MIAMI —A cool ocean breeze cut the day's humidity. Dresses up to there in hot pink sequins and acid yellows colored the sidewalks. It was around midnight on a Thursday in Miami's South Beach neighborhood, and the evening was just getting started.
I was in town for a couple days in February and was determined to have a "real" Miami night life experience — whatever that meant. The clubs here are more intimate than those in L.A. or Las Vegas, with some bars nothing more than a DJ, lights and liquor in a small box-like room.
I was pleasantly surprised to find newer bars that specialize in artisan cocktails and take pride in not having someone sift through the crowd at the door. There were too many choices for there to be a "scene" at any of them, and depending on your mood and whom you wanted to meet, there was something for everyone. It was a blur of neon lights, vodka sodas and exhausted ear drums. Here's a rundown of a weekend nightclub blitz:
Vibe: It's a high-energy, ultra-small slice of New York City tucked inside the James Royal Palm Hotel. Cocktail servers dressed in tasteful lingerie weave through the dance floor with strong drinks, and lights spin with the music to illuminate corners of the room for seconds at a time. People pool in the sunken dance floor while observers around the perimeter lean in and bob their heads.
Overheard: Aggressive dance-inducing electronica.
Crowd: Newly opened but already a hot spot with locals, international travelers and visiting New Yorkers. A diverse mix of well-dressed young men in slacks and girls in cocktail dresses rub elbows with dancing queens in minis.
Highlights: Raised wall panels are covered with X-ray film of broken bones, and if you look up, you can see your reflection in the gold mirrored ceiling.
Conclusion: An intimate club with all the necessities, and a good alternative to bigger venues. Fine for a special occasion or to dust off your dancing shoes and let loose.
Info: 1545 Collins Ave.; (786) 224-7201, http://www.emmgroupinc.com. Open nightly 11 p.m.-4 a.m. Drinks $14-$20.
Vibe: Boho chic. The outdoor space is filled with mix-and-match lawn furniture, a pingpong table, a swimming pool and a tiki bar. There's also a small indoor bar wallpapered in a pink and gray floral.
Overheard: Pink Floyd and an eclectic mix of '70s rock and modern tracks.
Crowd: Guys in board shorts and flip-flops wait to order drinks next to girls in sequin skirts or shorts and heels. An international crowd tends to wander down from the hostel upstairs; French, Spanish, Russian and Italian can be overheard.
Highlights: Its herb garden provides ingredients for the more than 100 homemade syrups used in its cocktails. Bartenders Giu and Virginia shake drinks behind the bar as witchcraft skulls look over their shoulders.
Conclusion: If you want to grab a good cocktail but don't feel like clubbing, this spot is mellow but still trendy.
Info: 2727 Indian Creek Drive; (305) 531-2727, thebrokenshaker.com. Inside the Freehand Miami Hostel. Open 5 p.m.-2 a.m. weekdays, 2 p.m.-2 a.m. weekends. Specialty drinks $11.
Vibe: You need to know someone to get in. Bouncers picked people out of the large crowd at random, with no preference shown for girls over guys. We arrived about 1 a.m. and hung around for 45 minutes before we gave up and went elsewhere.
Overheard: People vowing to never return and those convinced they could get in if they could just talk to a doorman.
Crowd: An endless supply of young girls with long manicured nails, short skirts and 4-inch heels and men in collared shirts spilled out of Range Rovers and onto the sidewalk.
Highlights: A lineup of famous DJs such as Calvin Harris and Kascade.
Conclusion: Go early and make sure you're on a list. It had that big Vegas feel and could be a fun night out, if you get in.
Info: 136 Collins Ave.; (305) 479-4426, http://www.story.wanttickets.com. Open 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Drink prices vary.
Vibe: The palm trees, circular booths, DJ surrounded by vinyl records, old-school Igloo lunch box, Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" album and vintage wrestler figurines make you feel as if you're at a house party in a friend of a friend's basement.
Overheard: Depeche Mode's "I Promise You I Will" and Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes."
Crowd: Girls in floral sundresses raised full drinks above their heads and danced on top of their seats; guys sat cross-legged in the corners sipping their beverages; and a group of partyers in the middle sang along to every song.
Highlights: The attention paid to the décor: You're transported to another time, and you can't help but feel a little groovy.
Conclusion: This place, in the Gale hotel, has real character and deserves a clientele that wants something more than an average night out.
Info: 1690 Collins Ave.; (786) 975-2599, http://www.galehotel.com/nightlife. Open from 11 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays-Saturdays. Specialty drinks $12-$16.
Vibe: The Vegas Strip — Miami style — at the Delano Hotel. Low, tiered chandeliers make it upscale, and the brown leather seats make it comfortable and intimate. You're in a dark, subterranean space, the music is playing and the sun may be up when you finally make your way outside.
Overheard: Classic club songs and top 40 hits.
Crowd: A diverse mash-up looking for different things. Older men in white shirts enjoyed their pretty cocktail server and their bottle service, younger kids danced in groups and stragglers sat at the bar watching the action.
Highlights: The bar had actual stools and was an actual place to sit and have a drink rather than a place to stand and elbow your way to the bartender.
Conclusion: A mega-club feel without the mega venue. Good, stiff drinks, good music and a good crowd.
Info: 1685 Collins Ave.; (305) 924- 4071, http://www.delano-hotel.com. Open 11 p.m.- 5 a.m. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. Drinks $15-20.
Regent Cocktail Club
Vibe: An old-school lounge, also in the Gale hotel, where you're meant to sit back in a luxurious leather booth and sip a cocktail. The music is low, and it's easy to have a conversation with someone next to you or even across the table. Bartenders in tuxes make drinks behind the dark wood-paneled bar. I half expected to spot Frank Sinatra in the corner.
Overheard: A live band plays soothing tunes.
Crowd: All ages: Some were grabbing a quick drink before a night out; others, older and more casually dressed, made the retro bar their night's final destination.
Highlights: Well-made classic cocktails.
Conclusion: Ideal if you want to enjoy cocktails and good company.
Info: 1690 Collins Ave.; (786) 975-2599, http://www.galehotel.com/nightlife. Open daily 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Specialty drinks $12-$16.
Vibe: The doorman gives you an expected hard time and asks if you're going to buy a bottle before he lets you in. A disco ball and neon light-trimmed booths send shafts of rainbow-colored light around the room. You'll use all yours senses in this place at the W Hotel.
Overheard: Serious head-bobbing, body-shaking dance music.
Crowd: College kids to mid-twentysomethings in tennis shoes, hats and jeans.
Highlights: The people-watching and the two rooms. The front room is where you can sit and have a drink and people-watch; the real clubbing happens farther back in the larger room.
Conclusion: The place to go if you want the classic nightclub experience until the wee hours. Get a group together and splurge on a bottle to ensure a spot to rest your feet.
Info: 2201 Collins Ave.; (305) 938-3130, http://www.wallmiami.com. Open 11p.m.-4 a.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Drink prices vary.