The Stars—and Starfish—of South Beach: Partying With the Heat On!
Every year, I have an annual pumpkin carving party and in the flurry of this year’s lead-up, I somehow misfiled the date of the Phoenix show at MSG. As my party started to wind down, I was telling a friend how excited I was to see Phoenix that week, to which she replied, “You mean the show that happened two days ago?” and then added, turning the proverbial pumpkin-carving knife, “When Daft Punk showed up as the special guest?”
Thanks to the wonders of the iPhone, another friend quickly chimed in, “Yeah, they’re playing in Miami on the 27th, so you definitely missed them in New York.” While some might’ve accepted defeat, I rose to the challenge—after all, I had wanted to see them live for over a year now, and well, I always need some sun (note: “Bikini Soapbox: Cold Turkey for Thanksgiving”).
Two days later, I hopped on a plane to Miami riding all my bets on “where there’s a will, there’s a way” since the show was sold-out anyway.
On my flight down, I got to chatting with two guys across the aisle, one of whom claimed to own a hotel and on finding out what I did for a living offered to put me up in the penthouse (a writer, people, that’s what I do for a living, I’m a writer). I gracefully declined, but I did add in, if he had friends in high places, I could use some Phoenix tickets. To which, he replied, “Sure, no problem.”
It had been at least five years since my last trip to Miami, and much had changed. In fact, these days South Beach seems to be producing a tribute act to lure in weather-weary New Yorkers further “uptown” on Collins. Along the less-trod stretch between the newish Gansevoort (at 24th Street) and the just-opened Soho Beach House (at 43rd Street), the marketing slogan feels ready-made for Meatpacking District denizens: A home-away-from-home…just like home. And, for the recluses, there’s always the five-year-old Standard just off the Venetian Causeway—which is my pick for the bathing suit-vending machines alone and $150 starting room rate.
So after a few cortaditos in the white sand picked up from the yellow-and-red emblazoned flagship Café Bustelo at the Gansevoort and night quickly approaching, I ventured back downtown to the more familiar stretch of Collins. I stop off at the party-friendly Catalina to meet a friend and then headed over to the Fillmore, another South Beach spot that’s had a multimillion-dollar facelift three years ago, which is a mere Botox shot compare to the Fontainebleau’s billion-dollar revamp.
Standing outside of the concert hall, watching the ticket holders flood in (lucky, bastards), it wasn’t a Phoenix song running through my head, but the opening lines to a Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song, “Standing in line to see the show tonight, and there’s a light on, heavy glow…” Appropriate, since I probably hadn’t been this excited for a show since high school.
But as time ticked on with no scalpers in sight or a friend trying to unload a flaky friend’s unused ticket, my enthusiasm started to flat-line. Looking woefully through the glass doors at everyone standing in the lobby getting their tumblers of beer, trying to decide how many more minutes “my will” had to live, a guy in a black CASH T-shirt, suddenly popped his head through the door and pointed at me and said, “You!” “Me?” “Yes, quick go around.” As I turned the corner, there was a security guard, opening the back door, ushering me in. Next he was handing me an iridescent VIP bracelet and I was on my way. And, so while the rest of South Beach seemed to be humming to “Empire State of Mind” that night, I got on stage and danced with the band for the last song—which is something I could’ve never done in good old New York’s MSG. Bienvenido in Miami.
Seeing Stars: I totally stepped on this starfish. Incredible.
Bikini Soapbox: Cold Turkey for Thanksgiving
It’s that most dreaded time of year again: Daylight Saving Time. “Saving” being a key word, since nowadays, this budgeting of daylight feels more like a public-sector rollback of funds—somewhere along the lines of painting prisons and the DMV industrial shades of slate and fog, much to the same mind-deadening effect.
To battle the ensuing vitamin D deficiency—or worse, the withdrawal-like onset of S.A.D.—around this time of year, I become a sun-worshipping junky chasing my fixes anyway I can: sneaking out for an hour lunch to lurk in the corners of Bryant Park in search of fickle beams; asking my gym for permission to sit outside on the now-shuttered sundeck in 50 degree weather while brisk winds blow off the Hudson River wearing sunglasses befitting of a bored housewife.
So as this anachronistic relic of an agrarian society forces us into the dark side, in a time when most of us work in office hives illuminated by fluorescent tracks that do nothing to boost our bone growth and prevent osteoporosis, I wonder: What would the roosters do?
After four-and-a-half weeks of vacationing in the Mediterranean, here’s what I’ve learned: The bikini is named after an island in the South Pacific where atom bombs were tested circa WWII. Around the same time, when two-piece swimsuits first debuted in Paris, they were deemed as shocking and thus christened bikinis.
