When staying in Miami on a pre or post cruise, there is a quiet side of the city, beyond the bright lights of the casinos, long green of the golf courses, and masses of people in Coconut Grove and the big hotels. In the post World War II building boom of the 1950s and 1960s in Miami, on the north side of the city, more precisely Biscayne Boulevard between 6200 and 7800 became the hottest place in town.
Post war Miami was fully acclimated to the automobile culture. A string of motor hotels, called motels to distinguish them from the classy hotels, grew along the Biscayne strip, now US Route 1. It was known in the 1950s as Motel Row and today as the Miami Modern, or MiMo, Biscayne Boulevard Historic District.
Driving along Motel Row takes one back to a slower paced time. Even the traffic is lighter north of 6200. The district reminds us how the word kitsch is defined. The Vagabond Motel and the New Yorker, both built in 1953 have distinctive lobbies, with outside-access rooms surrounding the parking lot. The architecture is distinctively mid-century modern.
When the area declined the motels became marginal residences. Today the area is being reclaimed by mid-century enthusiasts and by chefs fleeing high rent Miami. Expect casual Cuban and trendy French restaurants in former shopping strips. Locals outnumber out-of-towners in the restaurants, not yet discovered by tourists.
The Vagabond Motel now has a valet for parking. The motel does not rent by the hour, but there is a wait in the coffee shop. This is 50s coffee shop redefined. Down the street at the WineWood, sit outside and enjoy a selection of reds for $8 and whites for $7, while you feast on a Cuban/Italian dinner. Such a combo is not unusual in MiMo.
The shops, restaurants, and motels that front on Biscayne Boulevard imposed the 1950s on much older residential neighborhoods that are responding to the rediscovery with restoration of 1920s and 1930s homes of the earlier boom time in Miami. The recent boom in Miami appears to have taken place in beachfront high-rise developments. Enjoy a quiet time in MiMo now, before it is discovered again.