Something About South Beach-Where to Be Nude, Classy

“It’s just so much easier to be a pig in Miami,” a recently transplanted New Yorker told me. Not surprisingly, his lusty endorsement of South Beach as the ultimate getaway for sleaze-starved Manhattanites culminated in an anti-Giuliani rant. “Thanks to him, New York is no fun anymore. But it’s all here in Miami–and more, if you know what I mean.” Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

I know all too well what he means: I have just spent a four-day weekend in South Beach and, to quote country songstress Charline Arthur, “I’ve seen things a woman ought not to see.” To put it bluntly, Miami Beach has become a cesspool–and I’m not just talking figuratively! On March 16, the day after we arrived, a fat little tugboat banged into a massive underwater sewer, sending 12 million gallons of raw sewage gushing into Biscayne Bay and turning it into an unappetizing poo pond. We sat in our hotel transfixed by the excited local TV coverage, which treated this fetid occurrence as if it was some fabulous visiting dignitary. This unexpected arrival even had its own on-air logo: “SEWAGE SPILL.”

Tired of watching gushing effluent on TV, we took a stroll down Ocean Drive and encountered the human effluent carousing at, and barfing in front of, the Allstar Café and the Clevelander hotel. The favorite pastime of this Spri, apart from ingesting stimulants, would appear to be having themselves photographed lying face down on the steps of Casa Casuarina, Gianni Versace’s gorgeous house. No wonder Donatella Versace sold the place! (F.Y.I.: On April 5-7, Sotheby’s will auction the fabulously gaudy furnishings and art from said house. Call 606-7000 for exhibition information.) The unsavory activity on Ocean Drive makes the early 90’s Miami of Versace seem like a long-lost era of innocence and optimism. Where was the corny sweetness of the old Miami Beach?

Determined to find some vestige of this Miami of yore, we girded up our loins with germicide, and dove into this seemingly bottomless pit of sun-baked lasciviousness in search of Pollyanna. Here are my two tips (that’s all I could find) for wholesome holiday fun in Miami:

1. Nude volleyball, anyone? Drive north (in the opposite direction of the poo) up Collins Avenue, past the Bal Harbor shopping mall. Your first historic landmark is on the right, just before 71st Street. It’s the Normandy Plaza (6979 Collins Avenue), the hotel where the odious Andrew Cunanan festered undetected, smoking crystal meth, before murdering Versace, his fifth victim, in July 1997. Keep driving, and do not make eye contact with any of the dubious characters hanging out in front of the hotel. Drive over the bridge into Haulover Park and alight in the northernmost lot. Walk through the tunnel and onto the nude beach, and you should run smack into a vigorous game of nude volleyball. Rivetingly Monty Python-esque, this earnest, wacky display of coed sportsmanship is the very essence of nonsexual naturism. It’s also the best laugh I’ve had in years.

If you decide to remain clothed, make a conscious effort not to ogle the nudesters–signs prohibit pervy gawking. My advice: don’t linger, but rather flit (like thistledown) quickly through the fleshy masses and marvel at Dame Nature’s jiggly diversity. The gay people, many of whom are tattooed and pierced, walk around chatting compulsively, as if they are enjoying the sidewalk afterglow of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The straight folks–cheery, upbeat and often bohemian–look like retired swingers. They pass the time by shaving each other’s areas and belching. For the most part, everyone is terribly well-behaved, though honesty compels me to admit that I did observe one chubby Roseanne-ish couple digitally manipulating each other’s private areas when the lifeguard wasn’t looking. There’s always somebody willing to spoil things for the rest of us!

2. The Hallandale thrift shops. These gigantic stores have, since I first started visiting them in the mid-80’s, coughed up an endless supply of groovy furniture (Lucite tables, fab Halston-ish sectionals, plus more recherché mid-century American modernist classics). Unfortunately, the supply has now run out: On this trip, all we found was sub-par 80’s cane furniture with nasty, splashy upholstery in pink and turquoise. This grim schlock left me feeling that the Golden Girls must be cleaning house (or dead)–and here is all their nasty furniture.

