Miami’s nightlife scene is hot. A Spanish flair for all-night fun, warm weather, big beaches, skimpy clothing, perfect mojitos – this is not the place for those with Catholic guilt complexes.
It can also feel like it is not a place for normal human beings. Sure, those are real people going into the club; they just look like they have been freshly pampered for a magazine shoot.
But do not be intimidated. You do not need to be uber-wealthy or ultra-attractive to get past the red rope here, just confident. Besides, who cares about the rope? Miami has authentic rock bars, hipsters-gone-wild lounges and the best Latin music scene in America. If you want to bump and grind and look for celebrities who are not there, you can; but Miami will love you just as much if you want to rock out with a Budweiser on a sweaty South Florida evening.
If you are going to go out in Miami, ask yourself what you want. Do I want to dance? Hear good tunes? See celebrities? If you answered yes to the first two questions, the Downtown/Wynwood scene might be to your liking (which is not to say the beautiful people do not go out there. The scene is just less... well, scene-y). Otherwise, you may want to head to South Beach. What do you bring? If it is good looks, money or promoter connections, the world is your oyster. If you do not have any of the above, you can still party, but be prepared to have your ego-crushed.
Here is how it breaks down: the South Beach club scene plays on the appeal of celebrity. More famous customers equal more regular customers. Eventually, a strange equilibrium establishes itself where there are enough regular customers to make people assume famous people are there, even if they are not. But those regular customers can not appear too regular. So a little social engineering is committed by club-owners and those titans of the cultural scene (ie bouncers) in the form of the red rope. So, how do you get by it?
Be polite: Do not be skittish, but do not act like you are J Lo, either. And whatever you do, do not yell at the doorman - or touch him or yank on his clothing - to try to get his attention.
Get guest-listed: Ask the concierge at your hotel to help you out or simply call the club and leave your name; it is often that simple.
Remain confidently aloof: Do not stare at the doorman; it is pathetic. Look elsewhere - but look hot doing it.
Be aggressive. Failing that, be rich: If there is a clamouring crowd, standing at the back of it and hoping it will part is about as effective as being meek when you need a seat on the New York City subway. Push your way through to the front. Or order bottle service, which usually guarantees you a pass to the front.
Dress correctly: For women, showing a sophisticated amount of skin can be effective, although "sophisticated" depends on the wearer. We have seen Brazilians in barely-there tops look less trashy than Americans in a standard sorority-girl-miniskirt ensemble. Men, do not wear T-shirts and jeans, unless you are one of those guys who can and still look put together. In which case, we are jealous. Also, this is Miami; be a little more daring than a button-up shirt and slacks if you want to stand out from the crowd.
Get there early: Do you want to be cool, or do you want to get in? From 10:30 pm to 11 pm is a golden time for bouncer leniency, but you cannot club-hop with this strategy.
If you are a man, bring a woman: A man alone is not worth much (unless you are at a gay club); up your value by having a beautiful woman - or two or three - on your arm.
There is a surprising glut of dives in South Beach, the perfect yin to the flashy yang of the club scene. And both dives and hot bars abound in Miami proper. But the best place for a simple drink in this city may well be your hotel lobby. For years now, hotel lounges have been the clubs of the season, and on almost any given night, front desks hire DJs for their lobbies and pool areas. Plenty of people use their hotel lobby as a jumping-off point to bigger things, but for many, the lobby is the be-all, end-all destination for the evening out. Restaurant bars have started to build on the same cachet, and the most popular hotels blend all of the genres, keeping a hot eatery on site that happens to have a hotter attached bar.
When most people think about the live music scene in Miami, they will start hearing one of two sounds: Latin or hip-hop. And while it is true that these are still the beats that rule this town, there is a lot more going on. Electronica rules at more Design District and Downtown clubs, lovely jazz spots are not hard to find, and a cosy but strong indie-rock scene centres around Sweat Records (5505 NE Second Ave) and Churchill's (5501 NE Second Avenue). Still, Miami is the Latin music capital of America; if you want to hear what is emerging in this genre, head on down to La Covacha (10730 NW 25th Street) and get your dancing shoes on.
Note that there is some overlap between what we call lounges, bars and clubs. A lounge has a bar and dance area, with the emphasis shifting from drinking to dancing throughout the night. Do some research when you arrive: talk to friends or your concierge and pick up a copy of the local arts weekly, Miami New Times, or a free monthly such as Miami Living Magazine or the pint-sized Ego Miami Magazine.
Whereever you decide to go, bear in mind that you have to pay to play in this town. Cover charges for the bigger clubs tend to run around $25 to $30. Bars charge up to $10 for a beer and a little more for mixed drinks. Beers may be relatively inexpensive in a club, but expect to pay as much as $25 for a regular old rum and coke in top-end joints. And do not forget the insidious practice of bottle service, where tables are available for sitting if you are willing to shell out about $200 to $2,000 for a bottle of booze. This can actually work out well if you are in a large group. At some clubs you will have to order bottle service or be on the list to enter after a certain hour.
And finally, make sure you get your beauty sleep in before you hit the town. Miami is one of the most late-night friendly towns in America, and clubs generally stay open from 9 pm to 5 am. Bars open earlier but often close just as late. The only district you are likely to get an "early night" in is Coconut Grove, where the closing time is now 3 am.
The article 'A guide to Miami nightlife' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.