the Biscayne Boulevard Times, minces few words about what he thinks of the new trend. “Unfortunately, we have arrived at a time when excess is considered virtue. Our only hope is that the spawn of these more- whores will rise up to reject their parents’ crime of too much.”

Jean-Francois Lejeune, professor of architecture at the University of Miami, does not agree. A member of both the planning and historic-preservation boards, Lejeune says, “It is naive for neighbors to complain about the new largest homes because there are big monsters in the classical style built there years ago.” According to Lejeune, “both the planning board and historic-preservation board have been very active to pass regulations to restrict the size of homes in Miami Beach, or even if they are large, that they fit better into the character of the neighborhood.”

Although he thinks some homes in Miami Beach could be moderated, he generally likes the Allan Shulman-designed home on the Causeway (the two are professional colleagues, as well as co-authors of the book The Making of Miami Beach). Lejeune has heard the criticism about the Shulman house and says, “I am amazed, because it is not as large as some other houses, and they never really attack those other large houses.” Lejeune also likes a large home under construction at the entrance to North Bay Road. “I see this all with a relatively favorable eye. It is an ambiguous situation. These are attempts by younger architects to develop another language that will blend with the 1950s character of the city and also have some concern about the environment. It is what happened to Sarasota in the 1950s, and then the ‘Northern Movement’ in the 19705 and 19805. I believe that what they are doing is totally in character With the 19505 feel of Miami Beach-it is an attempt to bring the art deco feel of Miami Beach to these neighborhoods, but some residents may not like that And the homes themselves might be a little large and could do the same thing if they were somewhat smaller.”

Tui Pranich is a celebrated designer who has one of his four homes in Miami Beach. “The scale on the Venetian Causeway and North Bay Road was very comfortable,” he says. ‘The new houses being built are horrible, oversized, like Boca houses. It is a mistake.”

Pranich believes there should be a stringent city code against tearing down older homes. “These give Miami its character,” he says. “In Fort Lauderdale and Boca they have already lost their identity. The Venetian is a perfect example of what should not be under way. It was originally a runway. Then it turned into a community, and that gave it its charm. Now the developers want to create more square footage and sell homes for more money, but by doing that they are destroying the integrity of the area. They don’t understand the architecture or history. They just want more comfort, a bigger living room, a bigger kitchen, a bigger bedroom. The bigger the better is the mentality here. When I drive along the Venetian or North Bay Road, they are starting to lose their character.”

Adds noted photographer Robin Hill, speaking in general about the trend, “There’s no accounting for taste, especially when it comes to housing, and there’s also no relationship whatsoever between money and good taste.” Much of Hill’s work involves architecture and style. “There is a ‘McMansion’ invasion currently under way in many parts of Miami and Miami Beach. When it comes to a great neighborhood, nothing beats human-scale buildings that relate to one another. When that neighborhood is invaded by outside gluttonous architecture, the whole character of the area starts to change.” For Hill, the large-style mansion worked quite well when Addison Mizner reinvigorated the concept in Palm Beach in the 1920s. “But the problem today unfortunately is that in the hands of lesser architects-sometimes there isn’t even an architect and it’s all done by the developer-the style quickly looks shoddy and out of place. Alas, what a great shame that some of the most charming neighborhoods in the country have fallen to such tasteless vulgarity, including here in Miami along North Bay Road and in the Venetian Islands.”

But not everyone is so pessimistic that the battle to fight the McMansions is over. “I have a place in Miami because of its water, and it has character with its Art Deco District,” designer Pranich says. “I don’t want all these new condos going up to make it look like every other city in Florida. The same with the new homes. We can still stop it and regulate it. At the most, it’s only 20 to 25 percent of the houses that have been done along the Venetian and North Bay Road. It is still not too late to stop it from being totally ruined.”

Ports of No Return

Is the Dubai Fiasco the Official Unraveling of the Bush Administration?

Recently we had drinks with some New York friends in South Pointe Park at Smith & Wollensky, the restaurant that might have the best water location of any spot on the Beach. While there, two enormous cruise liners and one cargo tanker laboriously made their way past. Normally, the sight of those ships would have been the cause for much tourist admiration. But on this evening it was different, as much of our conversation had been about the “war on terror.” One of our friends had recently retired as an attorney in the Justice Department, another had done duty in the State Department, and we were busy getting the latest scoop about what was really happening in our nation’s capital.

“Only 35 percent of all containers coming into the country even get a rudimentary radiation screening,” remarked our Justice friend, pointing to one of the ships. “We let two-thirds go by without even attempting to ensure no nuclear weapons or radiological dirty bombs are entering the U.S. and about to be transferred to someplace in the heartland.”

“Port security is a joke,” agreed our State Department friend. “You probably look at these ships every day, or drive past the port on your way somewhere, and don’t even pay attention. When you get to the airport, you’re aware of everything from removing your shoes to checking your notebook But when it comes to the ports, everyone takes them for granted.”

Little did we know how prescient that talk was. By now, you’ve heard almost too much about the controversy concerning the Arab company that wanted to take control of U.S. ports, including Miami’s. Backed by the Bush administration, but opposed by key Democrats and Republicans, the deal finally fell apart last month. Who would have thought it was possible to fly under the radar with a proposal to turn over key infrastructure to a foreign government after 9/11? So, whether you barely followed the political storm or are a news junkie, we figured it was time to provide a “ports primer,” the definitive cheat sheet to everything the Bush administration would rather you didn’t know about why its deal flopped.

Foreign-owned firms play a crucial role in the American economy, accounting for about six percent of all private- sector business. So what was it about Dubai Ports World’s $6.8 billion takeover that caused such a controversy?

Dubai Ports World was no mere privately owned foreign company. It’s run by a royal family of the United Arab Emirates, the Maktoums (Dubai is one of seven states in the UAE). And they were not just buying a steel mill in the heartland, but rather control of ports, an area that almost every security expert agrees is woefully inadequate, even after 9/11. The UAE was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban (the other two were American “allies” Saudi Arabia and Pakistan). Two of the 9/11 hijackers were UAE nationals, who drew money from UAE banks. Since 9/11, the UAE has continued to be a money center for Islamic extremists. Nuclear components shipped to Iran, North Korea and Libya were sent through Dubai. During the Clinton administration, U.S. intelligence had tracked Osama bin Laden, a convoy of Toyota Land Cruisers, and a private plane to an Afghanistan compound owned by wealthy emirs. The President decided in part not to launch a missile attack if some of the casualties might be members of a UAE royal family-the same royal family, the Macrons, who own Dubai Ports World. And did we mention that Dubai Ports World still adheres to the Arab boycott of all Israeli goods? Even Egypt and Jordan have dropped that boycott, but not Dubai.

But only six ports were involved, right?

And wasn’t Dubai Ports World strictly vetted by the U.S. government before initially getting a green light for the takeover? Actually, the UAE-government-owned company was poised to take over operations in 21 American ports, far more than the six trumpeted by the Bush administration. P&O, the British company being bought by Dubai Ports, leases terminals for the import and export, loading and unloading and security of cargo at 11 ports on the East Coast ranging from Portland, Maine to Miami, and 10 on the Gulf Coast from Gulfport, Mississippi, to Corpus Christi, Texas, according to the company’s website.

As for the vetting, it was done in secret by a subdivision of the U.S. Treasury Department, the interagency Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. The Bush administration has reported that the decision of the CFIUS was unanimous. But since the controversy broke, both Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard leaked information that they objected to the Dubai Ports takeover because of security concerns. The Coast Guard actually warned it was unable to determine whether Dubai Ports might support terror operations against the U.S. Those warnings were ignored in the initial approval.

And the CFIUS approval did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. According to legal experts, such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other businesses.

Isn’t it true that Dubai Ports would have had no role in security at the ports?

Miami’s port, for instance, is County-run, so Miami- Dade is responsible for general security through police officers and private guards. They control the main gate. U.S. Customs and Border Protection handles all passengers and cargo entering the country. But terminal operators, like Dubai Ports, are responsible for security inside the property. While they must submit security plans to the Coast Guard for approval, and the Coast Guard occasionally inspects the terminals, the practical effect is that when terminal gates are locked, police monitoring is infrequent. If the deal had gone through as Bush wanted, there would have been a new security problem for the ports.

Why was the Bush administration so keen on approving the deal when it looked like a loser?

Business as usual. John Snow, the Secretary of the Treasury, was not only one of the most vocal proponents for the deal, but his department also had to sign off on the Dubai offer. It turns out that Snow was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to Dubai Ports World in 2004 for $1.15 billion. Snow had left the year before for Bush’s cabinet, but that same year The Carlyle Group-the Republican heavyweight financing firm that includes ex-President George H. Bush-bought CSX’s ships and containers. As if this wasn’t enough to have senior Bush administration officials recues themselves, David Sanborn, tapped in January to become head of the U.S. Maritime Administration, had formerly run Dubai Ports World’s European and Latin American operations. “He would have had oversight of his former employer, which raises questions about conflict of interest,” Senator Bill Nelson told Ocean Drive. Nelson is now on record ready to vote against Sanborn’s confirmation and to try his best to block it from reaching the Senate floor for a final vote.

The UAE has not been shy about spreading around money to buy influence. It gave $1 million to George Herbert Bush’s Presidential Library, and funneled $600,000 to Bill Clinton to address a business summit after he left office, as well as $1 million to his Library (although Hillary was against the deal, Bill advised the UAE on how to best get its purchase approved). And former Democratic Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole are both officially paid advisors to Dubai. How did the deal fall apart?

Bush angered not only Democrats and many Republican allies but also approximately 70 percent of the public, which was consistently against the deal in national polls. Moreover, Bush made a further mockery of his famous, “You are either with us or against us,” line of his post-9/11 speech. He has stepped on that phrase and mangled it repeatedly when it comes to preferential treatment for so-called allies such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But in trying to push through a deal to give over some of the major ports in the U.S. to a questionable ally in the war on terror, he exposed the fact that his administration places more emphasis on business profits and connections than the security of the country. “The people of Miami and our nation are entitled to know that their lives and safety are not being placed at risk,” Miami Mayor Manny Diaz told Ocean Drive.

Manny Diaz is right. The surprise was that Bush stepped up to the plate and asked-behind the scenes-for Dubai to withdraw its bid. He has shown remarkably little ability since assuming the Presidency to change course once he sets a policy. Iraq may be the mother of all debacles, from which he won’t take sage advice on how to extricate himself and the country, but there are plenty of others, from his secret wiretapping of U.S. citizens to blocking any expansion of stem-cell research. Bush beat Kerry because he was able to convince a majority of voters that his obstinate nature meant he was a leader compared to Kerry’s perceived waffling. But voters, slow as they have been, have finally caught on to Bush, and nearly two-thirds in current public-opinion polls think he is doing a poor job.

Bush didn’t even have to back the Dubai deal. It was done in secret by a federal commission, and once it became public, he could have easily distanced himself from day one. But just as he felt compelled to go to CIA headquarters after 9/11 in order to pat the chief spook on the back, or believed he had to support the FEMA director and Homeland Security chief after the New Orleans and Katrina fiasco, his spontaneous reaction on the ports was to back the panel’s decision before he had even considered all the consequences. The result was a protracted embarrassment for scores of administration officials and allies who tried in vain to muster some public support for the deal. By getting Dubai to withdraw its bid, Bush avoided the defeat in Congress that he would have so loathed. But still, it doesn’t take a political-science major to figure out that this President is operating with bad instincts and little political power to push through proposals he wants. Three more years of this lame-duck leadership could be tough to take.

What the Beach Needs Now

South Beach Continues to Evolve, But It’s Still Lacking Some Key Businesses

In 1994, when we first began visiting South Beach, we chanced one morning across a great sight near Alton Road and Dade Boulevard. A group of gay men was just leaving an all-night party at the club Salvation. About half a block away, a couple of young girls in uniform were on their way to school. And crossing the street closest to us was an elderly couple, the man using a walker and his wife holding on to his arm.

“I love this town,” Trisha said.

There was no need to ask what she meant. It was that wonderful cross section of three different slices of South Beach life, all living together.

You don’t need to be a student of the census to know that South Beach’s demographics have changed substantially since our morning encounter 12 years ago. The elderly, largely Jewish retirees who packed South Beach in residences or nursing homes have passed away or been relocated to cheaper accommodations on North Beach.

Places such as Temple Emanu-El were once thriving congregations where people lined up on Friday nights and High Holiday crowds spilled over to the Jackie Gleason Theater. But the temple lost members as Jews moved north. The congregation, which boasted 1,200 families in the 1980s, now claims just 250. In the last 10 years, the number of Jewish households on South Beach has fallen by 50 percent from 4,800 to 2,400, says Ira Sheskin, a University of Miami professor who conducted the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s demographic survey. To try to attract new and younger congregants, the 34-year-old rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, Kliel Rose, has added guitar, drums, meditation and a mystical, cabalistic flair to Shabbat services.

No one keeps precise tabs on the numbers of the gay population, which helped transform the Beach from downtrodden to hip, but while it is still a powerhouse, it somehow seems smaller. Some have also moved north, to Fort Lauderdale, and some dislike the_ evolution of the Beach from an East Village ambiance to one more akin to Chelsea south. Only two consistent gay clubs exist, Score and Twist. Salvation, where we saw our partiers, is now an Office Depot Even Warsaw, the great club with a mixed following that dominated the night scene from its Collins Avenue perch, is now Jerry’s Deli. But a gay presence is also so integrated in the Beach that it isn’t a matter of pointing at one establishment and saying “straight” or “gay.” In what other American city would the mayor conclude that pressing the flesh amid the crowds of the White Party was as necessary as stopping by the chamber of commerce? Remember, this was where Anita Bryant and her Christian-fundamentalist followers assembled their late-1970s Save Our Children group to successfully overturn the county’s anti-gay-discrimination ordinance.

But the changes in the makeup of the Beach mean that while some groups have downsized, others have grown. According to census – stats from 2000, the city’s population has stayed fairly stagnant, but those here are more educated and younger than in decades. The average income is up by nearly 15 percent, a tribute to some ultrarich who have made this a permanent home in the boom of multimillion-dollar condos and houses. The word you hear from local officials-taboo often in hip locales but welcomed by the Beach’s politicos-is ‘yuppies.’ Just wander along Lincoln on any Saturday night, remove the tourists, and you will be left with a lot of 20- to 30- something couples, often pushing a babycart. If there is any doubt that the edgy feel of the Beach is dead, you only need to wander through the Gap or stop in Victoria’s Secret.

The question is what all these demographic changes mean for the future. What businesses are likely to find their way here to serve the new population mix?

“It will continue to get better,” former mayor Neisen Kasdin told us. “The economic progress of Miami Beach is part of an enormous big sweep that has been going on for 25 years. South Beach created the global image, but what does it need now? How do we make it attractive to work and live in?”

Kasdin believes that “culture is first and foremost.” He points out the Wolfsonian, the New World Symphony, the annual Art Basel fair and the Frank Gehry SoundSpace proposed for just off Lincoln. ‘The people now living in South Beach want these cultural outlets, and there is a need for more.”

A number of people we spoke to said the answer to changing demographics is to bring in the big box stores to which most Beach residents now have to drive. These are the typical suspects: Target, Wal-Mart, Bed Bath & Beyond and Best Buy. But Kasdin thinks there is little chance of these being built, even if the new Beach demographics demand it, simply because there is so little space to locate one of these large stores. And even if the land is found, lack of parking almost invariably kills interest from the store itself. Randall Robinson, co-author of MiMo: Miami Modern Revealed, believes that smaller “city” versions of the box stores could be built on the Beach. He also thinks such stores should be held to a high standard for their design: “What Banana Republic did with that bank on Lincoln should be a model for what can be done with an existing space.”

If there was a sentiment we heard more frequently than any other when asking people what businesses the Beach could use, it was for a grand gourmet store, one that would give Epicure some competition. Award-winning photographer Pamela Jones not only wants a gourmet store but also a few healthy and organic restaurants. She adds, “We need a great farmers market every weekend, not the limited one on Lincoln that has a little produce and a few flowers.”

Deco Drive’s Louis Aguirre agrees. ‘The Beach desperately needs a high-end gourmet grocery store the likes of which have never been seen in South Florida. I’m talking Balducci’s, Dean & Deluca, Whole Foods on the scale of their store in New York City’s Columbus Circle. A store where you can find even the most obscure gourmet ingredient for that amazing meal you’re preparing straight out of Jean- Georges’ cookbook. A place where you can get healthy, freshly prepared meals every day of the week and never have the same thing twice.”

