When local businesses aren't catering to famous people -- or bragging about them -- they do some pretty impressive things.
At Barton G., that takes the form of incredible drinks and dishes, all wacky and outrageously over the top. Start with a steaming Classic Nitro- tini ($24), alcohol frozen with liquid nitrogen to give it an extra kick; move on to Sashimi Snow Cones, icy cones filled with a tuna and salmon appetizer ($18); then try the Sea Monster, 2 pounds of lobster tail served from a table top sea monster ($125). The bill is as over-the-top as the menu, but you probably won't see this presentation anywhere else.
Another tourist pleaser can be found at the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, a midcentury beauty near the heart of SoBe. Here the gimmick walks the beach -- a tanning butler who will get your back, making sure you don't burn. Or perhaps your sunglasses just need to be cleaned. He'll take care of that too. And look good doing it.
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As I toured the area, I came to appreciate Michelle's words of wisdom: People here work hard on their image, tanning butlers included. I'd pretended not to care when she told me about the Miami Nice dress code. But I realized I'd been secretly shopping ever since and finding prices too high. I was worried about the late-night part of this assignment. I couldn't write about SoBe without going club-hopping in search of stars -- or at least tourists who want to live like stars. What was I going to wear?
Then someone suggested C. Madeleine's, a vintage-clothing shop that has been called the region's best-kept secret. So I drove about half an hour to the North Miami business (13702 Biscayne Blvd.,  945-7770, www.cmadeleines.com). I've seen smaller department stores.
Owner Madeleine Kirsh unwound herself from a yoga position and gave me a tour of her 10,000-square-foot shop packed with designer goods from the Victorian era through the '90s.
"You just missed Michael Kors," she said of the designer. "He was here for five hours yesterday."
Kirsh, who opened the store more than a decade ago, said that designers often ask to look at her vintage finds for inspiration. She also sees rock stars and other celebs looking for clothes for clubbing.
I perked up. This might work for me, I thought.
Then I looked at the prices. A 1965 Pedro Rodriguez strapless dress with a matching coat cost $25,000, and a 1956 Dior dress with a brocade jacket was priced at $9,000. Other things were less, but still pricey. Kirsh and crew suggested I try an '80s cocktail dress and jacket. It looked great, but not for $650.
When I hit the clubs that evening, I wore jeans, a nondescript top and comfortable shoes. Michelle was right. People looked twice at me, and not in a good way, if you know what I mean.
My two-night clubbing itinerary took me first to Mango's Tropical Cafe, a colorful bar on Ocean, where servers -- male and female -- take turns dancing atop the bar, to the delight of tourists, the club's mainstay.
I moved on to Cameo, Set, the Fifth and Mansion, all of which draw a combination of locals, tourists and celebs. They had similarities: a hectic scene outside as potential patrons pushed up against velvet ropes trying to gain admittance; colorful lighting and crowded dance floors; and sound systems that could move the Everglades.
At Cameo, I learned of Janet Jackson's visit.
"She sat here and drank Cokes all night," a bartender said.
"Too bad you missed her."