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Seeking the real vintage side of Miami Beach

There aren’t too many places in the world that get mistaken for Miami Beach. It’s not the beach itself — there are plenty of those around. It’s the distinctive Art Deco buildings and, just as indicative, the brilliant color schemes that seem to make 1920s to 1940s architecture seem more, well, Caribbean. But for all the old-timey vibe, it’s actually kind of difficult to find authentic vintage experiences in a beach town that’s become defined by uber-luxury nightlife and hotels. Not impossible, however. Visitors can still take a dip in Miami Beach’s bygone era in a day, and what follows is one way to do it.

The pool at the Raleigh Miami Beach hotel maintains its old-time feel, but with modern amenities.

Tortoise shells on the wall above the bar in the lobby of the Tides hotel.

Mac’s Club Deuce, which claims to be the oldest bar in all of Miami.

Exploring the town


Grab the breakfast special at the News Cafe; it isn’t particularly vintage, although the low-key sidewalk cafe has been around since 1988, which makes it a good bit older than most cafes in this of-the-moment dining scene. Good people-watching, especially on a weekend. From there, head to the Art Deco Museum to take the 10:30 a.m. walking tour of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District. Leaders on the 90-minute tour (adults, $25) explain and point out examples of Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and Miami Modern (MiMo) styles in the district.


If the tour ends back at the Art Deco Museum, take a little time to explore, if only to learn some of the broader history of Miami Beach. Grab a sandwich or picnic supplies from one of the delis or cafes on Collins Avenue and spend time on the sandy side of Ocean Drive. After lunch, walk over to the Tides, a 1930s-era Art Deco hotel with modern rooms, but where the lobby and lobby bar appear not to have significantly changed since just after World War II. (Above the bar is an extensive collection of turtle and tortoise shells, a reminder of earlier times.) Order an Aviator cocktail and lounge in the vintage seating. Use the restroom. You have to see it to understand.


If you think the opulence, even that of a bygone era, is changing you (or melting your credit card), walk a few blocks over to Mac’s Club Deuce, widely claimed to be the oldest bar in all Miami — and seen as the antithesis of everything else in Miami Beach. A serious dive bar with cold drinks and a hot jukebox, Club Deuce is a haven for locals (tip: Avoid taking a lot of selfies or pictures of your cocktail). Ask about the neon mermaid above the winding, curving bar. From here, find your way to the Raleigh Miami Beach, another pre-1940s hotel with flashes of contemporary style, where the pool maintains its original old-school feel, but with modern amenities.


On the way out of the Raleigh, stop at the Martini Bar, if only to soak up impeccably re-created decor and design from when the “Mad Men” characters were still in high school. Catch a ride or the local shuttle down to the south end, and get a table at Joe’s Stone Crab. Sure, it’s a local cliche and a tourist magnet, but it also qualifies for vintage — when it opened, Joe’s was the only restaurant in Miami Beach. Indulge in some stone crab and call it a day.

 -Spud Hilton, Travel Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle

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