“I’ll vote for a Dean & Deluca and a great fish store,” says architect Chad Oppenheim. “It’s more expensive to buy things in Epicure than in New York. It’s like we are living in Tokyo or something. What gives?”

“While we’re on the subject of food, how about a decent breakfast restaurant?” adds Aguirre. The Hotel Victor, his favorite, only serves until 11 a.m. “Hello, this is the Beach, some of us aren’t getting home from the night before till 11. And while Icebox, Cafeteria and Oliver’s do a good job, I’m talking something more along the lines of New York’s famed Sarabeth’s or Norma’s. A place where you can get fresh baked goods, homemade oatmeal, a variety of egg dishes and omelets…and for God’s sake, if you’re going to serve pancakes, waffles and French toast, how about serving 100-percent-real maple syrup? Come on, guys, don’t be so cheap.”

Kasdin likes a lot of the ideas tossed out. If people talk about these things enough, he says, then some businessman or developer will do them. “What has happened on Lincoln could hopefully lead to other streets having more interesting stores. We are a dynamic and successful city that is constantly evolving. Some people want to freeze Miami Beach the way it was in 1990, but you can’t do that and wouldn’t want to. It is not the hip and undiscovered community it was 15 years ago, but it has changed into a vibrant city. We have to prevent the exploitation of its popularity so it doesn’t become honky- tonk.”

That raises the old tug of war between those who live here and those who come to visit and party. If you ask a weekend crowd on Ocean what businesses are needed on the Beach, they might vote for more Clevelanders. But that’s not the view of residents, who vote their taste by where they spend their money: Few spend it on Ocean, and quite a few full-time residents we spoke to could not remember the last time they had been there. So Kasdin’s concern-”the exploitation of its popularity”- can only happen if those of us who call this home abdicate our responsibilities and civic and social duties.

“I mean, let’s face it,” Aguirre told us. “We’re really self-contained here on the Beach: great restaurants, world-class nightlife, high-end luxury hotels, amazing day spas, great shopping, our own multiplex and now even our own bowling alley. Still, it can get much better, and all we have to be is involved in making it happen.”

Magnum Force (a prequel to Miami’s Great Home Cellars February 2007)

Meet Miami’s most esteemed wine collectors, who seek out the finest vintages and store them in their own custom cellars

After only five years, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival has become a national, star-studded, three-day celebration of the talents of some of the world’s most renowned wine producers and chefs. Now one of the best-known events of its kind in the country, the extravaganza attracts an estimated 20,000 wine and food enthusiasts, all of whom crowd South Beach to partake in some of the delicacies and festivities.

And although many people think of the festival as primarily food-driven, it is as much about fine wine as anything else. This year, aficionados can meet noted Spanish winemaker Luis Am6zaga, Ted Baseler, who runs the wonderful Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, or Benoit Gouez, the new chef de cave at Mo6t & Chandon. There will be Wine Spectator seminars for those who want to learn a little more about wine, as well as a series of “grand tastings.” Or you can spend a couple of thousand dollars for entrance to the grand ball and every event. But when we were talking to a friend in New York about the ticket prices, he thought they were high.

“Expensive,” we said, is relative. Some bottles of wine can cost more than $10,000 each.”

“Sure, that might be,” he countered, “but are people who like that type of collectible wine living in Miami? I thought it was a margarita town.”

We quickly ended that conversation, but his cavalier retort gave us the impetus to go out and find some of Miami’s serious wine collectors, those who would be considered world-class in any town, in any country. Bob Dickinson, for example, is the president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines. In 1972, the year Carnival was founded, Dickinson strolled into a small wine store in Boston and was overwhelmed by the number and variety on display. “I used to drink Lancers and Mateus back then,” he admitted to us, bringing up sparkling Portuguese rosés that 340 Ocean Drive February 2006 would cause most sommeliers to go into instant cardiac arrest. Like many novices, he chose two wines from the shelves primarily because he liked their labels. He and a friend were watching the Boston Bruins play hockey on TV, and by the second period they had finished two bottles. “It was a remarkable experience. I went into the TV.” Starting that day, Dickinson promised to become more informed about wine. Today, he has a private cellar of 21,000 bottles (down from 26,000 a few years ago), considered one of the best-and largest-private collections in the U.S.

Over the years, Dickinson has traveled from Bordeaux to Australia and every wine-producing region in between. But he is convinced that Miami in particular helped fuel and refine his own interest in collecting. When he moved here in the 1970s, he met other like-minded collectors through a local store, Sunset Corners Wines & Liquors.

“We would all taste blindly,” recalls Dickinson. “‘That’s too fruity,’ one would say, ‘This has too many tannins,’ and we would learn from each other.

“I am not a collector like a stamp collector or car collector,” Dickinson told us., collect wine with the sole purpose of drinking it. I don’t show it off like people would show off stamps. The fun really is not in acquiring. My goal is to drink some mind-numbing wines-1947 Pomerols. Absolutely breathtaking. Spectacular. It will make you see double and feel single.”

But the 1947 Pomerols, such as Château Petrus, are hard to find and-cost thousands of dollars a bottle. And Dickinson is adamant that he does not want to be a “wine snob.”

“When I got involved in the cruise business over 30 years ago, it was seen as an elitist vacation, and we tried, with success, to make it accessible for everyone. Beer is seen as the beverage of every man, wine is not. I would like to change that.”

Carnival Cruise Lines has a Presidential Wine Club, vacations built around wine tastings. And not everything Dickinson enjoys costs several thousand a bottle. “I like a lot of wines. I love French Merlots. And I enjoy California Chardonnays like Kistler [about $100 a bottle] and Aubert [in the $150 range].” Dickinson’s bargain value pick is Beringer Private Reserve (under $100).

Steve Smolev, a hugely successful businessman, agrees with Dickinson that it is good to have eclectic wine tastes. He has a 20,000-bottle cellar that rivals his friend’s. “Dickinson and I are equally insane,” he told us. Smolev started collecting, coincidentally, in 1972, the same year as Dickinson. He grew up in Passaic, New Jersey, “in a highly cultured home environment, with visual arts, performing arts and wine. But not fine wine-ours came from a jug. But it was a constant staple at my house.” As opposed to Dickinson, whose wine collection is his one vice, Smolev, is a self-described “incorrigible collector -everything from paintings, sculptures and art glass to Tiffany lamps, watches, rare palms and, of course, his wines.

As do most of the collectors we spoke to, Smolev has saved special bottles for his daughters’ weddings and even has some vintages stashed away for his grandchildren when they marry in a couple of decades. He says that he never chooses the year of someone’s birth, because that could be a bad vintage. So instead he selects wines that he believes will be great and ready for drinking when he wants them. He picks impèriale-sized bottles (six liters)-what he calls “large-format” containers-and knows what bottles belong to what relative. For instance, he has imperiales of 1998 Château Pavie-Macquin and 1995 Chateau Clinet, and, ‘if I really, really like them,” 1986 Chateau Lafite and 1970 Montrose. However, he might drink the Montrose on his 75th birthday.

And like Dickinson and the other collectors, Smolev will almost always bring his own wine to a restaurant. If the restaurant won’t allow it, he sometimes won’t go. If he gets stuck at an event where the wine is terrible, there’s always water, maybe a beer, or a well limed gin and tonic.

But Smolev takes the art of bringing a bottle of wine to a restaurant to a new level: “You can’t carry a fine red with any age on it he says. It will get unresolved, and the sediment will get all mixed up. It has to be decanted beforehand, and then either brought to the restaurant decanted or recorked in the bottle so there is no problem with sediment.” For special occasions, Smolev will send bottles to the restaurant in advance. For his daughter’s wedding in Los Angeles, for instance, he sent the wines out three months early.

“And I know places in other cities if I am going to dinner, like Chanterelle in New York, which is one of my favorites. I know them well, know the sommelier well A few years ago, I did a birthday dinner for my wife, so I shipped wine there, beautiful old wines, and shipped them overnight so there would be minimum exposure to the elements I sent them a month and a half in advance so they could be in Chanterelle’s cellars and be ready for our dinner.”

As opposed to some of the other collectors and their cellars we saw, with glass doors, stained glass and small tasting tables inside the room, Smoletes is functional and utilitarian. He is most proud of his double backup with a giant generator to ensure his wines stay cool in “case of fetid swamp weather.”

Another person with a generator backup is Bob Hudson, a senior law partner at Baker & McKenzie. A week before we spoke to him, Hudson had been to Dickinson’s house, where they shared a..1929 Petrus, a bottle valued at nearly $10,000. Hudson came late to the game of collecting fine wine, starting seriously only 10 years ago. Before wines, he collected Persian rugs, crystals, even stamps as a kid, but “wine is my most serious collection.” He has 6,500 bottles crammed into his cellar and an overflow wine cave with nearly another 1,000. And Hudson’s cellar is striking. He flew in a design team from Cincinnati that specializes in high-end wine storage, and they created a space featuring hard redwood, granite slabs, chandeliers and slate floors.

Hudson also tries to avoid restaurants that won’t let him bring his own wine. An exception is Joe’s Stone Crab, which doesn’t allow outside wines. “Joe’s is the only one that won’t let it in that I still go to,” says Hudson. I’ll start off with a margarita there. But I regularly bring my own wine to Norman’s, Prime One Twelve and others. They all try to encourage the wine crowd and even waive the corkage fee.”

And he finds, as do the other collectors, that the wines he likes change over time as his taste changes. “Your palate becomes more discerning, you distinguish more flavors, you become more discriminating,” he told us. “I’ve moved from big bold wines to good Burgundies and Rhones. You start off loving Bordeaux and evolve to Burgundies.” Sometimes changes in likes and dislikes can cause major adjustments in a collection. Fifteen years ago, Smolev had between 5,000 and 6,000 bottles of California wine. Today, with his cellar nearly twice the size, he has only 40 bottles of California wines. They have been replaced by French, Italian and a surprising number of Spanish wines.

A married pair of collectors who would not agree with a reduction in New World wines is Sue and Doug Gallagher. He is the owner of a firm that provides software programs to the banking industry, and she is a regular figure around Miami, serving as co-chairperson of the Wine & Food Festival.

“We started collecting as a couple,” Doug says. “When we were first married, we drank Asti Spumante”-a sweet Italian wine that would cause as much horror among sommeliers as Dickinson’s Lancers. In 1972, the same year Dickinson and Smolev discovered their passion, the Gallaghers bought a 50-bottle wine refrigerator. “It is a little addictive,” admits Doug. Seven-thousand bottles later, Sue agrees.

Their collecting started from the same store in South Miami, Sunset Corners Wines & Liquors, which kicked it off for Dickinson. And their cellars have grown as their collection has. “Three homes ago,” says Sue, “we had an 1,800-bottle cellar. When we moved to a new home, the wine cellar was the first thing we did.” In a subsequent house, they doubled their cellar to 3,600 bottles, and in their current home, they have the capacity for 9,500.

“We are consumers,” says Sue. “We collect and consume.” When they started collecting, they enjoyed California Chardonnays. “Now we have a very global perspective-Italian, Spanish, Australian, some very unusual California, South American wines and French, also. We have an eclectic collection.” Today, Sue’s favorite is a superb Tuscan red, Masseto, whereas Doug opts for Australia’s acclaimed Penfolds Grange. Both also give thumbs-up to Washington’s highly touted Three Rivers.

The biggest problem the Gallaghers have is deciding which bottles to leave for their children. “A year ago we had an engagement party for our son,” Sue says. “We had several magnums from his birth year.” “But our kids have bad birth years,” Doug adds. “One was born in 1984, not too great a year. You can bump it up to the year of conception, but that’s about it.”

South Beach’s largest collector, dermatologist Steve Mandy, doesn’t have that problem. His only daughter, Ashley, was born in 1983, which he describes as a “fairly good year.” Mandy, who used to split his time between Aspen and South Beach, returned here full-time two years ago.

“My interest in wines started when I was a medical resident at the University of Miami,” he told us. “Louis Skinner, a dermatologist with a Coral Gables practice, was a grand gourmet and wine collector. Every year he invited all the residents to his house for a wine tasting. I was immediately smitten. Wow. He had opened a door for me.

Mandy told Skinner he wanted to learn more, and Skinner “took me under his wing.” Mandy read as much as he could and joined a nationwide wine club that sponsored local tastings, but he couldn’t start collecting in earnest until he established his practice. “If you start collecting, it is a financial thing. You have to have the money to buy fine wines, then ways to protect and store them.” In 1973, Mandy’s first cellar was a closet, and he jerry-rigged an air-conditioning box to keep the temperature at 68. “It worked quite well,” he recalls.

Mandy, whose current collection comprises 3,000 bottles, converted part of a bedroom in his South of Fifth high-rise into a luxury cellar. With prices in his building going at nearly $1,000 a square foot, his cellar, although smaller than Smolev’s or Dickinson’s, costs about the same.

Like his cohorts, Mandy also likes to go to local restaurants where he can bring his own wine. But when a restaurant-such as one of the Beach’s most popular Italian eateries, Macaluso’s-won’t allow it, he does not order the most expensive or rarest bottle. “I don’t look at what I want, but instead at what is the most realistically priced wine on the list that I can drink,” he told us. “I certainly don’t need to drink something I have in my own cellar and pay four times the cost so a restaurant can have an inflated profit margin.” But when he does go to local spots such as Tuscan Steak, Nemo, Roger’s or even the new 0-R-0, he finds they are happy to let him bring one of his best bottles.

Obviously, these like-minded collectors are not the only ones in South Florida. But Dickinson, Smolev, Hudson, the Gallaghers and Mandy are a cross section of our serious wine-collecting community. With nearly 60,000 bottles between them, valued at roughly $15 to $20 million, they certainly should change the mind of our New York friend who thinks South Floridians are only concerned with margaritas. Bacchus would be proud.

What the Collectors Love

SUE AND DOUG GALLAGHER Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse De Lalande, a grand cru from Pauillac

Penfolds Grange, an Australian Shiraz

Masseto, a Super-Tuscan made from Merlot grapes

Marcassin, a California pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast


“It’s quite hard to limit my choices, but below are some of my favorites from four of my favorite regions in my cellar.”

750 ml Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Leognan), 1961

750 ml Domaine de la Roman& Conti La Tache (ate de Nuits, Burgundy), 1988

750 ml M. Chapoutier Hermitage “Le

Pavillon” (Northern RhOne), 1989 750 ml Harlan Estate (Napa

Valley), 1994


1953 Chateau Margaux

1959 Château Haut-Brion

1985 Guigal La Turque (ate du RhOne)


1974 Mondavi Reserve

1970 Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard

1951, 1958, 1959, 1968 and 1970 Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Virtually any Colgin Cellars or Harlan Estate vintage

1921, 1928, 1947, 1952 and 1961 Petrus

1947 and 1961 Château Latour, a Pomerol

From Manhattan with Love

Some of New York’s Hottest Hotels Are Finally Opening on Collins Avenue.

Recently we were in New York and two of our prime stops were hotels, the W New York- Union Square and the Hotel Gansevoort in the Meatpacking District. W’s landmark Guardian Life Building-in the beaux-arts style-is a wonderful granite and limestone structure that was carefully redone by architect David Rockwell. In 2003, Conde Nast Traveler listed it as one of the ‘Top 500 Hotels in the World.” We spent an evening at Todd English’s award-winning restaurant Olives, and then stayed ’til the early-morning hours at Rande Gerber’s watering hole Underbar.

If the W was wonderful, we were equally impressed with the Gansevoort, which bills itself as the Meatpacking District’s only luxury hotel. On a mild evening, we took some friends to the rooftop lounge. The centerpiece is a 45-foot, glass-surrounded swimming pool with underwater music. Much of the rest of the roof is landscaped as a garden, and has 360- degree city views. We ended up spending the night in the Gansevoort’s Plunge, an expansive loft with towering 20-foot ceilings and wall-to-wall windows.

Our visits to the W and the Gansevoort were not just to party, however, but also to research two New York giants that have announced ambitious plans to open in South Beach, directly across the street from each other. The hip Gansevoort will be at the Roney Palace between 23rd and 24th on Collins, and the more ubiquitous W at the site of the Holiday Inn, one block south. It’s the developer equivalent of a championship fight between major New York powerhouses. On the one side is the influential Achenbaum family, owners of the Gansevoort among much other New York real estate, and on the other is the giant Starwood corporation, which has the W as well as the Sheraton, St. Regis, Le Meridien and Westin chains. But battles in South Beach aren’t won by size alone.

In January we set out to explore both properties, almost a year away from opening, to try to discern which would become the next Shore Club or Setai.

