The Insiders' Guide to Ultra: Doing Miami Right
If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people descending upon the city of Miami for Ultra Music Festival next month, it’s likely that you’ll have a little time outside the festival to soak in some of what the city has to offer. Maybe you’ve got a night or two before or after, or you want to chill on the beach to recharge your batteries, or just want to find a unique experience after the mainstage lights go down. It wouldn’t be right to visit a locale with such a varied and robust slate of things to do without at least sampling some of the local flavor.
If you want to spend a couple days experiencing a lifestyle lifted straight out of a rap video, you can do that. If you’d rather treat your vacation as a (relatively) quiet tropical getaway, you can do that too. With a full spectrum of music-related nightlife options, beautiful beaches, and unique cultural flair, you can really get out of your limited time in Miami what you put into it. So get your ass out of that dark hotel room and stamp your trip with some experiences that you can’t get anywhere else.
Probably the number one “Miami-only” experience people want to have when they visit is to see South Beach. Universally known, this man-made strip of sand draws a crowd mixed with locals and vacationers from all over the world. Prepare to hear a dozen different languages and see at least two pot-bellied Russian men with supermodel wives. Beyond the festive atmosphere at the beach, you can lay eyes on a lineup of classic Art Deco-style hotels you would have seen in the likes of Scarface, and grab a fun but overpriced lunch at a sidewalk café. If you happen to be on the Ludacris Travel Plan, hit up Wet Willies for a spiked slushy endorsed by Mr. Bridges himself. Pimpin’ indeed.
And let’s face it: the eye candy is unreal. You will see some of the sexiest cars of your life parked along Ocean Drive, from pristine custom Lambos to well-preserved antique – wait, you want to look at people? Well there’s that too; if you want to see some serious Statue-of-David-lookin’ guys, swing by the outdoor gym in the grassy area between Ocean Drive and the beach. If you’re into girls, well, South Beach has a pretty relaxed approach to topless sunbathing, so there’s that. In either case, just try to keep the creepiness to a minimum – we all know those binoculars aren’t for “watching ships in the distance,” you lecherous bastard.
Looking to escape the noisy and touristy beach scene? Do like the locals do and head to Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, where you can close your eyes and listen to little else but the crashing waves. Just south of the Downtown and Brickell neighborhoods lies the Rickenbacker Causeway, a picturesque, windows-down cruise opportunity that will immediately whisk you by one of the best places to take a picture of the Miami skyline. Once you get to Crandon Park, hit up the southern half of the beach, which is usually less crowded (and by that I mean there will be ten people in sight instead of twenty). The beach itself is dotted with palm trees to chill under, and if you’re feeling adventurous there are coconuts to be harvested. Be warned, the coconut milk tastes like shit and totally isn’t approved by the FDA, but hey, you’re drinking from a coconut on the beach. Things could be worse.
If you want to hit up one nightclub that is so stereotypically “Miami” that you’ll swear you stepped into a music video, LIV’s got you covered. I don’t care how cynical you are, the first time anyone steps into the lobby of the Fontainebleau hotel they’re bound to stop in their tracks to take it all in. If you’re the type of person that’s unfazed by a little bit of pretention here and there, LIV is as enjoyable a one-off spectacle as there is in nightlife. To avoid having to posture at the door, go on a night they’re hosting a ticketed event (which will be every night leading up to and during the festival for WMC/MMW), show up early (“Miami early” = midnight) and well-dressed, with ticket in hand, and you’ll get right in hassle-free.
Other similar “South Beach on steroids” options include Story, Mansion, Cameo, Wall, Bamboo, and SET, with Story being the leader of the pack for its willingness to bring in more underground names despite its recent multi-million dollar renovation. The final three don’t have much dancing space and can be royal pains in the ass to get into, so I can’t recommend them in good conscience as more than last resort options.
There’s more to Miami nightlife than the usual suspects down on South Beach. Tucked away near the more heavily trafficked Mokai lounge, Treehouse offers a more laidback, music-centric experience than elsewhere on Miami Beach. If Link & Miami Rebels (the same group responsible for Story’s successful “Underground Story” nights and the UMF stage of the same name) are throwing the party, you’re almost guaranteed a set to satisfy even the most hardcore house fan. Heading over the causeway to Downtown, the legendary Club Space toes the line between catering to partiers and music fans. The downstairs dancefloor will usually provide your typical “EDM hits mixed with hip hop”-type atmosphere, while heading upstairs to the “Techno Loft” grants your ears access to pure techno grooves. The headliner of the night will usually be found out on “The Terrace,” a semi-open air environment that has been known to rage til sunrise and beyond (peep the insanity below).
