Miami: Party People!

My friend joined me Friday for an overnight in Miami. The hotel let me switch to a 2-bed room.

She had also never seen Miami, but only had one night. So I thought, well, the most Miami thing to do is eat Cuban food. We headed down to Puerto Sagua. The restaurant has been cooking up Cuban specialties in South Beach Since 1968. There were a ton of cops there eating and hanging out in front. The servers only spoke Spanish. It surprised me how many monolingual people there were in such a touristy area. They were equally surprised at my mediocre Spanish. The pork chops were a little dry, but my shrimp, and of course the black beans and rice and plantains were fantastic.

Then it was time to party. But I only knew one place to go, and it was so conveniently located! Back to the Palace!

The person next to us had the cutest doggo.

This guy was really serious about snapping his fan. He would look into the eyes of other people with fans and snap very decisively, making them keep time properly.

My favorite drag queen sang Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and was hilarious! She had a bottle of “booze” that she liberally splashed all over us and blew “cocaine” everywhere. We were in hysterics!

The next morning we went to the beach and did a little window shopping.

I went and posed in a parked car, shocking my friend. Until she decided to do the same thing.

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Miami: Joe’s Stone Crab

There are a lot of places called Joe’s, but none can compete with Joe’s Stone Crab, the first restaurant to open its doors in South Beach. In 1913, Hungarian immigrant Joe Weiss and his wife opened up a small lunch counter on Miami Beach serving fish sandwiches. Researchers came to Miami in 1921 to work on a new aquarium, and one of them approached Joe about serving stone crabs. He balked, as everyone thought they were inedible. The researcher brought in a bag of crabs one day, and the rest is history.

Joe’s has been on my bucket list since I started seeing chef André Bienvenu at LA Food and Wine events. He couldn’t feed stone crab claws to hundreds of people, and it wasn’t even stone crab season when the event was held, so he conjured up imaginative dishes like pork belly cones with guava BBQ sauce and Reuben sandwiches grilled on an elaborate mechanism that smashed the sandwiches between two hot household irons. Cool as that was, it made me crave the crab claws. There was only one place to get them, and I had a reservation for lunch.

The fancy dining room has been visited by everyone from Frank Sinatra, Amelia Earhart, and Will Rogers to Barbara Streisand, Elton John, and The Rolling Stones. 19 US presidents have eaten there, and it is a required stop for chefs. Coincidentally, one of my favorite chefs, Brooke Williams, posted a picture of herself with a slice of Joe’s key lime pie a month before my trip, and I was like, “Damn, I’m gonna have that key lime pie too.”

From Brooke Williamson’s Facebook page

I took an Uber to Joe’s, and waited about 10 minutes for my table. I was able to check out the historic pictures.

The patio chairs look like scallop shells.

There were some interesting cocktails, but I wasn’t planning on drinking much, and I had already had a mojito at the Palace.

The dining room was elegant, with crisply starched white tablecloths.

One thing about Joe’s — it ain’t cheap. But it’s so worth it. Another thing about Joe’s is that some of their dishes are weird. The chopped salad includes beets, Feta cheese and honey roasted peanuts. I have eaten candied pecans in a salad with goat cheese, but Feta and honey roasted peanuts just doesn’t sound right. The cole slaw came with a big dollop of pickle relish.

The crab cakes looked appealing, and I have been in the mood for shrimp cocktail lately, but one should always eat locally, and I had never had conch fritters. I had heard that conch is not sustainable, but I wanted to try it just once. It was a mistake. If you think clams are chewy, wow, they were almost impossible to chew. It was like there were bits of rubber tire in the fritters. I couldn’t eat more than a bite. My server noticed, and kindly took them off my bill. So, I added that to her tip. I didn’t blame the restaurant, I guess it’s just not my thing.

What IS my thing? Crab, dammit! And definitely stone crab! It is priced according to claw size. But it is measured by weight, so the smaller the claw, the more claws you get. But I like big stuff. I ordered large at the server’s recommendation. I later held them up to show a nearby table that wasn’t sure of the right size to order. Because I’m annoyingly helpful.