The Achenbaums decided a couple of years ago to export their trendy Gansevoort to other cities. “South Beach was a natural fit for our customers,” Michael Achenbaum, the 33-year-old son of founder William, told us in the polished white sales office at 24th and Collins. The local hotel will be Gansevoort South, while Gansevoort West will be the complete renovation of a former church and concert hall in Los Angeles. There will also be a Gansevoort Las Vegas and one in London. “We want this to be our edgiest,” says Michael.

“The most ambitious is certainly the one in South Beach,” says Murray Kossman, the company’s executive vice president. To anyone who is familiar with the Roney, it is not hard to conceive that this is a total

gut job. But the challenge for the Achenbaums is different than what they faced in New York. There, the hotel led the way from gritty to chic. On South Beach, the chic is there, but the bar is high to instantly become one of those places where tourists must stay and locals want to hang out.

The Gansevoort has a plan to accomplish both. When completed, there will be 259 condos (that portion of the building named Paradiso), 102 condo/hotel rooms and 243 hotel rooms. The average room will be 600 square feet (large by South Beach standards and sprawling by boutique-hotel guidelines). Most of the units have ocean or city views.

But amenities will make the Gansevoort a local draw. With one of the largest private beaches in South Beach, the Achenbaums had Stephane Dupoux, the designer of Nikki Beach Club, do the three- level clubhouse and poolside- cabanas. Inside the lobby-past high-end boutiques-will be a 40,000-gallon shark tank, a bar and club. And while Michael won’t disclose the name, he has a handshake agreement with a nationally celebrated chef to open on the ground floor. That will also be where David Barton will launch-after abandoning his place at the Delano-a huge 45,000-square-foot gym and spa. (Crunch and Equinox, beware).

But the highlight of the Gansevoort will be the rooftop, much as it is in New York. The Achenbaums decided to forgo the profit of putting a penthouse on the roof (a la The Setai’s $12 million aerie), and instead make it South Beach’s most social lookout. The pool will be 112 feet long, larger than all but a handful of competitors, and surrounded by a 28,000-square-foot teak deck, with bars, food and DJs every night. The roof affords stunning panoramic views down the entire southern strip of the beach and out west to the Miami skyline. The hotel likely won’t open before December, but the Achenbaums are anxious to be ready for next January’s Super Bowl in Miami.

So the Gansevoort seems like a winner. What about the W, directly facing it from the south side? from Florida,” says Ross Klein, W’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer. 9 went to the University of Miami. My first job was at Burdines. I remember when swans were in the fountains on Lincoln. I even remember when the Warsaw Ballroom was for sale for $18,000 and it couldn’t be financed.”

Ross’s trip down memory lane is not just to impress us with his Florida credentials. “I’m telling you all that for the same reason I went to every one of the Design Review Board meetings: to say we aren’t coming in as an outsider or a New York brand, but rather as a South Beach brand. I have a picture of my grandparents and me with their dachshunds in the Holiday Inn parking lot. I’m making sure what goes up there is very special.”

The broad, 19-story white tower strikes a Miami Modern chord. “I love Lapidus,” says Ross, “but I did not want a literal translation. I told the design team to imagine if he were alive today, since we had the great opportunity of doing something spectacular from the ground up. What would Morris Lapidus do to reinterpret MiMo today? It is such an important part of the history of Miami Beach and of Collins Avenue. In 2058, I want people celebrating the W the way they now talk about the Eden Roc and the Fontainebleau.”

While that might be a bit ambitious, there is little doubt the W will be a high-profile addition to the Beach. Developer David Edelstein, responsible for much of the renovation of Lincoln Road, says, ‘Miami Beach is ready for the next great hotel. The W South Beach project has an energy all its own, situated on the last great piece of oceanfront property, which I’ve had my eye on for years. I’ve developed many real- estate projects in New York City, Las Vegas and Miami, and this is by far the most vibrant, both in design and featured amenities.”

There are 20 Ws worldwide and more on the way, with the first W resort opening in June in the Maldives, and the first residential product-which is what they consider South Beach-in Dallas in July. In addition, other W Residences have been announced for next year and 2008 in Fort Lauderdale, Scottsdale and Hoboken.

Though the very clever designers Yabu Pushelberg and architects Costas Kondylis & Partners are doing W South Beach, there is a corporate feel to the site. But that’s not all bad, as plans show the W will likely achieve in many ways what Ross calls the “warmth of cool-we don’t want cool at the expense of comfort” When you walk into a W there is °diversity even in the sound, from Jay-Z and Norah Jones to Rosemary Clooney and Sinatra.”

It is a large project, with 425 condo/hotel rooms, some of those villas and others lofts. Each room rivals the Gansevoort’s marble bath for marble bath, but their average size is smaller than those next door.

A Bliss spa (Starwood bought New York-based Bliss in January 2004 for $25 million) will be open to locals. There will also be two restaurants, one the long awaited New York star Mister Chow’s, and at least one bar-perhaps Gerber knocking off his very hot New York Underbar. But after food and drink, the W starts to fall off for locals. Though it has 300 feet of pristine oceanfront property and will build two infinity-edge pools, both will be for residents and guests only. The W’s gym, Sweat, may be state-of-the-art, but won’t be open for local memberships like David Barton’s neighboring behemoth. And the top floor at the W is being sold as penthouses, not set aside for an enormous pool and rooftop lounge.

So the battle of the titans is under way, Gansevoort versus W.

But by the time they open, they won’t be the only new game in town. Ian Schrager, who exited South Beach’s hotel market when he stopped presiding over the Delano and The Shore Club, is on his way back with the purchase of the Riande Continental, next to The Shore Club, just six months after giving up his earlier hotel role. Schrager helped define the South Beach market with his Delano 11 years ago, and the Gansevoort and W are following the trend he set for stark and stylish boutique hotels on the Beach. The question is what Ian is going to do with the $100-a-night Riande. Some believe he will spend the money to renovate it and convert it into a competitor to the Delano (average room $482) and The Shore Club (average room $345). But most of those close to him think he

will pursue a condo-hotel conversion of the 251-room property. He previously tried that with The Shore Club but withdrew plans after squabbling with his partners. For the moment Ian isn’t talking, since he is in the SEC’s quiet period before Morgans Hotel Group, with which he has a consulting contract goes public next month.

But the Gansevoort and W have more than Schrager to worry about. Fifty-seven-year-old Philippe Starck, the designer who made his reputation largely by designing Schrager’s New York and Miami hotels a decade ago, is returning to the Beach, this time to design the Ritz Plaza, directly across the street from the Delano. The developers are Paul Makarechian, owner of a noted real-estate-development company in Newport Beach, California, and Sam Nazarian, a 30-year-old nightclub owner and movie producer best known for paying $125 million in 2004 for Jennifer Lopez’s Beverly Hills mansion (Nazarian’s father is the multibillionaire founder of chip maker Qualcomm). The Ritz will have, Makarechian says, an

updated version of Starck’s take on South Beach style. (That probably means less white and more warmth.)

Schrager actually had Starck sign a non-compete contract barring him from working in South Beach, but that has expired. Nazarian has used Starck on seven restaurants in Los Angeles, so the two have a good working relationship. Starck has promised that the Ritz Plaza will “be completely different” than the Delano.

The new owners of the 1940 hotel have filed preliminary drawings with Miami Beach’s Historic Preservation Board, offering a glimpse of what the new property will look like: The pool area is dominated by a three-story mirror towering over a teak deck, patios are draped in ivy, and the lobby has wood paneling, metal railings and fireplaces.

Ironically, Starwood had bought the Ritz Plaza, but Schrager successfully sued over the shadow the W’s large remake would cast on the Delano. The litigation tied up the property, and Starwood sold to Nazarian and Makarechian for $30 million. The pair is spending another $70 million in development costs.

A fight between the W and Gansevoort? No, it’s more like a free-for-all. The winner? South Beach, which becomes, with each major addition like one of these, even hotter.

The Bluffer’s Guide To Art Basel

What to Say, What to Wear and Whom to Know at This Year’s Festival

A couple of years ago we were in London when the Tate Modem decided to stay open for 36 consecutive hours for its final weekend of a fabulous Matisse-Picasso exhibit. When we went, a little after midnight the museum was packed. But on this visit we didn’t only enjoy the paintings, but spotted something we had not noticed on earlier museum stops: The art exhibit had become London’s choice venue for men trying to impress their dates. Instant art experts were walking around the masterpieces, some gesturing to draw imaginary lines, others pointing out subtle color or stroke variations, and still others correcting what they viewed as poor draftsmanship. One young man had two beautiful women in tow, and was loudly holding court near Matisse’s tour de force Goldfish and Palette. His arms whirled like windmills as he drew the entire work conceptually in the air. He had all the appearance of a real expert on this giant of modernism. As we walked near him, we saw him point to part of the painting and tell the girls confidently, “That, of course, is a phallus.” An older gentlemen standing nearby cocked his head slightly, and in a very clipped upper-crust British accent said, “According to the caption, it’s the artist’s thumb poking through his palette.” The know-it-all art expert was utterly flustered, his eyes darting quickly between the painting and the caption. His face flushed red. A few people who had gathered around him snickered. “It could be a phallus as well, I suppose,” he stammered.

With the imminence of Art Basel, the world’s leading contemporary art fair-more than 180 galleries arrive in Miami Beach this month-we thought our London experience was a good reminder that art is an area where someone can look foolish very quickly if you try to fake it. So, to avoid the embarrassment of the London “expert,” we figured it was time to present a quick guide to bluffing your way through Basel. With a little help, you might not get a passing grade in a good art- history class, but at least you won’t be asked to return your admission ticket at Basel.

Being able to answer the question, ‘What is art?” is a good starter. Comments like, “Is that really art?” or, “How do they get away with calling that toilet art?” will mark you as a cultural Neanderthal. Just never doubt that all things can be called art. Damien Hirst, for instance, the 40-year-old bad boy of modem British art, is worth more than $80 million, having earned nearly $20 million alone from selling a dozen works a couple of years ago at White Cube, dealer Jay Jopling’s stunning East End London gallery. Critics universally cite Hirst’s most powerful work to be A Thousand Years. It was first shown at the prestigious Royal Academy, and is composed of a rotting cow’s head on which flies hatch only to die moments later on an attached electric trap. If you have a weak constitution, you might want to avoid it. Some who saw it on Hirst’s debut actually retched.

You might prefer Bahamian-born Janine Antoni’s work. A cross between performance art and sculpture, the 41-year-old, who has exhibited at the Guggenheim and Whitney, uses her own body to transform mundane, everyday activities like eating, bathing and sleeping into art. She has chiseled cubes of lard and chocolate with her teeth, washed away the faces of soap busts made in her own likeness, and used the brainwave signals recorded while she dreamed at night as a pattern for weaving a blanket the following morning. Five years ago, her 300 kilos of chocolate sold as a single sculpture fetched $204,000 at auction.

Miami-based Naomi Fisher, one of our personal favorites, goes far beyond ordinary daily tasks to instead challenge the art landscape by creating psychologically and sexually charged images of women imagined from or inspired by feminist literature, mythology, art history and even slasher films. Naomi’s “ladies,” as she calls them, are often modern reinterpretations of Joan of Arc or Salome, represented in her vivid paintings as seductive mixes of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gwen Stefani and Lara Croft, often colliding with fairy-tale figures in nightmarish scenarios. The femme fatale never looked so great as when in Fisher’s very capable hands.

Want something without a figure in it? Chinese- born Xu Bing won the $65,000 Arts of the World Prize in New York last year for his artwork made of dust collected near Ground Zero in New York, with this Chinese verse written in it: “As there is nothing from the first, where does the dust collect itself?”

You get the idea. Maybe you might want to stop by Books & Books on Lincoln Road and browse through the shelves. You can kill at least an hour in the magazine section. ARTnews is the premier publication for both artists and serious collectors, but don’t miss Frieze, Europe’s leading contemporary publication. And you can always browse through Artists in America and Art in America-neither is cutting-edge, but they will give you a conventional view of the modern market. Arm yourself at least with a basic knowledge of the difference between surrealism and cubism. Now you’re ready to make your entrance to Basel. Local real-estate developer and uber-collector Craig Robins says, “There could be no better entrance than shaving your head, wearing a very nice European suit, and telling everyone you are Sam Keller.’ “And don’t forget to wear edgy sneakers to complete the look,” says Fredric Snitzer, owner of one of Miami’s smartest contemporary galleries.

A Keller look can work wonders, because he is the 38-year-old public-relations master who directs Art Basel in its Swiss home-from which he is a native-and in Miami Beach. A former communications director for Basel, Sam, with his shaved head and regulation black clothing, moves effortlessly between schmoozing the world’s media and courting the right social and monied connections that bring major buyers to the fair.

If you aren’t lucky enough to know Sam or one of his many friends, and you don’t want to shave your head, there are much less extreme ways of getting through the show in style. Michael Ayervais, a New York gallery owner whose Japanese collection has been exhibited at New York’s Metropolitan and is acknowledged as one of the world’s best, is a frequent visitor to the Beach. “Some things are basic,” he told us. “Wear black and be ten pounds underweight. Try to go with a friend who has a European accent. And do not walk through too fast. This is a dead giveaway that you are only there to kill time on your way to a party or club.”

But not everyone needs to copy a “Downtown” look. Many locals who want an “Uptown” style head over to the Neiman Marcus stores in Bal Harbour and Merrick Park. Maybe that is why Katharine Rubino, their director of public relations, has such good ideas of what works best for Basel. “The most important thing,” she told us, “is not to try too hard, not to be over-the-top. Don’t look like you’re dressed to go to a club. You need understated elegance. The serious people, those with a lot of money who are not just browsers, don’t care what they wear. The number-one item, though, for any of them is a comfortable pair of shoes. Don’t wear stiletto Manolos, but instead maybe a nice pair of Prada walking shoes. Even a sneaker. You can wear luscious jeans with embellishments. Remember this is Miami, after all, and if you wear head-to-toe black it looks like you are just in from New York. When you step outside it will be 80 degrees, so wear a little color, have a little fun. Pay homage to Basel being in Miami.”

“And if you really want to get a rise out of someone,” says Marianne Boesky, the owner of one of New York’s premier contemporary galleries, “when they ask you when you got to Basel, tell them you’ve been there for a couple of days of preview openings. That will establish your credentials as an insider.” Although Basel officially runs from December 1st through the 4th, key private previews, parties and cocktail events jam the schedule for at least a week beforehand. You might be fortunate enough to be one of the 3,000 at Don and Mera Rubell’s brunch, or spend the evening with film director Sydney Pollack and architect Frank 0. Gehry when they present their new short, Sketches of Frank 0. Gehry. You could try to wrangle an invite to the coveted Art Loves Design party, in Miami’s Design District. This year it will include exhibitions featuring Ron Arad, the Campana brothers and Gaetano Pesce, as well as a site-specific installation by Zaha Hadid. Visionaire is presenting Art Loves Fashion, where artists like Gary Hume and Jenny Holzer will introduce new flavor creations. There are almost 25 pages of official events and satellite happenings.

When walking around, it’s often helpful to approach a painting or sculpture with a frown. It will make it look like you’re intrigued and contemplating the quality of the piece. If you have had too much Botox and can’t actually frown, crossing you arms and resting your chin in one of your hands will do the trick

Stand to the side of the picture so you don’t block the view of real art fans and buyers. Count slowly to ten, scanning the picture up and down as if searching for a small ink stain. After you’ve finished your count, it is good form to make a small sound, something like a “hmm” or “humph.” If you are feeling really bold, you

might even try, “As I thought,” before moving on. Don’t say, Interesting.” That is art-speak for “crap.”

Now, if you play this role too well, what to do if someone asks if you are interested in buying something? Remember, that person is almost always the gallery owner, not the artist. ‘The worst question I’ve been asked,” says New York’s Boesky, is if I am the artist of all the works in my booth. That will mark you right away as a pretender.”

“If it’s any good, it probably has already sold anyway,” says Miami collector George Lindemann. So your first reaction might be to just pass. But if your curiosity has the better of you, ask the price. A general rule of thumb is anything priced up to $10,000 is a good local artist or an experimental artist from a foreign country $10,000 to $50,000 is someone likely to be known by your elitist friends and will get you an invite to a Basel party next year. “Anything over $1 million means the artist is dead,” says Leah Kleman, the antique dealer who is best known in South Florida for her wildly indulgent Lincoln Road stores a couple of years ago in the Sony Building and the current Banana Republic. ‘When you hear the price,” she says, “just flip your hair back with a toss of your head, give out a small laugh, and then walk on. It will mark you as someone not to be trifled with.”

“It’s the art world,” says Geraldine Leventis, a London collector whose husband, Michael, is an artist and was a dear friend of Francis Bacon. “Fakery has a long and honored tradition, so go for it.”