The only stuff worth snagging was the metal chinoise patio furniture which, with a lick of paint and the right upholstery, can look very 70’s Billy Baldwin. Vintage clothing? Slim pickings: After much burrowing and breath-holding, my bloke got a great wool camel zip-front 70’s Givenchy sweater for $1.99.

So why check out these thrift shops? You may, if you are lucky, spot one of those almost-extinct, eccentrically attired Jewish or Cuban ladies. You know the ones: They were formerly a dime a dozen on Lincoln Road and now are nowhere to be seen in South Beach. They favor draped jersey turbans, tangerine or emerald pant suits, shell-encrusted raffia purses, plastic daisy earrings and La Rose shoes. Take the Hallandale Beach Boulevard exit off I-95 and search for these exotic creatures before they all dodo.

Food

The new restaurants in South Beach are all self-consciously sexy, with silly pseudo-sensual names like Touch, Pearl and Wish. We decided to check out Tantra (1445 Pennsylvania Avenue). It’s an insanely ambitious concept which marries food with some cockamamie Eastern erotic philosophy to produce an “aphrodisiac cuisine.” I ordered a “love apple” as a starter. Two minutes later, a rock-hard, baseball-sized, unripe tomato with a triangle (geddit?) cut out and filled with goat cheese was dumped in front of me. I highly recommend this extremely noisy restaurant–but only to horny, New Age, deaf people.

Lunch at the Delano (1685 Collins Avenue) has become a veritable art installation: I refer to the fascinating juxtaposition between the brilliant Phillipe Starck décor (it hasn’t dated at all) and the now highly conventional clientele. It looked as if Ian Shrager had commissioned hyper-realist sculptor Duane Hanson to people his restaurant with archetypal Amex Platinum Card holders.

Also recommended: the breakfast buffet at the Tides (1220 Ocean Drive)–delicious and great for spotting third-string celebrities, e.g. a grumpy Lauren Hutton on crutches and a cheery Blaine Trump.

The rest of the time we took out from Joe’s Stone Crab (11 Washington Avenue) and happily stank up our room while watching COPS .

Hotels

Don’t make a reservation at a beachfront hotel. From Joe’s Stone Crab right up to the Fontainebleau, there is a river of jackhammering construction comparable to Times Square. Don’t accept a ground-floor room, either; you’ll get robbed.

My pick: the Hotel Astor (956 Washington Avenue, 800-270-4981, $150 and up). Cameron Diaz and Matt Dillon stayed there while making There’s Something About Mary –so there! It’s not entirely sleaze-free: We spotted several hookers during our stay, but they were classy girls. Early one morning, one young lady emerged from a “session” to sun herself on a balcony directly in front of our room. As we enjoyed a salubrious breakfast of granola and berries, she entertained herself by twanging her thong and road-testing her repertoire of provocative poses in a spectacular pair of mint-green Lucite pumps. F.Y.I.: These porno-pumps are now as common in M.B. as flip-flops and can be purchased at any number of locations on Collins Avenue.

Miscellaneous Tips

–Celebs are hard to spot, post-Gianni. Madonna, Cher and Sly have all moved on. But Janet Reno is back! My cabby suggested, rather depressingly, that I join the happy throng of Cuban protesters outside her house in Hialeah and pray for a sighting.

–Fabio, a legit masseur from Brazil, will, if he’s not traveling with the Costa Rican soccer team, come to your hotel and give what my massage-addicted bloke rated as the best rub-down he’s ever had (305-729-7314).

–Re: discos. You must decide whether you would rather spend the evening with drunks or druggies. Salvation (1717 West Avenue) has a high cover charge: According to my pig friend, “this means everyone is on Ecstasy and-or crystal meth, and the establishment is not anticipating high-volume liquor sales.” Level (formerly Ingrid Casares’ Liquid, at 1235 Washington Avenue), on the other hand, has a low cover charge, which according to my friend is “great for old fogies who drink themselves stupid and go home early”–i.e., 4 a.m.

–If you just happen to get addicted to crack while you’re down there, no problem. As per the cab driver who took us to the airport: “Three Prozac a day and I lost the craving.”