I noticed a big sharing plate of hash browns at another table, and they looked so good I ordered “Joe’s Classic Meal” — a full order of stone crab, coleslaw, hashed browns, creamed spinach and key lime pie. I mean, I knew I was going to get the pie anyways. $112.95. I was so excited I totally forgot to order the insider-recommended fried chicken, which is only $8.95 for half a chicken. It just seems wrong to even look at the Steaks and Poultry section. Or mahi mahi and grouper. Unless it’s not stone crab season, in which case I probably wouldn’t even come. Because they are glorious.

Look at them! Served chilled and pre-cracked, they easily slip out of the shell. The meat is sweet and clean-tasting. They are served with drawn butter and Joe’s famous mustard sauce. I didn’t think I would like the mustard sauce, but I was all about it. It was more like a Dijon aioli. The coleslaw, as I mentioned, was weird, the spinach was meh, and the hashed browns were good. Next time I would just order the crab – and the chicken. The key lime pie was on the tart side, without cream cheese (probably considered an abomination here, but I add it to my recipe), but very good. Maybe I’m not as pretty as Chef Brooke, but here you are.

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Miami Friday Drag Brunch

Wandering around the neighborhood I discovered the famous Drag Bar the Palace was just two blocks from my hotel. It has been going strong for over 30 years. I made reservations for the Friday drag brunch. I woke up really early, though, and really hungry, so I wandered over to the Sandwicherie and ordered a brie sandwich.

As I made my way to the Palace mid-morning, I noticed Gianni Versace’s mansion, which is now open for lunch, which is really weird to me. He was shot to death on the front steps, and I always imagined them to be really grand. I was surprised by how small they were, so I took a picture of them. A man noticed me, and I overheard him telling his friend sadly, “Oh yeah, it’s infamous.”

The Palace had a huge patio. The waiters kept double-checking that I really was there alone, and people seemed to be noticing it. I am used to going everywhere by myself, so it was weird to feel awkward. A nearby couple toasted me, like, “Hi, you’re not alone!” Pretty soon we were hanging out and having a blast. I even ordered a Mojito.

My chicken and waffles were a mixed bag. The chicken had a delicious curry batter, but the waffles were kind of dry and boring. Fresh fruit plates and pancakes were in the “to share” section, so I did not order them, much to my chagrin. Maybe that’s why people felt sorry for me for being alone.

You have to bring lots of dollars to tip, which made me think of mariachis, but turned out to be more of a stripper vibe. The queens were awesome, lip-synching and dancing around the tables.

Even the waiters were festive and sexy, dancing and “thaaawaaap-ing their fans along to the music loudly.

I figured I had been as entertained by one of the dancing waiters as by the drag queens, so I decided to tip him. He shook his booty in my face for me to tuck the dollars in his waistband, then just kept on shaking it. I gave him a few playful spanks, then I didn’t know what to do, so I just mugged at my friends.

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Miami Thursday Part 2 The Everglades

In the afternoon I decided to go on an airboat ride. Getting there was difficult, without much payout. The double decker bus was stuck in traffic most of the way and our driver was road raging, laying on his horn. He also drove in a really jerky way that made you hang on for dear life. There were handwritten signs saying: DON’T FORGET TO TIP THE DRIVER. MANDATORY $5. I thought, “Not bloody likely.” I was sitting up top in the back, which I discovered was the party section. People were openly drinking mojitos and White Claw.

The woman next to me had been speaking exclusively in Spanish for the entire ride, then suddenly she announced, “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work,” and she laughed hysterically for almost 5 minutes. The bus passed a building with this huge sign on the side. I was unable to get a pic, but it was so awesome I looked up the ad for you.

The Sawgrass Recreation Park in Weston was a small area next to a freeway with power lines running over top. When you’re in the Louisiana swamp, you KNOW you are in the swamp, but this was different. Maybe it was just that particular park.

Everyone was hyped up to see alligators. The guide would turn off the engine and everyone would sit perfectly still with bated breath until it became clear no alligator or heron or other denizen of the everglades was going to pop up to model for a photo. It was nice to be out on an open air boat and would have been enjoyable to just buzz through the tall grasses. But due to the search, we were in a constant state of being disappointed. It’s like the saying, “Golf is a good walk ruined.” I did see a heron fly off in the distance, and we saw these ducks.