But gallery owner Snitzer might have the best advice. “It is indeed the art world. And really it should be conducive to doing things your own way. The more straightforward and honest you are, the better. You don’t really need to fake it. You don’t need to buy the hype. Be earnest. Be there as though Basel is for you. Ask lots of questions, and don’t be bothered if you are sometimes blown off. Dealers really don’t know who has the money. The guys who look the hippest, who run the show, actually don’t buy the art, they don’t butter the bread. Ask questions, ask prices, don’t be afraid, and you will have a great time.”

And it is little wonder that everyone at Basel is in a good mood when it comes to viewing, buying and sharing art. “Last year at Art Basel, a New York art dealer commented that he was smitten with South Florida and its vibrant energy in the visual arts,” Irvin Lippman, the executive director of the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, told us. “You do not have to step far outside the Miami Beach Convention Center to find this for yourself. It emanates not from any one place, but is pervasive as you travel up the coast to Fort Lauderdale and on to Palm Beach. It has long been part of the culture here, ever since the 26 African-American artists known as the Highwaymen began selling romantic paintings of the Florida landscape on the side of the road in the late 1950s. But who would not be inspired by the warm ocean breezes to create and buy art?”

Three-Ring Circus

Cirque du Soleil’s ambitious plan to recast the Jackie Gleason Theatre in its own image could get tricky.


Thursday, September 1st, should have been the early start of the Labor Day holiday, but instead, many were transfixed by the unfolding tragedy in New Orleans. The New York Times that day detailed the grim situation: “Chaos gripped New Orleans as looters ran wild, food and water supplies dwindled, bodies floated in the floodwaters, the evacuation of the Super- dome began and officials said there was no choice but to abandon the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina, perhaps for months.”


That afternoon, there was a meeting of several dozen of Miami Beach’s shakers and movers in the conference room of Jorge Gonzalez, the City Manager. There, the five City Commissioners, entertainment executives and local convention and tourism leaders gathered to discuss an ambitious proposal to transform the venerable Jackie Gleason Theater. New Orleans was mentioned only once. Commissioner Luis Garcia, Jr., told the group, In light of what has happened in New Orleans, we have a great opportunity to take over some of the business that would have gone to New Orleans in the next couple of years. That is why it is important for us going forward to have a project like this.” It was good to know that no matter how great the national tragedy, nothing was going to derail Miami Beach from the business of business.


What had gotten everyone, including us, crammed into the fourth-floor conference room was a bold initiative by Cirque du Soleil-the French-Canadian theatrical troupe that has built a $600-million-a-year empire combining daredevil acrobatics, lavish productions and cutting-edge technology-to convert the Gleason into a $150 million entertainment complex of restaurants and shops, with the centerpiece a permanent show in a redone 1,700-seat theater. The Montreal-based Cirque had teamed with The Related Group of Florida’s Jorge Perez, South Florida’s luxury-condo king, and entertainment behemoth Clear Channel Communications for a slick audio-visual presentation.

Cirque picked a good time to make its offer. The Gleason loses $400,000 a year, and its biggest bookings, the Miami City Ballet and the Broadway Series-responsible for half its income-are moving across the causeway in 2006 to Miami’s Performing Arts Center.

“The things I have been going to there are moving out,” former City Commissioner Nancy Liebman told us.

“They should have thought of that before they built a $750 million performing-arts center,” says Roger Abramson, a local artist and member of the Cultural Arts Council. “They should be thinking of other ways to use it as a public theater instead of giving it over to three very rich corporations.”

“But it’s also what is best for the Beach,” Ray Breslin, chairman of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association, told us. “We are a tourist destination, and we have to opt for what tourists want. It’s plain and simple.”

“I’m 100 percent for Cirque du Soleil coming to Miami Beach,” says South Beach nightlife impresario Michael Capponi. But then he ominously cautions: “I am 1,000 percent against any nightclub components, especially paid by a resort tax, which might compete with our industry, which generates a mass amount of revenue for the City of Miami Beach.” In fact, will this new Cirque complex contain businesses that operate after midnight? Is this a Trojan horse or a Pandora’s box? ‘There can be no super nightclubs,” he adds. ‘This is a 50,000-square-foot space. Can you imagine the damage this would do to our industry?”

But for Miami Beach’s leaders fretting about even bigger losses at the Gleason, Cirque’s presentation was tailor-made. When the show Mystere opened 12 years ago in Las Vegas, “there was no money from entertainment,” according to Cirque president Daniel Lamarre. “It all came from gambling. Now we are sold out almost every night. Two-hundred people a day are waiting to get tickets to O.”

It is hard to argue with the figures. Zumanity premiered two years ago at Vegas’ New York-New York and improved the casino’s profitability by 25 percent. a which Lamarre calls the “most extravagant live show in the world,” cost $115 million to produce, on top of $105 million for the custom-built theater. It has sold out since its opening last year, and the MGM Grand, where it’s based, has increased its profits by 13 percent. 0 was a $92 million production, and the Bellagio spent $100 million on building the theater to Cirque’s specifications. Cirque’s four Vegas shows sell 67,000 tickets weekly at an average price of $100, ranging from a low of $60 at Treasure Island’s Mystere to $150 at O and KA.

Orlando-based La Nouba is in its seventh year but still fills _90 percent of its seats and brings 4,000 customers a day to Disney’s boutiques and restaurants. Cirque has become to circuses what Starbucks is to coffee. In addition to troupes crisscrossing continents and five permanent venues, more is on the way. A Beatles-themed show debuts next June in Vegas, and yet another one in Orlando. Tokyo Disney will have its own production in 2007. Cirque is also in late stage negotiations with New York, Paris, London and Macao and they’re beginning talks with Chicago. “I want to select my words carefully not to sound arrogant,” said Lamarre, “but I feel every city is seeking us.”

No Beach official seemed bothered that despite its enormous success, Cirque is facing growing competition from a number of entertainment spectaculars: Wynn’s $110 million LeR’eve example, is an aquatic Cirque knockoff design by Franco Dragone, who had created nine of Cirque’s early shows before striking out on his own. These have forced Cirque to spend lavishly to stay ahead of its imitators and keep its theaters filled. KA cost more than all 32 current Broadway productions combined. With a dozen shows soon to be running simultaneously, some analysts see a risk that Cirque could saturate the market for its ethereal brand of amusement “There are only so many touring shows and productions they can stage,” says Robert David, a professor of business strategy at Montreal’s McGill University. “There is a limit and they’re getting pretty close.”

But by the time Lamarre told City leaders that five percent of Las Vegas’s $38 million annual tourists said the reason they visited was to see a Cirque show, he had the room eating out of his hand. Then Johnny Boivin, who helped create Cirque’s O show, promised a striking tent-like theater with “walls that sweat,” cloud-topped roof, and a façade resembling a jewelry box. Cirque’s Miami production would cost $50 million, he said, and would celebrate “dance Latin music rhythms characteristics of Miami Beach’s reinvention of Havana’s Tropicana spectacular.”

But not all are convinced. One Beach power broker spoke off-the-record to us: “Culturally, Las Vegas is a joke. Cirque is the modern-day Ice Capades, that’s all. Feel-good family entertainment. Don’t forget, Jackie Gleason is the cultural heart of our city-and we’re turning it over to a bunch of trapeze artists and jugglers?” Still, if there was any concern that day among City leaders who might have wondered if all this would just convert the Beach into Orlando South, Related’s Perez delivered the knockout punch.

“Guy (Laliberte, Cirque’s founder] and Daniel are the foremost creative people in the entertainment business today,” Perez said. And no City official challenged Perez when he asserted, “Las Vegas has gone from 80- percent gambling to 80 percent being the shows, and Cirque is the biggest.” (According to the most recent Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority statistics, 49 percent of Clark County revenue comes from – gaming, with 51 percent coming from entertainment) Promising an extravaganza that would last 15 or 20 years, Perez predicted that a permanent Cirque show would “be a tremendous demand generator for local hotels and restaurants…and will anchor Miami Beach as a world-class tourist destination. When I travel to Milan, I ask what is playing at La Scala. I want people coming to Miami Beach to say, ‘I am coming because of Cirque.’”

Of course, there would be a price for all of this, such as the effect on the community from nightly traffic congestion caused by 1,700 theatergoers, noise from the complex’s outdoor venues and restaurants, and neighborhood disruption during the two years of construction, particularly since Cirque’s reformation of the Gleason would coincide with another enormous nearby project, the New World Symphony’s interactive performance space by architecture megastar Frank Gehry.

Stuart Blumberg, president of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association, made it clear that to many locals the Jackie Gleason has a storied past “Will the name Gleason still be on the theater?” he asked. ‘To those of us who still believe in historical preservation and tradition, this complex is due to one man who was a great part of Miami Beach history, and I for one would be very upset if Jackie’s name was taken off that theater. It is a situation near and dear to a lot of people in this community.”

The theater was born in 1950 as the Miami Beach Auditorium and was home for both golden-era legends and boxing matches. But it gained its greatest fame when Gleason moved his wildly popular television variety show from New York to the Beach in 1964. His show was broadcast in front of live audiences until 1970, with Gleason always closing by proclaiming, “The Miami Beach audience is the greatest audience in the world.” Since then, the theater-renamed the Gleason in 1987-has been a regular stop for touring Broadway productions, dance troupes, award shows and musical performance.

While Cirque’s executives seemed uncomfortable with Blumberg’s assertion, Perez came to the rescue. “Yes, good point. I think we are intending to call it Cirque du Soleil at the Jackie Gleason Theater.”

But social effects and historic preservation are only part of the bill; the other is money. In Vegas and Orlando, the casinos and Disney foot all the development costs for the show and theater. In Miami Beach, Cirque and its partners would contribute $50 million. [Cash, Perez emphasized]. And want the city to fund the rest, about $100 million. Commission candidate Gabrielle Redfern suggested a voters referendum be held before using so much taxpayer money, but the city manager’s office shut her down, saying no vote was required.

Here’s the sticky part: Cirque is counting on $55 million in Miami-Dade County bond funds approved by voters last November, but that money was approved ostensibly to fund a 50,000-square-foot banquet facility at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

But any debate was quashed by Gonzalez, the City Manager, who announced firmly that the $55 million was passed for “the enhancement or expansion of the convention center. It never said ‘ballroom.’ Obviously, we will have to speak to the County about it, but I believe the bond language allows this to be the ultimate, sole decision of the City.”

The two-hour meeting ended with simply with a unanimous vote by City Commissioners directing Gonzalez to work out financial details with Cirque and its partners, but City officials might be in for a surprise. After the Cirque meeting, we called County Manager George Burgess, who plays a key role in how Miami- Dade bond money is spent We asked if anyone from Miami Beach or Cirque had called him.

“No one,” he said. “Never heard from anyone.”

And what about that $55 million? “It’s clear the intent was always to provide for a large banquet facility,” he said. “And that is not something I made up. Miami Beach hoteliers have always talked about a larger banquet facility, but for some reason it never gets done. That money was not approved for Cirque du Soleil.” And what about Gonzalez declaring that the Beach could unilaterally decide how to spend that money?

“Well, I’m sorry, it’s not his decision. It’s something the City cannot do on its own. If the City thinks that Cirque is a done deal, it’s not They are going to have to come to me and the County Commission board at some point”

Even all the magic conjured by Cirque might not be enough to avoid the bare-knuckle brawl that is often part of Miami politics when it comes to expensive public developments. And when $55 million is at stake, a lot of hands will try to divert it to their pet project. If Cirque opens at the Gleason in a couple of years, only then will you know with certainty that the gang from Montreal won.

The Public-Art Controversy – or, How a Romero Britto Sculpture Is Defining the Gateway to South Beach

Last month, we searched for a friend’s last-minute birthday gift along Lincoln. He’s a techie, so usually we’re looking for clever gadgets. But he’s also a great fan of color-his apartment is a veritable crayon box-so we thought we found the ideal present in colorful pop-art-styled mouse pads at the show room of Miami Beach’s ubiquitous artist, Romero Britto. At $22 each, they seemed a bargain, and we bought two, one of a smiling fish, and the other a sunglassed dog wearing a polka-dot shirt.

This was our first venture into the Britto show room, although we had passed many times. We had assumed Britto was an artist who did paintings, drawings, serigraphs and sculptures. At the store, however, we discovered he is a one-man art industry. His signature designs are on everything from jewelry, ties and stationery to frames, mugs, plates, scarves, perfume and even scented candles. In a few minutes, we learned that the 42-year-old Britto has designed for Absolut vodka, Volvo, Pepsi, Disney and Apple Computers, and his work is collected by Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Guggenheims, Rothschilds, Kennedys and William Woodside, former president of the Whitney Museum. Britto was even featured in an episode of Donald Trump’s hit, The Apprentice.

But having lived in Miami for less than two years, somehow we had failed to learn that bringing up Britto immediately cast you on one side or the other of a long simmering debate over whether the wildly successful Brazilian-born creator is a real artist or merely a paint-by-numbers, only-in-America success story. When our gift was unwrapped that night at a small party the debate broke out.

“1 think it’s very nice;’ said the birthday boy. “Fun.”

“I wouldn’t spend a penny there,” a long-time Beach resident said.

And so it went-for nearly an hour-eventually evolving into a discussion of what is art, who has the right to judge it, and whether the strong feelings engendered by Britto are because he puts the commercial zeal of Andy Warhol to shame. And as we knew, this was no mere academic discussion best held for an art- history class: The question of Britto’s art may be about to affect our lives on the Beach for years to come. Developer Jeff Berkowitz and his partners, Alan and Robert Potamkin, are about to start a long awaited development at Fifth Street and Alton, the gateway to South Beach. And Berkowitz, a close friend of Britto’s as well as an avid collector of his art, has selected him to design the outdoor sculpture for the project. Future visitors will be greeted by two large palm trees with bright polka dots and a giant beach ball.

But the selection of Britto was not without a recent public fight during which Berkowitz had to stand his ground with the commissioners of Miami Beach and the Art in Public Places committee. A City law, the Art in Public Places Ordinance, triggers on a project if the City is financially involved. The committee collects a 1.5-percent fee of the developer’s overall construction costs, money used to foster art and artists on the Beach. And the committee makes a final recommendation, not binding, on the artist and the scale of the art itself used in the development.

The Arts in Public Places rule seemed to apply to Berkowitz’s Fifth and Alton project because the City was paying him nearly $10,000,000 of taxpayers’ money to buy several hundred parking places in the thousand-car garage at the retail complex. The hope of City officials is that so much parking will alleviate the crammed garages several blocks closer to the beach.

But at a confrontational January 18th meeting of the Art in Public Places committee, Berkowitz refused to pay the 1.5-percent fee, about $600,000, or replace Brit- to as his artist of choice. The committee voted to consider waiving the fee only if Berkowitz would select another artist. He did not budge. And at a subsequent Miami Beach commissioners meeting, only Saul Gross cast a dissenting vote.

‘They don’t like Britto,” Berkowitz told us. “At the Art in Public Places committee we encountered the art snobs. ‘Britto is too commercial. He is everywhere. We would prefer to see anyone but Britto.’ That’s all they told me.”

“That is false,” says Heather Urban, the chairperson of the Art in Public Places committee. “Whether it was Romero Britto or Andy Warhol, we would discuss all facets involved in a proposed art project-artist, location, scale, color, overall design, safety, etc. The developer never shared this information with us, even after numerous requests.”

“As far as I was concerned,” says Berkowitz, “if I am going to sell the City those extra parking spaces at my cost, and then they want to tax me $600,000, they should either pay the fee or waive the requirement. It is my property and we are putting a Britto out there. If the City doesn’t agree with it, or waive the fee, then the deal is dead.”

Berkowitz and Britto are not newcomers to fights over his art at large developments. In 1996, the pair was embroiled in a tussle with the Miami-Dade Commission over a 45-foot-tall sculpture called Welcome Britto had proposed for Berkowitz’s shopping center Dadeland Station, near the Dadeland North Metrorail stop. One commissioner thought the sculpture looked like Krusty the Klown, a character on The Simpsons. Another commissioner spotted on it what he thought was graffiti, a thorny issue in his South Dade district (it turned out to be Britto’s signature, scrawled sideways among other doodles on the sculpture’s right foot). “His work has the same relationship to pop art as a refrigerator magnet does,” Paula Harper, art critic and professor at the University of Miami, then told The Miami Herald. “I would put a Britto sculpture on par with a sign for Caesars Palace in Las Vegas,” concluded Amy Cappellazzo, international co-head of contemporary art for Christie’s. “There’s not a lot of conceptual or artistic rigor to what he does. It’s more in the tradition of billboards.”

