Miami's South Beach: Boys, bikinis, sun, sand and sex
Art Deco elegance provides the perfect frosting for SoBe's moreish cake of glam, glitz and hedonistic silliness
You know that image you’ve got in your head when you think of Miami? Sun, sand, bright, shiny sports cars and Margheritas so big they have a gravitational force of their own? Yup, it really is like that.
It’s not often a city lives up to expectations, but Florida’s southeastern metropolis really does do what it says on the tin.
Sure, there may be more culture in a pot of yoghurt, but why would you want to shuffle round a stuffy old museum when you’ve got seemingly endless shimmering white sand, hundreds of bars, clubs and restaurants and more flesh on display than a butcher’s window.
However, don’t mistake its glamorous veneer for pretentiousness, snobbery or arrogance. Like an enormous fancy dress party, the glitz is just an elaborate costume people are wearing for fun and everyone, locals and tourists alike, are invited to the ball.
South Beach, or SoBe for short, is the epicenter of the city’s hedonistic soup of Latin passion, American excess, Caribbean carefreeness and cocktail happy hours.
It is also the place to find most of Miami’s historic Art Deco architecture.
With pink, green, blue and yellow pastel colors, the buildings lining the streets of SoBe look like the delicious frosting on a rich, moreish cake which is best enjoyed with a mojito in one hand and a half naked Cuban in the other.
Sightseeing can safely be substituted for people watching. From tanned muscle boys pumping iron on the beach, girls in Day-Glo bikinis, leather-skinned hippies squinting in the sun and bling, high-heeled glamor pusses using Ocean Drive as their own personal catwalk, anything goes and nothing is too fabulous.
The melting pot of people and cultures means SoBe has become a Mecca for the city’s LGBT community.
After decades of economic and social decline, an influx of gay men and lesbians moving to SoBe in the late-1980s to mid-1990s helped contribute to the Miami Beach area’s revitalization.
The newcomers purchased and restored dilapidated Art Deco hotels and clubs, started numerous businesses, and built political power in city and county government.
While there have been occasional clashes, leading to questions being asked about Miami’s gay friendly status, Lords Hotel in the heart of South Beach is still proud to be a home from home for the queer tourist.
Selling itself as an ‘appropriately oriented hotel’, Lords perfectly embodies both the area’s sexy dynamism and quirky eccentricity.
From the giant nine-foot polar bear sculpture clutching a real beach ball in the reception and the glimmering gold Cha Cha Rooster bar to the garish yellow striped rooms with pop art photo prints of Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra, the hotel looks like a cross between Liberace’s batchelor pad and Andy Warhol’s beach hut.
A pair of shades or an expert control of one’s gag reflex is usually required to protect yourself from the assault on your eyes and stomach.
Anywhere else in the world it would be tacky, but somehow here it seems strangely tame and tasteful.
Its plush rooms feature all mod-cons, with beds even the fussiest of queens will struggle to get out of in the morning.
But no matter how tempting an early night may be, South Beach only really comes alive after dark, when Ocean Drive is transformed into a dizzying circus of beautiful things shamelessly flaunting their stuff, thirsty bar-hoppers looking for the next big party and wealthy socialites sipping on cocktails bigger than their purses.
The gay scene is equally exuberant, with the infamous Twist in Washington Avenue still the ultimate place to dance until dawn, even 18 years since it first opened.
With seven bars under one roof, no matter how sultry it is outside, Twist will get you hotter.
A dip in one of Lords’ three plunge pools, however, will cool you off before bed.
Alternatively head to the beach for sunrise and watch SoBe’s locals slowly wake up by taking a topless run along the waterfront or practice pull-ups in the outdoor gym.
South Beach may wear its sex appeal clearly on its sleeve, but it’s not without a knowing wink and a tongue firmly placed in a golden tanned cheek.
So when Miami flirts with you, the only sensible thing to do is buy it a cocktail and hop into bed with it.
Lords Hotel in Collins avenue, South Beach, is the first gay boutique hotel brand in America and describes itself as a ‘quantum leap’ in LGBT travel.
Bright, beachy yellows and blues adorn the plush, comfortable rooms, while a bit of SoBe glamor is injected into the hotel’s glimmering gold Cha Cha Rooster bar and restaurant.
Three 24-hour pools mean you can take a cheeky dip any time of the day and any air of pretention is thankfully wafted away by the friendly, fun and down to earth staff, who are more than happy to help you find the best party, the coolest shop or tastiest bite to eat.
Free membership at Equinox gym a couple of blocks away also means you can give those body beautifuls on the beach a run for their money.
With plenty of special room rates on offer on the hotel’s website, it means you’ll have plenty of cash to splurge on cocktails and grub in the bar and restaurant.