Embracing Art Deco in Miami Beach

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Miami Beach has protected more than 800 striking Art Deco structures

The Webster was designed by leading Deco architect Henry Hohauser

Miami Beach, Florida CNN  — 

With buildings painted lovely shades of pastel blue, pink and more, every day can be a celebration of Art Deco in Miami Beach.

It’s true that aficionados of the striking 20th century architecture style will be crowding the streets starting Friday for a 40th annual weekend dedicated to celebrating Art Deco, including a first-time appearance by New York’s Jazz Age Lawn Party.

Never mind if you can’t jump on a plane today.

The beauty of South Beach’s Deco bones can be experienced year-round, assuming you can tear yourself away from the Atlantic waves to spend some time wandering Ocean Drive and neighboring streets and avenues.

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A kaleidoscope of more than 800 striking Deco hotel and apartment buildings are all preserved and protected by the City of Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board, whose guidelines help to maintain the area’s National Register Art Deco District.

To get a full appreciation of the area’s architectural gems, take one of the Miami Design Preservation League’s daily Art Deco Walking Tours, led by local historians and architects.

But if you’re on your own time, simply stroll the streets featuring Deco gems and get into an Art Deco mood with some 1920s-style refreshments en route or post-walk.

Ocean Drive

Brave the throngs of tourists for a stroll along the most photographed stretch of coastline in South Florida. The candy-colored Art Deco hotels here are worth checking out in both sun-drenched daylight and once the sun goes down and the neon signs light up the beach.

Standout examples of Miami’s classic Deco style include the McAlpin (1430 Ocean Drive); the Breakwater Hotel (940 Ocean Drive); and the postcard favorite blue-lit Colony Hotel (736 Ocean Drive).

Collins Avenue

The Webster on Collins Avenue is now a high-end retail emporium.

Head one block west from Ocean Drive to Collins Avenue, where you’ll find more boutique hotels and retail stores operating in restored Deco splendor. The Betsy Hotel’s new Art Deco wing (Collins, between 14th Street and Espanola Way) is a great example of the city’s preservation efforts married with modern interiors, while the sherbet shades of the Marlin Hotel (1200 Collins) are an Instagrammer’s dream.

The Webster, a high-end retail emporium, is on the same block (1220 Collins). Designed by Henry Hohauser, one of South Beach’s leading Deco-era architects, it’s a prime example of the style’s symmetry and tropical flourishes.

Lincoln Road

This pedestrian mall from Washington Avenue to Alton Road has become dominated with big-brand retail, it’s still home to a number of signature Art Deco structures. The former Lincoln Theater building (541 Lincoln Road) is now home to H&M. The Colony Theatre (1040 Lincoln Road), completed in 1935 as part of Paramount’s theater chain, still serves up live entertainment, including plays by resident theater company Miami New Drama.

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Washington Avenue

The main drag of South Beach features a peculiar mix of souvenir shops, smoke shops, pizza joints and tattoo parlors. However, there are Deco gems nestled amid newer construction on nearly every block. The Miami Beach Post Office (1300 Washington) showcases a style known as Depression Moderne, featuring Deco’s clean lines with ornamental touches of tropical flora and ocean liner motifs.

After the tour, a 1920s cocktail

Once you’ve completed your tour of the architectural scene, it’s time to sit down for a drink or two. The craft cocktail craze is now mainstream, and South Beach has an abundance of cocktail bars and mixologists known for creating new concoctions. But, in line with its Prohibition-era past, Miami Beach also specializes in the classics, which you can find at these classy speakeasy-style bars.

The Regent Cocktail Club, inside the Gale South Beach (1690 Collins Ave), is a dark, clubby den of nostalgia — and a Tales of the Cocktail award nominee, thanks to big-name bartenders Julio Cabrera and John Lermayer. Their cocktail list features the Grasshopper, the New York Sour and other old-time favorites.

The Rum Line specializes in daiquiris and rum-based drinks.

For a more tropical vibe, the Rum Line, at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel (1601 Collins Ave), specializes in daiquiris and Ernest Hemingway-inspired rum-based drinks. The intimate patio sits under towering palm trees and feels like a hidden gem in the heart of South Beach.

The exterior of South Beach’s famous Delano Hotel (1685 Collins Ave) is more Miami Modern than Art Deco, but inside at the Rose Bar, the vibe conjures up flappers and bootleggers. This elegant little bar off the lobby offers an excellent weekday happy hour.

Another South Beach institution is the Raleigh Hotel (1775 Collins Ave), which has its own intimate lounge, the Martini Bar, where the mahogany bar seats just eight and regular cocktail events let you sample and vote for what will become the next cocktail of the month.

Architecturally speaking, there is nothing Deco about Sweet Liberty, a modern cocktail lounge and restaurant with obligatory Instagram-bait wallpaper and pink neon wall art. The stars of the cocktail list, however, are 1920s darlings like the Gin Fizz, Mint Julep and the Old Pal, made with Bulleit rye whiskey, dry vermouth and Campari.

Rebecca Wallwork is a freelance writer based in Miami Beach, specializing in travel and entertainment