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Jared Lazarus / Miami Herald

PEOPLE WATCHING: Floridian Emily Hanson relaxes with her Italian greyhound.


Carl Juste / Miami Herald

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED: The hip Clevelander nightclub on Miami's Ocean Drive.

Feb. 10, 2005, 1:33AM


American Riviera


Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

MIAMI BEACH, FLA. -- Dusk, and the MacArthur Causeway starts to jam. The southbound lanes turn into lines of red light. Cars creep along Biscayne Bay headed for South Florida's ultimate destination.

Some of the drivers are tourists taking advantage of cheaper mainland hotel rates. The money saved will be put to good use this night.

Cars creep, the sky darkens. The causeway snakes over the bay, passing tiny islands lined with mansions and high-rises. The highway spills onto Miami Beach, turning into Fifth Street, and dumps you smack into the middle of the city many call the American Rivera.

Right away, you notice the Art Deco. The rounded corners. The porthole windows. The symmetry. The colors.

But where are the celebrities? Madonna? Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony? Ricky Martin?

And, most important, where is the party?

Ocean Drive

There is a stage over the pool at the Clevelander Hotel.

It is a wooden runway shaped like a T.

The DJ booth is tucked at the bottom of the T, against the back wall. Two attractive women stand in front of the booth. Music starts. The women slink down the runway, gyrating as the crowd yells.

Even passers-by outside the club stop and stare.

"Women walking over water," says an enthusiastic Bob Benavidez of Los Angeles. "Only in South Beach."

The journey down the T continues. The women work it, work it, work it. They cajole. They eventually make it to the end of the platform, and they saunter off on opposite sides.

This is South Beach: swagger, swagger, swagger, jiggle, jiggle, jiggle. Los Angeles East, Manhattan South. People here don't just put on airs; they have them tattooed.

Pretty people are everywhere.

There's one now. Look at him: Kenneth Cole sunglasses, slicked back hair. Versace shirt tucked into too-tight jeans. Moneyed walk.

And look at her. Titanium cell phone glued to her ear, her blond hair falling over perfect fingers. Her shoes cost a mortgage, her bathing suit is couture. This is no desperate housewife. She knows her agenda.

She jaywalks. Who, after all, would hit her?

Miami Beach is where the rich and famous play, where Lopez and new husband Anthony just bought a $9.9 million penthouse with a 6,000-square-foot balcony, where you can forget about getting into certain clubs unless you're wearing the right thing or know the right person.

Miami Beach is where Robin Williams and Nathan Lane attempted to play it straight in The Birdcage. It is where Gloria Estefan and Ricky Martin own nightclubs.

Like most cities, Miami Beach comprises several distinct neighborhoods. Most familiar is South Beach (or "SoBe"), packed with clubs, bars, coffee shops, restaurants and shopping.

Did we mention the bars?


The yelling at the Clevelander continues. The hotel/bar/restaurant is one of the most famous in South Beach, a haven for 20- and 30-somethings of all backgrounds. You don't need to dress fancy to get in, and you don't have to know anybody.

It appears you only have to know how to party.

The Go! Go! Go! crowd is a group of men doing shots of alcohol. It's New Year's week, and the club is packed. Revelers have come from all over. Mainly, they've come to cheer the University of Southern California and the University of Oklahoma, teams competing in the Orange Bowl for college football's national championship. Alumni from both schools pack the bar.

The Clevelander bills itself as "the center of South Beach." The owners may have a case. The Art Deco hotel was built in 1937, and its neon sign facing Ocean Drive is a landmark.

It's so famous that ESPN, while doing live shows for a week in advance of the championship game, sets up shop right in front of the Clevelander, the sign shining bright during each broadcast.

Although the Clevelander is a hotel, most people don't come here for the rooms. They come to party, grab a drink at one of its four bars (one glass-and-neon), to catch a game, to have dinner, to watch the scene as people walk down Ocean Drive.

"This is the place you keep hearing about over and over," says Houstonian Jason Moreland, 24. "Whenever you hear about South Beach, it's always about the Clevelander."

Moreland is traveling with buddy Robb Parker, 25. The two are sitting at the bar, taking it all in.

As he orders Coronas two-at-a-time, Benavidez talks about the allure of South Beach, about how several trips have yielded a friendly vibe from locals.

"This is better than Jamaica, better than the Bahamas, better than anything," Benavidez says. "The way they treat us here, the way they act is amazing."

That's quite a statement, considering that Benavidez is from Los Angeles, a city often seen as a larger version of Miami Beach.

But another Los Angeles resident concurs.

"It's a different vibe than Los Angeles," says Dave Alverson, a lawyer. "People come here to have fun and party. In L.A., it's all about being fake and celebrity-spotting."

And surely, there's none of that in South Beach?


"Oh man!" Moreland says about a half-hour later. "That's Sean Salisbury. Look at him!" Across the bar, ESPN commentator and former NFL quarterback Sean Salisbury is downing shots with a group.

"It's fun to be here and look across the bar and see celebrities," Moreland said. "It's just relaxing, and there's nothing fake about it. People down here seem real."

Meanwhile, on the runway above the pool, the women are starting Act 2.


Here are a few tips to assist you in navigating the Miami Beach club scene:

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