We emerge into a distinctly Miami evening, shimmering in its pistachio and lemon color palette. A sweet waft from the bougainvillea lining the streets rides happily on the air with pungent garlic aromas, an almost constant thumping of bass notes from cars and bistros; trails of rich, brewing coffee; and a mixture of sunscreen and perfume.
Just down the street, the activity is still mild at the 24-hour 11th Street Diner, a 1948 art deco dining car that serves as a comfort-food stop for Miami's late-night partiers. Two sunburned thirty-somethings with small children are tucked into a booth next to four leathered, tattooed, and pierced young men preparing to launch into the sultry Miami night.
Maddy, a chocolate milk shake connoisseur, has come to sample the diner's "Best of Miami" shake (it registers only a so-so on the Maddy Meter). She also tackles an enormous chili cheese dog. The rest of us fall prey to steak, eggs, a hamburger, and the excellent people-watching. As we stroll the couple of blocks home, the city's throngs are just warming up fresh legs for a long night out.
The next morning, we eschew our hotel's complimentary continental breakfast, instead splurging at a personal favorite, the News Cafe. The NC is chameleonlike, changing its personality many times during its 24-hour cycle. At 9 a.m., it is in its sun-kissed, laid-back mode; Bach drifts in the background as patrons munch on eggs and smoked salmon or platters of fruit, Brie, and Swiss.
Our waiter, Michael, is one of many New York transplants, trading 14 years at a Big Apple institution, Elaine's, for this South Beach standard a couple of years ago. "I love it out of the cold," he says, beaming. He suggests we check out Española Way, a South American-influenced block between Fifteenth and Sixteenth streets. "Al Capone once owned the Clay Hotel there."
Even this early in the day, some of Miami's sleek and fashionable saunter before us along Ocean Drive, the city's silvery sand beckoning on our left and its awakening art deco sidewalk cafés and outrageous boutiques on our right.