At those stormy meetings, Berkowitz virtually echoed what he said nine years later in Miami Beach: Under the Art in Public Places law, art wasn’t required in the project, and if he decided to spend his own money, he would choose any artist he desired.

“Britto at Dadeland is completely different,” Fredric Snitzer, the owner of the prestigious Snitzer Gallery, told us. During the 1996 ruckus, Snitzer told a reporter that Britto was “some kind of a chewing-gum, MTV phenomenon. He’s the next LeRoy Neiman-not the next Roy Lichtenstein. He’s producing some kind of wall decor.” Today, Snitzer thinks that “people who go to Dadeland may not even notice it. It is used as a mall. But Fifth and Alton is the entrance to South Beach. It houses Art Basel every year, and imagine the implications of the most important curators and collectors in the world being greeted by a Romero Britto.”

For Snitzer, developers like Berkowitz “are arrogant, a dime a dozen,” but he also blames Miami Beach politicians for not being more protective when confronted with art on private property that is very visible to the public. “It is the responsibly of people in Miami Beach to decide if they want their community to look like the Mall of America. Maybe one day Art Basel will move to Miami instead of the Beach. When you spend millions of dollars to bring an international art community to Miami Beach, and you put a Britto in their face, you might have to suffer the consequences.”

Norman Braman, best known for the car dealerships bearing his name, is also a champion of contemporary art, and with his wife, Irma, has a world- renowned personal collection. He has also served as chairman of Art Basel Miami Beach, so he moves easily among the art world’s elite. But when it came time to choose someone to turn a Mini Cooper into a work of art, in the style of Alexander Calder and Keith Haring, Braman chose Britto.

“Jeff Berkowitz has made an appropriate choice in Romero Britto,” Braman told us. “Romero symbolizes the vitality and diversity of Miami Beach. He has been and continues to be a very special asset to our community. Romero gives of his time, talent and resources to so many needy causes. Art is rarely agreed upon by all collectors-that’s why it is so challenging. For the Bra- mans, having Romero’s work at one of our entrances is a big thumbs-up.”

Such an embrace of Britto sends shivers down the spine of The Miami Heralds celebrated art critic of 17 years, Helen Kohen. Now retired, she is establishing Miami’s first art archive.

“It is in extremely bad taste,” she told us. “Britto is the wrong image for people to see when they come to South Beach. He is a great marketer, a commercial artist at best. He is too bright for wallpaper, but not bright enough to be an artist. We have nourished art and artists for a very long time in Miami, and we should have by now developed an aesthetic and level of sophistication that would allow us to have something other than a Britto at the gateway to the city.”

Kohen, not one to mince words, says, “I would like to slap Berkowitz and tell him, ‘You aren’t the only one here!’ What I resent most is that the great artists have intellect and I see none here-this is dumb.”

George Lindemann is a major Miami collector of contemporary art, known for his discriminating eye for new artists. He disagrees with Kohen. “Britto is absolutely the right person to do the art for the entrance to South Beach,” he told us. “He is an icon of Miami Beach, an exceedingly generous and philanthropic man, and what better person should greet visitors? Old-fashioned art critics might sniff at him, but they are wrong. Britto and his art are the ideal ambassadors for South Beach.”

The process of allowing Berkowitz to force Britto on the project bothers some other prominent Miami Beach voices, such as Beth Dunlop, the Heralds architecture critic. ‘The whole project is badly conceived and horribly designed. To me, Britto isn’t the real problem, but rather it is formulaic design and planning that is being foisted on Miami Beach by a developer who has the capacity to do much better. If ever a site cried out for a pedestrian- friendly, mini New Urbanist development, this is it. It should have paths leading to a grocery store and maybe a movie theater and cafes and shops at ground level and offices or apartments above. The whole development-and the Britto, to boot-is unthinking, ugly and unacceptable.”

Craig Robins, who helped develop South Beach and the DeSign District, has brought in leading architects and artists to create Aqua, his North Beach residential development. He is not critical of Berkowitz: “Each owner has the right to install the art they think appropriate on their property.” And while Robins also has a superb collection of contemporary art, and is one of the leading forces in promoting art in South Florida,

he only has kind comments about Britto, as well: “He has achieved great commercial success, and his work is normally attractive.” But Robins thinks that ideally, developers would spend extra money to hire a professional advisory committee of curators from important museums (at least one from Miami), and those curators would advise the developer

on selecting the best artist for that project. “I did that on Aqua,” Robins told us. “I vetted my own knowledge with the opinions of others I respect.”

Maybe in the end, it is not surprising that the gateway to South Beach will be defined by a giant mall that will boast Publix and some big box stores such as Target, Bed Bath & Beyond or Best Buy. And in front will be the Britto sculpture.

“Archaeologists often discover what a culture was like by the art and architecture they leave behind,” says Kohen. “When they come one day and search Miami, our story will be told not by the artists and architects, but rather by the developers. They are the running guns of Miami. They are our industry. What they leave tells the story of who we were. Art and developers may have crossed in the 21st century in Miami, but it isn’t art, no matter what you call it.”

And what about Britto himself? He took our call on his cell phone at nearly midnight, while he was at the border of Switzerland, Germany and France. Earlier that day he had been at the unveiling of a new sculpture he had donated to a children’s hospital in Basel. As unassuming as we had been told, Britto said the controversy does not bother him.

“I am really honored that so many people like my work, and that I was chosen to do the art for Fifth and Alton. It really is exciting. And I understand the process much better now. In the past, when they criticized me, I took it personally. Now I understand the dynamics involved. And the reason I am happy to be doing art that will be seen by so many people is that it will be celebratory and very different, and will inspire people who arrive in South Beach. I want it to bring some hope and joy. After you have seen it, then come and tell me if the critics were right.”

Confessions of Trash-TV Junkies

People who barely know us think they can figure us out. While only one name gets on the front of our books, we work as a team. We cover the gamut from Nazi fugitives to nasty Hong Kong heroin syndicates to the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., to what was really happening behind the scenes leading up to 9/11. Many of you have heard of our just published Secrets of the Kingdom: The -Inside Story of the Secret Saudi-U.S. Connection. It exposes how Saudi Arabia is wired with a self-destructive grid, including radioactive dirty bombs, ensuring gas will zoom to $10 a gallon if America ever lets the royal family, the House of Saud, fall from power.

So people assume we are a couple of intellectual eggheads. Doing The New York Times crosswords must be our idea of an exciting afternoon. And relaxation must be browsing through The New Yorker, reading poetry, wandering through art exhibitions, and planning vacations about archaeological digs.

Wrong. We enjoy serious pursuits or we wouldn’t do them. But top choice for downtime is often television. And we’re not talking PBS or the History Channel. We mean serious trash. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of our faves. Yes, Buffy. And we love The 0.C., CSI, Gilmore Girls, House, Lost and Desperate Housewives. Our house has a TiVo and another high-definition DVR capable of recording two shows at once. So we can watch one while recording three. We use TiVo to watch TV on our own schedule. Breakfast could be with The Sopranos. The Today Show might not be watched until right before we go to sleep (an overbubbly Katie Couric is for us a good sleeping tonic, a bit like Ritalin for overactive kids).

We were mildly depressed for a few weeks after some recent cancellations-Angel, Dead Like Me and Point Pleasant. And back in the day, who didn’t have a bad week after Melrose Place was axed?

A Presidential news conference causes great stress. It means all shows are pushed back by some undetermined time, and not even the brilliance of TiVo can figure out when George Bush finishes and Lost starts.

When we lived in Manhattan, intellectual snobs sniffed, “Oh, I can’t believe you watch so much television. I’m so surprised.” Some did not own TVs. Others said they didn’t have the time, as if somehow all we did was sit in bed, watch television and eat Pop-Tarts. But invariably, if we mentioned we just saw Paris Hilton on SNL, they would say, “Well, I saw that. I turned on the TV and was flipping from a documentary on Discovery to PBS when I happened across it.”

These are the same people who slow up the Publix checkouts because they are surreptitiously reading the tabloid headlines. It was clear they somehow felt that admitting they watched popular culture diminished their worth. It’s the curse of people in closets.

Many of you probably know a closeted television watcher.

So how excited do you think we were when we recently opened up the Sunday New York Times Magazine-an appropriately egghead way to spend a weekend morning-and discovered a new book argues that instead of being the boob tube, watching popular shows actually makes you smarter? Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, cogently argues that even “the most debased forms of mass diversion-video games and violent television and juvenile sitcoms-turn out to be nutritional after all.”

According to Johnson, “We’ve worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards. Presumably the ‘masses’ want dumb, simple pleasures.” He demonstrates that old shows such as Starsky and Hutch or Dragnet follow one or two lead characters, have a single plot line and reach a decisive conclusion at each show’s end. In contrast, today’s TV hits like 24, Alias and even The Simpsons involve many more characters and multiple plot lines, and extend the story week to week. The Sopranos, for instance, routinely follows a dozen plot threads and has at least 20 characters. Since, Johnson says, “popular television has never been harder to follow,” it creates what he calls the Sleeper Curve, “the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today, and it is largely a force for good: enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them down.”

So, armed with our new “television actually makes you smarter” thesis, we talked to some of South Beach’s movers and shakers to see what they are watching. “I love The Simpsons,” says the Beach’s hot DJ transplanted Israeli Oren Nizri. Luckily for Oren, it is one of Johnson’s top seven shows for boosting I.Q.

“The best thing on television right now is E’s recreation of the Michael Jackson trial,” award-winning British actor and Beach resident Rupert Everett told us at a recent birthday soiree. That combines reality TV and entertainment, a double winner for Johnson. Way to go, Rupert.

Jennie Yip, owner of South Beach’s Miss Yip Chinese Cafe, had no television for eight years in Manhattan. ‘Friends was a hit then, and I didn’t even know about the show,” she told us. “I met David Schwimmer and he told me he was on a hit TV show and I didn’t know what he was talking about. The next day I picked up US Weekly and realized who he was!” Now, in South Beach, she has moved to the tube for eclectic shows from Larry King (“depends on the guest”) and The Apprentice to Letterman and Everybody Loves Raymond (“my favorite show when I am flying”).

Matt MacDonald, one of Miami’s top interior designers (think J. Lo and P. Diddy, among other big- name celebs), is not embarrassed he loves television. “Everyone is trying to be more intellectual than they are,” he told us. “They are trying to be something they aren’t, so many people think it’s cool to say they don’t watch much television. But it is how I wind down: I lie in bed with my two Dalmatians and just want my TV.”

He loves Desperate Housewives and Lost. And for Matt, Sex and the City is “four gay guys. I could see all my friends in there.” In his house, American Idol is a “religious event.” Even some of his clients, such as Sarah Cruz, the wife of baseball star Jose Cruz, Jr., call him after that show and say, “Can you believe that? Who is going next?”

Matt, along with many others, is addicted to TiVo. He is still kicking himself over the time 10 years ago that one of his clients, business tycoon Barry Diller, predicted “the future of television would be like TiVo, everything would be integrated with television and the computer. ‘It will be like the fax or the cell phone,’ he told me. ‘You won’t be able to live without it.’” If he had listened to Diller then and invested in early startup companies, Matt would be retired on his own South Seas island.

Miami P.R. agent Amy Zakarin-think Ian Schrager, Casa Casuarina, The Related Group-is also an addict. “A TV is in every room,” she says. “I was raised this way. It is in my genes. We like to watch a lot of junk, and we don’t think of it as trash.”

Since she often works from her home, the television goes on in the morning with The Today Show and stays in the background for the rest of the day, cycling through The View, Oprah and similar fare. 1 love gossip and insider celebrity news, fashion, culture, all the lifestyle shows.” But by the evening, Amy is ready for serious viewing. “I don’t watch any academic media.” She “loves” 20/20, Primetime Live and Dateline: ‘They give me news with entertainment-perfect.

“My real life is reality TV,” she adds, so she sometimes tunes in to “fave shows like The Bachelor and The Apprentice.’ She stays away from crime and medical dramas- “they stress me out”- and owns the entire DVD collection of Sex and the City (9 can watch it over and over again”).

Late at night, she sets her television’s timer to 90 minutes, gets her mixed-breed Labrador, Coco, and snuggles in for a late-night talk. show. She goes to sleep with the TV blaring. According to author Johnson, Amy will be Einstein before long.

Even 20somethings find television relaxing. Alina Sanchez, general manager of The Shack Board Shop, South Beach’s only legitimate surf shop, manages to juggle her career, marriage and raising two young daughters. “Eight to 10 at night is disconnection time,” she told us recently at her store at Collins and First. “TV lets me unwind.” She relaxes with One Tree Hill, The 0.C, Kevin Hill, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and even Nanny 911. “Believe it or not,” she says, “I’ve actually picked up some tips for parenting from the Nanny show. TV lets me relax. That time is my own, just with my shows and no responsibilities. I love it!”

John Fernandez, a South Beach building manager and executive with Miami Management, just turned 25. “I celebrated by watching One Tree he says. “TV lets me chill out and get away from the stress of running a large South Beach condo.”

Seems to us, from our unofficial polling, that a lot of South Beachers are getting smarter just by flipping on their television and assimilating popular culture. Works for us. We would tell you more, but sorry, we have to run – 24 is starting.

Escape From New York

Why More and More Manhattanites Are Moving to South Beach

On a recent visit to New York, we wandered over to Bloomingdale’s and ran into friends we hadn’t seen in months. Donna is a soap-opera head writer, and Michael, her husband, produces one of New York’s highest-rated morning radio shows. With a large Manhattan apartment and a home in the Hamptons, they are quintessential New Yorkers. After a few air kisses (tres chic), the conversation changed from “nice to see you” to South Beach.

“We have decided you have the right idea,” Donna said. “I can’t take these winters any longer.”

‘We’re close to putting our apartment on the market,” Mike chimed in. “Donna can write from anywhere, and I might start a radio station. South Beach is hot. It could be home for us.”

Donna and Mike were the first of a wave of friends we encountered during our two weeks who were thinking of relocating to our urban beach. “If I could get the same job there,” was a common refrain, “I’d move tomorrow.” We have an unabashed love affair with South Beach. But the enthusiasm of our New York friends had inadvertently given us this month’s chatter. What is it about South Beach that is a magnet to New Yorkers?

We lived in New York for years and know firsthand that The New York Times is the final arbiter of “cool.” “Every year-or is it every three months?-there seems to be a rebirth of Miami Beach,” the paper commented this past January. The Times should know. In 1982 it said, “In decaying South Beach, the elderly huddle in frailty and fear.” Eight years later it was “SoHo with a suntan and the Hamptons with better weather.” It took another two to declare we were overexposed and ask, “Why won’t South Beach go away?” By 2000, the Times had thumbs up: “For years people have been predicting the demise of South Beach, but like a tech stock that keeps rising despite the experts’ warnings, the scene there has climbed to new heights.” A year later, in 2001, it flipped and announced it was again over: “This fall the scene has evaporated. The jets are half empty, and many of the hotels are struggling to stay alive.” In 2002, it continued the “party is over” theme: “Who needs South Beach?” it asked in an article about an exodus of hip to Fort Lauderdale (yes, even the Times can get a story that wrong). In 2003, the Times again changed its mind. “South Beach-from hot to cold and back to hot again….For the past few years, the word has gone out among the fashionable set: South Beach is so over….But the hipsters are returning and the ‘new’ South Beach may, in fact, be South Beach itself.”

So with the imprimatur of the Times, New Yorkers who haven’t been here in years are intrigued with exploring it. It is little wonder that the construction crane is now as ubiquitous locally as palm trees. Many moving here are like Donna and Mike, young professionals bringing a Manhattan energy and vitality. This is not your parents’ “retiring to Florida” crowd.

Part of the allure is that while South Beach is a tropical vacation oasis, it also has a decidedly urban quality. There are not many towns where you can get a delicious meal at a packed restaurant after midnight and then spend the rest of the night at jammed clubs and bars. That the city runs 24/7 is a big appeal to New Yorkers accustomed to an around-the-clock lifestyle. “It’s sort of like a mini Manhattan,” Brian Bell, an executive at Tommy Hilfiger, told us. “You don’t have to own a car. I can walk everywhere. And I get to have the beach and better weather.”

Ah, the weather. New York winters are drab, miserable and long. Trust us. We speak from years of frozen experience. “More and more people and friends in New York are taking second homes here,” says Stacy Pisone, owner of Cafeteria on Lincoln Road. “When I first started to come down 12 years ago, I wanted a little break from the long winters. It’s the same time as getting to the Hamptons, about two and a half hours, and the weather is better than New York’s nine months of the year. In a couple of hours you’re in 82 degrees instead of 20.”

