Washington Avenue in South Beach has a crowded, big-city thoroughfare that any major metropolitan area would be proud to claim. From trendy Lincoln Road Mall on south, it’s a cluster of commerce—banks and nightclubs and T-shirt shacks and upscale shoe stores and dives and four-stars and you-name-it. Traces of international flavor tempt you here and there up and down the sidewalks, stronger in some areas and fainter in others, but diluted by larger influences.
You don’t want diluted? You want your international flavor in concentrate form? Then turn west off Washington at the corner between 14th and 15th streets and prepare to be overpowered. Welcome to Espanola Way—two continents compressed into one block.
If South Beach truly is an international melting pot, then Espanola Way is a heating coil. It’s narrow and pedestrian-only, yet it’s larger than life. It’s all restaurants, bars and boutiques, one storefront after another giving off different Mediterranean and Latin American vibes. They all blend so well that even a Japanese seafood restaurant at the far end and an Irish bar around the corner don’t seem out of place. It’s daytime window-shopping and nighttime flamenco. It’s peach facades and striped awnings. It’s leafy green canopies covering twisting boughs and umbrellas covering sidewalk café tables. It’s flower peddlers and singing waiters. It’s twinkling lights strung corner to corner along Washington Avenue calling even more attention to the conspicuous nighttime festivity. It’s pure South Beach, but without the bling.
So exactly what will you find on Espanola Way?
Restaurants and bars
Let’s start with opportunities for dining, snacking and socializing.
If you like Mexican, Oh, Mexico offers authentic Mexican meals all day, from breakfast burritos to a full steak/pork/chicken/fish dinner menu highlighted by Salmon Baja (with herbs, sweet squash, corn, tomato, avocado slices and polenta, topped with shrimp). If you like Cuban, Havana 1957, with its Art Deco décor and authentic rum bar, takes you back to the pre-Revolution Cuba that was the playground for the American rich and offers you Cuban specialties for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you like Italian, try Hosteria Romana, distinctive for its authentic servings and a wait staff fluent in Italian and prone to burst into song. Another option is stylish Piccola Cucina, rapidly becoming one of the most recommended restaurants on the block. If you like Spanish/Basque, nothing beats Tapas y Tintos, where you can choose from a selection of more than 50 tapas, which are smaller-portioned meals. At night the place turns dance crazy. Couple 2-for-1 drinks with free tango and salsa classes and live flamenco shows, and you’ve got a party.
Maybe you’re in the mood for Brazilian. At Boteco Copacabana, you can enjoy picanha and other Brazilian specialties indoors or outdoors, with live music. How about Peruvian? Cevichery Restobar offers indoor and outdoor seating at a prime location just off Washington, and in spite of the name, spicy and non-spicy ceviche varieties constitute only a small portion of an eclectic Peruvian menu.
Japanese? Kone Japanese Seafood & Grill is interesting—the menu features traditional seafood fare but also borrows from other Espanola Way cultures.
If you prefer general Mediterranean, Café Nuvo offers a broad menu in an intimate bistro setting. If you prefer general fine dining, Flame Caffé and Grill is a fine option on the corner of Espanola Way and Drexel. If you like ice cream and yogurt, you can choose from among Noir Ice Cream, My Yogurt Café and the Italian-influenced Milani Gelateria. And if you’re looking for a place to unwind and maybe watch a ballgame, your options include La Cantina Sports Bar and Drexel Irish Pub.
Shops and specialties
But there’s more to do on Espanola Way—if you’d like—than eat, drink and dance.
Espanola Way Artists features a gallery showcasing the diverse paintings of Mark Rutkowski. Contesta Rock Hair is a style salon so exclusive that the only other locations are Rome, Florence, Shanghai and New York. Synergy Yoga offers more than 50 courses in various refined yoga disciplines.
Shopping boutiques are eclectic and plentiful, too, on Espanola Way. Women’s clothing and accessories are the specialties at Heart & Soul, for example, while you’ll exquisite white cotton clothing for women and men at Blanc du Nil. And if you’re open to bringing home a new addition to your family, Jolies Puppies offers an irresistible selection of petite breeds.
Not every boutique may offer selections in your price range, but sometimes browsing is just as enjoyable as buying. But if it seems some of the stores cater to the more exclusive set, well that’s been part of Espanola Way’s DNA from the start.
Through the years
Espanola Way was first popularized as a place where the Miami Beach money set went to dine and dance carefree in the streets. This was in the early 1920s, when two Miami Beach patriarchs, N.B.T. Roney and William Whitman, decided to build the Historic Spanish Village, an island of Mediterranean-style architecture in a sea of Art Deco.
By the end of that decade, though, the tenor of the neighborhood changed. Enticed by the potential earnings from gambling, mobsters like Al Capone moved in. Those interests eventually were cleared out and Espanola Way became charming again.
Ultimately, though, it aged, just like the rest of the area. It needed a champion. Enter real estate entrepreneur Linda Polansky, who bought about half the property along Espanola Way including the Clay Hotel once run by Capone. Her idea to paint the building peach happened to align with the vision of a production designer scouting locations for a new TV show to be called Miami Vice.
Exposure on that popular program set off a new wave of interest in Espanola Way, a neighborhood never more than a fix-up here and coat of paint there from its original beauty. The bright restorations and the eclectic set of current occupants make Espanola Way a must-add location to your vacation GPS. Whether you prefer its lower-key daytime personality or its nighttime vibrancy, your visit here will surely become a highlight of your South Florida experience.
Written By: Jim Saturday