The Freehand, a new designer hostel in South Beach, seems antithetical to its ZIP code. Bunk beds in shared rooms go for around $50 a night, the lobby is full of young visitors with laptops and the garden serves barbecued goat tacos on weekends.
In the backyard is the Broken Shaker, a tiki bar whose ambitious cocktail menu includes homemade mushroom bitters.
“There’s some real cool people staying in the hostel,” said Elad Zvi, an owner with Gabriel Orta. It was a rainy Friday and Zvi wore a Southwestern-patterned pullover, his tangled hair bundled under a stocking cap. “Who doesn’t like 21-year-old Swedish girls? Six in a room!”
As raindrops splattered a “Love Me” graffiti mural, a divided crowd arrived: skinny 20-somethings in motorcycle jackets next to older men wearing billowy dress shirts and straight-leg jeans. Zvi posted a photo of one unstylish man on Instagram with a caption threatening to kick him out. After the subject’s girlfriend spotted it, a confrontation erupted. The insulted guest swore never to return.
For a moment, anyway, the young arty types had won out. In South Beach, those attempting to create underground scenes usually find themselves swimming against a heavy tide. Even as Wynwood and Downtown have evolved into exciting Miami neighborhoods, South Beach is still a gaudy clubland where Uruguayans whip by in Bugattis and booze-fueled tourists squander savings on $17 vodka sodas.
But lately, the seaside playground has found a cooler, local groove away from the beach: a handful of cocktail bars, homey restaurants and boutique hotels — some imported from New York — have opened far from the hubbub of Ocean Drive and the frat-crush of Wet Willie’s. It is an untouristy South Beach for the self-selective few.
“You just have to find the avant-garde in South Beach,” said André Saraiva, a night-life impresario who has opened pop-up clubs here during Art Basel Miami Beach.
Snowbird bonds between South Beach and New York run deep, a fact made clear at Catch, a weeks-old seafood restaurant at the James Royal Palm, a 390-room hotel on Collins Avenue. An outpost of a clubby restaurant in the meat-packing district of Manhattan, Catch packages Bloomberg’s New York as the authentic experience. Walls are doctored with faded warehouse-style lettering; enormous colander-shaped lamps with filament bulbs descend from the ceiling.
Eschewing tropical hues, the celebrity-speckled crowd on a recent Saturday night wore furs and pencil dresses, dark suits and cardigans over denim shirts. At one table, Jennifer Lopez and her sizable cohort feasted on Cantonese-style lobsters. Jeremy Shockey, a former tight end for the New York Giants, slouched on a green banquet. Alan M. Dershowitz, the lawyer and Brooklyn native, had just left.
“Everyone says, ‘It’s so New York,’ ” said Mark Birnbaum, one of Catch’s owners from the EMM Group. “You don’t feel like you’re in South Beach.”
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