Coolest Block in Miami: The Brickell District
By Janet K. Keeler
You just might be a Brickellista if you hang out in Miami’s newly minted hot spot. And those lucky enough to live in one of the sky-scraping condo/apartment buildings already know what fun-seekers are discovering. Brickell is a walkable chunk of cool.
Where else can you get a haircut at 9 p.m. by a stylist who looks like she just stepped off the stage at the Moulin Rouge? Razzledazzle Barbershop in Mary Brickell Village is open until 10 p.m. Get coiffed and then get out there. It’s Miami and 10 p.m. is early. And where else would the state’s largest grocery store chain have a walkup window, where early morning folks can get their strong café con leche as a walkup call?
It wasn’t long ago that Miami’s financial district south of the Miami River and bordering Biscayne Bay was a nighttime ghost town. Young professionals fled the area for more exciting environs to have their after-work drinks. Today, there’s hardly any reason to leave the neighborhood, unless it’s to avoid the construction. This is a district still in transition. That’s how hot it is.
Visitors can book a room in some plush hotels, among them the W and Conrad, which both have amazing rooftop bars. Find your way there at sunset even if you’re not staying the night. (Note that this is the big city and valet parking at Conrad will set you back $40 plus.) There’s a Hampton Inn in the thick of things that’s a little easier on the wallet and within walking distance of those rooftops bars and plenty of other things to do. Around the corner from the Hampton, acclaimed chef and humanitarian Jose Andres serves Maine lobster croquettes, molecular gastronomic “liquid olives” and a SpongeBob SquarePants-inspired dessert called “Who Lives in a Pineapple Under The Sea?” at Bazaar Mar. This dessert is Andres’ spin on raspado, a Mexican version of a snow cone.
By day and into early evening, the Brickell City Centre draws shoppers to its upscale stores, among them Saks Fifth Avenue, Chopard, Emporio Armani and Kendra Scott. A walkway extends over South Miami Avenue to link the multi-story shopping complex, complete with underground parking. Stop on the walkway and look north at the high rises on the other side of the river. Shopping with a view is just one of the perks. This is the place to head if you need something swanky to wear at night. And it’s Miami, so swanky may also mean skimpy. The heat does that to a reveler.
Also at the Brickell City Centre is La Centralle, an Italian food hall with 14 vendors serving food and drink. La Centralle also has cooking classes (Risotto 101! Pasta workshops! Iconic Italian cocktails!) for adults plus cooking camps for children, something to consider for a respite from the Miami sizzle.
La Centralle isn’t the only food hall in Brickell. Diners can enjoy the bounty from 10 different stations at Casa Tua Cucina. Among the offerings is strong coffee for the morning crowd and charcuterie, lasagna and margarita pizza any other time of the day. Of course, there are cocktails. The 300-seat food hall is an offshoot of the sophisticated eat and drink spot Casa Tua Restaurant on Miami Beach.
Just a few blocks south of the Brickell Centre is Mary Brickell Village, named after the matriarch of one of the families that founded Miami in the late 1800s and where you will find Razzledazzle Barbershop. How did Mrs. Brickell get to South Florida from Cleveland even before air conditioning brought the masses? Just like so many transplants that came after her, she was tired of the snowy, dreary weather up north. The tropical breezes and exotic flora beckoned.
Mary Brickell Village is a tangle of shops, restaurants and drinking establishments, some with live music. It’s a bit more downscale than the Brickell Centre but it many feels more Miami because the tropical weather permeates the outdoor complex.
Young couples prowl the shops at night, hanging onto each other in that way that young lovers do. Upstairs at the Blue Martini, a live band sings hot tunes and red velvet stanchions keep the line orderly. Not to worry, though, everybody gets in, especially if they’re ready to throw their hands up in the air as the lead singer demands.
A favorite spot for young and a wee bit older is the curiously named restaurant and lounge Dolores But You Can Call Me Lolita across the street from Mary Brickell. Upstairs, that would be the Dolores part, is a lushly appointed restaurant with outdoor and indoor dining. The dimly lit dining room has romantic window tables and bigger tables for larger groups.
That’s the thing about Miami. You can hardly go to any restaurant without spying a family gathering that includes people of all ages. The menu, like the city itself, is a fusion of flavors that meld beautifully. Don’t leave without sampling the corn bread accompanied with an ice cream scoop of butter melting into the warm Southern treat served in a cast-iron skillet. Gazpacho is tasty, too, as is the porcini mushroom tortellini.
Head downstairs to Lolita and you will see how Brickell has transformed from sleepy hollow to boom-chicka-boom-chicka hangout. The outdoor seating area is full of young people toasting the good life. TVs show the sporting event of the day and often that is soccer. Sometimes the TVs compete with DJs and dancing. Waiters deliver order after order of Southern California tacos to the low lounge tables.
As patrons wait to get seated, they look up at the giant apartment complex being built across the street (rents start in this area in the low $2,000s and climb quickly) and the glittering high rises across the river. Dolores But You Can Call Me Lolita bridges the gap between old and new Miami. It’s just two stories and lives in an updated 1923 Mediterranean Revival style building. In the 1920s, it was the site of Miami’s fire station No. 4.
There’s really not much 1920s about Dolores/Lolita or Miami’s hot and hip Brickell district these days. Except for maybe the roaring part.