When 30-something mom Myra Doyle jetted to this Florida hot spot for a reunion with three high school friends, they "wanted to do what South Beach people do." But they had a rule: "There are four of us here and we have 11 kids among us. We want to be in bed by midnight."
Not a problem.
South Beach may best be known for sun-drenched days and sizzling late-night action, but visitors can still find plenty to do between sundown and the witching hour.
Myra and her girlfriends joined nearly 90 people on the packed dance floor above a popular SoBe restaurant for salsa lessons. Most dancers were beginners like Myra, learning the basic "left-two-three, right-two-three" steps. But after two hours of training (and drinks from the bar downstairs), beginners and experts got to mingle and mambo well before midnight.
If you don't feel like dancing, you'll have plenty of other entertainment options. And, as locals know, there are advantages to hitting South Beach hangouts before they're teeming with night owls. You can get a seat and, at some places, a deal.
We've narrowed the list―and if you time your night just right, you'll never catch yourself yawning.
• Hit Lario's on the Beach, singer Gloria Estefan's restaurant, where the food is great and the live Latin music and dancing―starting at 8 p.m. on weekends―is even better.
Lario's on the Beach; 305/532-9577.
• Grab a table at Finnegan's 2, a bar on Lincoln Road that features live rock bands and the comfortable feel of a neighborhood pub. Play some pool, have a cocktail or three, then wind up your evening at Touch to feast in an atmosphere where Buck Rogers meets Arabian Nights. Highlights include live Latin jazz, wandering fire-eaters, and belly dancers. Plus, the food is excellent. Get to Touch early on Thursdays for free cocktails between 7 and 9 p.m.
Finnegan's 2; 305/538-7997. Touch; 305/532-8003 or touchrestaurant.com.
• Sample from an eclectic menu at Van Dyke Cafe (with choices from mahi mahi to meatloaf), then climb the steps for Latin jazz or world music at Upstairs at Van Dyke, seven days a week beginning at 9 p.m. It's inviting and soothing, with soft lights and slow-turning ceiling fans. The iridescent white marble bar glows softly, like a seashell lit from within.
Van Dyke Cafe (305/532-1233) and Upstairs at Van Dyke (305/534-3600); thevandykecafe.com.
• Take a two-hour salsa lesson starting at 8:15 on Fridays and Sundays from Salsa Mía dance teachers at the Yuca Lounge, upstairs from Yuca (as in, Young Urban Cuban-Americans) Restaurant. Come early, have dinner, then show off your moves. On Friday nights the party goes till 2:30 a.m., but you don't have to. Lessons and dancing cost $18 and up per person.
• Head to Tapas & Tintos for authentic Spanish tapas in a traditional setting. You'll find small wooden tables and lots of real flamenco lovers sharing dedos del diablo (shrimp stuffed with serrano ham), chorizo sausage, and Spanish-style deep-dish omelets. Quench your thirst with pitchers of sangria or bottles of rich red wine while the area's best flamenco guitarists and dancers pound out the sexy courtship ritual. For a taste of Argentina, take a tango lesson on Monday nights at 8:30.
Tapas & Tintos; 305/538-8272 or tapasytintos.com.
• Stop by Sagamore, the Art Hotel, to see one of the finest contemporary art collections in the region, with rotating exhibits of sculptures, paintings, and photographs. The art starts at the front door and sweeps throughout the minimalist hotel's restaurant, lobby, and bars―all the way to the beach. Don't miss the Art Video Garden, where you can view international productions.
Sagamore, the Art Hotel; 305/535-8088 or sagamorehotel.com.
• Enjoy a cocktail at one of these posh spots and channel your inner Audrey Hepburn. In the Delano, a 1947 hotel, Blue Door offers delicate sophistication, with sheer white curtains and sweeping leather banquettes that arc like crescent moons. Or try Table 8, which features a lounge beneath a glass-bottom pool. It has polished tree-trunk tables and beds for seats, and it opens out onto bamboo gardens. Finally, there's The Shore Club. Stroll through the maze of gardens to its open-air Skybar, with richly brocaded Asian furnishings, including a wrought iron four-poster bed surrounded by gauzy curtains.
From the September 2008 issue