Downtown Miami’s hidden gems spur area’s growth, popularity in recent years

Posted September 24, 2015


It’s no secret that Miami-Dade County has grown and flourished in recent years. These positive changes are almost perfectly represented in a small, yet vital, area of the city.

Downtown Miami has made incredible strides within only a few years.

As late as 2004, Miami’s residents have avoided the area due to both its blandness and crime rate.

“It used to be that you couldn’t walk! As soon as you’re done working, boom, you’re getting home as fast as you can!” said Giovanni, a bartender at South Florida’s only true jazz club. Now it seems that new high-rise condos, offices and restaurants are being erected by the month. It has begun to truly look and feel like the downtown areas of other cities.

But the true, unofficial hallmarks of a very urban area are its hidden gems. In other words, its not a real city until there’s a tiny nook or cranny in which to get away from it all. Behind even the well-established fame of Bayfront Park, Bayside and art museums, lie some low-key places to savor an urban day out. So, if you enjoy sifting through the concrete to find some diamonds in the rough, Downtown Miami is the place to be.

Start your day off right by grabbing some coffee. If you’re in a hurry like the business crowd of this area, grab Miami’s best café con leche for the price of $1 at La Liquadora. For a different approach to your morning coffee, just walk directly a few blocks south to Eternity Coffee Roasters.

The sleek, lounge-looking café squeezed between two skyscrapers boasts coffee from all over the world and invites you to stick around for a while. These guys see coffee brewing as an art and even sell it by the sack! Sample a dirty chai (half tea-half coffee) or their extra sweet white mocha.

Although most of the shopping is concentrated in Miami Beach or the major suburban  malls, a handful of places stand out in downtown. For one of Miami’s only male-oriented fashion stores, visit Supply and Advise. Originally established in Midtown, this store is inspired by military looks and, as part of its identity, offers fashion tips and advice for men willing to diversify their wardrobe.

For a store less expensive and dedicated to both men’s and women’s fashion, pass by the newer and more hip Lost Boy Dry Goods. Sister store of the neighboring La Epoca, Lost Boy is a denim store with a rustic and classy look and for some reason sells a wide variety of hot sauces and vinyl records! The whiskey upstairs is complimentary for customers.

When it comes to food, it’s tempting not to look too far or deep within the city because downtown has excellent places to eat ranging from student cheap to business expensive. But for a unique taste far from the madding crowd of five star restaurants or take-out counters, walk into the old food court at 48 E. Flagler St.

Hours after 'closing' time, the low-key restaurant is still grinding out fresh fusion pizza.

Hours after closing time, the low-key Havana Pizza restaurant is still grinding out fresh fusion pizza.

The building might not look like much, and if anything deters many people from taking a look inside. But tucked away at the far end of the second floor is a new fusion pizzeria called Havana Pizza. It’s as simple and as creative as it sounds: Latin pizza.

This new spot slings ropa vieja, churrasco and other Latin dishes on top of large pizza portions. While the building is officially closed in the evening, the place remains open for those intrepid enough to walk into a random, dimly lit building downtown. Follow the distant sound of salsa upstairs and you’ll find nothing short of Miami’s best pizza.

Two of the staff members even play music when not making fresh food. The music gets louder as the night progresses and, according to Havana native Christian, the founder and owner of the recently opened spot, it’s a “big delicious pizza and a show for the price of a Big Mac!” Although it’s technically a pizzeria, this hidden beauty offers live music and is definitely dance friendly. Be warned, the pizza takes 30 minutes to make, but hey, you can’t rush art.

Seeing as there is always room for dessert, try the best gelato in the area. Gelato-Go, makes fresh gelato so delicious that people almost forget they make their own cheesecakes and baked goods as well.

Fresh made gelato in an urban corner; the flavor in this photo is a Nutella / vanilla combo.

The crown jewel of understated venues has to be Le Chat Noir. This place is South Florida’s only true jazz club. Recreated in Miami in 2013, the original Chat Noir was established in 1881 in France and is considered to have been the first modern cabaret.

It was also one of the first major ‘gateway’ venues, meaning that playing on that stage would boost an artist’s chance of finding other performance opportunities.

The grandson of Rodolphe Salis, the founder, opened Miami’s rendition of the cabaret. Today, the club plays only live jazz both upstairs and in the spacious basement. With an endless wine and cheese collection and fresh foods to die for, this venue is all encompassing. It has everything from a soup of the day to wines, coffee, cheese platters, and university music professors jamming out until the early hours.

A shot of downtown Miami, facing West

A view of downtown Miami, facing West.

It makes for the perfect night out downtown and rivals similar jazz venues in Chicago and New York. Italian-born bartender Giovanni reminded me “There’s a French bakery two blocks down that way. So we get two deliveries a day. Most of the time it’s still warm. I guess it’s a benefit of working in a city center!”

Although these places and a handful of others are intriguing spots for even the seasoned city slicker, what is essential to note is how new they all are.

Most of them are less than two years old. This is a reminder of a sobering fact about Miami as a living and tourist destination. In the simplest terms: the city is big, and it’s getting bigger… based on the tiny stuff.

 If You Go

La Liquadora: 47 NE 2nd Ave.

Gelato-Go: 360 SE 1st St.

Havana Pizza: 48 E. Flagler St., 2nd floor.

Lost Boy Dry Goods: 157 E. Flagler St.

Supply and Advise: 223 SE 1st St.

Le Chat Noir: 2 S. Miami Ave.