But not everyone is driven by the weather. Nine- time Tony Award-winning choreographer and Broadway performer Tommy Tune doesn’t mind New York’s winters. Tune grew up in “the swamps of Houston,” and when he moved to Manhattan he fell in love with the seasons. it was not a problem for me,” he says.

He first visited Miami Beach 20 years ago, and when he walked around the beach and Ocean Drive, “I marveled at all these multicolored buildings, with these old people sitting on terraces looking out at the palm trees and a gorgeous ocean. A few years later I came back and suddenly it was wall-to-wall young people with great bodies. What happened to the geezers?”

What happened was that pioneering New Yorkers such as real- estate developer Tony Goldman had arrived and seen the potential. ‘When I came to South Beach in 1984, I was not the least intimidated by the crack dealers or the rough street scene,” recalls Goldman. “I have been in burly neighborhoods, and know how to handle myself. Despite the half-boarded-up buildings, I thought, This is the Riviera. Let’s go. I tried to buy everything I could. This was a home run. I knew it couldn’t miss as long as you could hang on. It was King Solomon’s abandoned mines waiting to be discovered again.”

What Tune had returned to was the beginning of the renewal that Goldman and others sparked. “And I’m convinced,” says Goldman, “that it took a Northeastern vision, a hardened New Yorker’s perspective, to create a pedestrian-based urban beach.”

Tune was then hooked on what he calls the “magic of South Beach.” He bought his apartment sight unseen a few years later. “I’m a New Yorker, so I don’t drive,” he says. “Where else can I be car-free but South Beach?” And he relishes its diversity, the same as he finds in New York. “It is hugely important. I sit on my terrace and hear every language in the world, and there is a shower off the beach with a cross section of the world passing there. Everyone is so happy. It’s a regularly changing show, a feast for the eyes.” Goldman agrees: “From the beginning, my dream was streets filled with a multicultural, multiethnic mix-gay, straight, black, white, old, young. The more textural it is, the more interesting it is. It is truly American, but is also such an international draw.” The same description could also fit New York’s street scenes.

It also doesn’t hurt for trend seekers that the fashion gods have finally erased New Yorkers’ images of South Beach as cheesy T-shirts and flip-flops. While locals have known that stores like Base provide forward fashion, New Yorkers sometimes are more comfortable with familiar names. And it’s not just the early arrivals such as Armani, Versace and Diesel, but also newer stores like cult favorite Kiehl’s skincare, Von Dutch, Scoop and the soon-to-be BCBG on Lincoln Road. Barneys Coop has been called a “mini-me” of fashion, and their Collins Avenue store was their first stand-alone Coop outside New York

While some Beach old-timers bemoan the loss of local individuality, to New Yorkers these stores are indispensable. Gyms such as Crunch and soon-to-open Equinox add to the mix. So do restaurants from Smith & Wollensky and Joe Allen to China Grill, Nobu, Cafeteria and. Bond Street.

“It seemed more of our New York customers were going to South Beach than to any other spot,” says Cafeteria’s Pisone. “It was just natural for us. So many of our Chelsea customers kept asking, ‘When are you going to open in South Beach?”

For Pisone, the overlap with New York’s better restaurants and boutiques is a big plus. “I have gotten older,” she says, “as have my friends. We don’t do the clubs anymore. Instead, it’s fun restaurants and hotels. Everyone enjoys Skybar and the Raleigh, and Nikki Beach can be a lot of fun. They are unique. To go to a bar under the stars is still pretty great.”

Joey Goldman, who is spearheading a redevelopment of Miami’s Wynwood district much as his father did two decades ago with South Beach, lives on the Beach. Raised in New York, he agrees that “South Beach has grown up. It’s not just about nightclubs now. There is simply no other place I would rather live. You have the great making of a real city, with super restaurants and more sophistication, all mixed together with one of the best beaches anywhere. And the real-estate prices are still better than Manhattan’s by a wide margin. What’s not to like? For a New Yorker, it’s like being on a constant vacation.”

Barton G., one of Miami’s most successful event planners as well as the owner of a celebrity-popular restaurant (Barton G.), had to choose between Los Angeles and Miami when he decided to move from New York, where he had been raised. “I knew I was ready for a change,” he recalls. “So I visited Miami, it had this great backdrop of the ocean, the weather, the local culture, and I hadn’t known anything about it. It was great. Then I went to L.A., and to me it was much like New York, only with better weather. So the choice was easy.”

Barton worried about moving here, however, because he is not into the sporting lifestyle that attracts many newcomers. You will only find him near a gym if he is catering a celebrity event there. And as an inveterate New Yorker, he had become spoiled by getting things when he wanted them. “But once I moved here,” he says, “there was no problem adapting. Now when I go back to New York, I try to make it only one day. I can’t wait to get back here. This is the land of opportunity. The only problem I have is that I get all the benefits of a major city, but I can’t figure out where to vacation. Who needs to go to Hawaii? Or the Caribbean? It is too perfect here.” “I have the same problem,” says Joey Goldman. “It is really difficult to go on vacation.”

Tune solves the problem by spending his vacations often at the beach. He has developed a second career as a successful painter. In South Beach he finds “the inspiration, the crystalline light, the setting for letting my creativity run.”

Tune might best summarize the love affair New Yorkers have with South Beach: “Every time I have to fly on a plane somewhere from South Beach, I am never ready to leave. If I’m in Venice for two weeks or on a Caribbean island, I’m ready to come home. But when it is time to leave South Beach, I get sad. South Beach is a feeling. It’s a culture. It’s home.”

Far And Away: The Branding Of South Beach

A few years ago we were in Marrakech. Pre- 9/11, we never thought twice about traveling as Westerners on the back roads of a Muslim country. So in an adventuresome mood, we rented a Jeep and drove south over the Atlas mountains, vast expanses of arid desert set off with sheer cliffs. Days later we ended up in the tiny village of Zagora, where the paved road ends and the Sahara desert stretches past the horizon. At the edge of the town a weathered sign in French and Arabic announces, “52 days by camel to Timbuktu.”

Although we were surrounded by sand, South Beach was one of the last things on our mind that day. What was a priority was getting something to drink. We soon found a run-down bar that looked ideal. The young Moroccan counterman barely glanced up from his newspaper.

“Bottled water, please,” Trisha asked.

“Don’t have any,” he said. “Juice?”

“Ran out.”

“Lemonade?” We had had luck in earlier villages with a sickly sweet local concoction. He shook his head no.

“What do you have?”

“Mint tea.” Hot tea was not our idea of refreshment.

Trisha sighed, and in complete desperation said, ‘What I could actually use right now is a martini.” Our counterman came alive. “Where are you from?” he asked.

"New York. And Miami.”

“I can make you a South Beach martini. Would you like that?”

You could have knocked us over with a feather. It turns out that our “bartender” had spent four months with an uncle in Pompano Beach a year earlier, and he was South Beach-obsessed. We’re not quite sure what he used instead of vermouth, but we had one of the most interesting martinis ever that day. And we listened for an hour as our previously uncommunicative host told us his plans to open a bar in Marrakech called South Beach.

It was the first time we realized that the place we live in had gone from “neighborhood” to “brand.’ And in recent years we’ve been inundated with South Beach-promoting products, from getting a wonder body in two weeks to some decadent nightclub thousands of miles from America. What is it that has made Madison Avenue advertisers think our little haven is marketable to consumers who have never even been to Florida? Was our Moroccan bartender onto something clever long before big business caught on to the same idea?

Companies worldwide are using South Beach as shorthand for glamour, sexiness and hip. Well, they must not have been around when even those who lived here could not figure out what the place should be called. A few old-timers who nostalgically longed for the days of the Paddock Club on Seventh and Washington, where gangster Al Capone had his get-out-of-jail party, and where the entertainment included everyone from Al Jolson, Milton Berle and Sophie Tucker to Desi Arnaz, actually wanted to call the area “Old Miami Beach.”

“In the late ’80s, Andrew Delaplaine’s restaurant-lounge, Scratch, which the corner of Fifth Street and Jefferson, used ‘Old Miami Beach’ in its address, as did other bohemian Beach haunts,” recalls Tara Solomon, who has been a major part of the nightlife scene here since it got hot 15 years ago, and now runs her own successful public- relations firm, Tara Ink. “‘South Miami Beach’ was used more by the media, and somehow ‘South Beach’ was coined to abbreviate it. The abhorrence that is ‘SoBe’ was and still is favored more by out-of-towners; locals shudder at the sound of it.”

So where is South Beach showing up today? Probably it’s best known for the low-carb South Beach Diet, a veritable industry of its own spanning books, audiocassettes and exercise tapes. Naming their diet after the hippest ‘hood in South Florida seemed natural to its inventor, Dr. Arthur Agatston, and his wife, Sari. “Arthur and I were sitting at a restaurant on South Beach when the idea of writing a book came up, only half-seriously,” recalls Sari. “And at this time, before email, everyone was faxing the diet around, so it seemed like all the Beach was on it. And I said we couldn’t call it the scientific name he had given it for his abstracts. We live on the Beach and work on the Beach,’ I told him, ‘and everyone in Miami Beach is on the diet. So it’s the South Beach Diet.’ ” Even Fortune 500 companies like Kraft have jumped on the Agatstons’ bandwagon, announcing their 2005 launch of “South Beach Diet” foods to keep everyone slim and trim.

“My girlfriend went to VolleyPalooza a couple of years ago,” says Janice DeCosmio, who runs the South Beach Fitness Club in the tiny English hamlet of Ipswich. “When she came back with the pictures of those bodies, we all said, Wow.’ So now I have them posted here in our little club and it gives all the girls more incentive to work out a bit harder and stay away from the clotted cream and scones.”

But the South Beach Diet is only the tip of commercializing our name. There are South Beach Tumblers from an Atlanta company marketing promotional items. SoBe herbally enhanced beverages may have their headquarters in Connecticut, of all places, but the firm’s official name is the South Beach Beverage Company. Superdiscounter Target offers South Beach old-fashioned cocktail glasses, complete with etched palms. One of Barbados’ premier vacation spots is the South Beach Resort. And if the Caribbean is too far away, you can always relax at the South Beach Resort in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (a golf course subs for sand). Virginia Beach has its South Beach Grill. There’s a new South Beach district in central Oregon and a hotel named after us 7,000 miles away in Troon, Scotland. Minneapolis has a South Beach Bar and Grill that thinks Miami Vice is still the fashion rage, based on its pastel colors and walls of mirrors. Even Mormon Salt Lake City has a South Beach Martini Bar, and swinging Ibiza has a coffee bar sporting our name. San Francisco, not content to have its famous North Beach neighborhood, has a new, upcoming South Beach ‘hood, and the city’s tony boat association is the South Beach Yacht Club.

But the best representative of South Beach not actually in Florida might be the nightclub of the same name in Houston. South Beach is the city’s premier gay dance club. On the first Saturday of every month, the door prize is a free trip to the real South Beach. Charles Armstrong, who had managed clubs earlier in Florida and Texas, started the 10,000-square-foot space four years ago.

“I never considered any other name,” says Armstrong. He had visited Miami Beach in the early 1980s and found it derelict. When he returned in 1991 he had an epiphany. “I came to see what all the buzz was about, and I fell in love with it-such a melting pot, gays, straights, Central and South Americans, everyone from the island nations, New Yorkers, Europeans, and even a few Floridians thrown into the stew. South Beach was a celebration of diversity. It was alive, exciting, vibrating. In Texas, there are layers of racism, and to me South Beach was far beyond that. It was a cultural awakening of an international city that I wanted Houston to follow. So it was the only name for us.”

Esther Percal, uber-Realtor to celebrities and the ultrarich, is a Miami native who has seen the changes take place. Once Blockbuster Video and Starbucks opened on Alton, “I knew that South Beach had arrived for the big businesses,” she says. But it took until the late 1990s for the term “South Beach” itself to become saleable. “Sex appeal is selling now,” says Per- cal. “South Beach has come to mean sex and fun, and that is marketable in any language. We have the same things here we’ve always had: sun, water, the beach. It’s just that now it has caught on as an international location, like Aspen, Vail or Marbella.” Percal, who in the mid 1990s thought Madonna had overpaid when she spent $3.9 million on a home here, now is herself selling homes “at $15 to $25 to $35 million. The money coming here is enormous, and it’s feeding the feeling about South Beach as a special place.”

PR guru Solomon is not surprised. “South Beach, the brand, has caught on so well because it represents everything the world is obsessed with today: glamour, celebrity, style and decadence. We have the whole package.” Other towns may have stolen our name, but there still ain’t any South Beach like ours.

Where’s the Deco?: The Changing Face Of South Beach

Everyone has a few friends too stubborn for their own good. We have our share. But one of our dearest lives in New York, and his stubbornness is mixed with a little “know it all” attitude. He hasn’t been here in six years, but he still tells us where we should go for wonderful cocktails or the latest scene. It didn’t take us long after moving here to realize his contact list was a tad dated.

But we didn’t pay much attention until, he came to visit over the holidays. Need any suggestions, we asked? “No, thanks, I know the best places.” Sure.

When we met the next afternoon, we could tell he was agitated. “1 just can’t believe this town,” he said, grandly waving his hand and making sure we soaked in the drama of the moment.

“What’s wrong?”

‘Where do I start?” He was excited enough to grab the attention of a neighboring table, no easy task at the 90-decibel Big Pink. “Well, when I took my taxi from the airport, what are those enormous buildings at Fifth Street and along the water? I thought I was back in New York!”

He really didn’t want an answer; this was going to be a monologue. “And then, after unpacking, I realized I forgot a belt, so I went to Lincoln Road to find one. And what do I see instead of some unique boutique? Banana Republic, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Williams- Sonoma. I mean, am I in South Beach or at the Mall of America?” ‘Well….” Trisha tried interjecting.

“But wait. This is the best. I go at midnight to my favorite club, Salvation, and I can’t find it! And I know it like the back of my hand. It’s an Office Depot! You have to be kidding!”

“Places change.” “Change!? Listen to this. At 1 a.m. I figure I’ll go to the best deli in town. And guess what?”

By this time we knew what was coming. “Wolfie’s. Closed. Just another skyscraper across the street that some taxi driver told me is $12 million for the penthouse! Those are New York prices. Can’t believe it. I ended up at some place called Jerry’s.”

We looked at each other. Anyone who knows delis knows that Wolfie’s had been less than desirable for many years, while Jerry’s has been one of LA:s premier establishments forever. One thing we knew by living in South Beach-you aren’t going to like this place unless you embrace change. It is a perpetually varying landscape, for better and worse, and the constant transformation of the town is key to its excitement and freshness. But our friend’s rant made us think he had inadvertently stumbled onto this month’s chatter, how the changing face of South Beach strikes some of the town’s most knowledgeable insiders.

“Miami Beach is always remaking itself,” says Mitchell Kaplan, the erudite owner of Lincoln Road’s wonderful Books & Books. “I grew up here, so my perspective goes way back. It was in decline so much that people were talking about tearing down lots of places. No one thought of preservation in those days. It’s hard to say what has been lost with some of the individual character that marked the Beach years ago, but it is so different it bears almost no resemblance to what it was. It went from an old-timer’s place to a hip and thriving city.”

“When I was surfing here as a teenager in the mid ’80s,” recalls nightlife and real- estate entrepreneur Michael Capponi, “South Beach was a slum. We then evolved into 186 Ocean Drive a fashionable bohemian village, one of the top places in America.”

So what’s our friend’s problem? Has all the growth come with a price? Few people explain the pluses and perils of the Beach’s rush to change better than Miami Herald architecture critic and author Beth Dunlop, a Miami Beach native. Among the things she likes is the renovation of so many “really wonderful hotels, just what a great urban historic district needs.”

And the hotels aren’t just for visitors. We love the new Spire Bar at The Hotel, a wonderful rooftop space with the ocean on one side and a great view over the Art Deco District on the other. And the Raleigh’s renovation at the hands of hotelier Andre Balazs is true to its original roots, the Sunday parties are super, and the bar is still an intimate throwback to another era.

“What makes the hotel scene so great,” says Stephanie Balazs, the managing partner of South Beach Group, which owns seven local boutique hotels, “is that there has been very little penetration by the big corporate chains. Except for Loews, and now The Ritz-Carlton, we have the largest number of independent hotels in a major tourist area that I’ve ever seen. And we all try to outdo each other in being creative and original.”