The guide groused that the water is now too deep for most animal’s liking. He complained that “they” had mismanaged Florida’s water. I wondered if “they” were the Bureau of Global Warming or some imaginary enemy, but it seems in addition to the sea levels rising, there is a history of diverting fresh water away from the Everglades for human use. Read more about it here if you’re interested.

The park had a small alligator attraction. I am not a fan of roadside animal attractions. The holding pens are always too small. They called it a “sanctuary” but I have to wonder what requirements need to be met to be called a sanctuary. Is it just to alleviate our guilt? I felt bad for this caiman, but considering they are an invasive species in Florida, and still hunted for their skins in many countries, I guess it could be worse.

The park had a pair of mating alligators in what seemed to be too small of an enclosure. The male, named Cannibal, had eaten all of its previous mates at another park before moving to Sawgrass Park and meeting his match. There was a photo op available holding one of their babies, but when I saw the jaws were Duct taped shut and a lot of people were waiting to hold him, I got skeeved out and left.

When the bus arrived back in Miami, the driver was amenable to dropping people off at red lights near their hotel, instead of having to wait an hour or more to get back to the tour office and the take another of their buses back. When I recognized my neighborhood, I hopped out, and you can bet I tipped him 5 bucks for that pleasure. I was so tired I just stopped at Taquiza a block away from my hotel, which had an intriguing menu and hand pressed blue masa tortillas.

I ordered a Mahi Mahi taco and a huitlacoche taco. The fried fish taco was crunchy and flaky and awesome. I thought I loved huitlacoche, also known as “corn smut,” a fungus that grows on corn. But I had only had it as a kind of seasoning in corn tacos, not big, generous mouthfuls. I found it kind of off-putting.

I also had squash blossom quesedillas, which are one of my favorite things, and a corn on the cob with mayo and Cotija cheese, known as “elote,” which just means corn in Spanish. It was a nice dinner and relatively inexpensive for SOBE.

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Miami Thursday: Part 1 Sunrise over the Sea

I woke up at 4am this morning and lazed around researching restaurants and activities online until it got close to sunrise. Having grown up at the beach, beaches don’t impress me as much as most people. But watching the sunrise over water, when I usually see the sunset, was still exciting.

On the beach I met a man from Turkey and another from Bejing and we took turns taking pictures of each other. It was nice to hang out with people.

So I am not an influencer and I don’t force my boyfriend to spend hours taking pictures of me from behind doing yoga poses in beautiful locations. So here is one to make it up to you.

I stopped at a little stand called La Sandwicherie and got the most amazing ham and brie sandwich on crisp baguette plus an egg, tomato and mozzarella sandwich for later. It is apparently a chain, but I was told they were all owned by French people. And French people take their baguettes very seriously.

The Sandwich stand was across the street from Anthony Bourdain’s favorite dive bar in Miami.

So, when I arrive at a new place I have two questions:

Can you jaywalk? YES! Traffic lights here are only a vague suggestion. You can recognize tourists by their willingness to wait for a light. Locals are practically suicidal, playing frogger with traffic.

Do you smile at strangers? Yes! You say hello, how are you doing…I made best friends with my cab driver and the guy at the sandwich shop.

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Welcome to Miami!!!

“Is Miami America? Is it a state? Is it the South? … I love Miami for the same reason I love the places I love most around the world… it’s the mix here, this big, messy, dysfunctional hell-broth of people from all over the world that make it so awesome and make it a place I want to keep coming back to. Also the food’s good.” – Anthony Bourdain

I had a bit of a cough the night before flying out to Miami, so I took a Covid test (negative) and tossed my cough syrup into my carry-on. I realized that it was a little more than the three ounces allowed onboard, and I didn’t want to scare seatmates by coughing, so I took a big swig before going through security. It’s pretty gnarly stuff, so I was super wasted on my flight. I shamelessly ate a whole submarine sandwich like Dawn Davenport in Female Troubles and tried to watch Three Thousand Years of Longing, which honestly felt like it was three thousand years long. Can I just say, Beats headphones are awesome??? Bob lent me a light pair for the plane, and I am never giving them back.

