Redefining the 'real' Miami night life experience

MIAMI —A cool ocean breeze cut the day's humidity. Dresses up to there in hot pink sequins and acid yellows colored the sidewalks. It was around midnight on a Thursday in Miami's South Beach neighborhood, and the evening was just getting started.

I was in town for a couple days in February and was determined to have a "real" Miami night life experience — whatever that meant. The clubs here are more intimate than those in L.A. or Las Vegas, with some bars nothing more than a DJ, lights and liquor in a small box-like room.

I was pleasantly surprised to find newer bars that specialize in artisan cocktails and take pride in not having someone sift through the crowd at the door. There were too many choices for there to be a "scene" at any of them, and depending on your mood and whom you wanted to meet, there was something for everyone. It was a blur of neon lights, vodka sodas and exhausted ear drums. Here's a rundown of a weekend nightclub blitz:

SL

Vibe: It's a high-energy, ultra-small slice of New York City tucked inside the James Royal Palm Hotel. Cocktail servers dressed in tasteful lingerie weave through the dance floor with strong drinks, and lights spin with the music to illuminate corners of the room for seconds at a time. People pool in the sunken dance floor while observers around the perimeter lean in and bob their heads.

Overheard: Aggressive dance-inducing electronica.

Crowd: Newly opened but already a hot spot with locals, international travelers and visiting New Yorkers. A diverse mix of well-dressed young men in slacks and girls in cocktail dresses rub elbows with dancing queens in minis.

Highlights: Raised wall panels are covered with X-ray film of broken bones, and if you look up, you can see your reflection in the gold mirrored ceiling.

Conclusion: An intimate club with all the necessities, and a good alternative to bigger venues. Fine for a special occasion or to dust off your dancing shoes and let loose.

Info: 1545 Collins Ave.; (786) 224-7201, http://www.emmgroupinc.com. Open nightly 11 p.m.-4 a.m. Drinks $14-$20.

Broken Shaker

Vibe: Boho chic. The outdoor space is filled with mix-and-match lawn furniture, a pingpong table, a swimming pool and a tiki bar. There's also a small indoor bar wallpapered in a pink and gray floral.

Overheard: Pink Floyd and an eclectic mix of '70s rock and modern tracks.

Crowd: Guys in board shorts and flip-flops wait to order drinks next to girls in sequin skirts or shorts and heels. An international crowd tends to wander down from the hostel upstairs; French, Spanish, Russian and Italian can be overheard.

Highlights: Its herb garden provides ingredients for the more than 100 homemade syrups used in its cocktails. Bartenders Giu and Virginia shake drinks behind the bar as witchcraft skulls look over their shoulders.

Conclusion: If you want to grab a good cocktail but don't feel like clubbing, this spot is mellow but still trendy.

Info: 2727 Indian Creek Drive; (305) 531-2727, thebrokenshaker.com. Inside the Freehand Miami Hostel. Open 5 p.m.-2 a.m. weekdays, 2 p.m.-2 a.m. weekends. Specialty drinks $11.

Story

Vibe: You need to know someone to get in. Bouncers picked people out of the large crowd at random, with no preference shown for girls over guys. We arrived about 1 a.m. and hung around for 45 minutes before we gave up and went elsewhere.

Overheard: People vowing to never return and those convinced they could get in if they could just talk to a doorman.