But Dunlop worries that there may be too much force when businesses try to trump the competition. ‘There is astounding development pressure,” she says. “Property owners have a need to build on every square inch of space. The Art Deco District used to be not only low- scale, but also very lush and green. Gone are the courtyards, planting boxes and trees.” And she bemoans what she calls “demolition by neglect,” where developers buy historically protected properties and allow them to deteriorate to the degree where they can only be torn down. A prime example is the fabulous 1918 Avery Smith-designed coral-rock house at Ninth and Collins. Miami Beach’s building department declared the house unsafe in August, and despite a battle by preservationists, it could be dust by the time you are reading this.

“Once we start losing things like the coral-rock house,” says Dunlop, “we lose the character of the district and the real evolutionary sense of history, where you can see decades of change just by strolling around.” But that does not bother the South Beach Group’s Balazs, who has lived here for seven years. “I have guests all the time in the lobby of the Chesterfield asking, ‘Where is the historic district?’ And I tell them they are in the heart of it. I don’t know what they expected. But I also find that most of our guests come to South Beach not to see the historic district, but ‘because of our nightclubs, restaurants and hotels, what makes this city so happening. This is New York in the 1970s, Los Angeles in the 1980s. It just happens to all be set in the middle of a historic district, and that is a great plus for us who live here and people who visit. If you want to just see old homes and history, you should go to Savannah.”

To business owners like Books & Books’ Kaplan, “There has always been the conflict over how much allegiance we owe to the past and how much we should give in to development. There has never been political will to stop the developers. They have always reigned supreme on the Beach.” But Dunlop thinks it’s also the lawyers who have made a living finding zoning exceptions. “They know the rules aren’t ironclad, unfortunately,” she says, “and they seem to use the maximums as their minimum requests.”

You only need to look at the adjoining series of similarly designed skyscraper condos (“Houston-style buildings where it’s all about the driveway,” says Dunlop) popping up on the west bank of Miami Beach to see the evidence of the power of builders in this town. There used to a nice bay view when someone walked or drove south on Alton. “When you ask a City official,” comments Dunlop, “how all those buildings came to be, they say it was ‘old zoning.’ Well, there must have been a lot of old zoning, because the buildings keep coming and coming.”

Pier 1 Imports now greets visitors to South Beach off the MacArthur Causeway. A developer threatens to build a giant Publix and Target on the empty lot across the street So a grocery store, albeit a wonderful one, will become the entryway to the nation’s largest historical preservation zone, the Art Deco District.

“That’s appalling,” says Dunlop. “I like Publix, and shop there, but wouldn’t it be great if that was a little shopping village with some housing mixed in? A big- box, warehouse store has no place there. Visitors to South Beach should know when they arrive that they are in a historic district, not Anywhere, U.S.A.”

“Most changes have been for the better,” says Capponi. But he thinks that there should be more careful planning of what residents and City officials want the Beach to look like in the long term. In resorts that compete with South Beach for image and style-from Portofino to Ibiza to the Hamptons-there is an effort to insure that instead of just approving a single development at a time an overall design plan is carefully followed.

Lincoln might be dotted with chain stores-even eateries like Johnny Rockets pushing in-but it is alive and thriving, especially at night. Our friend may be right-it might not be as iconoclastic as it was ten years ago-but it is far more vibrant as a great pedestrian boulevard. And it still hosts great lifestyle stores unique to the Beach, such as Steven Giles’ Base, which has just expanded with a home department. Restaurants get better (and more expensive) constantly, and retailers reinvent themselves quicker than you can remember what was filling the location last.

“As a tenant, I worry about rents getting so high that only chain stores can afford them,” says Kaplan. “But there is enough variety on Lincoln, and will continue to be so, to guarantee the street is one of the best anywhere.” Dunlop thinks that Lincoln, which she admits used to be “derelict,” is “amazing, one of the most incredible places you can walk in America. I can’t think of anything as exciting that isn’t on the coast of Italy or the South of France. “The best thing that happened to Lincoln was the national chains,” says the South Beach Group’s Balazs. “It’s fun now, and it’s used by locals as well as tourists. That makes it real.”

Ocean Drive, the street that should be the most fabulous in town, seems to have few local fans. Although the Victor, Hyatt’s boutique-styled hotel, at long last promises to revitalize an entire section with a new hip quotient, other portions remain filled with T-shirt shops and fraternity-boy-type bars. “Ocean Drive is both fabulous and problematic,” says Dunlop, who admits she hates “the cabaret district, the sleazy attitude, the honky-tonk.” “We lost something on Ocean Drive,” says Kaplan, “a chance to keep it as great as Lincoln and not let it become the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.”

Which leads us to the last major equation in South Beach’s changing landscape, the club scene. The anti- club camp is represented by Dunlop, who says, “The clubs have a strangle hold on part of the city, leaving it dead by day and too lively for part of the night, when most of the rest of us are trying to sleep. This Bourbon Street, dicey direction has consequences for the whole city, incredible architectural and urban implications, none of which are positive.” “Some residents who don’t like the noise might not like the clubs,” says the South Beach Group’s Balazs, “but those are one of the major reasons that Miami Beach has morphed into the hip place to be.”

“So long as the clubs are really good,” says Capponi, who has owned some of the hottest in Miami, “they are one-of-a-kind and make the town better. Places like Mynt, Opium Garden, Mansion, Crobar and others. It’s the riffraff clubs that are problems.”

Riffraff. Could start a new trend.

Four More Years: How to Survive. Being A Blue City In A Red Country

Just as the season had gotten into full swing this past November, we went to Joe’s Stone Crab for dinner at 8 p.m., the heart of their rush hour. You might think that means we are masochists who love waiting three hours for a table in a bar packed tighter than a sardine can. Not at all. On that night we were confident our wait would be mercifully short-not that we had anything personally against the raucous group of sunburned, hairy-legged visiting businessmen, in an assortment of plaid shorts, talking loudly about how much they had recently spent on cigars.

Our confidence was not misplaced. About ten minutes after we arrived, the couple we were meeting walked in. Bob Graham and his striking wife, Adele, command a certain attention, and not just because almost everyone recognizes him immediately. After a round of handshakes, Joe’s general manager waved a menu as if it were Moses’ staff, and the crowd, doing its best imitation of the Red Sea, somehow found room to shove back on itself and created a neat little pathway for us to head to our corner table. Serving eight years as Florida’s governor, and then 18 as a U.S. Senator, does have its perks, at least when it comes to skipping to the front of a line.

But if what we wanted that night was a quiet chance to talk to the Grahams, that was as unlikely as Joe’s doing an early-bird special. There was an almost nonstop stream of diners, restaurant workers and even a few passing tourists who had heard the ex-Senator was there and wanted just a moment of his time. Some said thanks for his public service. But most wanted to tell him how frustrated they were about the recent Presidential election. Graham had made a run for the top job and come frustratingly close to nabbing the Veep’s spot on the Kerry ticket before Edwards got the nod.

“I’m so disturbed, Senator,” one young Miami Beach resident earnestly told him. “I can’t believe the rest of the country thinks so differently than we do here.”

“You wouldn’t think this is a red state,” the Senator said, turning to us. “At least not tonight!’

But red-not as in Communist red, but as in Republican red, a deep, vibrant shade-Florida is, and certainly was most importantly on Election Day. This month, as George W. Bush gets inaugurated for his second term, many people in South Florida are ruminating about the reality of living in a blue dot in a red state in a red country. In South Beach, the issues of the day don’t even include gay marriage, which 11 states managed to reject. Here, even those of us in the heterosexual world have moved far beyond that to cocktail chatter about gay divorce and the burning questions of which of two partners will end up with the Ocean Drive penthouse and which will keep the beach house at Fire Island. But for a place that likes to pride itself on being progressive, open-minded and laid-back, why were there so many depressed and irritable people after the election? And if the election seemed history already, this month’s inauguration is, for some, bringing it back like a bad case of the red-country blues.

“You’re making me sick, reminding me it’s the inauguration,” says Merle Weiss, co-chair of Miami Beach Art in Public Places and an avid and outspoken Kerry supporter before the election. “Yecch. Look, we have a very large gay population, and Bush is going to do whatever he can to prevent gays from having equal rights. Just like he will try to take away a woman’s right to choose. On Miami Beach, people are very broad-minded, liberal, inclusive and diverse. Everyone gets along with each other, and that is why it is such a great place to live. Bush tries to prevent that from happening. Now, some of the rich people who live here may like him. I asked a friend, ‘How can you be for that idiot?’, and she said, Taxes.’ I said, ‘You have a zillion dollars, so what are you going to have, $5,000 more and get stuck with him?’ I don’t understand why anyone voted for him.”

“I’ve just been depressed since the election,” says Suzanne Litt Lyon, a Miami Beach closet and wardrobe consultant “I was never more entranced and impassioned by an election as this last one. It’s very disappointing.”

“Unlike many people who voted for Kerry, I actually liked him,” says Ken, Suzanne’s husband and the noted Miami caterer. “He was the candidate for me. I liked what he stood for. But now we have four more years of Bush. I’m nervous about the Supreme Court, but that will get sorted out, but I am fearful of America becoming a theocracy. I am a godless Jew and don’t like living in a society like that’s

“I am more hopeful than I was at the election,” says Jane Russell, a real-estate consultant for Exquisite Properties, “but also a little bit depressed about the whole thing, as we all are here. We are surrounded by such a conservative country. It’s like we are a little oasis. If you’re gay, black or a woman, I don’t know how you can support Bush. You have to be so deluded. I just have to stay away from sharp objects.” However, not all blue voters are so distressed.

“I actually don’t think it’s as bad as many of my friends do,” says local art patron Mera Rubel!. “I don’t like to think about what could have been or what might have happened in a Kerry administration. I like facing reality and that means where do we go from here? A second-term President, without any worries about being reelected, can often take on bold challenges and really accomplish something. We can’t forget that Bush is very conscious of history since he is the son of a President, and he may surprise us. He was terrified of the curse of the second term because of his dad, and now he can let go. I really believe in America, and I am a very optimistic person. And that is how I approach this inauguration.”

And some may be surprised to find red voters in South Beach who are actually looking forward to a new Bush term. Lance LaMar is a pilot, sports model and co- owner of one of the hottest new personal-training gyms in South Beach, Peak Physique. “Yes, I have a few blue friends who are less than thrilled with the election results. And I would have been just as disappointed had my candidate not won. But I’ve been trying to pick up their spirits. South Beach life revolves around the hospitality and entertainment industries. Most everyone agrees that with Bush in office, people will pay less in taxes and have more money to spend. That’s good for us locally. And since a Bush administration means travel will be safer with his strong antiterrorism agenda, it means more American and European tourists here.”

“A major issue for many people, including a lot of our clients in South Beach, is what the election means for gays and gay rights,” adds R. Riley, a fashion and fitness model and Lance’s partner at Peak Physique. “I actually don’t see the President’s agenda doing much to change or impact the gay community-just as I didn’t believe Senator Kerry’s would do much to help it, either. We all know that attitudes towards the gay community are improving, but still have a long way to go. I just don’t think either Bush or Kerry would do too much for fear of alienating the masses. Small steps are being taken-way too small for some, yet way too big for others.

“So how can our friends get over the inauguration blues right now? You might not be surprised to find that I think the best cure is going to the gym and working 194 Ocean Drive out your frustrations if you are really upset about this. Getting physical relieves stress, and, hey, a fringe benefit is you’ll look better. Although they won’t admit it, several of our blue clients have definitely benefited from Bush winning. They’ve increased the frequency and intensity of their workouts so much since the election they are more buff than ever.”

“I really feel people want immediate gratification,” says William Belack, sales director for the Hotel St. Augustine, “and that is certainly true here in South Beach. We often aren’t paying enough attention to the big picture. It’s really not so bad. There has been such a chaotic race toward political correctness. Another Bush term actually gives us a chance to step back and see where we are really going as a country.”

So, if you are among the 55 million who cast a losing vote last November and feel stranded, at least you are in South Florida, which has more than enough distractions to keep even the most dispirited manic-depressive happy. Just look around. Savor the sights and sounds that make us unique. It certainly did not recently seem to us that religious zealots, as some blues feared, had taken control. Jerry Falwell is would have had a seizure if he had been visiting during November’s White Party and seen the gorgeous young men, hand in hand, strolling around South Beach. It has always been a bit different here, from 80-degree Christmases to politics somewhere between those of San Francisco and Beijing. Relish those differences. Embrace the diversity. And if you’re still blue around the inauguration, go and splurge and have 2 some Kobe beef at Prime One Twelve. Dance through the morning hours at Space. Run along the beach. Buy blocks of triple-cream cheese from Epicure and have your own tasting party. And then, when you are most relaxed, the reality will settle in that it’s all this talk of red and blue that really has you down. Those of us who call South Florida home know that politically we are really the color purple, a combination of red and blue, a goal for a blended America. George Bush may be President for the next four years. But unless you plan on moving to Canada (too cold) or France (hate us), scratch your name off the waiting list at the foreign embassies. You might as well stay, and make this little spot of paradise even better.

“I’m certainly not going anywhere,” Senator Graham told us. “I love it here.” So do we. And remember, there’s always 2008.

P. Diddy Plus 30: The Evolution Of The Celebrity Entourage

P. Diddy Plus 30: The Evolution of the Celebrity Entourage

We couldn’t decide what to do on a recent Sunday evening in South Beach. Too pale for a good entrance at La Piaggia, and too lazy to drive to Fort Lauderdale to see the Princess Di exhibit, we settled on a classic South Florida cultural event, The Source Hip-Hop Awards. That the awards had been held in Miami since 2001 made them “classic” by local standards.

We listen to hip-hop, but our interest in The Source awards was not who won what. We wanted a personal and up-close view of the outrageous preshow parade of microskirts, oversized basketball jerseys accented in 24-karat-gold threads, custom-made Manolo Blahniks, and enough Cavalli and Tommy couture to bring smiles to their companies’ accountants. And don’t forget the bling. Somebody is forcing diamond miners to do serious overtime. Belts, earrings, necklaces, car ornaments, rings, cell phones-is there something onto which you can’t stick a diamond?

There were all the appropriate cars. A Rolls Phantom, still looking hearse-like. A few Bentleys (we personally believe they are an awards curse, as we have never seen a winner arrive in one at the Grammys, Emmys or Oscars). Ubiquitous Escalades and Hummers, mostly tricked out with sound systems that could deprive prisoners at Guantanamo Bay of sleep. But the evening’s highlight was a bright-yellow Lamborghini rumbling up the drive. Cool, we agreed. The driver had the requisite music look (quasi-dreadlocks, oversized jersey, earring the size of a baseball). He drove about halfway up the drive before popping the clutch and sliding back to the start. This went on for an excruciating 10 minutes, with the driver panicking about his inability to drive a stick shift on a quarter-million-dollar car. Arriving guests and fans taunted him.

“Somebody oughta help that boy!” shouted Wycliff Jean, emerging from his own limo. Finally, a cop approached the driver, who sheepishly said he was with the Winans crew.” Winans’ friend let the cop coach him on how to use the clutch. In a few minutes, he was grinding the hell out of the Lamborghini, but it finally lurched away.

At least for that night, it certainly beat looking reverentially at Princess Di’s old shmattes. We later stopped for a drink at one of our favorite Beach bars and told the bartender what we had seen.

It’s not surprising,” he said. ‘The posses that hang around the stars are so amateurish they have totally ruined the idea of an exclusive group of friends who are out for a night with the celebrity. The day of the velvet rope is dying.”

The velvet rope is dying? We live in South Beach, where it almost seems as if no self-respecting restaurant, bar or club could open its doors without one. It is as prevalent as the fire extinguishers required by City code. And the rope was actually mandated by the code of hip, an even less flexible standard.

But the bartender had unwittingly sparked a conversation that we thought was a good story to follow. Trisha had been a regular at Studio 54 in its prime, when it was packed with everyone from Christopher Street leather queens to the cream of New York’s straight club life (okay, South Beach gossipers, don’t even try to guess at Trisha’s age-it was very easy to get into Studio considerably underage, especially if the doorman controlling the velvet rope was your neighbor, as was the case with her. And remember, underage wasn’t really a problem at Studio. Lots of people were openly doing drugs, there was public sex in the balcony and the VIP basement, and enough amyl nitrite was being snorted on the dance floor to revive Dick Cheney in case of another heart attack).

But at least Trisha had the Studio experience, where partners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager (Ian now of the Delano, Shore Club and other local hotspots) literally invented the velvet rope. What had they let loose on the world? And is this its death knell in South Beach as we go into the 2005 season?