And that, my friends, is your first installment of Bikini Trivia—and all I have to show for the last 756 hours.Main Entry: bi·ki·ni Pronunciation: \bə-ˈkē-nē\Function: noun Etymology: French, from Bikini, atoll of the Marshall IslandsDate: 1947
1 a : a woman’s scanty two-piece bathing suit b : a man’s brief swimsuit
2 : a man’s or woman’s low-cut briefs
— bi·ki·nied also bi·ki·ni’d -nēd\ adjective
Best Stand-up: Big Terrific
Cameo Gallery, 93 N. 6th St., nr. Wythe Ave., Williamsburg; 718-302-1180
The promise of free stand-up typically comes with catches: exorbitant drink minimums or, worse yet, unfunny comedy. Not at the year-and-a-half-old Big Terrific, a weekly alt-comedy showcase founded and hosted by Max Silvestri, Gabe Liedman, and recent SNL recruit Jenny Slate. Since moving into Cameo Gallery (a former storage room in the back of the Lovin’ Cup Café) a year ago, the Wednesday-night event has become a star on the underground comedy circuit. There’s no compulsory drinks and few hecklers—just top talent testing out new material. True to the venue’s name, you never know who might show up; the past year has seen drop-ins by such local luminaries as Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation), Todd Barry (The Wrestler), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), and Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk With Me).
Blender.com: Miike Snow
Check out my interview:
Beauty and the Beach
As a little girl, my mom always told me stories about a magical little island called Tobago. She and my dad honeymooned there in 1977 and they had brought back a steel pan drum that they hung on our sunroom wall. My mom spoke of Tobago like it was the most beautiful place on earth and she would tell me, “I said to your father, if we ever have children, let’s bring them back to this place.”
There are few places that held such mythology for me growing up, so I was nervous my adult self might be disappointed by the little island where the trees grow right up to the water’s edge and turtles nest at night. Fortunately, any uncertainty about whether or not I would fall in love disappeared the moment we landed in the tiny airport. I turned to the handsome surfer sitting next to me and said, “This is going to be amazing.” Tobago had already begun to cast its spell—and we hadn’t even stepped out of the puddle jumper plane yet.
We had taken a red-eye down from New York the night before connecting through Port of Spain in Trinidad. After checking into our boho-chic boutique hotel, the next move was getting to the beach. The surfer took over renting a car and we found our way to Mount Irvine Bay Beach, where he had heard the surf was good.
The locals had built a little hangout spot under the trees, where a guy with long dreadlocks swung in a hammock and another sipped a homemade concoction out of a liter-size Sprite bottle he had cut in half. Someone had left a bike with a surfboard tied to it under a tree and another guy named George rented surfboards right on the sand. Everyone seemed to know each other and while the surfer paddled out, I chatted with a Swiss guy about the scene. After swimming on the calmer end of the beach, the exhaustion from the trip suddenly hit me, so I caught a quick nap under a tree.
Shortly before sunset, we headed back to our hotel. Even though it was one straight road to another straight road, we somehow lost our way, but in that fun, racy way that baptizes a vacation into a trip. Looking out of the window, I turned to the surfer and said, “I don’t remember passing this beach on the way out here, do you?”
Soon we were winding up this beautiful mountain road with incredible views, driving further and further away from where we were meant to be going. It started to feel like we were getting caught up in the siren-like beauty, and each turn tempted and pulled us to see what was ahead. However, with night swiftly approaching, the fading sun soon brought us back to our senses realizing it might not be wise to rashly lose ourselves in this moment just yet.
In the early morning light, the surfer headed back out to the beach again and I lazed by the hotel pool until midday. In the afternoon we drove down to the food shacks at Store Bay and ordered lunch through what looked like a country neighbor’s kitchen window. Afterwards we headed over to the stunning white sand and turquoise water of Pigeon Point and let the sun tire us out. That night when we ventured into Scarborough for dinner, we discovered that after dark, the bustling capital shuts down and only has a handful of fast-food joints serving up dicey fare, like yesterday’s catch.
We got off to an early start the next morning setting out around nine to visit the Argyll Waterfall. To get there, we drove up and down several mountains, and when we pulled into the dirt and gravel parking lot, it seemed as if we were the only ones who were in the park that day. Our guide took us to the waterfall, stopping along the way to explain the medicinal and practical uses of the trees shading the trail. She showed us how locals fashioned natural cigarette filters from branches, whose boiled leaves were also used as a remedy for the flu. When we got to the fall, it was just us and some kids playing in the water with an orange life preserver.
