Making memories in Miami, starting at The Julia Hotel

Thu. October 12, 2017 12:00 AM
by Ross Forman

A rainbow of colors brought wide-ranging emotions during an October visit here to this hot and humid city alongside the Atlantic Ocean.

Let's start at the corner of 12th and Ocean Drive, where the intersection features four multi-colored crosswalks, something always eye-catching. (The colorful intersection, mind you, always makes me wonder why we don't see something similar in Chicago, perhaps at Roscoe and Halsted Streets, as many claim that to be the heart of Boystown.)

Anyway, back to Miami and its colorful corner – with the beach a 30-second walk away. The northwest corner features a memory-filled, yet boarded-up building. This was where The Palace Bar stood, with its near-three decades of history serving the LGBT community and beyond. The Palace Bar on South Beach closed this past summer.

Thomas Donell bought the popular Ocean Drive location nine years ago, but Palace had already been open 20 years before Donnell acquired Palace.

The Palace closed because the entire building requires a major renovation, according to the owner of the building. Donnell, meanwhile, is looking for a new location.

And he wants the new Palace to include a hotel and restaurant, and still stand on Ocean Drive.

(Anyone looking for updates on Palace can text 'PALACE' to 64600 for the latest.)

Let's now jaunt over to Miami's Wynwood neighborhood, which truly overflows with vibrant color-filled artwork, restaurants, breweries, and more. The area formerly was an industrial district, and now most of the area is highlighted by colorful murals that cover the walls of many of the buildings.

The Wynwood Art District is a popular destination, and one of the best ways to see, learn and taste this part of town is via the Miami Culinary Tour (www.miamiculinarytours.com), where you can sample multiple restaurants while learning all about one of the largest open-air street art collections in the world.

My October tour, led by Marie Perea, was about a three-hour experience that included ceviche, an empanada, key lime pie, and more. I'll admit, I had no clue what to expect as we drove to Wynwood. By the time I returned to The Julia Hotel in Miami Beach, my belly was full, my brain was expanded with art intake and knowledge, and my cell phone battery was drained from selfies and mural pics.

Wynwood is a must-visit and I'd strongly suggest Miami Culinary Tours, which also offers South Beach, Little Havana and Miami City Food Tours.

I'd also suggest visits to The Julia, a recently-renovated 29-room, adults-only boutique hotel located in Miami's South of Fifth neighborhood, also known as SOFI.

Creative art mixed with modern and trendy bring The Julia to life, coupled with a bright, spacious lobby, where complimentary continental breakfast plus wine and cheese are served during a traditional evening happy hour.

The Julia is named after Miami founder Julia Tuttle and is built on the foundations of a former hotel built in 1932. The lobby features Cuban tile flooring, comfortable couches, plus Turkish pillows and throws – a throwback to the 1930s. Electrical outlets at the base of the couch area are a nice touch in today's my-phone-needs-charging era.

Seattle-based architect/interior designer Stephen Busto brought his vision to life at The Julia – and was happy to tell his tale at the property when I visited, such as, the portrait pictures in the lobby area half obscured by a large gray stripe that bisects the walls. The stripe, er, line, represents a time-line, he said.

The Julia features five two-story "Ibis" bedrooms, with large, paper-cut multi-butterfly art installations that hang from the vaulted ceilings in multiple colors.

My butterflies were pink.

Also during my trip here:

- There is Sunrise Beach Yoga at 3rd Street Beach, which is a seven-minute walk from The Julia, and though I'm not a big fan of yoga, I wanted to give it a go. Hey, it was on the beach, and I could always snap a few selfies, some sunrise pics and more. But, after overnight rain, plus early-morning drizzle, no one else showed up. Yoga was cancelled.

- Brickell City Centre is a three-level area, filled with high-end shopping, dining and more, including a 107,000 square-foot, ultra-modern Saks Fifth Avenue. Sorry, BCC, I wasn't sold on you. I wish the Zara store was open, but it wasn't. Forget about grabbing a cup of coffee and charging your phone; options were limited. And when I went to Santa Fe News & Expresso, outlets were rare, though I did score one, and the prices for coffee and a small, pre-packaged cookie were outlandish. Thankfully this was my only negative experience during my visit. Well, other than American Airlines losing my luggage en route from Chicago. I checked my bags with the American ticket counter representative just over two hours before my Chicago-to-Miami flight was scheduled to depart, Of course I arrived in Miami at about 12 noon, yet my luggage was no-where to be found. Ironically, the American agent said my bag had, in fact, made it to Miami, but no one knew where it was. American finally delivered by luggage to The Julia at about 10:30 p.m. Frustrating, but at least I had clean clothes.

- Instead of shopping at BCC, I preferred the stores a five-minute walk away from The Julia along Collins Avenue, including Zara, Armani Exchange and Adidas, among others. H&M also is nearby.

- Visit Lummus Park, which is an easy 15-minute from The Julia, starting at about 10th Street and Ocean Drive. Lummus Park is a perfect place to jog along the beach or simply people-watch. And hey, there's bound to be plenty of muscle-clad eye-candy. Lummus Park is pure South Beach, spanning about eight blocks.

- Must Try: Cibo Wine Bar—South Beach (200 S. Pointe Drive; 305-987-6060). Created by Liberty Entertainment Group, this Italian restaurant has so many tasty dishes. Even those who aren't too keen on pasta, such as myself, there's plenty to try. And I'll admit, the pasta that I tried was great. But it's the wine that steals the show at Cibo, which houses 3,500 bottles of wine inside an amazing, two-story, award-winning wine room equipped with a harnessed wine angel to retrieve your favorite bottle. Watching her graciously grab wine was entertainment alone. Eggplant options were terrific. Save room for dessert.

- Big Pink Restaurant (157 Collins Avenue; 305-531-0888) was a breakfast stop during my visit, and I certainly did not leave hungry. In fact, I couldn't finish the omelet which had more avocado than I could have imagined. Portions are really big at Big Pink, even the coffee cup seems super-sized. The waiter was attentive and friendly. Heard praise for Big Pink's Chicken Waffle and more.

- Must Visit: The Phillip Frost Museum, which opened this past May in downtown Miami. The super-cool spot is a science museum, planetarium, and aquarium all in one. Originally located in Coconut Grove, the museum relocated to Museum Park, adjacent to the Perez Art Museum Miami. Phillip and Patricia Frost donated $35 million to the construction of a new science museum in their native Miami, and the 250,000 square-foot Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science is an instant-WOW! After all, the museum includes the Frost Planetarium, a 250-seat incredible theatre, and so much more. Arguably the highlight of the Frost Museum, at least my favorite part, is the three-story, cone-shaped, 500,000-gallon aquarium with a 31-foot diameter oculus lens at the bottom for viewing the fish and sharks. The museum offers insight on the solar system, the physics of flight, light and lasers, the biology of the human body and mind, and more. As the museum's vision states, "The universe is astounding. We see science as a pathway to understand its wonder, to facing its challenges and navigating a sustainable future. Our vision is to create compelling STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) that inspires learning and innovation and enables people to explore real, rigorous science." So impressed, can wait to return.