For a completely no-frills, all-dance experience, hit up Grand Central, a few blocks northwest of Bayfront Park. This warehouse-esque venue is always a good time and consistently brings in some of the best “barely below the surface” artists, with upcoming shows including Toro y Moi, Kaytranada, Flux Pavilion, Griz, Flume – and the Wednesday before Ultra: Boys Noize, Zeds Dead, RL Grime, and What So Not. Toss on a t-shirt and jeans (girls, leave the heels at home), and tear it up. Well not to Toro y Moi, but you get the drift.
For Miami’s answer to Brooklyn and Silver Lake, stop by the up-and-coming Wynwood neighborhood. Wynwood is still in its infancy as a popular nightlife spot, but most of its regulars like it that way. If you’re craving some real deep sounds, drop by The Electric Pickle or Bardot. For those who put stock in the DJ Mag rankings, the latest edition places “The Pickle” as Miami’s highest ranked nightclub, coming in at 59th in the world. Bardot also plays host to the hip hop flavor too – Slum Village, Lunice, and The Hood Internet will all be stopping by in the coming weeks.
I’ll give you one guess as to how “Club 50” got its name. Overlooking the city from atop the Viceroy Hotel, the recently renamed Fifty Ultra Lounge is located in the upscale Brickell neighborhood just south of Downtown. After the elevator rockets you to the fiftieth story, popping your ears to get you sufficiently disoriented, stroll out to take in one of the more spectacular views of the city. If fifty stories are simply too much for you, the pool-deck at the Epic hotel, located near Bayfront Park at the mouth of the Miami River, affords yet another dazzling view of the downtown skyscrapers.
After all the raging, you might be inclined to step things down a notch – but staying in is still out of the question. In that case, take a quick jaunt up to The Broken Shaken. Located in the backyard of The Freehand hostel in Miami Beach (which will undoubtedly fill up with UMF partiers), you can sit around a poolside table like civilized folk and sample from a rotating menu of expertly crafted cocktails, with even better names. “Nobody F*cks With Jesus” being my personal favorite.
Tobacco Road has been a downtown Miami staple for over one hundred years. Let that sink in. The place even went strong during The Prohibition as a speakeasy. Personally, I like my historical tourism with a hefty dose of alcohol, and Tobacco Road satiates both those desires to the fullest. This is a dive bar’s dive bar, located in Brickell just over the bridge from Bayfront Park. If you’re looking to take a break from all the neon this is your spot.
It’s late, you’ve got the drunchies, but now is not the time to cave in and hit up Micky D’s. Conveniently located a brief stumble from Tobacco Road, La Moon will allow you and your friends to sit outside and regain all those calories you shed dancing, and then some. Two words: “Chuzo. Desgranado.” Like some sort of Harry Potter spell, all you have to do is utter that phrase and minutes later a heaping plate of steak, chicken, and bacon, covered in melted cheese, will magically appear in front of your eyes.
Panther Coffee. That is all.
In Part One of our Insiders’ Guide To Ultra, I suggested stuffing your suitcase with cereal and snacks to avoid groceries and pricy meals out while on your trip. To those of you who extended two defiant middle fingers at that statement, I’ve got your spot. While Smith & Wollensky can be found in a few other American cities, I’d hazard a guess that none of them can match the ambiance of the Miami Beach edition. Situated right on the water about as far south as South Beach goes, this top tier steakhouse will afford you a hell of a view of both the skyline and the sea while you pick apart one of the best steaks you’ve ever eaten. Bonus points if the guy at the neighboring table asks you if “this Dyro you’re talking about” is a hot new tech company.
That’s completely your right, take it easy. If you’re even slightly outgoing, you’re bound to make some buddies at the festival, in your hotel lobby, or in the crowd walking to and from the festival. Oftentimes “the more the merrier” applies – combine forces and see where the night (or day) takes you! Balance getting a little rest here and there with some exploration and you’ll be sure to be heading home with a smile on your face.
You may have noticed I avoided the specifics of Winter Music Conference/Miami Music Week. You may be confused, even upset with me – but don’t you worry. We’re going to break it all down for you in the next edition of the Insiders’ Guide To Ultra, complete with our surefire bets for the best sets outside the festival, and which parties you absolutely can’t miss lest you spend the remainder of the year with crippling FOMO symptoms. God I thought I’d never use that acronym.
Less than forty days, Ultranauts. Til next time!