One thing is certain: The entourage you’re likely to find attached to a celebrity today is not your father’s posse. It has changed dramatically from the time Frank Sinatra formed it in the 1950s. Before he hit it big, an assortment of rough-edged friends from his early days in Hoboken, New Jersey, went everywhere with him. But once he achieved stardom, Frank’s entourage was other stars. In 1955, in Vegas, after five days of heavy partying with pals Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland and David Niven, Bacall looked at the ragged group and dubbed it the “Rat Pack.” It stuck. After Bogart died, Sinatra brought in Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis, Jr., and the only woman allowed in, Shirley MacLaine.

“Back in the day of the Rat Pack it was more regal and sophisticated,” Sean Saladino, owner of SoBe’s Rok Bar, told us. “But times have changed and clubs have become more commercialized. It’s not as classy as the days of the Rat Pack, and never will be again.”

Over the years, Hollywood stars tried copying the Rat Pack magic. But in the 1960s and 1970s, the entourage seemed passé, as though the Age of Aquarius made it cooler to be on the scene with just a couple of friends instead of a crowd of 20. All that changed with Studio 54. Studio’s velvet rope meant something, and was more than the fancy door decoration that it appears to be at many local clubs. South Beach doormen sometimes waive cover charges and pass out drink tickets to entice customers on slow nights. At Studio, doormen like Mark Benecke – who ran The Shore Club’s SkyBar for a year – prided themselves on turning away whomever they wanted, celebrities included. No bribe could buy your way in.

So the only way to enter for many was to be part of an entourage of a regular. Calvin Klein, Halston, Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli and Andy Warhol had slavishly loyal groups hanging around, and each was unique. Warhol surrounded himself with models, low-level celebrities and some holdouts from his 19605 Factory days. Calvin and Halston were rivals for the prettiest gay boys, each looking more buff than the other. Taking control of a corner of the club, the Studio elite held court encircled by their entourages, and the wannabes tried in vain to break in.

“At Studio, it was all about just getting into the club,” says Rok Bar’s Saladino. ‘They made it so exclusive to get in, that was all people were worried about.”

“Here in South Beach, everyone pretty much got in during the early days,” recalls Tara Solomon, who has been involved with the night scene for more than 15 years and now runs her own successful PR company, Tara, Ink. ‘We all went to the same clubs-Velvet, Club Nu, Joseph’s, Sempers and Warsaw.”

“But South Beach did develop a pick-and-choose velvet-rope policy for a while,” says Gerry Kelly, the Irish-born club impresario who ran a half-dozen venues before his current venture, State. “When I came in ’92 and had Bash, we had a strict velvet rope, and the first two years of Level from ’99 to 2001 we had ‘pick and choose.’ But today in South Beach there is too much supply and not enough demand. Being a nightclub owner is the closest thing to being a rock star, so a lot of investors with extra cash have opened places here. And it’s not just clubs: On a typical weekend night, you have 60 parties to choose from, from a champagne reception for Gucci in Bal Harbour to Ted Baker’s party at Merrick Park to the pool bar at The Shore Club to Mansion to State to whatever. That is why the velvet rope is gone here, really.”

“That is actually a good thing,” says Kurt VanNostrand, the owner of downtown Miami’s hip Pawn Shop. ‘The strict velvet rope involved a lot of attitude and rudeness and you can’t do that forever and not turn customers away. We can fit 600 people into Pawn Shop, and we have a rope, and don’t take the first 600 who arrive each night. But we’re very easygoing. No one is going to be humiliated here.” So if the velvet rope is largely for decoration and no longer the rigid barrier it was during Studio days, what gives a celebrity clubber extra cachet?

“Today, since it’s not about getting in, it’s about how you make the entrance,” says Saladino. “For a lot of young stars, it is all about how important you are, and the size of your entourage is key to that.”

The posse is back in fashion. Some stars think the larger the entourage, the bigger their fame. A few years back, no one in Hollywood was better at mixing it together than Leonardo DiCaprio. He had a frat house of young men, some of whom were famous, like himself, and others like Tobey Maguire, who were just about to break out In Hollywood it was dubbed “the Pussy Posse” for its relentless pursuit of anything in a skirt. And when Leo rented a house in Miami last year, his entourage carried his cash and took care of all expenses, even at clubs and restaurants. But DiCaprio has evidently outgrown his posse.

“Leo will come in with Gisele [Bundchen, his Brazilian supermodel girlfriend] after eating at Nobu,” says Saladino, “and be completely unnoticed. When he was younger he needed a group to show he had made it, but no longer.”

Not everyone outgrows the need to travel with a posse. Gray hair doesn’t stop George Clooney from sometimes moving around with a small army. On being told that Mark Wahlberg -who, like Clooney, has his own large gang-said his posse could kick Clooney’s posse’s collective ass, Clooney said, “That’s true. They could kick our asses. We’re all old men. But we have money. We can buy people who’ll kick his posse’s ass.”

But when it comes to posses, the Hollywood stars have really been left in the dust. The real kings and queens today are rappers and hip-hop stars. Your bling, wheels and clothes might measure you, but your status in the urban world is also marked by the size of your entourage. The beefy security guys in black Prada suits packing Glock 9mm pistols don’t even count. We’re talking groups composed of wannabe rappers, girls who are barely dressed and constantly flashing their new implants, and “friends” from the ‘hood they haven’t seen in 20 years.

“The major difference between celebrities today and 10 years ago,” says State’s Kelly, “is they run in bigger posses. It is a statement from the hip-hop community. They show their wealth by the diamonds, penthouses and cars. Instead of renting a penthouse in a hotel, they will take an entire floor. And instead of arriving in a limo at a club, they arrive in 10 Hummers.”

The Pawn Shop’s VanNostrand has seen urban stars arrive with more than 50 people in tow, in a procession of Escalades. Sometimes the group includes young rappers, people who are hoping that one day they might be famous enough to command their own posse. When 50 Cent was riding the wave of his explosive debut last year, Get Rich or Die Tryin, he was never seen without his G-Unit, which included Lloyd Banks, Young Buck and Tony Yayo. But they weren’t there just to be part of the typical rapper’s entourage; they were in training for their own turns in the spotlight. And hanging out with 50 Cent helped work magic on their careers.

But not everyone can be so lucky as to attach themselves to Paris Hilton’s “babe” squad or get the invite to join the limo with Britney Spears or P. Diddy. And club owners have trouble figuring out where an entourage ends. Sometimes a star such as P. Diddy will hit the front door and his assistant will yell, “P. Diddy and 30.”

“It’s hard to figure out who is with them or not,” says VanNostrand. “Once I had to tell an artist he had too many, and he narrowed it down to 10 and left another 30 outside.”

The future for controlling entourages and the velvet rope might be seen in the hottest club in Barcelona. The Baja Beach Club is using an 8 implantable microchip to identify their VIP members and friends. A small chip the size of a grain of rice is inserted surgically in part of your body, right under the skin. It means you get immediate access to the club and pay for food and drinks without any cash, credit cards or ID. And if you get too stoned or drunk to remember where you are, at least the club can scan your ass and tell you which star you should be hanging out with. Technology saves the entourage.

Fortress America -Will Increased Travel Restrictions Affect South Beach?

Local meteorologists agree South Beach was spared the recent spate of hurricanes that lashed Florida. But they hadn’t ventured out, as we did in a Jeep, during the Saturday-night height of Frances. As we drove along the deserted streets, it was evident that Paris Hilton wannabes and fraternity revelers had both decided not to risk it with a category-four storm. Sheets of rain and screaming winds had closed everything from Mynt to Mango’s.

However, at the intimate bar of the steel-shuttered Hotel St. Augustine, only a couple of blocks from the beach, we found the eclectic group we sought. Owner Fernando Canale and Billy Belack, who runs the bar’s informal salon, were there. Across the room, a muscled Dutch gay couple who wanted a weekend of partying were now reduced to complaining about not leaving for New York a day earlier. Honeymooners from the Midwest were downing lemon shots and moaning about being stranded since their Caribbean cruise had been scuttled. A couple of elegantly dressed, 80-something grande dames from Palm Beach were huddled in a corner, their jewel-encrusted fingers clutching martinis and cigarettes. And five colorful locals, from a British hotel owner straight out of AbFab to an artist who had just finished putting up his own shutters before running inside, rounded out the group.

We plopped into the banquette next to the Dutch couple. As nosy reporters who like to ask a lot of questions, it didn’t take long to find out they were long-time South Beach visitors.

“We haven’t missed a White Party in years,” Erik, a graphic artist, told us. “But we won’t be here starting soon. You are going to lose a lot of us when America starts its biometric program.”

We’ve worked on terrorism stories and vaguely knew what he meant. Biometrics measures biological dimensions: fingerprints, iris scans, hand measurements, gait recognition, typing rhythms and many more personal identifiers that can be encoded and stored on computer chips. It is the technology at the heart of an ambitious $8 billion science-fiction-like program that the Bush administration wants to implement for foreign travelers. Visitors to America, Erik claimed, even weekend partiers, would be required to have passports with digital identifiers.

“He’s right,” chimed in Anton, his partner. “There is no way we are going to give up our privacy to come here. And then we will have to get a visa on top of it. Do you think we’re going to stay in line at the American embassy for five hours so we can come to South Beach? When those rules happen, we, and most of our friends, will go elsewhere.”

Where? ‘We’ll just stay in Europe,” said Erik. ‘We’d rather party in Ibiza than put up with the hassles of biometrics. We’ll miss South Beach. But that’s what your government has done.”

Long after Frances had passed and the St. Augustine’s hurricane party was history, we knew we had stumbled onto a good story. Were the Dutch boys right? Were new post-9/11 security regulations about to inadvertently hurt South Beach’s biggest business, tourism?

What had Erik and Anton’s knickers in such a twist was that after 9/11, relying on new powers in the Patriot Act, the State Department had issued stringent new regulations. The fact is, travelers from 27 countries-including close friends like France, England, Japan, Germany, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, among others-have to present either a “machine-readable” passport or have a visa to get into the country. (If there are two lines of computer code at the bottom of a passport, it is machine-readable-easier said than done, since approximately 50 percent of all French passports, for instance, don’t meet this requirement yet).

Travelers with visas who arrive at an airport or seaport will have to put their index fingers on a glass plate that will scan their biometric identity. A facial photograph will be taken. On leaving the country, visitors will enter an automated self-service kiosk, where they will again scan their travel documents and check their fingerprints on a glass plate. By next year, all passports from those 27 countries will have to include the more intrusive biometric identifiers, probably retinal or iris scans on a microchip.

Such personal information is intended to help track down criminals, suspected terrorists and travelers who overstay visas. It lets customs officers insure the person standing in front of them is the same person described on the visa. Similar rules already cover about 19 million visitors annually from Central and South America, Africa and Asia. But the new regulations expand the strict guidelines to another 13 million travelers, many of whom find the tougher security highly offensive.

And some travel professionals are not quite as convinced as the Bush administration that everything will be smooth sailing. ‘There is widespread concern that confusion and fear about the new rules could keep people away from the U.S.,” says David Ness, a London-based travel agent who specializes in Europeans visiting the States, particularly Florida. There are good reasons to worry. Foreign travelers- especially those from the 27 countries listed by the U.S.-spend more money and take longer trips in the United States on average than Americans do. And in South Beach, a party haven for Europeans and South Americans, some local hospitality businesses worry the regulations could have an impact.

The major concern is the invasion of privacy that so bothered Erik and Anton, the Dutch couple visiting the Beach. “There is a complete lack of any kind of accountability with this,” says Trevor Hennings, deputy director of Statewatch, a British organization that researches privacy issues. ‘There’s no way to know what will be on the chip? And some travelers may react poorly to being fingerprinted. In places such as Brazil, people associate fingerprinting only with criminals.

Moreover, since early last year, U.S. Customs has been recording the name of every person flying into, through and out of the U.S. When the European Commission protested at the time that this violated almost every conceivable European law on data privacy, America agreed to delete information about passengers’ health, race or religion, use the records only for tracking terrorists, and only store it for three and a half years. Still, few foreigners like the idea of their personal information sitting inside US. government files.

For many free-spirited visitors to South Beach, there are additional concerns caused by widely circulated stories making the European gossip circuit. Most are about travelers who had either inadvertently overstayed their visas by a few days due to some emergency or arrived without the right visas and had been jailed. A well-known Australian journalist, en route to do an interview, was jailed for several days and not allowed contact with her family or access to a lawyer after she arrived in the United States without the proper visa. Two prominent Brazilian cardiologists were also jailed when they arrived for a business conference without the right visas.

Beyond the fears of privacy loss, there are more mundane concerns. The fingerprinting and photography could cause delays at American entry ports, clogging immigration lines and delaying flights. The US. says its new rules will add only 15 seconds to the processing time for each foreign traveler, but few in the industry believe such an optimistic estimate.

New technologies such as biometrics almost always run into glitches, and in this case casual visitors to America could be the unintended victims. “It isn’t a magic bullet. It isn’t the 100-percent solution,” says Michael Thieme, a senior consultant for International Biometric Group, a New York-based consulting firm. it doesn’t take plastic surgery for the system to go down [and yield an inaccurate result]. It just takes rudimentary changes-from smiling to frowning, or a different [camera] angle. People will be flagged as terrorists who are not. I’d be stunned if that’s not the case. A lot of things have to be thought through. It’s more complicated than anybody has an idea of.”

And biometrics aside, even things that used to be fairly easy-obtaining a visa, for instance-will not be as simple as pre-9/11. Most visas will necessitate prearranged, face-to-face interviews with U.S. consular officials, usually requiring a special trip for the traveler to the U.S. embassy in the capital city of their own country. In poorer nations, like Argentina, the visa-application fee of more than $100 is expensive, and if the U.S. denies the visa, the money isn’t refundable.

“The test will be, what is the public reaction?” says David O’Connor, U.S. director of the International Air Transport Association, which represents 120 airlines serving the United States. “It may be fairly negative.” “People will think twice about flying to the U.S. if word gets back about how hard it is to enter Fortress America,” adds Simon Evans, CEO of a British-government-funded passenger watchdog group, the Air Transport Users Council.

Will fears of losing privacy, long delays in obtaining visas, and equally long delays at U.S. entry ports take the fun out of spontaneous weekend trips to South Beach? Might foreign bookers for fashion shoots and commercials find Capri or Spain as photogenic as SoBe?

“That has been a worry of mine,” says Fabio Moretti, the Italian-born owner of Contesta Rock Hair on Espanola Way. Fabio; whose clients include some of the top visiting models, also runs a workshop that arranges photo shoots and events in South Beach for European fashion magazines and designers. ‘This is absolutely something that has a lot of people in Europe worried. They are just standing back right now and waiting to see how it all plays out”

But the news for South Beach may not be as glum as it first appears. Myles Chefetz, owner of the hot steak house Prime One Twelve, says it “has not been on our clients’ radar yet” The restaurant is a magnet for many European visitors. ‘The leisure traveler still hasn’t focused on it.”

Rupen Etian, whose local company Ice Productions arranges print and fashion shoots, doesn’t like the new strict rules, but also believes they will not be as damaging to South Beach as some fear. “My European clients don’t make their final decision on where to shoot on any one factor,” he says. “It has more to do with the entire experience. No one is going to like feeling like they are being treated as a criminal at customs, but in the end factors like costs and availability of resources are going to be most important. Miami’s only competition during the winter sea- 204 Ocean Drive son is Cape Town. And we have an advantage, because the talent pool in New York is so close. Miami is still going to be a great draw, even if the travel regulations get people complaining a lot.”

And while the U.S. may have kicked off the biometric and security craze, other governments, mostly European, are embracing similar rules. A German firm is leading the way on iris-recognition technology, while a Finnish company has won contracts to do most of the biometric passports for the European Community. Australia and Japan are likely to have biometrics operating before the U.S., and Germany’s travel rules might even be more restrictive. The days seem numbered for European travelers such as Erik and Anton to merely walk across the border of their neighboring countries without even flashing a passport. For them and others looking for a great time in the sun, skipping South Beach in favor of Ibiza won’t be a good option: It’s going to be just as difficult to travel there as to America.

And then there are some people we spoke to who not only are unfazed by the stricter rules, but actually find them comforting in an odd way. “It’s going to make me feel safer,” says Barbara Goldman, a circuit partier living in London. “I don’t give a toss if they want a picture of my eye.”

Base on Lincoln Road, ranked last year as one of the world’s ten best clothing shops by GQ magazine, is a must-stop for many international travelers because of its unique style. British-born owner Steven Giles has spoken with some of his customers about the upcoming security changes and believes it will not be a long-term problem. “No one really likes it, but we’ll adapt, as people do-who’d have thought even a year or so ago that flying would involve the hazards and wait lines that it does? As of next week, it’s off with all shoes and jackets, and it’s only a matter of time before we are down to our undies. In view of that, an eye scan might be preferable.”