The Art of the Party: A Recap of This Year’s Miami Basel Social Scene

The vibe? Luxe. The people? Très riche. Observer caught up with Will.I.Am, Mario Carbone and more.

“Out of my life I fashioned a fistful of words,” the late poet and Pulitzer finalist Hyam Plutzik once wrote. “When I opened my hand, they flew away.”

On a Tuesday afternoon, I escaped the chill of New York City and arrived in the warmth of Miami. My first stop is my home base—a boutique hotel called The Betsy run by Plutzik’s son and family. It’s only 11 a.m. on the day Miami Art Week kicks off, but the lobby and the restaurant that flanks the hotel are already bustling with energy. The piano player’s melody is interrupted by the large front double doors swinging open every few seconds. Who are all these people, where did they come from… and how did they get so stinking rich?

SEE ALSO: Five Pieces That Stole the Show at Art Basel Miami Beach

Lucky for me, Plutzik’s family has chosen to honor the poet’s legacy here, with a library meant for quiet contemplation and peaceful work. This might just be the most serene spot in Miami-Dade County, and it’s one in which I prepare for my first foray into the utter madness that is Miami Art Week and Art Basel Miami Beach, which has famously grown beyond both the ‘Basel’ (the confab’s founding Swiss location) and, more surprisingly, the ‘Art.’ Yes, the Miami Beach Convention Center is full of thought-provoking and stunning artworks, but the bigger draw might be that seemingly every associated entity hosts an exhibit, event or party. For reference, consider the DJ set in the local Ikea.

Tuesday

7:39 p.m., Faena Hotel’s Tree of Life Bar

The vibes at the Faena Hotel are a Jay Gatsby fever dream; a property massive in every way, from its chic lobby to a display of the 24k gold bones of a wooly mammoth, as rendered by Damien Hirst, encased in glass. It feels like something out of a gilded Jurassic Park—if I’d rode here in a jeep, I would have definitely jumped out and quiveringly taken off my sunglasses.

New York Magazine once called Faena House a “clubhouse for the super rich.” I stand on a snaking line here for my first stop: welcome drinks for the gathered press (or whatever it is I do). There are three separate events here at the Faena tonight, all teaming with people. After a while, though, I realize I’ve accidentally gotten in line to enter a maze designed by Chilean artist Sebastian Errazuriz using A.I and built on the beach outside. Or maybe it’s performance art, where the line for the maze is the maze itself?

I push my way past the posh crowds of men in hats and ladies in dresses and enter a quiet area in the Tree of Life bar, where I meet a variety of characters, including a Swiss journalist trying to break into the American market and several very cool Art Basel reps. (Note that I’m not just saying that because I hope they invite me to more open bars.) One asks why I haven’t been to Art Basel’s Paris edition. Apparently, it’s a must.

10:30 p.m., SLS South Beach

MoMa Ps1 is known for its New York City parties, so naturally, I wanted to check out their Miami Art Week event at the SLS Hotel. Many of the biggest confabs this week are at hotels, largely for practical reasons. There are so many massive hotels lining Collins Avenue, making Miami something like Vegas, only instead of getting burned at the slots, people get burned at the beach.

Towering above the courtyard of the SLS, there’s a large, inflatable Scrooge McDuck. Maybe this is more like Vegas than I thought? I’m thirsty, so I go to order a drink: the margaritas are free, but the water is $14. And no, they can’t skirt around that and give me straight aqua from the tap. Biden’s America… am I right, folks!?

The centerpiece of this Miami Art Week party is a performance by artist Marie Karlberg (in a bathing suit) during which she illustrated umbrellas in real time on three separate canvases by the pool—complete with commentary and music from the DJ booth—as a crowd dutifully formed around the art. Creation finished, she jumped into the water and swam to the DJ booth. I’m probably not explaining it correctly, but then, confusion is a definite side-effect of dehydration.

Wednesday

7:15 p.m., Loews Miami Beach Hotel

Tonight feels like a MadLibs: Will.I.Am and segway-inventor Dean Kamen’s respective foundations want to raise a ton of money for robotics education in schools at their annual gala honoring the ex-CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns. Got that?

“We’re honored to be able to honor her,” Will tells me as we stand amid the crowd at the event, which raises funds for FIRST Global. “It’s a program that teaches kids robotics and treats robotics as a sport. The whole premise is to honor tomorrow’s engineers and technicians.”

I ask Will if he’s ever been to Art Basel Miami Beach. “Just once before, in 2019,” he says. “It was cool. This is my second time, but I won’t be able to see a lot of the exhibitions. I unfortunately leave tomorrow to go back.”

That’s because he’s busy with music, of course. “I’m always making music,” he adds. “Music’s great.” I agree, Will. Music is great.

The Black Eyed Peas released their first album in 1998. That’s a long time ago! “It’s a combination of curiosity, hunger and competitiveness,” he tells me when I ask about his career longevity. “I hear a song and I’m like, ‘Okay, I see what they’re doing. That’s awesome. That sucks. How do I respond to that?’”