I arrived at the Marlin Hotel around 5pm and immediately went to sleep. I woke up around 8pm and ordered takeout from the hotel restaurant, Osteria del Teatro. I had the most amazing porcini pappardelle. I didn’t take pictures because it was just pasta in a takeout container, and I was sleepy, and whatever.

The Marlin Hotel is a cool, art deco boutique hotel with a really comfortable bed. It was quiet in spite of being just off of a major thoroughfare. When people talk outside of your room it sounds like they are right there in your room with you, but it has only happened twice. The other visitors here are international. In fact. SOBE, (or South Beach, for you clueless mortals), is a pretty international place. South-South Beach is the douche-y red rope neighborhood, and North Beach is super rich. Around 13th street you will find the sweet spot, the West Hollywood of Miami. In other words, the gay neighborhood, which is always my favorite place to stay. The streets are cleaner and safer, the restaurants are better, people are friendlier, and if you are looking for a sex shop or dungeon, you can often find one…not that I am. Or EVER have. EVER…

The room is really nice and has a very comfortable bed.

The towels were even Art Deco.

There was never anyone on the tiny elevator, and there was one time I really needed to get to my room to use the facilities. Like now. The elevator door closed right in my face. I slapped the elevator door with the palm of my hand and cried out, “Why are you leaving me???? Don’t leave me!!!!” The door opened up and there was a gentleman standing there. On the ride up, I said, “I’m so sorry. I thought I was having an overly dramatic moment with an inanimate object, not a human person.” After a beat, I softly sang a line from Dreamgirls to the elevator, “And I am telling you, there ain’t NOOO way, please do-o-o-n’t go…” He totally got the joke and laughed. Which is another reason to stay in the gay neighborhood—jokes about musical theater land.

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Liepaja Museum Basement

Turn on your speakers for this post

The basement of the Liepaja Museum holds their antiquities–some of the earliest textiles, metal goods, instruments and pottery.

Ancient pipes

Ancient pipes?

These crowns were made for virgins.

Like this…remember her?

We were in a small room with open shelving displaying ancient jars. Only the three of us fit in the room.

Suddenly, I heard a jar smash, and my heart dropped. I turned to see which of us had had such a shocking accident, only to see this video. That was a terrible, if perhaps accidental, practical joke. But it still makes me laugh.

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The Baltic: Liepaja Museum Textiles

There was an exhibit of early 20th century clothing centered around train travel. I was clearly enamored with the hats.

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By the Baltic: Liepaja 19th Century Interior Museum: Mrs. Hoyer Guest House

The Liepaja Museum is located in a centuries’ old guesthouse with beautiful wooden walls and floors, fireplace and staircase.

There was a wide variety of displays

Some were creepier than others

And some so beautiful

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By the Baltic Sea: Wandering around Liepaja

After the Northern Forts, we went to a nice little lake.

There was a cafe and we had a snack before heading out.

I liked the old buildings and took photos as we drove through town.

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By the Baltic Sea: Liepaj’s Northern Fortress

Liepāja has always been strategic for battles. It was once home to a navy base, and is the place that the first Latvian government retreated to when pushed out by foreign powers. At the end of the 19th century several cement fortresses were built by Tsarist Russia. At one time, the forts encircled the entire city of Liepaja. In 1919, as Latvia tried to establish an independent republic, the Germans tried to take Latvia by sea. Using the forts, the Latvian army held them off in spite of being heavily outnumbered.

Most of the Liepāja Forts were destroyed in the beginning of the 20th century. The Northern fortifications were blown up twice in attempts to demolish them, but the crumbling facades remain to this day.

The Northern Fort, Fortification battery No. 1., is built on the edge of the Baltic sea. It is open to the public. You can climb around on it, but it is forbidden to enter a structure because it could collapse at any time. It kind of reminds you of being a wayward teen exploring forbidden places, climbing on roofs and things, so it was fun and awesome for photography. Even young children were climbing on top of the forts with their parents.


