Frolicking with Friends in South Beach

I flew into Miami on a Thursday afternoon and headed over to a friend’s house in Coral Gables. She lives just down the block from the Biltmore and the Venetian Pool. People continued to arrive all afternoon and evening. Old friends gathering for one of our yearly reunions. Lots of good food and drink and hugs. 

The Biltmore

The Biltmore originally opened in 1926 as the Miami Biltmore Country Club and included an 18-hole golf course, polo fields, tennis courts, a large swimming pool, along with a 400-room hotel. It has gone through some changes over the years and was even a hospital during World War II. It remained a Veterans Administration hospital until 1968. It sat unoccupied until 1983 when the City of Coral Gables started its restoration. The Biltmore re-opened in 1987 as a four star hotel and resort. In 1996, the National Register of Historic Places designated it a National Historic Landmark.

The Venetian Pool was created in 1923 from a coral rock quarry. Its 820,000 gallon pool is fed with spring water from an underground aquifer. There are two waterfalls and caves that you can swim in and out of. The pool is also on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally called the Venetian Casino and frequented by celebrities including Johnny Weismuller and Esther Williams. At times the pool would be emptied of its 820,000 gallons of water and orchestras would perform on the pool bottom. 

Inside the limo

 

 

 

The next morning we gathered in South Beach to catch our stretch limo that took us to Vizcaya.

 

 

 

Vizcaya was built by International Harvester Vice President James Deering of Chicago, IL. It was originally 180 acres with the main house, the gardens, the farm, and the waterfront. The house itself is fashioned after an Italian villa, or many Italian villas. Each room was built to accommodate the furniture Mr Deering had purchased on his trips to Italy. The furnishings determined ceiling height and door width. The main house opened in 1916 and the gardens were finished in 1922. Deering died in 1925 so he didn’t have long to enjoy his creation. It passed on to his brother and his brother’s children and in 1952 they donated it to Dade County.

The main house has 34 rooms with over 2,500 art objects and furnishings. The gardens contain 2,000 specimens and 25 acres of endangered primary growth forests. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1995. Besides attracting 200,000 visitors a year, it also serves as a diplomatic seat for Miami-Date County where presidents and foreign dignitaries are entertained. It has hosted Pope John Paul II and major events such as the Summit of the Americas and the signing of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

Back in the limo on the way to our lunch destination we popped the champagne and all had a glass. We spent the afternoon on the River eating seafood. It seems like mostly what we do is eat and drink.

That night we hit a taco place that was amazing – Taquiza. It was a small order at the counter/take out place where they made their own blue corn tortillas and fried them up for chips to order accompanied by very fresh guacamole or pico de gallo. I would highly recommend it if you are in the area.

Next day it was a late start with staggered breakfast. I joined the group who ended up at the beach but another group went to eat crab at Joe’s Stone Crab. It was originally started by Joe Weiss in 1913 as a lunch counter.  Nobody knew you could even eat stone crabs. In 1921 a Harvard ichthyologist doing research asked if Joe ever served stone crabs. The bay was full of them. They experimented a bit and decided to boil them. They ended up serving them chilled and cracked with hash browns, cole slaw and mayonnaise. Joe’s became a destination for any celebrity who visited the area. From Al Capone to the Duchess of Windsor. Stone crabs are seasonal and it was the last weekend they would be available. Everybody from our group came back raving about the food and overall experience.

 

 

The beach was nice too. But it was crowded.

 

 

 

 

That night we had a party to go to. Our friend Leo was working as the official photographer. So we got dressed up and headed out to Smith and Wollensky at the southernmost tip of South Beach. It sits next to the 17 acre South Pointe Park. We had a small room overlooking the water. The food was amazing. Crab cake sandwiches, sliders, lamb chops, flat bread pizza, bruschetta, turkey and gravy, and an open bar. Yum. There was another party next to us and one of our group swears he saw Ivana Trump there. 

We all met for brunch at Loews the next morning. It was kind of chaotic trying to herd everybody over there and find a table or tables to accommodate us but we all managed to get fed and then have our round of hugs and kisses bidding all a farewell. 

Until next time.