Art at the SoHo Beach House Porsche party. Andrew Joseph Woomer

9:14 p.m., SoHo Beach House

Outside Miami’s SoHo House outpost lies Soho Beach House—essentially a massive tent set up in the sand, steps from the beach. Tonight, Porsche is hosting a soiree, and the DJ is spinning early 00s hip hop because the luxury automaker recruited the rap star Juvenile to perform. He eventually busts out his contemplative hymn “Back That Thang Up,” and the crowd does exactly that. There are no Porsche giveaways, just a video photobooth with the Porsche logo as a watermark.

Juvenile performing at the Porsche party. Andrew Joseph Woomer

Thursday

6:30 p.m., San Marino Island

My hall at The Betsy is lined with dozens of pictures of the Beatles and Rolling Stones in Miami in the 60s. Highlights include a guitar-wielding Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger in a speedo. It’s exactly the energy as I hop in an Uber and head to the Venetian Islands, halfway between Miami proper and Miami Beach. The 12-minute drive takes double that thanks to traffic, but it’s worth it, as I arrive to find that tequila giant Patron has rented a mansion and a (small) yacht for a party celebrating their ultra-high-end new release, El Alto. It’s an intimate affair; there are more employees here than invited guests: PR people, bartenders, caterers, security, photographers, videographers and two seamstresses sewing custom sailor hats. I get mine and wear it for the rest of the night.

Observer correspondent Rob LeDonne on the Patron yacht. Courtesy Rob LeDonne

Some guests arrive on their own yacht, but they’re told they can’t dock here. If you think you’re having a rough day, just imagine not being able to dock your yacht. My heart goes out to them. The tequila tasting takes place on our yacht and after gingerly coming aboard—I’ve seen the season two finale of The White Lotus—I’m sitting next to a handsome gentleman I later learn is Dale from The Bachelorette, famous for proposing at lightning speed. Proud to say, we hold our own with the tequila, which is delicious. Even better than the mansion and the yacht: we’re given water! And it’s free!

Friday

10:15 a.m., The Kimpton Surfcomber

Because I’m something of a masochist, I called it an earlyish night yesterday to make it to an outdoors Barry’s bootcamp class dubbed The Art of Wellness by NRVLD today. It’s a marketer’s wet dream with brands that came together like the Avengers: Lululemon and Celsius and Therabody, the latter of which I let be furiously jabbed into my skin. I had a hard night of tequila on a yacht yesterday, so I’m due for some detox before the retox, which every fitness instructor says as if they are George Carlin. And look here, who’s ‘hosting’ this class? Leonardo DiCaprio! Just kidding: it’s my old friend Dale, the guy from The Bachelorette who proposed too fast.

10:15 p.m., Faena Theater

I’m back at the Faena, this time at their theater, which today is an event space hosting a party from Farfetch and Dolce & Gabbana. “Have you ever bought anything from Farfetch before?” a woman wielding a microphone asks me. “Well, no,” I reply. I could have lied, but I don’t even know what they sell. I eventually looked it up: they’re a “global destination for modern luxury.” That checks out considering they’ve teamed up with Dolce & Gabbana.

Even the snacks are luxe: passed-around lobster rolls. A variety of influencers are here, as well as the singer Victoria Monet; Coco and Breezy are DJing, swaying together with the music. It’s very classy and I’m regretting not wearing my custom sailor hat.

Saturday

4 p.m., ZZ’s Member’s Club

“I first came here as a cook from New York probably 15 years ago,” Mario Carbone tells me. His Major Food Group has become the center of Art Basel Miami Beach and life in Miami in general as the purveyors of Carbone—don’t even ask about getting a reservation—and ZZ’s Member’s Club. “Back then, I didn’t even know what Art Basel was. I certainly didn’t see any art, but went out and had a good time.” Now, his fortunes have changed. “This is one of the busiest, if not the busiest, weeks of the year for the company with everything going on in Miami and New York being in the holiday season. But being busy is good. When there’s lots going on, we love that.”

Carbone (the man, not the restaurant) is hosting a pop-up/hang celebrating his clothing brand, Our Lady of Rocco, which feels like a natural progression as he designs the uniforms for Major’s eateries. “It’s really the equivalent of me painting in my free time,” he says. “A way to keep my brains lubricated with something other than my traditional discipline.”

Mario is stretched, but hey, like he said, the man loves being busy. “We do a trunk show; we take over a little space in the company, put up the garments, open a bottle of wine, and it’s pretty casual.”

8:39 p.m.: Nylon House

I never found out what Nylon House was because they reached capacity by the time I got there. C’est la vie.

10 p.m., Hyde Beach at the SLS South Beach

Wherever you were on earth on Saturday night around 11 p.m., I’m sure you heard the music of DJ James Hype blasting through the speakers here back at the SLS South Beach with such decibel-blasting intensity that I’m sure whoever’s on the International Space Station peered down to wonder, “What is that?” Well, astronauts, it was MAXIM’s party. Yes, the magazine, with a party that’s been heavily promoted. Earlier today, I saw a skywriter plugging the bash.

The MAXIM Miami Basel Art Week party with James Hype. Darian DiCianno/BFA.com

Tonight the pool at the SLS has turned into a legit club, with bottle service and, shocker, water for sale. It’s the music, though, that I will tell my future children about. That is, if I can hear them when they speak. It’s a fitting wrap-up to Miami Art Week. I started my Miami journey in The Betsy’s library room, known for its peace and quiet. I’m ending it deaf.

The Art of the Party: A Recap of This Year’s Miami Basel Social Scene