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By the Baltic Sea: Our first day in Liepaja

One of the best things about European hotels is that breakfast is included. It is so nice to just wander down and have a relaxed meal, it saves money, and some people put on a lovely spread. The Art Hotel has its own bakery, so the bread was crusty and the croissants were light as air. They had the European breakfast sausages that remind me of hot dogs, English bacon, and a variety of egg dishes. Like most places they had cold cuts, meusli and yogurt. I wasn’t ready for smoked fish, but I loved the Swedish pancakes!

I explored the area. In the United States, you could tell a dangerous neighborhood by abandoned buildings and graffiti. here they had those things, but it was very safe.

There was also a mall across the square, which was very convenient for stocking the fridge, and a few restaurants behind the hotel and a really cool destination place across the street. The mall even had gelato!

And a very dour busker. (Yes, I did give him money to take his picture).

Since it was Saturday, there was a street market right in front of the hotel! I had a lot of fun wandering around with Bob’s mom.

I was quite taken with this leather hat with cute little horns. The salesman, whose dad makes them, said that local bikers wear them.

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By the Baltic Sea: Art Hotel Roma

The Art Hotel Roma was built in 1881 and has been a hotel since 1882. During WWI it was occupied by the Kaiser’s army. The entire structure is built around a large central square with a much-photographed fountain, and also consists of the hotel’s restaurant, Rosemary, plus a renowned bakery, breakfast room, retail shops and businesses.

This sculpture reminded me of medieval cats

I reserved the “Studio” for 90 Euros because it had a kitchenette with a refrigerator. It was HUGE! But you can get a room for as little as 60 E. Latvia is a very reasonable place to vacation.

The carpeting had a bit of a “Shining” vibe.

And was that a face in the chest of drawers?


and faces on the knobs

and faces on the edging. So many little people.

There was art all over the place, in the room, in the halls…

Everyone thought the woman in this painting looked familiar. I finally decided she reminded me of the Mona Lisa.

We sat down for dinner at Rosemary, but the jet lag was hitting me hard and I just went upstairs and crashed. Reports were that the food was excellent.

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by the Baltic Sea: On the Road to Liepaj

It was a four hour drive to Liepaja, and I slept in the back seat for most of the trip. There is one main rest stop, and we took a break there on the way and on the way back. I tried a candyfloss ice cream, which no one over the age of nine could probably eat.

Of course, there were more unusual offerings…like the dreaded herring in a fur coat!

and aspic…

On the way back we ate in the restaurant. I tried the schnitzel, which had an unusual eggy coating.

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By the Baltic Sea: Lido and the Latvian National Gallery in Riga

Friday we went to Lido, a very reasonably-priced cafeteria frequented by locals. The helpings were ridiculous, I had thought America had a lock on giant portions. There were around six fish dishes, even more meat dishes, a giant wok filled with French fries that had stuck together like a fry king, and stuffed pancakes, which are basically blintzes.

Bob’s mom had an interesting catfish dish that was like a crab cake. Bob was very prudent with just a chicken shish, rice and veggies.

I once again proved that I am not responsible enough to navigate a buffet unmonitored. Luckily we all shared. My chanterelles and potatoes were more infused with rich mushroom flavor than anything I have ever eaten. 10/10 would recommend.

Then we meandered over to the National Museum. It was a beautiful building.

The featured display was on Auseklis Bauskenieks, an internationally recognized artist who pioneered Latvian landscape painting in the first part of the 20th century. The entire basement was filled with his haunting landscapes.

As we were walking back to the elevator, a painting in the storage area caught my eye. A provost stopped me as I paused for a snap, and I thought I was in trouble for taking pictures.

But she wanted to guide us to the third floor where more of that artists’ works were on display. Gederts Alias used intense yellows and oranges, which made his paintings instantly recognizable.

I also fell in love with Janis Tidemanis and the vibrant use of color contrasted with black that gave his works a spooky edginess.

Bob’s mom had described Latvian paintings as “kind of European, but not,” and it was very true. They seemed to combine the darkness of Munch with the delicate brushstrokes of Cezanne.

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