We jumped from the sides into the cold water, and a local guy showed us where to put our feet so that we wouldn’t hit the rocks on the way down. After cooling off, we headed back up through the mountains to the island’s Caribbean side, stopping to see Bloody Bay, then Englishman’s Bay, and finally stopping for lunch at Castara. Castara is among the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Big waves tumble where the rainforest meets the shore and fishermen beach their painted wood boats under palm trees. For lunch we ordered savory rotis at the Almond Tree restaurant and the owner let us grab some beers from the small shop nearby because we didn’t look like the types to cause trouble.
Just as we finished lunch, a Rasta rolled up selling homemade ice cream from the back of a pickup truck that advertised his side gig as a rainforest tour guide. With quickly melting ice creams in hand, we sat on the beach digging our feet into the sand and felt pretty sure this was as perfect as a day could get.
WHERE TO STAY
Half Moon Blue Hotel, Bacolet Beach, www.halfmoonblue.com
Bacolet Beach Club, Bacolet Beach, www.bacoletbeachclub.com
WHERE TO EAT
Store Bay, Crown Point
The Almond Tree, Castara
My First Time
I finally said the three words I thought I would never say. Well, it all started with a dashing young Russian taking me to Paris one night, and Venice the next. Over those two magical days, we dined under the midnight sun, took a gondola through a turquoise pool, walked through San Marco Square, and even saw fireworks.
When we looked out at the Eiffel Tower, the whole night sky seemed to sparkle and burst with electricity. Music was piped through the air like a soundtrack to a movie as we watched the fountains dance that night and everything seemed larger—yet somehow smaller—than it did before. I felt a bit giddy—almost like there was something in the air. I almost couldn’t believe it when those three little words finally slipped past my lips, but, they did: “I’m in Vegas.”
Before going to Las Vegas, I was pretty sure it was a place I never needed to see, despite having heard more than once “you have to see it at least once.” When I told people I was going to Vegas, the reaction was the same smirk, “You’re going to Vegas?” That’s when it all changed. Hey, I’m fun. I dance the Electric Slide at weddings. I laughed at The Hangover. I have Lady Gaga—and ABBA—on my iPod. I love the nightlife. I got to boogie. I want the action. I was dead-set on having a blast.
On landing, “you have to see it at least once,” was instantly replaced by the equally wistful observation that “it’s like Disneyland for adults” which I first heard from the woman I chatted with on the way to the airport shuttle, then from the doorman at my hotel, and shortly after that from a journalist I befriended at the junket. But this trip wasn’t about being a snide New Yorker, this trip was about getting down with my inner party girl. “Yep, you’re right it really is like Disneyland for adults. Woo-hoo. Let’s party.”
First stop, the Bellagio Fountains. It took me a minute to realize that the music I was hearing was coming from speakers tucked in the faux-Roman columns. Next, a walk through the ancient world albeit via A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—Caesars Palace was just so incredibly gaudy, I knew immediately this was exactly the right place to pop my gambling cherry. My lotto-playing mom had given me two crisp one dollar bills to squander, so I loaded up two old-fashioned crank machines and my Russian friend and I took them for a whirl. He lost his dollar, I was up $2.56 so I quit while I was ahead.
From there we wandered some more under Michelangelo-like frescoes of bright blue skies through a massive multilevel mall and out to the Venetian where we intended to take a gondola ride in what looked to me like a public swimming pool in a fancy New Jersey mall. We also threw two shiny pennies into a fountain and made wishes. (Mine came true: My flight home was on time.)
Before heading back to the shiny new boutique hotel I was staying at, we sat and sipped beers out of big plastic cups at the Spanish Steps. It was a chilly night out, but the heating lamps made it just warm enough to still sit outside comfortably. Looking up at the flashy lights that night, for a moment, I thought I might just be falling in love with Vegas—or it might have just been the beer goggles or the incredibly cute Russian. Too bad, I’ll never know for sure. Once was enough.
My Life on the Beach
How exactly did I become a bikini bandit? I didn’t choose it really. From the time I was two, my parents packed me off for long holidays under the Greek sun. Since my first trip, I’ve never skipped a summer—except for once. I didn’t go on vacation only to get fired at the end of September. It was a valuable life lesson: No job is worth missing a day at the beach for.
In the end, I found a job that didn’t compromise my beach time: writing about it. In my continued search for the perfect beach, I’ve road-tripped down the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia. I’ve driven through the desert at 4 a.m. to the Red Sea. I’ve been whisked to the Cinque Terre by a dashing Italian helicopter pilot I met in Mykonos and I’ve cruised down the Cote d’Azur of the French Riviera and bounced around the Caribbean.
Still despite all the beauty I have seen, my heart always returns to my home, Milos, the island of the Venus de Milo. This sun-soaked bit of nowhere where my yiayia and I walked through herb-covered mountains collecting chamomile flowers in mismatched pillowcases. I hope you will enjoy reading about my adventures.